Cabinet backs down on violence Bill

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The Independent Online
Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, was yesterday forced by Tory party pressure to back down on a Bill extending the same statutory rights of protection against domestic violence to cohabitants as married couples.

The concession to the Conservative right-wing cast doubt over the Lord Chancellor's chance of securing the passage of a separate Bill on divorce law reform, despite a Cabinet decision yesterday to include it in the Queen's Speech.

As the Government cancelled Monday's planned third reading of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, Lord Mackay agreed to reconsider the measure and is expected to make changes, or shelve it altogether.

The Lord Chancellor told Cabinet colleagues he would "reflect" on amendments proposed by a deputation of Tory MPs yesterday, which stressed the primacy of marriage over other forms of cohabitation.

The amendments seek to delete clauses that would give any woman living with a man the same right as wives to secure the eviction of their partners and occupation of the home.

While Lord Mackay intends to incorporate the amendments and still push through a Bill, he may face Labour opposition if he dilutes the Bill as his right-wing critics want.

The Bill has been aborted by a group of Tories at a late stage of a "fast-track process", intended to be solely for non-contentious measures. Paul Boateng, Labour's legal affairs spokesman, said it was open to question whether the Government could "get through even the most moderate measures of reform in the face of a right-wing extremist rump".

Although the Cabinet had approved without discussion yesterday the planned Divorce Reform Bill, which would end the concept of fault, introduce a system of mediation and provide for a 12-month cooling-off period, a lobby of Tory MPsplans to oppose the measure. There is still ministerial pressure behind the scenes on Lord Mackay to withdraw the Divorce Bill. But it is almost certain to be put through the Commons on a free vote if it survives. Mr Boateng said Labour supported the measure but that its support was not "unconditional".

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