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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him one short question to save him making another speech. In Amendment No. 162 he refers to research into the causes of marital breakdown and research into ways of preventing marital breakdown. Will those items take into account a wide range of influences, including, for example, the taxation and social security systems in so far as they may militate against marriage?

The Lord Chancellor: The heading of research into the causes of marital breakdown is a very general one. It would certainly be right to take account of any factor

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which appears to contribute to marital breakdown. One would have to take account of what action was available to try to cope with the matter.

I do not wish to extend this discussion too much. However, one of the practical questions is: at what times, at what stages in the marriage, are these crises most apt to occur? One seeks to develop services and to make clear the availability of services at those critical points--I have no doubt the earlier the better. That is why I am anxious that the work of our interdepartmental group which has produced the work so far is encouraged.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: We have again had a most important debate on a most important aspect of the Bill. There have been a number of remarkably fine speeches in the course of the debate. I hope that it is not invidious if I mention in particular the speech of my noble friend Lord Jakobovits. I presume to say that I entirely agree with everything he said. Subject to one very small reservation, I also agree with what was said by the right reverend Prelate. I might as well get that reservation off my chest. He proposed an amendment enjoining the Lord Chancellor to consult the agencies before making regulations. I am sorry to say that my noble and learned friend was altogether too indulgent to that suggestion. I am very much against cluttering up the statute book with injunctions to Ministers to do what they would do anyway. I know that the Opposition naturally regard all Ministers as morons. We do not take so jaundiced a view on the Cross-Benches. I think it is a pity when the statute book is already too prolix and expensive to put in quite unnecessary injunctions.

We had a most helpful reply by my noble and learned friend. On the three amendments that I proposed his reply was entirely satisfactory. He told us the sort of circumstances where he had considered liberty to prescribe necessary. Having declared them, all his actions under that head would be construed in the light of what he told the Committee. In the technical language of draftsmanship, they would be construed ejusdem generis; and I thought that that was entirely satisfactory.

The major subject on which I wished to comment on the subsequent amendment related to the charging for services. I assume that there would be no charge for the interview. I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong.

So far as concerns counselling, when I invoked the assistance of the National Marriage Guidance Council and its Roman Catholic and Jewish equivalents to supplement the work of the welfare officers of the court, whose function was mainly mediatory and mainly relating to children, my impression was that they did not charge although they were grateful for contributions from those whom they had helped.

Naturally, I tend to take a pro-Treasury view, but we are concerned with a fundamental institution of society. It seems to me entirely worth while devoting funds--even at the expense of other worth-while projects--to assisting people who have got into the trouble which the Committee has been contemplating. I therefore hope that, whatever happens about mediation, everything covered by counselling is not charged for. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 80 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Clause 9 [Arrangements for the future]:

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 5, line 15, leave out ("One of").

The noble and learned Lord said: There always comes an end to progress of the kind we have just made. Yesterday, in introducing Amendment No. 10, I listed the other amendments which it was suggested the Committee might find convenient to debate in the group. I said that I had spared the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, an unnecessary intervention. She subsequently took me to task, pointing out that she never made unnecessary interventions. I fully accept that rebuke. I meant, of course, that I had spared her the necessity of an intervention. However, I may possibly welcome her guidance at this stage, if only by an approving nod. With Amendment No. 82, the Committee may find it convenient to debate Amendments Nos. 83 and 86. The next group on the Marshalled List is Amendments Nos. 84 and 89 which relate to precisely the same matter. If I am in order, I suggest that the Committee may care to debate the two groups together. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for the approving nod.

Clause 9 seeks to ensure that before a divorce is granted the court is satisfied that proper financial arrangements have been negotiated between the parties or that the court has adjudicated on them. As was pointed out to the Committee yesterday, that provision appears to fly in the face of the Law Commission's original proposals. It was said that it might lead to hasty and ill-considered arrangements designed simply to facilitate the obtaining of a divorce order; alternatively, that it may lead to unnecessary subsequent applications to the court. I heard what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said about that and I do not believe that this is the occasion to debate the issue.

The amendments go to a rather different matter. In the present state of the Bill the court may be presented with negotiated arrangements obtained simply, without a vulnerable partner or, indeed, without either partner having the benefit of legal advice. Normally, in matrimonial matters the proper way to approach it is for full disclosure to be made by both parties of their financial positions and any other relevant information, the taking of advice as to the various options for achieving a just division and a formal agreement that takes account of the various provisions and future eventualities.

Of course, the parties will have the benefit of mediation. With a competent mediator that may be sufficient in many cases, but it is not difficult to envisage a situation where their property and financial affairs are complicated, or one party is not disposed to reach a reasonable settlement or attempts to foreclose

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the options by disposing of the assets. In that situation negotiations may take place, if at all, very much at arms length. There may be a need not just for a single mediator but for legal advice to be provided separately to each of the parties.

In such a case, if a fair result is to be achieved--one that both parties will accept and neither party will afterwards regret--any attempt at settlement will require access to legal advice. That assumes that legal aid is available to both parties in order that they can take advice. As I understood what the noble and learned Lord said yesterday and also today, legal advice would be available to both parties and the mediator would know when it was necessary for either party to be referred for legal advice. I assume it must entail that when necessary legal aid will be available. The noble and learned Lord appears to assent to that proposition. If so, I can spare your Lordships a great deal of time.

The Lord Chancellor: That is so, as long as the parties qualify in financial terms for legal aid. Where legal advice is necessary the Legal Aid Fund at present has the opportunity to provide it, and that will continue.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Of course, I accept the condition that they otherwise qualify for legal aid. If that is so, I can probably spare your Lordships a great deal of time. What has occasioned some hesitation on this side of the Committee is Clause 24. Clearly, that envisages that there will be regulations. The noble and learned Lord must have some idea of what he proposes to put into those regulations, but if the effect of them is that those who otherwise qualify for and require legal aid for this purpose have it, the difficulties are assuaged and I do not need specifically to move this amendment. I am most grateful to leave it there.

The Lord Chancellor: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I may answer the point. The purpose of the later clauses which deal with mediation is to extend the remit of the Legal Aid Board to permit it to finance mediation. We have a clause that gives a degree of emphasis to mediation. However, the general principles of the Legal Aid Act, and the references in that Act to legal advice and representation, are not affected. It is an extension of the scope of legal aid. As everyone knows, I have proposals for a more radical reform of legal aid, but so far as this Bill is concerned the present Legal Aid Act applies. What I seek to do is to extend the scope of it to include the funding of mediation, with a principle in favour of mediation where that is appropriate.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his intervention. If Clause 24 is not intended to do more than that and to emphasise that in the first instance mediation must be the sensible option, I for one am content. However, for the purposes of this debate I beg to move.

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