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Lord Moran: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, I am very glad that the first amendment of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor includes children. I have been concerned until now that there has been hardly any reference to children in the Bill. I am very glad that they now feature in the first amendment.
I put my name to the two amendments so capably moved and spoken to by the noble Baroness because it is right that the interests of the children should come in the part of the Bill which deals with court orders. A court should have direction from Parliament in this part of the Bill to give particular attention to the interests of children.
I recently received the report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in York, published a year ago, called Family and Parenthood. Like all the reports of that foundation, it is very thorough and interesting. It states that,
The Duke of Norfolk: My Lords, I, too, support the two amendments. Apparently 90 per cent. of children of divorcing parents wish their parents would stay together. Divorce causes loss of their status, identity and self-esteem, and in over 50 per cent. of cases loss of one parent. I strongly support the amendments which I hope will help to make divorce less likely and will help the children to stop their parents' divorcing.
It seems to me that there is a place for trying to get into the mind of the child, as it were. National Family Mediation has a code of practice on this. I thought that it might be useful to your Lordships if I were to read a few paragraphs. The code states:
Lord Coleraine: My Lords, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, was the subject of an amendment at an earlier stage. Might it be possible for the court welfare officer to collect the information from the children? I think that could be done without unduly bringing the children into the divorce.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I presume that the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, would fall to the Government, under the scheme described by my noble and learned friend, by the terms in which a grant was given to the organisation providing the counselling. It is a matter for reflection.
Perhaps my noble and learned friend can answer a question which I did not hear answered in a previous exchange. Am I right in thinking that the whole operation of the Bill is subject to the provisions of the Children Act which he has frequently described in the House as biting in a particular case? If so, are not many of the gnats which we are straining at gnats and not camels?
Lord Monson: My Lords, I am afraid that I could not support Amendment No. 7 as it stands. It goes too far in two respects. First, it appears to cover children of any age. Presumably, 18 or 19 year-olds--perhaps those who are even older--could be included. Secondly, it comes into operation if there is any disadvantage whatever to a child, however small, arising from a divorce. If the amendment were reworded to read that it was "wholly contrary" or "markedly contrary" to the vital interests of any child of the marriage under the age of 16 to dissolve the marriage, I could support it, but not otherwise. Amendment No. 9 is less draconian but I am still uneasy, given how difficult it will be to predict with accuracy the consequences of the divorce on any given child.
Some of the press got hold of completely the wrong end of the stick when they suggested that the noble and learned Lord wanted children to be involved in the process of divorce. He did not say that, but the press insinuated it. I wish to say how wrong that was. I would like the wording of Amendment No. 9 to be altered. As regards the children, it would not be fair for them to feel that their wishes would be listened to because quite often that is not possible. The children's concerns and worries might be listened to but not their wishes because they might not be fulfilled.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I support the general thrust of the amendments, although some of the points that have been made ought to be taken into account before the House decides. It is true that the press have got hold of the wrong end of the stick with some of them believing that under the amendments children would have a veto on divorce. That would not be acceptable to the House, nor to me.
I repeat what I said in Committee. Children are a vital part of a marriage where children exist in it. We must bear in mind that once a child has arrived it is part of the marriage. It no longer belongs to the husband and the wife; it belongs to the husband, the wife and the children of the marriage. Therefore, it is necessary to address the concerns and welfare of the children as well as their feelings where they can be ascertained. However, the children's feelings must not constitute a veto on divorce.
It has been argued that we should not involve children in the process because they will be involved in the acrimony which so often goes with divorce. But they are already involved in acrimony. If there were no acrimony within the family, there would be no thought of divorce. One cannot use that argument against taking into account, where possible, the views and interests of children. Whether we like it or not, if we want this to be a family law Bill, as against a divorce Bill, we must address the interests of children and ensure that they are addressed properly. We must ensure that as a House and as part of Parliament we get it right. That is why the debate is so important and why the views which have been expressed have been so interesting.
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