Divorce reforms under attack

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Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, is preparing to resist pressure from elements within the Cabinet for him to drop his radical plans to reform divorce law because of protests from Tory backbenchers.

But the chances of his all-party Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill getting on to the statute book in a revised form before the end of the current parliamentary session next week are expected to improve after a meeting with Cabinet colleagues today.

While the Divorce Bill, which would introduce a shift towards conciliation to resolve disputes, remains in the list of measures for the Queen's Speech on 15 November, Whitehall sources suggested that Alastair Goodlad, the Government Chief Whip, was becoming increasingly concerned about what could be a stormy passage through the House of Commons.

Ministers are already considering giving MPs a free vote, but there were suggestions yesterday that a minority of Cabinet members would be happier if the Bill were not there.

Lord Mackay is understood, however, to be confident that the Bill still has the backing of Cabinet after it gave the final go-ahead for inclusion in the Queen's Speech last Thursday.

The Chancellor halted the progress of the domestic violence Bill after meeting eight Tory backbench opponents. He was said yesterday to have taken their concerns on board and will consult Cabinet colleagues about possible changes today. These might include tightening provisions on what victims of violence should have to prove before gaining a temporary right to occupy their former home.