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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend is right in saying that our embassies abroad, especially those in countries from which a great number of asylum seekers come, do look very carefully at applications for visas, for example. They ask people, "Why are you going to the United Kingdom?" They may say, "We are going to visit", or "for education" or "business". If the embassy is satisfied that the application appears to be genuine a visa is given. The fact is that many of the applicants do genuinely visit on

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business and then return. However, having told one story to the embassy, a lot of them get to this country and a few weeks or months later they decide to change their story.

When I look at some of the countries from which a significant number of these people come I find India, Pakistan and Ghana included among them. I really wonder whether there is justification for suggesting that people from these countries, which I believe we all consider to be reasonably stable democratic countries, are genuine asylum seekers.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what provision has been made for hostel accommodation with feeding arrangements? If benefits are going to be withdrawn while appeals are taking place, can additional provision be made so that these people will not be sleeping and starving on the streets and begging from voluntary organisations?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an accusation which has been made a number of times. I pose this question to her and to the House and get back to the figures I have mentioned. At the end of the procedure--which sometimes takes months; sometimes 18 months--and they are on benefit, many are eventually refused and they cease to have benefit. I suggest to the noble Baroness that the people who will be refused and put off benefit rather earlier than 18 months will do the same as those people who come off benefit after 18 months currently do; that is, go back to their own country or find some other way of looking after themselves.

Lord Elton: My Lords, as one who is not a xenophobe and who does not come from the right of the party and whose doctor has repeatedly failed to get a knee-jerk reaction from either leg, may I first say that I am connected with, or a member of, two organisations which are interested in refugees, but I do not speak on behalf of either and I have not consulted them. These are my own private views and they need to be said for my noble friend's comfort.

It is impossible to look at the disproportionate flow of refugees into this country and the disproportionate number of those who do not qualify as rating refugee status without concluding that something is now wrong with the system and that the Government have a duty to do something about it. It is quite understandable that the subject develops great heat and passion because anyone who has seen cases of genuine immigrant hardship, whether political or economic, cannot help being stirred to compassion.

But this piece of legislation is not directed at dealing with economic migrants, but with political refugees. There must be a hoop through which they must pass, as the right reverend Prelate put it, in order that they can be identified. Having got through all that, there remains a concern that the system will not achieve what is intended effectively in the initial stages. I was relieved to hear of the 13,000 who will continue to receive the existing treatment because they are already applicants.

One cannot help thinking that there will be some cases of confusion at the point of entry. Is my noble friend saying that that can never be taken into account

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as a result of the removal of the Secretary of State's discretion? I imagine that the total volume of immigration under this head will diminish as word gets round what the new circumstances are. That will accelerate the appeals procedure, but it will still take some time, particularly in the initial stages.

I have not floated this idea anywhere, but it seems to me that the voluntary agencies have a great deal of knowledge of the system and many of them have a pretty accurate idea of what the result of an appeal is going to be. If those agencies had the courage of their convictions and provided from their own resources--and, I agree, at great expense--support for those applicants whom they thought had a good chance of succeeding, will the Government consider refunding that money to the supporting agency in the event of a successful appeal?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks and especially for his drawing attention to the changes that we made between the initial decisions that we took and these final regulations about the transitional arrangements. I say to him that as regards the future--and perhaps I should have answered the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on this--my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for the Environment will be discussing in detail with the local authority associations how we might judge what extra impact may fall on their resources in the future. For every bit of extra impact that may fall on their resources they will have savings, as my noble friend rightly points out, as the number of applicants coming to this country actually diminishes. As he rightly said, that should mean an acceleration of the appeals procedure.

I believe that it is properly compassionate to make sure that the rules we operate are such that the genuine do get in. The current system makes it very difficult to winnow out the genuine from the bogus. I believe that the changes we have made will very much help that process, which will be to the benefit of those who actually do need our protection.

Family Law Bill [H.L.]

4.36 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Mackay of Clashfern.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 1:

Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

General objectives

(" . The general objectives of this Act are as follows--

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(a) to support the institution of marriage;
(b) to ensure that all practicable steps with a view to preventing the irretrievable breakdown of marriage are taken;
(c) to ensure that the parties understand the practical consequences of divorce before taking any irreversible decision; and
(d) to minimise the bitterness and hostility between the parties and reduce the trauma for the children.").

The noble Lord said: I have read and re-read the report of the debate at Second Reading of this Bill and have had discussions with people involved at the sharp end of the effects of divorce on couples and their children and other family relations. We always seem to forget that in any divorce situation there are usually two sets of grandparents. They are always left out of the discussions, but they are very much involved and concerned when a break-up occurs. That is why I have mentioned other family relations. I am certainly very concerned about some of the proposals in the Bill as it stands and that is why I am moving this amendment.

When I read the White Paper last year I admit to being cautiously optimistic about the objectives outlined in it and that is repeated verbatim in my amendment: certainly paragraphs (a), (b) (c) and (c) are verbatim. However, the Bill came as a disappointment. In my view it does not reflect the objectives set out in the White Paper of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and cannot provide those conditions without suitable amendment to the Bill.

In his opening remarks at Second Reading the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor quoted from the Scriptures. I said then, and I say again, that I totally respect and admire his Christian background and quotations. I am a little perturbed that, probably because of time, he could mention only St. Mark, Chapter 10, Verses 4-5 to justify the position. I would have been happier if he had continued quoting from Chapter 10 and included Verses 6 to 9. They read:


    "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder".

When approached by the disciples in the house He said to them:


    "Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery".

I believe that that is a fairly reasonable expansion of those particular verses in the Scriptures as regards the marriage state.

I could mention many other such references. Indeed, I counted 42 in all, all of which underline the Christian approach to marriage. I have checked with a number of friends of other religions, and many other religions have the same appreciation of the importance of the basis of marriage as does the Christian religion. From where I stand that seems a fairly good reason for taking a careful look at some of the proposals in the Bill and their possible effects.

We already know that since the introduction of divorce legislation in the last century the legal understanding of marriage has radically changed.

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Whenever there is a change in divorce legislation the institution of marriage always seems to suffer in some respect or another. From being understood and defined in law as indissoluble, marriage has become a temporary union in both law and common understanding. I read an article in the Daily Mail recently by William Oddie--it is not my usual paper but I am reading everything to do with divorce and I happened to stumble on that article--in which he stated that if the proposals in the Bill become law as they stand,


    "marriage, once a solemn contract intended to last for life, will become an essentially temporary arrangement which either partner can end at his or her whim with a mere 12 months' notice".

That has worried and perplexed many people who are trying to understand the Bill. If William Oddie and many other people are right, we need to reconsider the provisions and to give guidance to those who are perplexed and worried by them.

On the question of quickie divorces, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor claimed that three-quarters of divorcing couples cite intolerable behaviour or adultery in order to get a so-called quickie divorce. However, we understand that statistics from the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys show that only 32 per cent. of divorces--not the 75 per cent. claimed--are gained within 4 months. That makes a huge difference to our understanding of the whole issue. It means that proposals to introduce a formal wait of one year are largely irrelevant because the majority of people already wait that long, and sometimes much longer. I have met many people who have waited much longer than a year and many more who have waited longer than is necessary for a quickie divorce.

The Institute of Economic Affairs has published an excellent booklet which I recommend that noble Lords read between now and remaining stages. Last year a well-informed series of essays by experts who have thoroughly researched the subject was published. Some of those writers are the most knowledgable experts in their field--not just in this country, but internationally. The booklet is entitled Just a Piece of Paper? In his introduction the editor states:


    "As divorce becomes more easily available so more people will resort to it as an escape from difficult situations: divorce becomes the first option rather than the last. With divorce available effectively on demand and without the consent of the other partner, the incentive to invest resources--both personal and financial--in a relationship is diminished. Marriage becomes temporary and provisional rather than binding and permanent. It may be used by one or both parties as a base from which to make forays into ... pools of possible alternative partners, searching for something younger/richer/sexier or just nicer".

Again, we have informed opinion speaking out against the possible effects of some of the proposals contained in the Bill. It has been my contention, and that of many other people, that the Bill makes divorce easier. That is what is worrying us.

Cohabitation will become even more popular and enticing than it is at the moment. Those of us who live in the inner cities know that the incidence of marriage is reducing. There has been a huge reduction in the number of marriages. I could give the Committee statistics for the next half an hour to show the effect of

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the reduction in the number of marriages and of the increase in the number of people who are cohabiting in "relationships", "partnerships" and God knows what else rather than in marriages. Cohabitation has increased every time the divorce laws have changed. I give one statistic. In 1991-92, 30 per cent. of single women between the ages of 25 and 34 were cohabiting. That statistic should not give us any pleasure whatsoever when we consider the effects of cohabitation on society as a whole. The fact is that cohabitation now presents a serious challenge to marriage. Indeed, I believe that a serious working party is being set up to discuss the demographic changes that could come about as a result of the increase in cohabitation and the decrease in the number of marriages.

In my view, in its present form the Bill does little to support the institution of marriage. That is why I have made one of my objectives in the amendment,


    "to support the institution of marriage".

I believe that the Bill should support the institution of marriage more strongly and firmly than it does.

In pushing mediation as an option before any attempt has been made to reconcile couples or to bring them together before divorce proceedings are initiated, the Bill fails to take the necessary steps to ensure that all practical measures are being taken to prevent the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. That is another objective. The Bill will fail again if it does not provide a period of reconciliation before mediation. As I tried to say on Second Reading, there is a huge difference between mediation and reconciliation. That difference is stark in both the White Paper and the Bill. Mediation is for the future. It assumes that the marriage has ended and that the couple are splitting up. It will deal with questions such as, "Who gets the video? Who gets the house? What about access to the children?" That is mediation as envisaged in the Bill.

I believe that a period of reconciliation before that is much more important. Many couples might decide to separate on the basis of a row or a series of rows but could be spoken to and guided, provided that the right sort of guidance is available. That is where the money should be spent. We are spending billions of pounds--we are certainly spending millions--on teaching children in sex education classes how to fit condoms and how to deal with various problems, but how much are we spending on teaching children how to communicate with each other, how to handle parenting and marriage and how to discuss all the problems that they will definitely experience? Children need to be taught such things and there are various organisations that could teach them. The Churches could do so. There are many people who could help to reconcile couples who are having difficulties with their marriage. All that we need are the resources. I am saying that we could spend a little money and save a lot if we were to spend some money in that way rather than on the social security benefits that are often needed when a marriage ends.

The objectives that I have outlined cannot be met unless there is a period of some months in which to concentrate on reconciliation. It is only when

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reconciliation has failed completely that mediation and counselling should take place. I have no doubt that a period of reconciliation will help to minimise bitterness and hostility between the parties. Reconciliation is therefore important even if it achieves no more than that. Even where there is ultimately a decision to divorce, if it is an amicable decision and there is no hatred or animosity that will help to minimise the trauma and difficulties for the children affected by it. Therefore, reconciliation is extremely important. Indeed, in my book, spending time on reconciliation should be a top priority.

More attention should be paid to the studies that are being carried out into the effects of divorce on children who are left behind in a one-parent family knowing that their other parent has disappeared. There have been studies--mainly the Oxford study--which have proved that sometimes, not always, it is more difficult for a child to grow up in a one-parent family than in a rocky, unhappy marriage. It is more traumatic when one parent disappears for good. We should pay a little more attention to such research and include some of it in our deliberations on the Bill.

The Bill should be judged, in our discussion on amendments, according to whether it meets those general objectives. I should like the general objectives set out at the beginning of the Bill. We can then judge the Bill to see where and when it falls short of those general objectives. If it does not meet them, I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will consider suitable amendments for submission on Report. Those who will be expected to implement the Bill, and those directly involved in marriage problems and breakdowns, but who will seldom be aware of our discussions or aware of the various clauses, should know the aims and the priorities which I have outlined in the amendment.

I do not profess to be a lawyer, or to have any special legal knowledge, but neither do millions of other people who will be affected by the Bill. None of them is a lawyer. It is up to us as legislators to ensure that the law will be clear to them and clearly understood by those who will be mediating, counselling and so on. I hope that the amendment will be accepted eventually, and that some guidance will be given right at the beginning of the Bill. There are precedents for such guidance. Some guidance was given in the Children Act 1989 and in the Education Act 1993. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will give the amendment his most serious consideration and reply to it on Report. I beg to move.


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