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International Sea-Bed Authority (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1995

7.56 p.m.

Viscount Goschen rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].--(Viscount Goschen.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) (Law of the Sea Convention) Order 1995

Viscount Goschen rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].--(Viscount Goschen.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.58 to 8.15 p.m.]

Family Law Bill [H.L.]

House again in Committee.

Clause 19 [Interpretation of Part I etc.]:

[Amendment No. 163B not moved.]

25 Jan 1996 : Column 1189

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 164:


Page 10, line 12, at end insert--
(" "mediation" means family mediation conducted by a person accredited as a mediator in family mediation to an organisation which is concerned with such mediation and which is approved for the purposes of this Part by the Lord Chancellor;").

The noble Baroness said: On the groupings list, Amendments Nos. 164 and 169 are down as having been dealt with. Unless I was fast asleep I did not deal with them and I therefore deal with them now. I will take Amendment No. 164 together with Amendment No. 171.

Both the National Family Mediation and the Family Mediators Association are currently regulated by their own joint code of practice, and we discussed the question of codes of practice earlier. The mediation organisations consider it important that, in addition to a code of practice, there should be a structure of accountability to ensure that the public can be certain that the standards of mediation are high and will remain high. That is in line with what my noble and learned friend has set out in paragraph 6 of the White Paper Looking to the Future.

There are two amendments because Part I of the Bill deals with the introduction of mediation into the divorce process and Part II deals with the legal aid funding of mediation through the Legal Aid Board. In Part I it is important that every couple referred to mediation should know that the mediator will be an accredited mediator. In Part II it is important that public money--legal aid funds--should go only to accredited mediators. One of the organisations which may be referred to in these amendments is the newly-formed United Kingdom College of Family Mediators. However, it is a new body and it is not at present clear whether it will regulate all the mediation carried out in the United Kingdom. Possibly other regulatory bodies will come into being.

That is the reason for the rather convoluted language of the amendments, which is drawn from the Civil Evidence (Family Mediation) (Scotland) Act 1995 which was taken so ably through your Lordships' House last year by my noble friend the Baroness Carnegy of Lour. We should not presume necessarily to lift legislative language from the Scots, but where they have succeeded we might well follow. I am sure my noble and learned friend will agree.

If my noble and learned friend agrees with me that something similar to these amendments should appear in the Bill, one amendment to cover both Parts I and II, perhaps with rather shorter wording, would be welcome.

As to mediation itself, I regret that there seems to be some misunderstanding of what is involved. It is true that mediation begins when couples have come to the conclusion that their marriage has ended, but it is not true that the mediation process is insensitive or unprofessional, as some have felt it necessary to imply.

Always at the outset of mediation, the mediator will explore with the couple, either separately or together, whether they are really convinced that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. If there is any indication that that may not be the case, the couple will be referred for

25 Jan 1996 : Column 1190

marriage guidance if they are willing. If the marriage has indeed broken down, infinite pains are taken with the couple to work out arrangements for the children with the best interests of the latter forming the basis of these often very painful discussions.

The mediators carrying out such work are all carefully selected according to strict criteria. They receive both broad training in core skills and specialist training in particular areas, such as consultation with children and screening for domestic violence, as well as the technicalities of financial and other practical matters. After training, they are supervised for a considerable period before being accredited; but they are not accredited if they do not reach the standards required. The current training methods and requirements for standards are similar to those adopted in the United States of America and the rest of Europe, as well as being in line with the approach taken in the United Kingdom. Mediation in this country is carried out to very high standards. The amendments would ensure that those standards are maintained and that the public would know that the standards are high. I beg to move.

The Lord Chancellor: I fully understand what my noble friend wishes to achieve. I believe that it will be clear that public money will not go to any body or profession, except in so far as they are satisfactory to the Legal Aid Board which will be working on the Lord Chancellor's behalf in that connection. As I said earlier--and I believe that this is right--it would be a good idea for the Lord Chancellor to have power under the Bill to make a code of practice which might well be along the lines of that which the professional bodies will issue. Nevertheless, it would be quite good for the Lord Chancellor to have such a power. In my view, it would be right for the Legal Aid Board to be confined to those services which acted in accordance with, and adopted, the code. As with legal services, we would wish to have arrangements under which the quality would be of a proper kind.

The first part of the Bill is a little more difficult to regulate. Outside people who want to start up a service could offer such services to people; indeed, they may have different ways of doing so. The public would be able to know which bodies were approved by the Lord Chancellor and the Legal Aid Board for the purposes of legal aid. Therefore, they would have confidence in contacting them. However, I feel somewhat reluctant to attempt to regulate the whole profession. I say that because it is a developing profession and, just as is the case with the legal profession, it would be quite wrong to regulate it at government level. I do not believe that the Government should be in the position of, so to speak, dictating to the profession precisely how it should go about matters.

On the other hand, where public money is being used for the purpose of purchasing particular services, it is clear that the Government need to be satisfied on behalf of the public purse that that is an appropriate position. Therefore, I intend to make it clear that the legal aid money--that is, in the second part of the Bill--is regulated in that way. Nevertheless, in the light of what I have said in relation to the first part, I hope that my

25 Jan 1996 : Column 1191

noble friend will feel that it would be right to allow that to develop and give people the indication that there will be services which are provided for legal aid which would also be available for other people and which would, therefore, have a stamp of quality upon them. That might be a reasonable guarantee to people that the services were of the appropriate standard.

Baroness Faithfull: I thank my noble and learned friend for that explanation. I agree with him as regards the second part, but, as for the first part, I think that it is most important, even at the beginning of the service, that the public should have complete confidence in the mediators. It is also important that the professional people working in the field should have complete confidence and that the mediators are well trained and accredited.

I understand that my noble and learned friend feels that such a task should not be undertaken by his or any other government department. I shall, therefore, give thought to the matter and discuss with the mediation service how the public could be helped to understand that it is a professional service; as, indeed, it is. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 165 to 167 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Connected proceedings]:

[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 169 not moved.]

8.30 p.m.

Clause 21 [Legal Aid for mediation in family matters]:

Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 169A:


Page 11, line 15, after ("to") insert ("reconciliation or").

The noble Lord said: In moving the above amendment I shall, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 169B to 169D, 171A to 171E, 172A and 175A to 175E. I grouped the amendments together because there is a link which runs through all of them and it is quite just that they should be dealt with as a group. The aim of the amendments is to promote the possibility of reconciliation right up until the time of divorce. I first mooted the question of reconciliation at Second Reading. Since then I have received shoals of correspondence. That carried on right up until the Committee stage and the very first amendment. From the correspondence that I have received from organisations and individuals, I am convinced that there is an overwhelming desire for reconciliation to form part of the Bill.

Therefore, my amendments want to take the matter to the last stage. In promoting reconciliation, I want to provide legal aid for such services. I want to encourage reconciliation during the first six months after one or both of the spouses have made a statement of marriage breakdown. My amendments would provide for the funding of reconciliation on the same basis as applies for mediation. If a person's financial circumstances

25 Jan 1996 : Column 1192

qualify him for legal aid in mediation, then he would automatically qualify for legal aid for reconciliation purposes. In Amendment No. 171D, I am restricting the legal aid funding for mediation during the first six months of the one-year waiting period.

Amendment No. 171E makes it clear that reconciliation is voluntary. Both parties and the counsellor must consent before legal aid funding can be used. I know that I do not have to go into a long and lengthy speech about the need for reconciliation, as I have already made two or three such speeches which, I believe, attracted some support even from the Opposition Front Bench. Indeed, on the first day of Committee I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg say that the Bill did not promote reconciliation and that he felt it ought to do so. Of course, he is quite right. I welcome his support.

The amendments would guarantee funding for reconciliation as of right to every person who is also qualified for mediation funding. Funding for reconciliation services is vital. People who qualify for legal aid will be able to use the conciliation or mediation service.

There was a lengthy discussion on mediation in relation to Amendment No. 162. We heard the response of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Reconciliation is not dealt with adequately in that amendment because it deals with organisations. I agree that organisations concerned with reconciliation should be funded, whether or not they are affiliated to the Church. Amendment No. 162 does not give any guarantees to individuals that they will be assisted in the process of reconciliation. It is essential that individuals are consulted and given the opportunity to seek reconciliation and that they can obtain legal aid for that process. The amendments deal specifically with the needs of individuals and their entitlements.

The right reverend Prelate supported Amendment No. 162. We have been critical of some statements that have been made by the right reverend Prelates, but some of us are worried about what they have not said and that they have not been taking any lead in saving marriages. That is the concern, how to save marriages.

It has been stated that the first marriage failed because children did not listen to parents, and that the second marriage was a far better marriage. My experience is not dissimilar. I have discovered that first marriages often break up because children did not listen to their parents' advice and the second marriage was a success because they realised that they should have listened to parents in the first place. That is a slightly different slant to the matter, but there are as many cases of that as for other reasons.

From my research I have found that the state spends over £3 billion per year on the consequences of divorce. If the amendments are carried, they will save marriages and save money. Income support and social security benefits, for example, will be saved, so saving marriages is more economic for the Government than financing the consequences of divorce.

25 Jan 1996 : Column 1193

I ask that the amendments be given serious consideration. They can be included in the Bill as they are because they are very simple and self-explanatory. We have debated the need for reconciliation. Amendment No. 175E puts legal aid funding for reconciliation on the same basis as mediation, and I do not think there can be any argument about that.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will accept the amendments; if not, I shall be grateful if he can give reasons as to why they cannot be accepted. I beg to move.


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