Family Law Bill, 1981: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to abolish the actions for criminal conversation, enticement and harbouring of a spouse, and breach of promise of marriage, to make provision in relation to the property of, and gifts to and between, persons who have been engaged to be married and finally to provide that a consent given by a spouse under section 3(1) or section 9(2) of the Family Home Protection Act, 1976, to the disposal of the family home or the household chattels shall not be or shall not be taken to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that it is or was given by a spouse under the age of majority.

Before commenting on the detailed provisions of the Bill I should like to refer to remarks in the national press attributed to Senators Robinson and Hussey on the occasion of the publication of this Bill, to the effect that the Bill represented a reversal of a previous Government approach, in the words of Senator Robinson "a double somersault", "a change of heart".

These statements and earlier newspaper reports, which were denied at the time, that the Government had decided to introduce a Bill which would give a right of action for adultery were totally without foundation. This Bill represents the first and only set of proposals on the subject adopted by the Government. That there can be no doubt on this point is clear from the record.

The Minister for Justice stated on the occasion of the debate on the Private Member's Bill introduced in the Dáil in March 1980 and on a number of other occasions, that he did not propose to make proposals to the Government on the basis of the working paper — Working Paper No. 5 — 1978: "The Law Relating to Criminal Conversation and the Enticement and Harbouring of a Spouse"— published by the Law Reform Commission but proposed to wait until he had received and considered the final recommendations of the commission.

The commission's final recommendations on the subject are contained in their recent first report on family law. The Government, having given the matter careful consideration, came to the conclusion that it would be preferable, on balance, to abolish the actions for criminal conversation and enticement without replacement. Section 1 of the Bill contains the provisions necessary to give effect to that decision.

The Law Reform Commission recommended that the action for harbouring of a spouse should be abolished and section 1 also gives effect to that recommendation. As I said in the Dáil, the fact that the Government have not accepted the commission's recommendations in regard to criminal conversation and enticement of a spouse in no way minimises the very important contribution that the commission have made to the consideration of the whole question.

Sections 2 to 9 of the Bill provide for the abolition of the action for breach of promise of marriage and for various questions in relation to the property of persons whose agreements to marry have been terminated. These provisions follow generally the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in their Working Paper No. 4 — 1978: "The Law Relating to Breach of Promise of Marriage", and their first report on family law.

Section 2 provides that an agreement to marry shall not have effect as a contract under the law of the State and that no action for breach of such an agreement may be brought in the State, irrespective of the law applicable to the agreement. The section will have effect in relation to agreements whether they were entered into before or after the passing of the Act but will not — under subsection (2) — affect any action commenced before that date. This section differs in one respect from the commission's recommendation. The commission proposed to abolish the action only in respect of agreements entered into after the passing of the Act. This proposal could have resulted in actions for breach of promise being instituted long after the Act became law. The Government took the view that once the basic decision to abolish the action was taken, it should apply to all agreements to marry including those made before the Bill becomes law.

Section 3 provides that where a wedding gift is given by a third party to either or both parties to an agreement to marry, it will be presumed, if there is no evidence to the contrary, that the gift was made (a) to both parties as joint owners, and (b) subject to the condition that it will be returned on request if the marriage for any reason does not take place. The presumption that such a gift was made to both parties as joint owners will have relevance not only to broken engagements but also to cases where the marriage does take place. Thus the question of ownership of valuable wedding gifts will be settled for the purpose of any dispute that might arise later in regard to matrimonial property. The present law appears to be that wedding gifts by third parties are retrievable if the marriage does not take place, but there is no presumption of joint ownership.

Section 4 makes provision in relation to gifts of property, including the engagement ring, between engaged couples. If the marriage does not take place for any reason other than the death of the donor, it will be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the gift was given on condition that it be returned on request. If the marriage does not take place because of the donor's death, it will be presumed, again in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the gift was given unconditionally. This provision is in accordance with the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission who adopted the general principle that the law should remove any consideration of responsibility for the termination of the engagement from the determination of whether these gifts are returnable.

Section 5 is concerned with the property of engaged couples. Subsection (1) provides that, where an agreement to marry is terminated, the same rules of law as apply to the rights of spouses in relation to property in which either or both has or have a beneficial interest will apply in the case of engaged couples in respect of any property in which either or both of the parties have a beneficial interest while the agreement was in force. The effect of the subsection will be that previously engaged couples will be treated in the same way as if they had been married so that in the determination of property question any rules of law developed by the courts in relation to married persons regarding contributions to the acquisition or improvement of property will apply to previously engaged couples. Subsection (2) provides that section 12 of the Married Women's Status Act, 1957, which enables an application relating to the determination of questions between husband and wife as to property to be brought in a summary manner before the Circuit Court or the High Court, shall apply to disputes between parties to an agreement to marry which has been terminated in relation to property in which either or both had a beneficial interest while the agreement was in force.

Sections 6 and 7 provide for the making of orders by the court where one party to an agreement to marry that has been terminated has received a substantial benefit, other than a wedding gift, from a third person, or where a party to an agreement to marry or another person on behalf of that party has incurred expenditure of a substantial nature in the expectation that the marriage would take place. Wedding gifts are excluded because they will fall under section 3 as I have mentioned. In the case of an application under section 6 or 7 the court may make such order as appears to it just and equitable in the circumstances.

Section 8 provides for the jurisdiction of the courts in relation to applications under sections 6 and 7 and section 9 provides for a limitation period of three years in respect of proceedings to enforce a right conferred by the Act where an agreement to marry for whatever reason has been terminated. The period will begin to run from the termination of the agreement to marry.

The third matter dealt with in the Bill relates to the consent of a minor spouse given for the purpose of section 3 (1) or section 9 (2) of the Family Home Protection Act, 1976. Section 10 provides that such consent whether it was given before or after the passing of this Act will not be, or be taken to have been, invalid by reason only that it is or was given by a person who has not or had not attained the age of majority. The need for this provision has arisen, in relation to house purchase loans, in the following circumstances.

Section 3 (1) of the 1976 Act provides that a conveyance of any interest in the family home without the written consent of the other spouse will be void except in certain circumstances.

One consequence is that lending institutions, when dealing with applications for house purchase loans from a spouse, need the written consent of the other spouse to the conveyance of the house as security for the loan. Lending institutions have refused to accept the consent of a spouse who is under the age of 21 years, the present age of majority, as a valid consent for the purposes of the section and the result has been, in the case of an adult applicant for a house purchase loan whose spouse is under 21 years, that proceedings have had to be instituted with a view to obtaining the court's authority to give the required consent on behalf of the spouse. The effect of section 10 will be to obviate the necessity for such proceedings. I might add that the view taken by the lending institutions in this matter, that is that the consent of an under-age spouse was not a sufficient consent, was confirmed by a recent High Court decision.

Besides the immediate problem relating to the consent of a minor spouse in relation to the conveyance of a house, a similar problem could arise in relation to the consent of a minor spouse under section 9 (2) of the 1976 Act to the disposal by the other spouse of the household chattels. Section 10 covers that situation also.

Before I leave section 10 I would like to refer to the complete misinterpretation of the section in the other House by Deputy Keating. I replied to the points made on that occasion by the Deputy but in view of the fact that a number of newspapers gave prominence subsequently to the Deputy's contribution I think it necessary to refute again what the Deputy said in relation to section 10. The Deputy claimed that what we are doing in this section is facilitating lending institutions by taking away a right which an under-age spouse already has, the right to repudiate a consent given while he or she was still a minor. The whole point at issue however, is that under-age spouses have not been in a position to give consents at all in the situation in question because the consent of an under-age spouse was not regarded as a sufficient consent for the purposes of the 1976 Act and lending institutions are not and have not been accepting such consents in the case of applicants for house purchase loans and would not do so in the future unless the law were changed. Therefore, rather than doing something detrimental to under-age spouses, we are doing the direct opposite: we are making it possible, in the case of a married couple one of whom is under the age of majority, to obtain a house purchase loan without having to go through the courts.

Newspaper reports suggested also that the section had implications for other areas of the law and that the rights of young persons were being fundamentally altered by virtue of this section. That is not correct. This section, as I have already indicated, deals only with the question of consents required for the purposes of the Family Home Protection Act, 1976. I think it right that I clarify again the position in view of the fact that the newspaper reports I have mentioned might cause confusion in the minds of the young people whom the section is designed to help.

It has been suggested that this Bill should deal with the question of the legal incapacity of persons under 21 years to be party to a contract to purchase a house or to obtain house purchase loans. In this regard let me say that it was never the intention to deal with the contractual capacity of minors in the present Bill. The purpose behind section 10 as I have said is to deal with a separate, specific and important problem arising from the operation of the Family Home Protection Act, 1976. While I have every sympathy with the difficulties of minors seeking to buy houses, it would be undesirable to deal in the present Bill with only one aspect of minority. Any legislation dealing with the question of the general contractual capacity of minors would have to deal with other legal aspects of the status of minors as well as the age of majority itself. As the House is aware, the Law Reform Commission have published a working paper on the age of majority and are at present preparing a final report on the matter which will include a draft Bill giving effect to their recommendations. The basic recommendation in the working paper is to reduce the age of majority to 18 years or earlier marriage which, if accepted, would enable persons of 18 years of age, or of a lesser age if married, to enter into binding contracts including mortgages. I understand that the commission hope to furnish their final report quite soon.

Before I conclude I would like to advert to the fact that the Law Reform Commission's first report on family law contains recommendations in the very important area of matrimonial property. These recommendations and the remaining recommendations in the report, other than those being dealt with in this Bill, are being considered separately.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I do not necessarily welcome all the erosions of antiquity but I certainly welcome section 1 which abolishes the criminal conversion action and all that was involved therein. The Law Commission Report in regard to section 2 is quite acceptable, the abolition of the breach of promise action, but I think the Minister will have to give more consideration to the Government's decision to abolish the breach of promise action in relation to promises made before this becomes law because, as I see it, however you view the existence of the law with regard to breach of promise cases the fact of the matter is that the actions, the claims lie on the basis of the right in the law, a right which, if there is a promise to marry before this becomes law there arises with that promise, assuming due proofs by the parties concerned or other parties, a right. I know of no power in this Legislature to abolish that right.

Therefore, in respect of the provision for the abolition of breach of promise action, while absolutely welcome and entirely right, in so far as it proposes to abolish a right of action in respect of a promise enforceable now at this moment vested in somebody, possibly in the jurisdiction in respect of which we are making law, I do not think we should enact such a law as would abolish that right, irreespective of the statutory period of limitations, which incidentally might be the way in which the Government would wish to go about correctly dealing with the problem. There seems to be no reason why it would not be a proper regulation in regard to right of property Act, the limitation period in relation to the rights of enforcing existing promises to marry which are abolished by this Bill should be cut down to something quite modest.

There is a good deal of language in the Bill which may be right but which I am a little unhappy with. I do not know whether we have sufficiently set forth in it what a wedding gift is. A marriage is a public act and an agreement to marry may be very private. What is a wedding for the purposes of a wedding gift? Where is the wedding taking place? What is the position of somebody who accepts a gift, who is in fact intending to marry someone, and the gift as far as he knows is now complete but he does not know that the person who is giving the gift knows that what he thought was a matter that was private between him and the dame was in fact the motivation for the gift from the third party. So far from his owning it as he thought, he does not own it. It is subject to revocation by the person who makes the gift.

A gift, as I understand it, is made when something is given by the donor and accepted — and it must be accepted — by the donee. The condition for revoking it can be expressed but if we are going to statutorily impose it, let us at least define very closely the circumstances in which a gift which would otherwise transfer the property completely to the donee, because he accepts it, in fact will not transfer it to him because there is something called a wedding gift involved in the affair. Surely we have got to go a little further and have it provided that that request is enforceable if, and only if, he knew of the wedding and if, but only if, that was the motivation. I know there is a presumption in the absence of evidence to the contrary. I take it that there is a presumption that it be joint. That is a rebuttable presumption because it is proper that a donor could say he is giving it for one person. That is a matter of proof, there is only a presumption, but in the absence of that kind of thing being said it seems to be a fair presumption that it should be a gift to the two.

However the presumption seems to arise if there is something called a wedding gift there. It seems to accept that there is a public wedding and that the gift is clearly related to the wedding and then the presumption arises. But maybe it is not so. It may be a quiet little ceremony with as little notice as is required by the law to be given and maybe not in Ireland at all. I am not satisfied that this is as it should be. I certainly think we should take Committee Stage of this Bill on the same day as we will be taking Committee Stage of the other Bill.

I take the Minister's point about consent. The gifts of minors are avoidable but not void. They are all right unless the minor says subsequently that they are wrong. They are not empty and null. There is a technical point being coped with here which is the important part of the section in that it gets rid of the necessity to go to the court to get a consent in the case of a minority where there is a more money raising operation involved. That seems to be entirely right.

Minors are involved in the purchase of houses and the raising of mortgages. Problems have undoubtedly arisen in this area in relation to raising money because of the language of the existing section. I know that the Law Reform Commission have also referred to this question of the disposal of household chattels. What human circumstances are we improving by facilitating the disposal of household chattels in the case of a minor spouse? It is perfectly clear that the property cannot be bought unless that property is going to be available as good title for the lending agency involved. It saves the trouble of having to bring the court in to decide whether the minor should consent. If the minor does consent the Law Reform Commission have recommended that there should be this provision. It is fine that we will facilitate that and that the consent of the minor is all right for the purposes of the mortgage or perhaps the resale or something of that kind. Why are we facilitating particularly the sale of household chattels? This seems to me such change of the general law to which the Minister has referred with regard to minors. But I would like to know the particular social improvement which is being effected by the proposal that the law should be changed from what it is at present with regard to the consent of a minor on the sale of household chattels.

There is very little one can say about the actions for criminal conversation and enticement except to agree with the Minister that they should be abolished. They are about as relevant to human relationships today as a medieval chastity belt.

The only significant thing about this is that the Minister has not acceptedin toto the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission. The recommendations of the commission were that the action for criminal conversation as at present constituted should be abolished but there should be created in its place a new action for adultery that may be taken by either spouse for the benefit of the family unit. They make a similar recommendation about the action for enticement. It is significant that the Minister has rejected these recommendations because to accept them would be to involve the Legislature in pronouncing moral judgment on people's private behaviour and I do not think one should have laws on our Statute Book which seek to regulate people's morals, particularly sexual morals. After all, it has never been the custom of our courts to award custody on the basis of the guilt or innocence of a parent. In fact, the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, operates on the basis that the prime concern is the benefit of the child. It does not concern itself with the moral turpitude of the parents.

In this regard it is interesting to look at the English experience. The Common Law action for criminal conversation was abolished in England in 1857 but an action for damages for adultery to be taken by the husband and not the wife was substituted, an action somewhat similar to the one that the Law Reform Commission recommended here. It was not until 1967 that a working paper of the English Law Commission recommended the abolition of this action. The English Law Commission Working Paper No. 9 said in their report that they were:

inclined to the view that damages for adultery and the action for enticement should be abolished altogether and not replaced; that, however, they felt that this was not a question on which they at that stage ought to have given a firm opinion because it was a matter for the moral judgement of society generally

In fact, the only thing that can be said in favour of this action for adultery — and it is suggested in the Law Reform Commission Report and elsewhere — is that such an action would afford financial benefit to what has become a single parent family. But it is generally felt by women's organisations that such an action involving public washing of dirty linen is not advisable and there is hardly any point in replacing the action for criminal conversation which reduces the marital relationship to one of pounds, shillings and pence should be replaced by an action which does precisely the same thing.

That is all I have to say about this Bill except that I would hope the Law Reform Commission would make recommendations on more serious matters, matters of domicile, nullity, and illegitimacy which are matters of very much more consequence.

I would like to endorse everything that Senator Cassidy has said. There is one point that I would like to put to the Minister which I do not think has been put so far. I am not sure which of the two Bills it comes under. It seems to me to be under one or the other. I hope the Chair will bear with me as I state it very briefly anyway.

One of the most difficult things — and here I agree entirely with Senator Cassidy — is the whole question of domicile and the house. I will put it in the most concrete terms imaginable. Let us suppose that a decreea mensa et thoro is granted and a couple break up. At this stage the marriage is all over. The woman gets maintenance and, say, custody of the children. She is living in the family home and she owns it and she has the children. The husband must pay to support her. The case costs, say, £3,000 in the courts and the husband claims inability to pay. In such a case the High Court can actually take the house and sell it to cover the costs. I have in mind two cases that I know of in which this kind of thing has happened, or at least has been threatened. I am wondering whether either of the Bills before us covers that. I am not a lawyer and I am sure that on Committee Stage Senator FitzGerald as well as the Minister may have something to say about that. That is a really serious point. I completely agree with Senator Cassidy when she says that the suggestions of the Law Reform Commission that adultery should be made an offence seems to me an offence in itself.

The second thing I would like to say is that the Bill is long overdue and I congratulate the Minister and the Government for bringing it in. It is an interesting exercise in law. It is not the purpose of law to make people good. There is a famous case that Sir Patrick Devlin, now Lord Devlin, refers to, a case in South Africa which had to do with some boundary or a mearing business between two tribal landowners. At the end he said to the man who had been found guilty that he could punish him and force him to make restitution but that he could not make him an upright man. The law cannot do that. That is the purpose of religion and moral teaching and other agencies. That is why the law should not meddle in family matters except where there is protection of the individual right involved. That is where, of course, the right of a wife not to be beaten by her husband, orvice versa comes into being. In other words, these two Bills together have replaced the more ancient concept of family law which was enshrined in the concept of a pair of hobnail boots and a poker — George Bernard Shaw, by the way; I did not invent that glittering phrase. The main point about it is that family law is based on the concept that all law should be based on, that is, the rights that are inherent in the individual, whether male or female, black or white, Catholic or Protestant, Jew, Presbyterian. Only on the rights of the individual can law be properly based. This is why this law in a way is a minor watershed. It sees the wife and husband as individuals, not one the chattel of the other. The two matters it concerns itself with are interesting in that respect. Breach of promise of marriage was based on an old concept. But it was based on the notion that is often set out in the English novel in the nineteenth century that the woman has only one serious decision to make, that is, whom she will marry. If one reads the novels of George Elliot and Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell one will discover that the heroine in these novels has only one choice to make — whom she will marry. Her whole life is based on whether she makes the right choice in marriage. After that it is all decided. She gets her revenge of course by rearing her children and aiming them like cannon against society afterwards but that is neither here nor there. To that extent she was not autonomous. Her destiny was stitched in to male destinies and choices of a marital kind. It is understandable, therefore, that a breach of promise of marriage would be a very important aspect of that society.

We can rejoice that our daughters nowadays do not have to submit themselves to that kind of humiliation. They can be autonomous people. They can choose to marry or not to marry as they wish. This Bill recognises that. It recognises it in terms of that breach of promise of marriage on the one hand and this very voluptuous activity called criminal conversation which I have often been tempted to engage in. Apparently the delight of that activity is now being removed and deoderised and disinfected by the Minister in this law.

The biggest fault about that notion of criminal conversation was that, first, it was based on this ridiculous notion that the woman was somehow or other a chattel and therefore a kind of sex object, an inanimate object, just an object of desire. But of course the other side of that was that she never could be because she was a human being and therefore it was possible for her to enter into collusion with her husband in order to manipulate this law. In other words, the law of criminal conversation is the classic example of the law trying to do what it cannot do — to make one an upright man or an upright woman as the case may be. All the law can do is punish or protect but it cannot improve us. It must realise its limitations. That is why I like these two measures. In a sense they show us to some degree as coming of age and in those terms I would like very much to welcome them.

In regard to the case I opened with, which was a very serious one, what is the position ultimately if after the wife has won the whole thing, got maintenance, got her children, got the house, and the lawyers want their money and the husband is unable to pay? Can they take the house from the woman in order to get their fees? I would love to know that. Perhaps it is unfair of me to ask the Minister to answer that now, but perhaps he can answer it. I am told that that is one of the really serious difficulties under which this legislation will be operated.

The Bill removes from our Statute Book forms of action which are clearly out of time with modern ideas and in some cases have been sources of very serious offence to women. I refer in particular to the action for breach of promise, the abolition of that, and the abolition of criminal conversation. Apart from this, section 10 has very practical relevance for young married couples buying houses where one of the spouses is under 21 years of age. I would like to thank the Senators for their welcome for the Bill generally. Senator FitzGerald expressed a personal view that he would not wish to see all the antiquities of law abolished——

I did not say laws.

It is a functional and a practical thing to do what we are doing because as Senator Martin has stated, action for breach of promise is going to be considered in the context of the very luminous women whom he referred to.

Senator FitzGerald also suggested that wedding gifts should be defined. The Law Reform Commission did not consider it necessary to define a wedding gift and I do not accept that any difficulty can arise from the absence of a definition. It will be a matter of fact as to whether the gift is a wedding gift or not and I do not anticipate any difficulty in that connection.

On the question of the breach of promise action, if section 2 abolished this action only in respect of agreements entered into after the commencement of the Act, the position would be that having regard to the fact that an action could be taken up to six years after the actual breach of an agreement, which itself might be quite some time after the Bill became law because it could be a long engagement, it is possible that an action for a breach of promise of marriage could be instituted long after the Act becomes law. Basically it would be impracticable not to have retrospection because you can envisage a situation where as and from the date of the coming into effect of the abolition of the action you might have what has been the traditional feature of Irish society, the long engagement. You could have an engagement that was going on for x period before the coming into effect of the Act and went on for quite a considerable period after the coming into effect of the Act. It would certainly be in conflict with the spirit of what is proposed.

If you had on the one hand the action abolished but because of the fact that somebody chose to have an exhaustive period of engagement with another party, that person would have the right of action just because the duration of the engagement covered the period before the coming into effect of the law and some considerable time afterwards.

Senator FitzGerald asked why the Bill provides that the consent of a minor spouse for the sale of the household chattels will be good consent. It is necessary that the circumstances, as I indicated in my opening remarks, that the consent of an under-aged spouse should be a valid consent when the house is being sold. It should surely be then accepted that the consent should also be valid for the sale of the household chattels. If the Law Reform Commission's recommendation is that the age of majority should be reduced to 18 years of age, or earlier marriage is accepted, the effect should be the same.

The Government did not necessarily accept the Law Reform Commission's recommendation in all respects but I do not want it to appear that, regarding the commission's recommendation, which was as a result of exhaustive search by very eminent people, the implications of accepting or of not accepting a particular recommendation were not examined thoroughly by the Government.

The question of the law of domicile was raised by Senator Cassidy and also by Senator Martin. I would not like to enter into the area of reply on this questionper se because I do not think you can take the law of domicile in the way that the Senators have indicated — in isolation from all the other effects in the area of other rights, such as property rights and maintenance rights. For that reason it would be unwise of me to comment in view of the fact that the commission are examining this area. I have on more than one occasion stated that in fairness to the commission and their work it would only be proper to await their findings and not do, as has been done by a Member of this House, Senator Robinson, and indeed by a Member of the Dáil, Deputy Keating, both of whom — for reasons obvious to me and I am sure clearly known to themselves — were prepared to move forward without even knowing the final recommendations of the commission, each in a particular area, but in respect of the law on domicile particularly, where Senator Robinson introduced her own Bill.

Senator Martin has raised the question on what happens when a female spouse has successfully won her case, where she has entitlement to the custody of her children and family home but where the husband is not prepared to meet his legal costs. I do not wish to evade what the Senator is asking. I will certainly examine it, if he would like me to do so, outside the House and consult with him on it. I do not know the facts or the details but I make the point that it would seem most unreasonable. I am satisfied that our courts have always considered reason and reasonableness as a very essential ingredient in any decision they take and I do not think, having regard to the implications of the 1976 Act, they would be prepared to act where it was reasonable to expect that the woman involved had acted reasonably. In the absence of any details on the matter, I doubt it likely that the woman would be evicted by court order and be put out on the streets because she had an obligation to comply with a situation that was not of her making. However, I will certainly examine it. I do not know if we will have an opportunity in this House at a later point to discuss it — perhaps we may on Committee Stage — but I certainly will come back to it.

Under the Family Home Protection Act the family home cannot be sold by one spouse without the prior consent of the other spouse. It would be highly unlikely that a court would authorise the sale of the family home to meet the cost of proceedings brought by a spouse except, of course, in the most exceptional circumstances and we will investigate as to whether such circumstances are provided for. I think that covers basically what was said and I would like to thank all Senators for their comments.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

I suggest we take it when we are taking the other Bill.

Will this be after the general election? How does the Minister know he will be in a position to take the Bill?

Section 10 of this Bill is of very serious, urgent and practical importance for young couples buying houses where one of the spouses is under 21 years of age. For such couples section 10 will obviate the necessity and expense of having a court application for the purpose of ensuring valid consent. For that reason I am anxious that the Committee Stage be taken today. The Government are aware of the importance of this matter to young house buyers and I think there should be no legal restrictions that would preclude them from being able to avail of all the offerings that have been made to them in recent months.

Could we not meet next week? I think it would be dreadful if these two Bills were aborted by the general election.

Perhaps the Chair would inform Senator Martin of the situation. Have we not agreed to take Committee Stage of the previous Bill in a fortnight's time?

Senator FitzGerald was anxious to put forward some points and he thought other Senators might like to contribute in connection with amendments to the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Bill. He suggested that could best be done this day fortnight rather than this day week. For that reason I was not prepared to make hassle about it.

If this is to happen, who plays the ministerial role? We will still be in existence as the Seanad.

The Government are still in office.

I suggest this day fortnight for this Bill.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 17 June 1981.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.35 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 June 1981.