A debate in Westminster looking at family justice reform is to take place on Wednesday 15th November, but its underlying agenda is likely to disappoint serious reformers and raise eyebrows, too.

Whilst very little information has been offered about this debate – we still don’t know who organised or sponsored it, what the full list of topics will be and who will be attending – there are some clues on the event’s page over at the Parliament website. We have also received information from a Families Needs Fathers Cymru representative which sheds further light on the real agenda behind the debate.

The politician hosting the event is Suella Fernandes MP,  who is the Conservative MP for Fareham. A former member of the Education Committee, she now sits on the Education, Skills and the Economy Sub-Committee, which looks at ways in which education can boost the economy.

Suella was also on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill (Joint Committee). The Bill, which was ratified in 2016, came to be known as The Snooper’s Charter, for its invasive surveillance powers.

Suella’s voting record is interesting too.

She has consistently voted against laws to promote and protect people’s human rights, and any investigation into the Iraq war.

Relevant to the debate itself, she is an outspoken advocate for a presumption of shared parenting, and campaigns on Fathers’ Rights issues. Her work is supported by Families Need Fathers, though it’s not clear whether she feels the same way about the Fathers’ Rights organisation.

Suella appears to have become vocal about Fathers’ Rights around March of this year, writing for news outlets like The Times, and sponsoring the Family Justice Bill in that same month. The Bill’s aim was to make Child Arrangement Orders enforceable and to establish a presumption of shared parenting in law. It was ultimately set aside during the general election, but Suella never made any attempt to revive it after the Conservatives won.

She also used the Ten Minute Rule to introduce the Bill. As politicians and researchers will tell you, this makes the Bill nothing more than a soundbite, and is not considered a serious attempt at passing a law. We wonder whether Suella was upfront about this tactic, whilst appealing to angry and often desperate fathers willing to champion anyone showing an interest in their cause. Even if that someone might be an opportunist looking to bag a share of the votes.

It’s a sentiment not lost on some Families Need Fathers campaigners. One FNF post which featured another one of Suella’s soundbites, this time from her newspaper article on Fathers Rights, hosts a series of comments from FNF supporters. One comment, from Jo Woodage, reads:

Woodage

Suella never acknowledged the post or offered a response.

Coming back to the debate itself, a briefing paper is going to be made available at some point, though no time frame is given for its publication. The page does explain that if you’d like to be alerted when the briefing paper is published, you can email the team to request a notification.

As for the topics that are going to be discussed, five potential themes are listed as tags right at the bottom of the page. They are: Civil partnershipsCohabitationDivorceFamily lawMarriage. There are Briefings Papers listed too, which focus on contact and residence, no fault divorce, prenuptial agreements and cohabitation.

FNF Cymru seem to have much more detailed information on what the debate will actually focus on, lending fuel to the fire that Families Need Fathers have had a large hand in this event. The FNF Cymru page’s update suggests that the following topics will be discussed:

· The need for a presumption of shared parenting
· The enforcement of child arrangement orders
· No-fault divorce
· The enforceability of prenuptial agreements
· Rights of cohabiting couples
· Opening up family courts

And at the bottom of the post, we are told: “We [FNF Cymru] have provided quite a lot of input to Suella on this. Please encourage your MP to attend.”

Suella F

The debate coincides with a report released recently by the Nuffield Foundation which invites the government to consider no fault divorce, as well as a report entitled A Manifesto To Strengthen Families, which was produced by the Conservatives. The recommendations in the manifesto are typical of what you might expect from the party. They focus on ways to bolster conventional marriage through financial incentives as a way to lessen economic burdens on the state, which Tories believe are brought on by a rising trend in cohabitation.

If the debate is heavily populated by Conservative MPs, it’s bound to be nothing more than an effort at ensuring policy around couples focuses on boosting conventional marriage. This could potentially turn the clock back fifty years, in much the same way that Brexit and the government’s other disastrous policies have done. That the Conservatives, and Suella, may have used the Fathers Rights movement to prop up their debate is something FNF campaigners will have to decide for themselves.

As a Westminster Hall Debate the event will take place in the Grand Committee Room, one of the rooms Researching Reform uses for its Westminster Debates and so the debate should be open to the public.

It will be interesting to see who will be speaking at this event, and what the briefing paper has to offer, too.

We’ll keep you posted.

A very big thank you to DadsHouse for alerting us to this debate, and to Paul Apreda for kindly sharing information about Families Need Fathers’ support for this event.

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