|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: A number of amendments are down in my name in this grouping: Amendments Nos. 71, 71A, 79 and 80. I hope that it will facilitate the business of the Committee if I associate with them some amendments down in my name in what I presume is a following grouping; namely, Amendments Nos. 71B, 154, 163, 163A and 163B. All nine amendments have to do with making marriage counselling available and supporting those agencies and organisations which in one way or another support marriage.
Clause 8 concerns attendance at information sessions. Amendment No. 71 seeks to ensure that those who attend are offered counselling sessions with an approved marriage counsellor. Whether the couple accept this is entirely voluntary, but if this Bill is to strengthen marriage, as all of us here hope, and to facilitate divorce where that seems to be inevitable, the availability of professional marriage counselling needs to be made known from the outset. Amendment No. 71A is similar. It is designed simply to ensure that the counselling that is offered is free. This relates to the new clause proposed by the noble and learned Lord in Amendment No. 162, which I along with other noble Lords very much welcome, and my amendment to that, Amendment No. 163. Amendment No. 71A seeks to ensure that the couple are not only told that counselling is available but that it will be available without cost to them.
Amendment No. 71B is concerned simply with the definition of an approved marriage counsellor. We do not want just anybody coming in who believes that he or she is qualified to advise and counsel in this very sensitive and difficult area. Amendment No. 79 spells out the kind of information that needs to be given to a couple who are contemplating a divorce, both the benefits of marriage counselling and the effects of divorce on the parties and the children.
Amendment No. 80 seeks to ensure that when regulations are drawn up under this clause the Lord Chancellor will consult the qualifying organisations. (I apologise for the fact that this aspect involves a huge range of amendments, but I assure you that all of them concern marriage counselling in one way or another). Amendment No. 154 is related to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, Amendment No. 162. That enables him to make grants to organisations which support marriage in various ways. In the light of his amendment, my amendment may not be as relevant as it was when it was put down.
Amendment No. 163 seeks to make the point, which has already been referred to, that the marriage counselling that is offered at the information session is free. Amendments Nos. 163A and 163B are concerned with definitions; the former with the definition of marriage support services, and the latter with marriage counselling.
The nub of these amendments is the belief that this Bill, properly amended, can support marriage. We are not pessimistic about the Bill and do not believe that it will necessarily lead to an increase in the number of divorces. However, if the Bill is to buttress marriage, it must be made quite clear that marriage counselling is available at any time during the year of reflection and consideration, and that if people wish to avail themselves of it such counselling will be free. We also wish to ensure that those who offer counselling are well trained and supervised. The corollary to that is that the marriage support agencies from whom such people will be drawn are in a financial position to train and supervise, as well as do the other valuable work of research into marriage and marriage education.
I hope that I am not over optimistic when I say that, among all the very divisive amendments on this Bill, the House will be able to unite around supporting these amendments. We believe that if these amendments are accepted it will be possible through the Bill to buttress marriage in a significant way.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: I desire to offer general support to the spirit of these amendments. In a sense, this Bill is a kind of prolegomenon for a new philosophy, but the amendments go to the question whether the detail has been thoroughly worked out. In principle, the Bill reposes a great deal of confidence in mediation as a substitute for litigation, and marriage counselling as a sensible substitute for conflict leading to break down.
I understand the spirit of these amendments to give detail to what may be thought of as mere warm words--that is, mediation and marriage counselling. I can ask the same questions as are implicit in these amendments of mediation as of marriage counselling. Who are the mediators? Who accredits them? What professional standards do they apply? When public money is involved, we need to know the answers to these questions. I suggest that precisely the same important questions may be asked of the marriage counsellors as are asked of the mediators. The cost of it all is critical. Therefore, I lend general support to the spirit of these amendments.
Baroness Seear: I should like to make a very brief point. I strongly support these amendments. I should like confirmation from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the physical setting in which these information sessions, the meetings, will have to take place will be as informal, unthreatening, friendly and unbureaucratic as possible. The people will be in a disturbed state of mind and the physical setting in which those activities will take place can make a great deal of difference to the way in which people receive what is said to them. I should very much welcome the comments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on that point.
I greet with enormous relief and enthusiasm what one might almost call the revelation that there is unanimity on the importance of preserving and strengthening marriage, which should not be taken for granted. There are today powerful advocates of the denigration of marriage by alternative life styles, as is the term used. In this Chamber there is still represented a respect and reverence for tradition and for the assumption that marriage is the basic unit of any civilised society and that is profoundly gratifying. What has been said in favour of that position commands my great admiration and enthusiasm.
Yet if there is something that I can contribute, it is to say that I miss two specific dimensions from this debate, which is now well into its third day. First of all, I miss a sense of alarm. The discussion has been conducted as though we have to accept the present utterly unacceptable figures for divorce. I suspect that we are not communicating to the public at large the profound unease that should stir the nation over a catastrophe in our social fabric which has no precedent and few parallels. That now gives us the questionable distinction of being the country, at any rate in Europe, with the highest divorce rate.
There must be something radically wrong in the whole structure of our society and in its education and commitment to certain moral levels, if we can witness a disaster on a scale that involves something like 600,000 individuals every year. I say 600,000 because in a divorce there are usually at least four people involved--husband, wife and, say, two children, on average--and that easily gives the figure that I mentioned. If anything on that scale were to happen by way of physical illness--a plague that were to strike us--how stirred we would be and how enormous would be the efforts of the leaders of the nation, spiritual as well as temporal and at every level, to create a profound sense of uneasiness and therefore to lay the foundations of a meaningful response.
We are dealing here with tens of thousands of children who might be crippled for the rest of their life through suffering from such a plague. They are the innocent victims of it. Therefore I feel that, in the first place, something has to go out from us--we were speaking of messages--whereby we alert and mobilise our schools, our clubs, the media and perhaps even our Churches. We must realise that we are facing a
Let me turn to the more positive angle. I believe that the key to the entire problem of the virtual dissolution of the marriage bond today and the cheapness with which it is treated on such a wide scale does not lie principally in making divorce more difficult or taking a longer or shorter time for reflection. It is already too late when a marriage has reached the stage at which either one or both parties seek an exit and actively think of breaking their marriage vows and the marriage bond. By then, the principal damage has already been done.
The first line of defence against marriage breakdown is the way in which we train our children, our students, our brides and grooms before they enter marriage to realise that there are mutual obligations; that marriage is not only there for what one can take out of it, but for what one can give to someone else. We must therefore indicate to them the commitment and earnestness of marriage, if necessary, compulsorily.
If we had a traffic accident rate of anything like the scale of the casualties from which we suffer through divorce, we would do anything to ensure that before anyone is given a licence to drive a car, proper and adequate training are given and tests taken to ensure that the training has taken effect. We would not allow such an enormous rate of slaughter to take place on our roads without taking some precaution to ensure that we do not hand the wheel to someone who is not adequately trained to take care of others who may be affected, whether they be fellow passengers, pedestrians or indeed the drivers themselves.
The principal line of defence therefore should be to ensure, by proper legislation, that no one enters into what is now a minefield of marriage without some form of adequate preparation, with warning signals and perhaps even a little guide as to how to choose a partner. Today it is all done so haphazardly. Today they fall in love; tomorrow they fall out of it. There is no sense of realism in relation to the earnestness required in making the biggest decision of one's life; that is, the choice of a life partner. It needs some form of regularised government control and state-supported activity whereby no one is allowed to enter into this most sacred contract on which the stability of our whole society depends without some form of realisation of what is at stake.
Some Members of the Committee gave us extremely valuable accounts of their personal experiences. My wife often reminds me that when we got married, immediately after the marriage, her mother took her aside and said: "Now, daughter, you are linked, bonded to your husband. It is your duty to ensure that you make a success of it. If you do not, you cannot come back to my home".
A mother should give some form of realistic advice to children. Thankfully, the advice was heeded, and not only by me and my wife. We are blessed with six children, all of them happily married. The word "divorce" or any thought that there may be a termination of, or that the bonds of any of the six may be breached,
I perhaps do not need to remind Members of the Committee of the high degree of conscience demonstrated in this debate and of the training which we all share through the moral heritage which is ours in common. In the Ten Commandments, side by side with each other, we have the law,
We believe that there is no difference between killing a human being and killing a marriage. Therefore, in the basic set of laws that have governed the progress of our civilisation to the present day and will, I am confident, continue to do so, an association is made that should be realistically appreciated; that is, that the worst offence that can occur against the stability of the whole of society is to allow offences to be committed against oneself and one's partner that are tantamount to murder.
If we try not only to instruct our children but set an example by creating here in this Chamber the reverberation that will eventually distribute echoes into every home in this country, we may succeed ultimately in reducing the enormous weight of casualties and have homes out of which will come a new generation of youngsters proud to be part of a society which is creative, loving and whose promises and pledges are enduring for life.
Lord Hylton: I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lord Jakobovits. He was absolutely right to emphasise the importance of preparation for marriage. He put it so well, that it is a duty which is incumbent not only on the parents in the first place, but also on the Churches as regards their own faiths and congregations.
I would like to go one small step further. We need to work out a secular equivalent of the work of believing parents and Churches which have an active and faithful membership. We need to find some method of preparing young couples who have no particular beliefs and who do not belong to any existing faith or religion. I speak with just a little experience although it is now of some years ago. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was involved in London in preparing engaged couples to face the rigours of the housing market as it presented itself, with all its problems, in those days. Very often we had to convince young couples who had not given the matter much thought, that it was more important to secure a lasting and potentially permanent roof over their heads rather than to buy the very latest thing in furniture or household gadgetry.
Perhaps I may move on from that to thank and welcome what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford is proposing in Amendments Nos. 163A and 163B. The definitions of marriage support services and marriage counselling are essential to be had on the face
I turn to Amendments Nos. 154, 162, 162A and 163 in various names. I do so because I spoke briefly last night when we were discussing reconciliation. I tried then to draw attention to the resources that undoubtedly will be required if comprehensive and national marriage support and advisory services are to exist and which will be available to all those who need them. I strongly suspect that that is not the case at the present time.
I invite the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when he replies, to say something either on this group of amendments or possibly at a later stage, about what he considers is likely to be available in the way of resources for this very important work. In Amendment No. 163 the right reverend Prelate proposes that counselling sessions should be freely available. That is something on which perhaps there is scope for a variety of opinions. It may be that the relatively rich or reasonably affluent can afford to pay something towards the cost of the services that they will be receiving, but there can be little doubt that both the training of the personnel providing the services and their supervision while in post will be very costly exercises. Money for them will have to be found from somewhere. This is a most important group of amendments.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page