15 December 2005

S2M-3628 Family Law (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 15 December 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

… … …

Family Law (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3628, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Family Law (Scotland) Bill be passed.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): At this stage in the progress of a bill, it is always interesting to look around the chamber to see who are the few hardy chiels who have managed to survive, awake and engaged.

I conclude from today's debate and from debates in committee and elsewhere that no one in the Parliament wishes to do anything that would damage relationships of whatever nature or adversely affect the children of Scotland. At our core, each and every one of us shares a common set of values. We continue to differ on the detail and on whether the bill supports or degrades progress in that respect. However, we are likely to pass a bill tonight, and I will vote for it. We have heard that not all my colleagues will necessarily do so, and we may hear from them later.

I will start with matters outside the bill, to which the minister made reference, by paying tribute to the work that former sheriff Alan Finlayson did on the parenting agreement. It is a most impressive document that was produced by a very impressive process. Alan Finlayson's engagement with the committee and his willingness to interact, respond and adapt as a result of that interaction is an interesting model for extra-legislative ways of dealing with some of the complex issues that arise when one deals with matters such as those that the Family Law (Scotland) Bill encompasses.

I welcome the abolition of marriage by cohabitation with habit and repute and its replacement with something that I hope will be rather clearer and which provides a range of objective tests, although there remains some disagreement about their nature.

We have reformed the waiting times for no-fault divorces. Everyone in the Parliament accepted that we had to reduce by some degree some of the waiting periods under that heading. Anyone outside the Parliament who suggests that members were holding a line and seeking to abolish divorce or to restrict access to it by obstructionism is entirely mistaken. We have differed in degree and in detail, but not, by and large, in principle.

We have addressed an historic wrong in relation to the power of some Jewish men—a very small number—over Jewish wives, and that is welcome.

We have addressed the issue of contact orders to some degree. The minister must continue to work with members to convince us that contact orders will be complied with, given that there are cases in which severe hurt is inflicted through what appears to be wilful disregard of the judgment that the court hands down. By the same token, the minister made some useful moves on support services, but she should not take her hand out of her wallet yet. There is more to do and we will be watching her carefully.

I continue to regret that the Parliament did not respond to my invitation to ensure that information is made available to people about the effects of the various choices—and, indeed, about the effects of their not making certain choices, particularly when children are involved.

We have changed the law of succession in Scotland, but I am worried that we have done so in a relatively non-systematic way that might have unintended consequences. For many years, under a number of Administrations, there has been a desire to reform the law of succession more generally. That is one of the most difficult and technically complex projects that we could consider, but that must not be a reason for further delay. I am worried about the matter and I know that others are too.

We have been told that children are at the core of the bill, but I have to say that it mentions children relatively infrequently and its effects on children are rather imprecise. Nonetheless, I have been persuaded that there will be benefits to children and to vulnerable people who leave a relationship or whose relationship ends due to a death, so I will support the bill.


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