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Baroness Elles moved Amendment No. 20:


Page 3, line 15, after ("state") insert ("the attempts which have been made to promote reconciliation with the other party and").

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall be speaking to Amendments Nos. 20 and 21. Amendment No. 21 is almost identical to Amendment No. 20. The noble and learned Lord has his name to both amendments. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, for adding his name to Amendment No. 20.

In Committee, some of us were concerned about the procedures leading to an application for divorce. There appeared to be a glaring vacuum in the proceedings. The proceedings are initiated by one party attending an information meeting. After that there is a gap. The person goes straight to making a statement.

As I understand it, normally if one is going to seek a divorce, one goes to a solicitor. The solicitor may be able to persuade the person not to go ahead with the divorce. The other party will presumably also go to his or her solicitor. He or she may be persuaded not to go ahead with the divorce. There is then a chance for the parties to exchange views before a petition is submitted to the court.

In the Bill, after the information meeting, as I say, there is a gap. One then goes straight into the statement. If the information meeting is to serve any purpose, it will provide the party who goes to it with information about opportunities for mediation and reconciliation. It will explain the procedures and the services available to help that party to go no further. I know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor shares with us the view that one of the aims of the Bill is to try to save the marriage wherever possible.

Before one goes to the information meeting, marriage guidance and counselling services are invaluable. After the information meeting there should be an opportunity for the party to have a reconciliation with the other party. There are three reasons for this. First, saving the marriage is the prime and overriding consideration; secondly, it will make him or her realise that help could be given to have some form of meeting with the partner before going on to the next stage. Thirdly, it would let the other party, who may be holding the baby or sitting at home, know that the spouse has gone to an information meeting and is contemplating divorce.

As the Bill stands, there is no way, opportunity or obligation on the party going to the information meeting to inform the other party that he or she is contemplating making a statement saying that he or she believes that the marriage has broken down. The amendment would provide an opportunity for that to happen before a statement is made. It would also enable the person at the information meeting who is giving guidance to point out, "Look, in the statement you will have to say what attempt at reconciliation has been made". It will therefore draw to the attention of that person that an attempt could or should be made before making the statement. The fact of making a statement shows that one is already well down the road towards a divorce. Having got as far as that, it is much more difficult to withdraw. The strength of the Bill would be to enable reconciliation to be introduced at any stage. My proposal strengthens what is being put forward by my noble friend Lady Young as regards reconciliation,

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which takes up the matter after the statement has been made. It might help in assessing the value of the information meeting and the kind of information that is being given. Although it is not foolproof, it might encourage those who run the information meeting to try to bring the situation to a head before the statement is made.

I realise that the wording of the amendment may be defective. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has tabled an amendment to a later part of Clause 5. My amendment may be in the wrong place but I am sure that my noble and learned friend will consider the spirit of it. I hope that he will be able to accept it.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I support the amendment because it addresses a dilemma with which we are confronted. We all agree on the importance of conciliation and counselling. The difficulty is how to introduce a reference to that in the Bill at the point before the statement is made. The statement is one that the marriage has already reached the point of an irrevocable breakdown, so clearly conciliation was needed before that point. However, the Bill can begin to take effect only at the moment when someone invokes the law, which is when he or she files the statement. Indeed, how until then can we know that the conciliation process is necessary?

I believe that we can do two things. First, we can ensure that conciliation machinery is in place for those who wish to avail themselves of it. It is to be hoped that they will do so long before the marriage reaches the stage at which they are considering filing a statement that it has irrevocably broken down. Secondly, we can do what the noble Baroness has suggested and in the Bill ensure that the mind of the party who is intending to make the statement is drawn to the possibility of conciliation and reconciliation before the statement is made. For that reason I support the amendment.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, these amendments are a further attempt to flesh out the references to reconciliation in the Bill. As your Lordships have heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, in his typically clear analysis, there has been general support in all parts of your Lordships' House for reconciliation to play a large part in the processes covered by the Bill. There has also been general support for the concept that reconciliation is most likely to be successful if it occurs at an early stage and less likely when attitudes may have hardened.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, explained, the statement is not necessarily irrevocable but it is certainly a statement that there is something seriously wrong with the marriage. The amendment directs the minds of the parties to the fact that well before the statement is filed there is an opportunity--indeed a desirability is hinted--for reconciliation to be explored. The machinery is that the statement should state what attempts have been made at reconciliation; in other words, looking back before the statement is filed.

Your Lordships may be puzzled that there are two amendments, to both of which my name is attached, which mean precisely the same with an insubstantial

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change of wording. The explanation, for what it is worth, is that I tabled Amendment No. 21 and then in a fit of usual blind enthusiasm for the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, I added my name to hers. For myself, I do not mind which is accepted by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I very much hope that one of them will be accepted. If I am asked to express a slight preference, it is for my amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, this amendment moves me at one and the same time to both warmth and anxiety. I feel warmth for the underlying purposes of the amendment, with which we all agree. I feel warmth also for the logic with which the case was argued, which appears to me to be impeccable.

My anxiety is concentrated on how it would work in practice. If the noble Baroness is able to ease some of that anxiety, I should be very pleased. It seems to me that, if one is attempting reconciliation in a marriage, there are a great many different ways in which one can attempt that. Some of them may consist of doing things which outwardly seem very small indeed but nevertheless, in their inward significance between the parties, may be very great.

The problem is in specifying the steps taken towards reconciliation. It seems to me that sometimes the truly inward, from-the-heart gestures may be very difficult to express in a statement but one could put down in a statement a series of formal moves that perhaps do not have very much loving content at all.

Therefore, my anxiety is whether the amendment might impose a series of bureaucratic requirements which would not in the end achieve what both the noble Baroness and I would like to achieve. If I can be convinced that that fear is unnecessary, I shall be very glad.

Lord Habgood: My Lords, I feel that the logic of the discussion on these amendments is driving us to the view that there needs to be a preliminary stage before the statement is written. I then wonder how those statements are to be written and whether most of the people who wish to go through the process are adequate to write such a statement and, therefore, to fulfil the law properly.

It seems to me that there needs to be an officer to whom people can go for help in drawing up a statement. It would then be that officer's responsibility to inquire what efforts there have been towards reconciliation. That seems to me to be a logical and practical process.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I support both the amendments. But it seems to me that there are two methods of making a statement and that this kind of wording could probably apply to both. It is particularly important, as set out in Amendment No. 20, where a statement is made by a single party, because that probably indicates that the single party is keener on the

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divorce than the other party to the marriage. If that is the case, the one who is keenest should at least show that he or she has made an attempt at reconciliation.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, again, the spirit behind these amendments is one that I entirely support. There are questions about precisely how this would work, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said. The problem is that this is a statement about attempts, if any, that have been made about reconciliation. I also must consider what my noble friend Lady Elles said in moving her amendment. It is important in relation to the evaluation of the information meeting. I have been wondering whether this particular form of statement as proposed in the amendment would have any particular effect, except as encouragement. I rather think that my noble friend and my noble and learned friend in their amendments do not expect it to have any particular legal effect but just to be an encouragement to put an attempt at reconciliation into the mind of the person making the statement. I understood from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, that that was in his mind also.

I have been thinking about this in some detail since my noble friend Lady Elles came to see me to explain her view about this amendment. It may well be that to have an encouragement to state all the attempts made to bring about reconciliation might tempt some people into a history of marital difficulty and whatnot, that would not be in accordance with what we are trying to aim at. On the other hand, to indicate what attempts have been made at reconciliation after attending the information meeting might have two effects. One would be to encourage at that stage, before one lodged the statement, the idea that reconciliation was appropriate; and, secondly, to help us to evaluate the information meeting as a means of encouraging people to go to the information session.

The other point I want to make is this. There is a power in the Bill to deal with a form of statement by rules. That might be a way of coping with this that might be more flexible than putting it on the face of the Bill. Certainly I would think it wise to consider a form which enabled a statement to query whether attempts at reconciliation had been made after the information meeting and to put the answer in such a way that it would be yes or no, as it were, to make it quite clear that it was not a condition--because there are some circumstances in which at that stage attempts at reconciliation would be seen as rather hollow. If you try to impose too rigid a framework on these human relationships, you often damage what you are trying to aim at, so one would want a fairly flexible situation so far as that was concerned.

I am anxious to meet this matter and I should like to take advice on whether it would be more appropriate and perhaps in the end more effective to contemplate doing this by the powers in the Bill on the form of the statement, or alternatively on the face of the Bill itself but restricted, for the reason I have given, to attempts at reconciliation made after the information meeting had been attended. If those of your Lordships who have

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helped to promote these amendments would be willing to agree to that, I should be happy to take that forward between now and Third Reading.


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