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Lord Northbourne had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 36:


Page 4, line 6, at end insert--
("( ) In the case of any marriage where there is a child of the marriage under the age of 16, the period for reflection and consideration shall be 18 months unless upon application to the court

4 Mar 1996 : Column 19

by either party or by a person representing the child or children the court decides that the period shall be one year because--
(a) both parties agree to the period of one year; or
(b) it is in the best interest of the child or children that the period should be one year.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment was debated very late on Thursday when many of your Lordships were not able to be in your places. It is an important amendment which needs to be fully discussed. It proposes an extension of the 12-month period for reflection to 18 months in cases where there are children under 16 in the family and where only one parent has lodged a statement of breakdown. It also contains a provision for the court to reduce that period to 12 months, but not less, where to do so would be in the best interests of the child.

The amendment would give more time for more couples to achieve reconciliation. That means that fewer children would suffer the trauma of permanent breakdown and divorce. I believe that the amendment deserves to be fully debated and, if necessary, voted upon at Third Reading. Therefore, I do not propose to move it today.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 37:


Page 4, line 10, leave out subsection (5) and insert--
("( ) Subsection (6) applies if, at any time during the period for reflection and consideration, the parties give joint notice to the court that they are attempting a reconciliation but require additional time.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting amendment which is intended to clarify the position where people attempt reconciliation during a period of reflection and consideration. It arises from our consideration of this part of the Bill in Committee. I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 38, which is an amendment to this amendment, but I assume from what my noble and learned friend has already said that he will not seek to move it.

Clause 6(6) provides for the period of reflection and consideration to be suspended where a couple jointly give notice that they require time to attempt reconciliation. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, expressed concern in Committee about the situation of couples wishing to attempt reconciliation but who do not want to stop the running of the one-year period. The noble Lord thought that, because there was no specific mention of reconciliation without notification to the court, parties might think that it was not an option open to them and that consequently attempts at reconciliation would be discouraged. That is the last thing that I want to do.

I indicated in Committee that I would consider whether that provision could be further clarified. The amendment that I have proposed is directed at emphasising that the time that the parties ask for in giving notice to the court of an attempt at reconciliation is additional to the one-year period for reflection and consideration. The parties can attempt reconciliation at any time during the period without affecting the running of the period for reflection and consideration but, if they want more time, they can suspend the running of the

4 Mar 1996 : Column 20

period by jointly giving notice. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent couples from privately attempting reconciliation or to prejudice them if they do so.

I have already spoken about similar amendments relating to reconciliation and I do not think that I need to elaborate on them at this stage, except to say that, as far as I am concerned, the whole purpose of that period is to encourage the possibility of reconciliation. Therefore, this amendment is intended to clarify the drafting doubt which was raised on the last occasion. I beg to move.

Lord Meston: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord confirm that it is still the position, even with Amendment No. 37, that the only way in which the clock can be stopped is by way of a formal notice to the court?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, yes, that is the intention. It should be absolutely plain when the period on the clock comes to an end.

[Amendment No. 38, as an amendment to Amendment No. 37, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 37 agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 39:


Page 4, line 13, leave out from beginning to first ("the") in line 15 and insert ("The period for reflection and consideration--
(a) stops running on the day on which the notice is received by the court; but
(b) resumes running on").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to Amendment No. 39 with the earlier amendments. I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 40, as an amendment to Amendment No. 39, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 39 agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 41:


Page 4, line 17, leave out from beginning to ("any") in line 19 and insert--
("(7) If the period for reflection and consideration is interrupted under subsection (6) by a continuous period of more than 18 months,").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 42, as an amendment to Amendment No. 41, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 41 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Lord Meston had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 43A:


After Clause 6, insert the following new clause--

Extension of period of reflection

(".--( ) If an application for a divorce order has been made by one of the parties to a marriage, the court may, on the application of the other party, order that the period of reflection is to be extended for a specified time, or until a specified event has occurred.
(2) Such an order (an "order extending the period of reflection") may be made only if the court is satisfied that it would be equitable and just, in all the circumstances, for the period of reflection to be extended.").

4 Mar 1996 : Column 21

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not propose to move any of the amendments in this group. I hope that progress may be made in bringing forward a refined version of Amendment No. 60A at Third Reading as the most suitable way to deal with the important matter of religious divorces that is covered by this group of amendments.

[Amendment No. 43A not moved.]

Clause 7 [Attendance at information sessions]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendments Nos. 44 to 51:


Page 4, line 22, leave out ("attending information sessions") and insert ("information meetings").
Page 4, line 24, leave out ("The party or parties") and insert ("A party").
Page 4, line 25, leave out ("session") and insert ("meeting").
Page 4, line 26, at end insert--
("( ) In the case of a statement made by both parties, the parties may attend separate meetings or the same meeting.").
Page 4, line 28, leave out ("session") and insert ("meeting").
Page 4, line 34, leave out ("session") and insert ("meeting").
Page 4, line 35, leave out ("regulations made by the Lord Chancellor") and insert ("prescribed provisions").
Page 4, line 36, leave out ("those") and insert ("the party or parties").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 44 to 51 are consequential upon the change from the words "information session" to which I referred earlier. With the leave of your Lordships, I move Amendments Nos. 44 to 51 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford had given notice of his intention to move Amendments Nos. 52 and 53:


Page 4, line 38, at end insert--
("( ) Those attending information sessions shall be offered a counselling session with an approved marriage counsellor.").
Page 4, line 38, at end insert--
("( ) For the purposes of this section, an approved marriage counsellor is a person currently accredited as such by an organisation approved by the Lord Chancellor to provide marriage counselling, or a person currently accredited by a body approved by the Lord Chancellor, who has undertaken specialist training in couple counselling and marital interaction.").

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I do not intend to move the amendments standing in my name. Amendments Nos. 52, 53, 58 and 59 have already been debated. I am grateful to receive the assurance of the noble and learned Lord in that earlier debate. He said that he wished to consider whether, in relation to the information session, it was possible to make provision for greater detail in primary legislation without endangering the necessary flexibility. I understand the difficulties that have been expressed by the noble and learned Lord but, as I am sure he knows, there is widespread concern on the part of the range of marriage support agencies that there be some mention of those bodies and marriage counselling at the information session.

In relation to the other two amendments which deal with approved marriage counsellors, I entirely understand the concerns that have been expressed by the

4 Mar 1996 : Column 22

noble and learned Lord. However, the question arises as to how to stop unauthorised and untrained marriage counsellors offering themselves at marriage information sessions. I very much hope that it will be possible for the noble and learned Lord to enter into discussion on an amendment of which he may approve.

[Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 not moved.]


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