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The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 6:


Page 2, line 2, leave out ("attending information sessions") and insert ("information meetings").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 44 to 51 and 54 to 57. The amendments that I propose in this connection arise out of questions that were raised with me about sessions for information. It was thought that the expression which we had used--namely, "information sessions"--had connotations of large, public communal events which might prove intimidating to some people. There was also concern expressed about the possibility of preserving privacy.

I wanted to make the provisions as open as possible so as to enable us to benefit from pilots of the giving of information which I propose to carry out. I have sought to meet the concerns about privacy and also those expressed about parties going separately to information sessions. Obviously, there are some situations in which parties would not find it congenial to go together, especially those involving domestic violence. Therefore, I have sought to make clear that those concerns have been addressed.

I regard it as a rightly important part of the philosophy of the Bill that, before anyone goes to court with any kind of statement about the breakdown of his or her marriage, very full information should effectively be given to those concerned about the situation and particularly about all the types of help that may be available. In my view, it is extremely important that that information should be given effectively. The different situations which may arise are numerous and it is not possible to say with any precision at this stage what is the best method of dealing with them. That is why I propose substantial pilots if your Lordships and another place ultimately pass the Bill. One of the reasons for the delay in bringing it into effect is that those matters and arrangements should be thoroughly put in place so that the law will operate effectively.

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I believe that most of the other amendments are self-evident in their purpose. In the light of that explanation, I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 52, 53, 58 and 59 which are tabled in my name. I very much welcome the first amendment of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor which states clearly the general principles guiding the working of the Bill. It states,


    "that the institution of marriage is to be supported".
Secondly,


    "the parties to a marriage which may have broken down are to be encouraged to take all practicable steps to save it".
The most obvious ways in which those excellent principles can be given substance is by ensuring that those attending information sessions are,


    "offered a counselling session with an approved marriage counsellor",
as set out in Amendment No. 52. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has indicated that he intends such meetings to include information about marriage counselling. But his commitment, as reported at cols. 993 to 995 of Hansard of 23rd January, needs to be written into the Bill for all to see and respond to, not only for this generation but for subsequent generations.

While information about a number of matters will be given in the information meetings, the availability of marriage counselling is so fundamental and central to the stated principles that lie behind the Bill that it is crucial that it should appear in print. That is the intention of Amendment No. 52. However, we do not want just anyone to set himself--or, indeed, herself--up as a marriage counsellor. The marriage support agencies--the Jewish Marriage Council, Relate, The Tavistock Marital Studies Institute, One Plus One and Marriage Care--ensure that those who work for them undertake specialised training and receive ongoing professional supervision by experienced and specialist practitioners. Amendment No. 53 is designed to ensure that only approved counsellors in organisations approved by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would undertake that crucial work.

Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 seek to clarify and strengthen the latter provision. Marriage counselling is a discipline in its own right, distinct from counselling of other kinds. Individual counselling gives priority to the well-being and personal development of the person concerned by considering matters from his or her point of view. Marriage counselling addresses the needs and expectations of both partners and the future of the relationship. It is a skill which requires specialist training and development.

Research from one study shows that,


    "many couples do not know whether their marriage is at an end; indeed some may be using the legal system to find out".
That highlights the need for the amendments standing in my name. Of course, it will be entirely up to the couple as to whether or not they avail themselves of such marriage counselling. Moreover, in the majority of cases, it is likely that the divorce process will simply go on.

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However, some marriages can be saved and will be saved. Because of that it is vital that the availability of such marriage counselling should be clearly spelt out, not just for the present but for the many years ahead when the Bill is likely to be in operation. I am looking 20 or 30 years ahead. I suspect that the legislation will still be in force. It is vital for those in the future that the availability of marriage counselling, professionally monitored, is actually on the statute book. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to accept my amendments which I believe have substantial all-party support.

6 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said, his Amendment No. 6, and some of his subsequent amendments, arose out of our debates in Committee. In relation to Amendment No. 6, I asked for some reassurance about the form which the information sessions would take. Indeed, we received some welcome assurances from the noble and learned Lord. I think at that point the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested that some of the misunderstandings--if, indeed, there were misunderstandings--arose from the use of the expression "information sessions". The noble and learned Lord duly undertook to consider that matter. As he said, we also referred to problems as regards the privacy of the information process, and of possible intimidation of vulnerable partners. The noble and learned Lord listened to what we said and reflected on it. For the second or third time this evening, we are in his debt for that. That, as I understand it, is the whole purpose of our proceedings in Committee and at Report stage.

I wish briefly to mention two other matters. First, I have received a letter from Dr. Stephen Cretney pointing out that the pilot schemes proposed by the noble and learned Lord involve voluntary attendance. They will not in any sense involve the kind of persuasion which appears to be envisaged in the Bill, as there will be no power to apply persuasion of that kind. The information involved will comply with the existing law, and not with the law which will operate when the Bill is on the statute book. Doctor Cretney expressed some doubt whether, in consequence, we shall learn as much from these schemes as we would normally hope to learn from pilot schemes. I thought it right to inform your Lordships and the noble and learned Lord of those comments. For my part, I still think that these pilot schemes will be extremely valuable. They may not tell us all that there is to know, but I believe they will provide some useful guidance.

Secondly, my noble friend Lord Irvine and I wish to express our total agreement with everything that was said by the right reverend Prelate. His arguments would not benefit from repetition by me, and I do not propose to do that except to say that it is certainly most important that the conciliation services should be undertaken by conciliators who are qualified and

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accredited. It is important to have some such scheme in place. We support the amendments of the right reverend Prelate.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I, too, welcome the proposals of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the information sessions, now called meetings. I was interested to hear his explanation. Many of us are worried about what exactly will happen. The pilot schemes are to be welcomed, but quite how they will work is rather unclear. Obviously there will be pilot schemes in some areas and not in others. I do not know what conclusions we are expected to draw from that on how the process will work later. If I may say so, we are buying fairly blind on the information sessions, but it was helpful to have been given a further explanation, and no doubt more information will be forthcoming should this Bill find its way onto the statute book.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford mentioned a point that he raised in Committee. I am sure that all of us--certainly myself--who would like to see a Bill that buttresses marriage rather than civilises divorce welcome the proposals to help couples who are in difficulty. We are, of course, aware that some 20,000 to 30,000 couples each year get to the brink of divorce and then decide not to go further, and that quite a proportion of couples who divorce regret that they ever did so. Therefore, anything that can be done to help those two groups of people seems to me to be valuable.

I return to what I regard as an important point if we are putting public money into an organisation; namely, what we are putting the money into, and what the organisations are doing. I entirely agree with the point made by the right reverend Prelate when he said that we should support marriage. However, I am reluctant to put public money into organisations which regard marriage as one of a series of alternative lifestyles. I believe that is the current jargon. We need to be careful about what we are doing.

I wish to ask the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford what is meant by Amendment No. 53 which states,


    "For the purposes of this section, an approved marriage counsellor is a person currently accredited as such by an organisation...who has undertaken specialist training in couple counselling".
What does that mean? Does the amendment refer to marriage, to cohabitation, to homosexual couples or to lesbian couples? To whom does it refer? We must understand what we are doing if we put public money into these organisations. I should also like to have a definition of "marital interaction", as referred to in the amendment. Does that mean having a row, or chatting over dinner, or holding hands? If we are passing legislation, we must define precisely what it is we are about. I return to my fundamental point; namely, that if we are putting public money into such a process, which I believe we all agree we should do to help marriages, we need to make quite sure that the money will have

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precisely that effect, and that it is not being given to an organisation which a great many of us would not wish to see publicly supported at all.


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