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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Before the noble Baroness moves her amendment, perhaps I may raise a question on the grouping which, if it is right, shuts out irrevocably at least one important amendment. The groupings list groups six amendments with Amendment No. 35 in the name of the noble Baroness, which has just been called. The list then goes on to say in the usual italics:


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On checking Hansard, I find that my recollection is correct. What happened late last night was that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, moved Amendment No. 30 with which several other amendments, including Amendment No. 34, were grouped. Amendment No. 34 was in my name, and I spoke to it. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor then replied to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and to myself. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, then withdrew Amendment No. 30. The following amendments up to Amendment No. 34, which was in my name, were not moved so that we never reached Clause 6.

The Chair put the Question, that Clause 5 stand part to which the Committee assented. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, then, belatedly because it was a quarter to 11, moved that the House resume. So we never got beyond Clause 5. Amendment No. 35 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has been called, correctly, but Amendment No. 35A, which is in my name, has not been debated and has not been reached.

The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, is always a great expert on the groupings. I hope that she will be able to clear up my recollection.

Baroness Trumpington: Amendment No. 35A, which I believe is the one to which the noble and learned Lord is speaking, was included in the grouping with Amendment No. 6. However, as we have not reached Amendment No. 35A, even though it was grouped with Amendment No. 6, the noble and learned Lord is fully able to speak--very briefly of course--to it.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 35:


After Clause 5, insert the following new clause--

Marital breakdown: regard to be had to views of child

(". Parties who--
(a) have made a statement of marital breakdown under the provisions of Part I of this Act; and
(b) are making any major decision which involves fulfilling a parental responsibility or exercising a parental right,
shall have regard so far as practicable to the views (if he wishes to express them) of any child for whom they have parental responsibility, taking account of the child's age and maturity.").

The noble Baroness said: The noble Baroness, Lady David, has her name to many amendments, but with great regret she is unable to be here this afternoon. Her son has flown over from America for one day, and this is the day. So, with the Committee's permission, I shall speak for myself and for the noble Baroness.

The Committee will know from the groupings list that the amendments relating to children specifically are Amendments Nos. 35, 52, 81, 90, 91, 118, 124 and 132. I shall speak briefly to all of them. As a preamble, I have to say that these eight amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and myself relate to children of divorced parents.

I know that all Members of the Committee will agree that divorce is a sad and damaging event in the life of any child. Children are on the no-win side. Parents

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sometimes do not realise the damage which is being done to children. If the parents stay together and yet have an uncompromising attitude of anger and distress towards each other, that is bad for children, as was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and the right revered Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. If the children leave their parents, or the parents separate and the child stays with one of them, that is something which distresses children beyond words. It is something that remains with them for the rest of their lives.

I have often had to deal with children of divorced parents. They say to me, "Why were we never asked what we wanted?" Children are not asked what they want. I do not contend that children should demand and get what they want; but I believe that the courts and the parents should understand what it is that their children need and want. On many occasions what a court decides is just what the child does not want. The courts should know that. So Amendment No. 35 seeks to ensure, first, that parents talk to their children, possibly jointly, about what is happening. If that is not possible, or the parents say that they just could not do that, as things stand the mediation service cannot do that for the child unless the parents give permission.

In the amendment I am saying that a requirement should be laid down, either on the face of the Bill in a schedule or in guidance, that the children's views should be known. I am asking for no more than that. I hope that we shall be able to persuade parents themselves to talk to their children without acrimony or animosity so that the children know that they have at least been heard, even if the outcome is not what they want.

Amendment No. 81 is in the name of myself and the noble Baroness, Lady David. It is a new clause which provides that:


"(1) The Lord Chancellor may make regulations to provide for a special children's officer to be attached to the family court care centres.
(2) The regulations shall make provision for the special children's officer to make appropriate arrangements on behalf of children whose parents--
(a) have made a statement of marital breakdown under this Act, or
(b) have taken or are taking proceedings under Part II of the Children Act 1989".

This amendment is attached to the previous one because the noble Baroness, Lady David, recommends that there should be someone to find out what the children want if the parents have been unable to help them. Children have often written to the judge to tell him that what has happened is not what they want. This amendment, together with Amendment No. 35, is a plea to the Committee to ensure that somewhere in the Bill the children's views and feelings are taken into account when an order is made. I beg to move.

Baroness Elles: I support the helpful amendments which have been introduced by my noble friend Lady Faithfull and by the noble Baroness, Lady David, who we regret is not here today. When we were debating the position of children in the Bill yesterday, she had the kindness to agree, after I had spoken, that the position

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of children was not dealt with fully in the Bill. Therefore I support all the amendments proposed by my noble friend.

Baroness Macleod of Borve: I apologise to the Committee for not having taken part in the debate previously. I am trying to recover from 'flu but it is overwhelming me again. However, I feel most strongly about the two amendments under discussion. I have experience of dealing with marriages that have gone wrong and of dealing with small children in a court of law and I believe that the amendments are vitally important. I do not know what I should have done without a special children's mediator or helper. I found that with the best will in the world parents believe that they are communicating with their children. However, it often happens that they have not communicated and that children have held back. The only person that the children will talk to is a children's officer. With those few comments, I warmly support the two amendments.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: It has been a criticism of the Bill that it pays insufficient attention to the welfare of children; that it is wrong to speak of a marriage having irretrievably broken down if there is a young child for whom the parents still have responsibilities; and that it is wrong to talk of the spouses being locked in a loveless marriage if there is a young child who can receive and reciprocate love. Throughout discussions on the Bill and the White Paper, and going back to 1969, attention has been focused on the parents and their wishes rather than on the child's. The Child Support Act was launched with a White Paper which stated that children come first. Quite obviously, they do not under this Bill. Therefore, it is of great importance that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has drawn attention to the fact that the courts should be cognisant and constantly vigilant as to the welfare of the child. The question is, how should that be done?

The noble Baroness wants the parents to speak to the child in question. In some circumstances that may be suitable but more often than not it is unsuitable because the parents try to influence the child in favour of their own interests, and ultimately, and generally disastrously, in favour of a new spouse who is put forward as a surrogate parent.

In my time, which is some time ago, the courts were most reluctant to see children embroiled in a divorce at all because it did far more harm than good. I shall be corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, if the practice has changed but I do not believe that it has. My practice was that if the parents were agreed as to the arrangements for the child--the court had to be satisfied under Section 41 of the 1973 Act--and if the court was satisfied that the parents had agreed, it almost always considered that that was better than any solution which was imposed by the court contrary to the parents' wishes. Therefore, there was no reason to bring in a child in those circumstances and there were several reasons for not doing so.

On the other hand, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, that it is necessary that the child's interests should be considered. Welfare officers,

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experienced probation officers, are attached to the court. They were recruited into a welfare office by my predecessor Lord Merriman. They act as mediators, and nowadays a great deal of voluntary mediation is offered. In Amendment No. 35A, I have suggested as an alternative that any child should be represented by the Official Solicitor who can report to the court. He is quite impartial and detached and very much used to representing the interests of children. It is one of his every-day jobs. Generally, an assistant official solicitor is exclusively occupied with that task. I believe that that course is preferable to the suggestion that a children's officer should be attached to every court, as suggested in one of the amendments. I cannot help believing that the Official Solicitor is the right person and can provide the right guidance to the mediator or, if it comes to it, to the adjudicating court. I shall be anxious to hear the views of my noble and learned friend on that matter because he has constant contact with the Official Solicitor.


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