Labour plans a campaign to protect women from violence

Inside Parliament
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Labour intends to put the Lord Chancellor on the spot over the Family Law Bill by trying to reinstate safeguards against domestic violence dropped at the behest of Tory moral fundamentalists.

Lord Irvine of Lairg drew a thin smile from Lord Mackay of Clashfern when he said the Opposition would be putting down amendments "to persuade the Lord Chancellor to agree with himself".

The Family Law Bill, containing proposals to end "quickie" divorces and require a cooling off period as well as the water-down provisions on domestic violence, goes before the Lords for its second reading next Thursday.

It is expected to be the start of a turbulent passage through Parliament. A Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill should have been passed in the last session but was held over after a group of Tory MPs protested that it would undermine marriage by giving co-habitants the same rights as married couples.

Opening the resumed debate on the Queen's Speech, Lord Mackay emphasised the cross-party support for the safeguards and skated over the backbench revolt. He has made changes of detail requiring courts to take account of the fact that co-habitants had not made the same commitment as married couples. It will also be more costly for co-habitants to resolve property disputes.

But Lord Irvine, who would be Tony Blair's Lord Chancellor if Labour wins an election, said the Government had succumbed "to a campaign of misinformation by a tabloid newspaper picked up by a tiny, unthinking minority in the Conservative Party". Had Lord Mackay soldiered on he would have got his original Bill, he said.

The Bill will extend protection against molestation to former spouses and to people living in the same households. "It in no way gives the grasping mistress any greater protection than she enjoys at present. But it does protect against granny bashing or beating up a flat mate or a child."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Waine, emphasised the need for adequate funding for the proposed mediation service. "At its very heart marriage is a loving, caring relationship," he said. "When that relationship of trust and intimacy is in danger, it is not the legal bonds which need attention but the relationship that they are designed to protect - the threat of marriage breakdown and its consequences for the children."

The Rt Rev Waine pointed out that when mediation was introduced in Canada, 19 per cent of those seeking advice decided on reconciliation.

A former member of the Security Service yesterday added his approval to the Bill enabling MI5 to work with the police in the fight against organised crime.

In a maiden speech, Lord Cuckney, former chairman of Westland helicopters, said that MI5, with its experience of counter-terrorism, could be deployed against organised crime and be "of benefit to the stability of the country".

But Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for the Liberal Democrats, wondered what the public would feel about "secret police operating on our streets, whatever the purpose".