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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble and learned Lord for reviewing the phraseology of the provisions with regard to the giving of information. I was among those who expressed anxiety on this matter. However, I should like the noble and learned Lord to take the matter a little further. As I understood the noble and learned Lord at the previous stage of the Bill, he suggested that one of the means of providing information might be to make use of technology. He mentioned, in particular, the use of videos. I wonder whether using the term "meetings" might preclude all that the noble and learned Lord might have in mind, and all that might come out of the use of pilot schemes, if videos are to be used, possibly without face to face meetings taking place. I am not sure whether the noble and learned Lord has in mind that a meeting with a person will be required in every case. That is what the term suggests to me. I do not think we are yet quite at the point in our interaction with modern technology where the viewing of a video would be considered to constitute a meeting.

I take this opportunity to ask whether the noble and learned Lord can give us any information as to when the pilot schemes may start, although I accept, of course, that the Bill has to complete its passage first. How does the noble and learned Lord envisage discussion taking place on what the pilot schemes might consist of? I know that there is some anxiety among practitioners that time will pass quickly, and that it might be useful to have some public discussion on what the pilots might comprise at an early stage. I, for one, would be grateful to hear the noble and learned Lord's comments as regards the detail of the pilot schemes and the timetable. On behalf of myself and my noble friend--I have to be careful not to speak for all on these Benches--I should say that I believe the amendments of the right reverend Prelate are self-evidently right.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I had in mind that if a video is to be used it would be handed out, and possibly handed back, but that there would also be some arrangement for a meeting with an individual to take place--rather than solely the viewing of a video--in situations which were not covered by exemptions. I believe it is extremely important that these matters should be effectively communicated and that people are not left with an ineffectual communication of information. We are all familiar with the situation of receiving pieces of paper, sometimes in fairly large quantities, where perhaps we do not always study them as fully as the importance of the information they contain would require.

As regards timing, I wish to consult those who can help in this situation. I have already obtained information from other jurisdictions where these arrangements are in place. Assuming the Bill attains Royal Assent, I hope to proceed with it soon after that.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, referred to Dr. Stephen Cretney. I accept that the pilots will have to be conducted against the

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background of the existing law until the new law is brought in. That is certainly an important consideration. I do not believe that what we do at the beginning will necessarily be the final form. The regulation-making power will enable us to improve the information meetings in the light of experience of their interaction with the new law after it comes into force.

My noble friend Lady Young has raised questions about the amendments of the right reverend Prelate. As a result of an amendment passed on the last occasion, Clause 18 provides for the giving of grants to marriage support services and research into the causes of marital breakdown and ways of preventing it. These are all quite clearly related to marriage and they are framed deliberately. I think it right that the availability of marriage counselling is made clear in the regulations relating to the nature of the information to be provided. The right reverend Prelate would like to see that on the face of the Bill. One of the difficulties--which we have faced in relation to other amendments--is that once one starts to specify matters one has to specify all that may be required. I have to guard against the possibility that a list will not be sufficiently flexible in order to take account of changes in the period that I and the right reverend Prelate hope the Bill will cover.

I have a problem about approved organisations. The method that I wish to use in relation to marriage counselling is grant aid. I remain of the view that it is extremely important that marriage counselling is not skewed towards the end rather than the beginning of a marriage. It is important that this kind of service is available as early as possible. In this connection, I propose that grant aid be available to organisations who qualify under the grant-aiding provisions. To impose a system of regulation organised by the Lord Chancellor or the Government is more than is necessary. As my noble friend Lady Young has said, it is not right to hand out public money by way of grants, except to those who are providing the service to standards that we think appropriate and with results which justify the giving of further money. Provision for monitoring the utility of the service is important.

The right reverend Prelate also spoke of consultation in framing the regulations. Of course, I will wish to consult with bodies working in this field. The difficulty about the form of his amendment is that it is so rigid that it would be difficult to ensure compliance with it. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel able not to move his amendments and to allow me to consider putting forward an amendment in relation to consultation that meets his main concern as set out in his last amendment. As far as the earlier amendments are concerned, I shall wish to consider whether, in relation to the information session, it is possible to make provision for greater detail in the primary legislation without endangering the necessary flexibility.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, perhaps my noble and learned friend will allow me to put a question. Will he not make the kind of consultation that the right

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reverend Prelate desires without being enjoined to do so in an Act of Parliament and the cluttering up of the statute book?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I will certainly undertake to do that. But these regulations may vary from time-to-time, and the right reverend Prelate asks for an assurance that this particular point is placed on the statute book. If the right reverend Prelate is content with an assurance that I will consult all of the relevant organisations in this field of which I am aware, obviously I am also content with that. That will save the statute book some words. My noble and learned friend is always concerned to achieve that. That is an alternative course of action. Because of the importance attached to this matter, I am willing to consult on the framing of the regulations if I am given flexibility as to the nature of that consultation. I do not wish to take on the responsibility of statutory regulation of these bodies, but prefer to rely on the fact that government money under Clause 18 will not be given to them except under the kind of conditions to which I have referred. I commend the amendment to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Elles moved Amendment No. 7


Page 2, line 5, after ("satisfied;") insert--
("( ) it is not contrary to the interests of any child of the family to dissolve the marriage;").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 7 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 9 in the same grouping.

Like many other noble Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to my noble and learned friend for including children not only on the face of the Bill but in the general objectives adopted in Amendment No. 1, and in particular the reference to minimum distress being caused to children in this process. Of course, that covers the life of the child not only before and during divorce proceedings but after them. I believe that everybody has admitted that it is after divorce proceedings that so much distress and suffering is caused to the child of a marriage that has been dissolved. I am grateful that there is now mention of the child and that the interests of the child, insofar as we are considering its position within the Bill, can fall within and be judged against the general principles expressed in Amendment No. 1.

It has been said several times--but we must remind ourselves from time-to-time--that this is a family law Bill, not a divorce reform Bill. Surely, it is not unreasonable to provide that a court should consider the welfare of the children during divorce proceedings. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 7. As can be seen from Clause 2 in Part I, the court has to take into account four considerations listed in paragraphs (a) to (d). I suggest that it is perfectly reasonable to expect the court to have regard to the interests of the children of the family during the discussion and decision-making process. I should like to repeat what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has already pointed out. This does not mean that a child should have a veto

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on divorce, any more than that consideration of the child's interests under the Children Act means that the child can veto custody or a court order. It means that where there are circumstances which can be shown to be detrimental to the child the court must have regard to them before an application for divorce is granted. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 7.

I briefly turn to Amendment No. 9 which provides a new subsection (5) to Clause 2 of the Bill. The provision is similar to Section 1(3) of the Children Act. It contains a list of matters to which the court should have regard in considering the child's best interests. My list is taken directly from Section 1(3) of the Children Act, removing those parts of the list which are not relevant to divorce but are more appropriate to the care procedures or contested custody applications which fall within the purview of the Children Act.

My list is set out in Amendment No. 9. It refers to,


    "the ascertainable wishes and the feeling of the child".
There may be some suggestion that "wishes" is not the appropriate word. It refers to,


    "his physical, emotional and educational needs".
There are many cases in which there are special needs for children. The provision refers to,


    "the likely effect on [the child] of any change in his circumstances; and any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering".

The provision sets out the considerations that could guide the court when it considers the interests of the child. As I have indicated, they would not be overriding. However, in considering a divorce where there are children of the marriage it seems logical and reasonable that those interests should be taken into account before a divorce is granted. There is no logical reason why welfare should be at centre stage when a court must make a decision about a child's custody or access, but should take a back seat when it comes to the parents' divorce.

We discussed at some length in Committee the effect of divorce on the children of the marriage. I do not intend to repeat all the points made during that debate. We have only to refer back to them to see all the problems as regards the broken home and the effects on the children. We all recognise that while one of the parents may hopefully imagine that he or she will find greater happiness through divorce, we can probably agree that those who will not find happiness either way will be the children of the divorcees. They will probably bear scars from that divorce for the rest of their lives.

I hope that it will be considered reasonable to put these two amendments on the face of the Bill. I should, of course, withdraw subsection (4) in Amendment No. 9, which is very similar to the provision that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has withdrawn. I beg to move.


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