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The Lord Chancellor: Perhaps I may say to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that, although in the Bill as originally proposed the matter of marriage support services was not directly addressed, I explained that, with the
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agreement of colleagues, I had set up an inter-departmental working party to look at it. One of the results has been that I have proposed Amendment No. 162, which is intended to enable the Lord Chancellor, with the approval of the Treasury, to make grants in connection with the provision of what we have called marriage support services, research into the causes of marital breakdown and research into ways of preventing that. That is intended to apply outside the ordinary matter of divorce.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that the sooner help can be asked for the better. However, that depends on the parties asking for it. It would not be right for anyone to go around asking people whether their marriages were in crisis. People need to come for help and we are investigating the spread of that help, the extent to which it is known about and what can be done to make it better known.
As regards the principle of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Young, I am entirely in support of the view that everything we can do to assist reconciliation should be done. One of the problems that I have is that I believe it is difficult and unwise to separate out the period into lengths of time for reconciliation and for other things. I have attempted not to include mediation in the Bill on that basis either, but to talk about a period for reflection and consideration.
It is suggested that those words can be improved upon, but it is important that there is one period. I believe that an effective aid to reconciliation is the kind of consideration that arises out of mediation when people are facing the future. Perhaps I may make that point good. The situation is made clear in Amendment No. 46, standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Earl, Lord Perth. It states:
My point about that, is that in a sense, it suggests that at an earlier stage the conclusion has been reached that the marriage cannot be saved. I am contemplating a later stage at which that point would be reached, rather than concluding that it cannot be saved, I wish to leave that point open for as long as possible. That is the problem about separating out the two aspects.
It is extremely important that both should be in contemplation for the whole period, because sometimes at the very last minute, when the reality of the future is seen, reconciliation might take place. Therefore, I am very much in favour of emphasising reconciliation as an important part of that period but I think that it is unwise to separate out the period as though there were a period for reconciliation and then, if that does not work, a period for mediation.
My view is that mediation requires to be by consent. It may be that my noble and learned friend will wish to return to that later. But at least the sort of mediation
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that I have in mind is not backed by compulsion. If there is an element of compulsion, then it is the court that I have in mind for that.
Lord Elton: Before my noble and learned friend leaves the point of mediation versus conciliation, perhaps he will tell us whether there will be, either in orders or in some corner of the Bill which has escaped me, any obligation on the mediator to put before the parties encouragement to enter into conciliation?
The Lord Chancellor: Of course, the purpose of the information session right at the beginning, before any process is embarked upon at all, is to give full information about reconciliation and the aids to reconciliation in the form of counselling.
The right reverend Prelate said that he would like that to be emphatically marriage counselling. We shall hear more about that later. Obviously marriage guidance counselling is included but there may be other types of counselling, more specific counselling which may be relevant. For example, a bereavement may require counselling. Many Members of the Committee may know of a situation where a tragic bereavement of a child has caused a great difficulty in the marriage. In such a case, it is not specifically marriage guidance but guidance as to how the parties can cope with the bereavement which may assist the marriage to carry on. But that is a minor point.
But such provision arises in the information session. There are later amendments, not in this groupand that is saying something because it is quite a large groupwhich deal with the question of whether a code of practice should be enacted.
I am not in the business of trying to regulate the professions. I believe that on the whole, professions should be self-regulated except, of course, where matters affecting other interests are concerned. It is right that the mediation profession should develop its own methods and standards. But the principal provisions in relation to mediation in the Bill are concerned with its funding by the Legal Aid Board. Subject to what may be said later, I believe that it is possible to have indications in a code as regards what we should expect of mediation before the Legal Aid Board could fund a particular type of mediation service. It would require to attain certain standards. That would be consistent with the view that the professions should not be regulated in detail by the Government.
Baroness Seear: The noble and learned Lord has said that he is very much in favour of conciliation, but of course it does not come cheap. Will the money be available to help people have access to such conciliation? That point is not very clear in the Bill.
The Lord Chancellor: So far as concerns money, I have pointed to a clause which I am seeking to insert in the Bill by way of amendment which would allow me to make grants in support of the provision of marriage support services. The precise amount of such grants will obviously be determined from time to time by reference to the effectiveness of the services. As has been said, if marriages can be saved, that is likely to be
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effective although it may not be immediately apparent. However, that is a matter to be considered. Obviously, the precise level of funding that will be required is a matter which will need to be considered from year to year in the light of the special situation.
In Amendment No. 162, I am asking Members of the Committee to insert in the Bill a clause which would authorise the Lord Chancellor to fund such services by grant, with the approval of the Treasury. As my noble friend mentioned, it was once a matter for the Home Office but it is now the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor. Whether that is an improvement is a matter for debate. I see that my noble friend wishes to intervene. I give way.
Lord Elton: I was waiting to interrupt but, as the opportunity has now arisen, perhaps I may ask my noble and learned friend a question. When he is considering the issue before the next stage, will my noble and learned friend recall the number of occasions upon which he and other people have said that, during mediation, people will discover what the future may hold and may wish to draw back from it? Surely that is the point at which conciliation ought to come into effect. I believe that the mediator ought to have a duty to point that out at the earliest stage. He can see the fracture in the ice floe first and, therefore, would be able to encourage the parties to remove it.
The Lord Chancellor: That is what I was seeking to say. If it is right to have a codeand that is something which we will have to discuss laterthen that is a provision which could be included. I do not believe that that is the kind of thing that one would put on the face of the legislation.
As I was saying, the Home Office did fund marriage guidance through Relate and the other organisations which have been mentioned. That responsibility was transferred to the Lord Chancellor's Department at about the time that the White Paper was issued but no statutory power to that effect was granted. That remains the case unless and until something along the lines of Amendment No. 162 becomes part of the law.
What I have said deals, I believe, with Amendments. Nos. 21A to 21C, 32A, 33A, 35B, 37A, 38A, 38B, 39 and 39A. Amendment No. 46 is the one I particularly referred to, but the principle runs through the earlier amendments. Amendment No. 54 has been postponed until later; Amendment No. 55A is again to the same effect.
There is an amendment in the grouping tabled under the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, which speaks of domestic violence. I am not sure that any special mention needs to be made in that respect. Then there are several consequential amendments. I shall move Amendment No. 59 later. It proposes to insert the phrase "received by the court" instead of the word "made", thus making it clear that the document is to be lodged.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also has an amendment which she is not following up. That brings me to the amendments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, to which he referred. The precise order in which these matters are put forward is a
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matter of some importance. I am interested in the way in which the right reverend Prelate has supported these amendments. In passing I have already asked whether it is right to restrict this matter to marriage counselling in the strict sense, because I can see that other types of counselling might, in some rather special circumstances, be relevant. Therefore I wish to ensure that all those who may be qualified to help effect a reconciliation could be covered under this clause. Marriage support services or something of that kind may be possible.
I am happy to consider the matter further and perhaps the right reverend Prelate will bear in mind the special types of counselling that I mentioned and consider whether he thinks that some further changes are required in that area. I should be happy to discuss that kind of matter without taking up the time of the Committee, because I think we are probably fairly well agreed as regards what it might cover. I might therefore be able to come forward with a better amendment at Report stage than if I were left to my own devices.
I have already spoken briefly to Amendment No. 128. I believe that the information session is extremely important in this connection. If the information has been given effectively, I would hope that the parties would not forget it as they discussed the matters that arose between them, and that the scope for reconciliation would continue.
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