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Domestic Violence And Matrimonial Proceedings Bill

Volume 375: debated on Wednesday 13 October 1976

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6.55 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time, and in doing so I should like to express my deep appreciation of the co-operation and assistance I have recevied from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Equally, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who had certain reservations about one clause in the Bill but who very generously did not press an Amendment knowing that it might well have resulted in the Bill failing to be passed into legislation this Session. I should also like to express my appreciation on that account to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who is always very kind, and who, again, gave me great assistance.

I think it is relevant to say that a short leader in the Sunday People last week highlighted this problem by a heading:
"Battered wives need help now",
and there was a plea, in describing just such a case as we have been discussing, that we should get this legislation on the Statute Book as rapidly as possible. I am grateful to those noble Lords who have made it possible for this to be done so speedily, and I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a .—( Baroness Phillips.)

My Lords, I hope the House will allow me to say a word or two about this. In addition to the compli- ments and thanks which have been expressed by the noble Baroness to others, I should like to say how grateful to her are those of us who have come across the kind of difficulties that this Bill is intended to remedy, for the extremely interesting and efficient manner in which she not only introduced this Bill but has persevered in bringing it to a conclusion which I think will be acceptable to all Parties in both Houses.

I hope the noble Baroness will herself forgive me if I take this opportunity to say that this is only one example of the very important work that she has been doing for very many years, and to tell her how deeply appreciative are those who have benefited from her services to the community for the activities in which she has participated. I have had the privilege of knowing her for many years. We were on different sides in political life at one time, but that was a very long time ago. I think she has forgiven me, as I have forgiven her. Certainly what she has done in the meanwhile has fully justified any forgiveness that anybody would want to offer her for any disagreement which may have taken place.

My Lords, I, too, should like to say to the noble Baroness, to whom I have already spoken outside, that I welcome this Bill very much, but I was not particularly happy with what I may call one side of it which, to my mind, rather tends to make legal the unfortunate situation which is now beginning to appear in which couples tend to go and live as man and wife and claim protection under this Bill. The noble and learned Lord, when I asked him about this matter on Second Reading, said that they have this protection at the present time; but here we are writing into a Bill a principle which I find very difficult to accept in some ways. We are in fact covering two people who live together as man and wife when they are perhaps in a position to become man and wife. They may be doing it just to see whether it works or because one of the parties will lose money if they get married.

I can appreciate a situation where two people, as happened to many before the present divorce laws, find it impossible to get married. Those people in these circumstances I would not hesitate to include in the protection of this Bill. I can appreciate that there will be humanitarian grounds on which people cannot get married. A wife who is in a mental institution, who has been there for years but is recovering and who, when she comes out, finds that she has been divorced and her husband has remarried, may well in those circumstances have a relapse. My Lords, I have no wish to delay this Bill in any way. I specifically put down no Amendment on Committee stage for I did not want to delay the Bill, but I feel that in subsection (2) of Clause 1 we may be taking a step which will lower the standard of life in this country.

My Lords, I do not know whether it falls to me to reply to the point the noble Lord has just raised. We went into this question at an earlier stage in the discussion of the Bill. The fact that emerged from the evidence given to the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage was that women living with men in the relationship of husband and wife, although not married, are equally subjected to acts of violence. Those situations unfortunately were sufficiently frequent to justify doing what the Bill does. If my recollection of an earlier discussion of this matter is right, I believe that we have a certain amount of (shall I say?) ecclesiastical dispensation for including this provision in the Bill. It was not thought to be endangering the foundations of the institution of marriage if we did so, but it would have the effect of protecting otherwise unfortunate women who would have to go through the difficult procedures of an injunction instead of getting the quick remedy that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will provide.

My Lords, may I say before I resume my seat on the Woolsack how grateful I am, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Phillips, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and others who have been complimented by my noble friend for having assisted in the speedy passage of this Bill, and I congratulate her on skilfully steering it through the House.

On Question, Bill read 3a , and passed.

[ The Sitting was adjourned from 7.4 p.m. to 7.55 p.m.]