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Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I have one comment to make. The British Association for Counselling has an accreditation programme for counsellors covering different areas. Perhaps we should discuss the matter with the association.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I should like to follow the point made by the right reverend Prelate. He referred to "trained and qualified mediators". I should like to know exactly who those people will be. We had a meeting in this place with the Law Society during which we asked that same question. We were told about a college of mediators. When we asked who had set up the college, where it was and what were the necessary qualifications, the answers we received were all extremely vague. We were told that there were about 700 people involved in the work at present; indeed, it seems to be a great growth industry. However, no one really knew what qualifications were required. I wonder whether any part of the Bill sets out what a mediator is, in particular a "trained and qualified mediator".

Baroness David: My Lords, I had intended to say a few words, but I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, is about to cover what I would have said.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I should point out to the House that Amendment No. 96A deals with the whole question of accreditation as regards training, as will Amendment No. 94 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Habgood.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I should say, first, that I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for having paid some attention to my address to Relate. It is always a thrill when something one has said is read by someone who was not there, especially if that person quotes accurately. I am also grateful to Dr. Jack Dominian for his contribution in which he, as it were, puts me right on the matter. I would certainly wish to try to give effect to his suggestion.

I wish to try to ensure that marriage counsellors are available, but I believe that there should not be too much restriction in that respect. Indeed, the variety of services

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is something that I would not wish to restrict at present. I hope that the Bill will regulate the law for a considerable time to come. I cannot envisage--and I doubt whether your Lordships can--every possible development and innovation that there may be in improving services. Dr. Jack Dominian is a leading exponent of the need to innovate and develop services to help.

I certainly wish to take account of those considerations in developing the current draft of the rules. One way to do so is, I believe, to include a statement in the nature of the information that must be available that would at least be exemplary of what might be available. Of course, that might not include all that is available, but the information would at least reflect those considerations. I believe that I will probably be able to do that without too much difficulty.

One of the purposes behind Amendments Nos. 72, 74, 77 and 79 is to respond to the concerns expressed by the right reverend Prelate in Committee. The amendments reorder the provisions of Clause 10(2) to give greater priority to the references to "counselling" within the clause. I believe that I can make it possible to accommodate the concerns expressed by the right reverend Prelate and also those expressed by Dr. Dominian in this letter by reordering the wording without damaging what I want to keep; namely, considerable flexibility.

My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes wishes to know about mediators. There are a number of trained mediators who have come together to bring forward the standards of the profession and it may be that we will have a better opportunity of discussing that under one of the later amendments which my noble friend Lady Faithfull has proposed. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes would have learned from the Law Society that there are a number of trained mediators who are members of the Law Society and I am sure that at the meeting she attended she would have been assured of just what high quality they are. I have no doubt that others will seek to emulate them, perhaps from a slightly different professional base. In the light of the assurance that I have given to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford I hope he will feel that he need not press his amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment standing in my name.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 74:


Page 6, line 38, at end insert ("or
( ) the opportunities for the parties to take part in mediation;").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is an amendment which, as I have explained, is an attempt to reorder the provisions of Clause 10(2) to give greater priority to the references to counselling within that clause and is brought forward in response to the right reverend Prelate's concern. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Baroness David had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 75:


Page 6, line 38, at end insert ("or
( ) the need for the parties to have regard to the welfare of any children of the family and to have regard to the ascertainable views of such children (considered in the light of their age and understanding when making arrangements for their future;").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment last Thursday and the noble and learned Lord was kind enough to say that he would take it away and would probably bring back an amendment himself at Third Reading to deal with the point. Therefore, I am not moving this amendment.

[Amendment No. 75 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 76 not moved.]

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 77:


Page 6, leave out line 43.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment earlier. It is one of the amendments brought forward to meet the right reverend Prelate's concerns. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 78 not moved.]

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 79:


Page 6, line 44, at end insert ("or
( ) in connection with mediation.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is in the same connection. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 80:


Page 6, line 44, at end insert--
("( ) The Lord Chancellor may make rules requiring a person who is or has been a marriage guidance counsellor assisting one or both of the parties to the marriage with respect to which a statement has been made, or is proposed to be made, to certify at such time or times as may be specified--
(a) whether he has discussed with the party or parties--
(i) the possibility of reconciliation;
(ii) the opportunities for the parties to take part in mediation; and
(iii) the opportunities for the parties to receive legal advice and representation;
(b) which, if any, of those matters he and the party or parties have discussed; and
(c) whether he has given the party or parties the names and addresses of persons qualified to help--
(i) in connection with mediation; or
(ii) by providing legal advice and representation.
( ) The Lord Chancellor may make rules requiring a person who is or has been a mediator assisting one or both of the parties to the marriage with respect to which a statement has been made, or is proposed to be made, to certify at such time or times as may be specified--
(a) whether he has discussed with the party or parties--
(i) the possibility of reconciliation;
(ii) the availability to the parties of any counselling facilities; and

4 Mar 1996 : Column 38


(iii) the opportunities for the parties to receive legal advice and representation;
(b) which, if any, of those matters he and the party or parties have discussed; and
(c) whether he has given the party or parties the names and addresses of persons qualified to help--
(i) to effect a reconciliation;
(ii) by counselling; or
(iii) by providing legal advice and representation.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Archer of Sandwell. This is a long amendment, but it can be a very short explanation. It will extend the Lord Chancellor's power to make regulations specifying the type of requirements, as appears in subsection (2) of Clause 10. It places a requirement upon solicitors concerning information to be given to clients, so that the requirements will also apply to marriage guidance counsellors and mediators. It is important that all service providers should be under similar obligations to provide their clients with information. I beg to move.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am very appreciative of the principle behind Amendment No. 80 which seeks to apply both to marriage guidance counsellors and mediators the Lord Chancellor's power to make rules in relation to information which legal representatives may be required to give to the court.

I am not sure that this is a wise provision for marriage counsellors. I believe that it suggests that marriage counsellors might stray more into the area of information on divorce, separation, and so called divorce counselling, than I believe the House might wish to see on the face of the Bill which has, as one of its stated general principles, the wish to support the institution of marriage. Your Lordships may have heard the suggestion that some organisations which are concerned principally with marriage guidance counselling fall all too easily into the idea of divorce counselling. I am not saying for one single moment that these allegations are justified, but I certainly would not wish to do anything to encourage them.

I believe that when somebody goes for guidance and help in relation to their marriage, on the whole it is not right for the initiative of suggesting divorce to be taken by the marriage guidance counsellor. It is quite right that marriage counsellors should discuss the possibility of reconciliation with the parties. I do not, however, see that their role involves discussing the possibility of legal representation or mediation with couples. If marriage counselling is not successful and one or both of the parties decides to proceed with divorce, they will be able to get information on all the services available to help them at the information meeting.

I am also concerned especially that the low take up of marriage support services could suggest that couples may be put off counselling if they feel that their counsellor is somehow involved in reporting their discussions to the court. I know that is not the principle behind this amendment, but it is one of the

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risks that one must take into account in making such a provision. This might make marriage support services seem more like agents of the divorce court rather than organisations whose focus will be on looking at how the marriage can be sustained.

In relation to mediation, it is of course important that mediators, too, have in place arrangements to ensure that important matters such as reconciliation are kept under review during the course of mediation. It is to this end that I have tabled Amendment No. 99A, which is intended to ensure that mediators are in a position to practise in accordance with the principles of the Bill. Your Lordships see that that provides that the Legal Aid Board may not contract with mediators unless they have arrangements in place to ensure that reconciliation is kept under review throughout mediation and that parents are encouraged to consider the welfare, wishes and feelings of the children. I believe that is a good way to indicate the sort of principles we expect mediators to follow.

I should like to consider whether it might be appropriate to add a further provision to Amendment No. 99A to provide that mediators should have in place arrangements designed to ensure that parties are informed about the availability of independent legal advice. I am minded to bring forward an amendment to that effect at Third Reading. That is, mediators should be able to tell the parties that if they want independent legal advice on any matter, then, of course, they can consider that.

On reflection, it does not seem right that mediators are to be required to ensure that arrangements are in place with regard to matters such as reconciliation, children and the availability of legal advice whereas legal representatives merely need to self-certify whether or not they have discussed reconciliation and mediation with parties. I am minded, therefore, to bring forward a government amendment at Third Reading which would strengthen the provisions in Clause 10 by requiring legal representatives to inform not only about marriage counselling and mediation but also about the need for parents to consider the welfare, wishes and feelings of their children when they are deciding arrangements for the future. I referred to that earlier.

I would not seek to place any such requirements on counsellors. The primary objective of counsellors is to help people with marriage difficulties. They are not involved in advising on legal process or negotiating financial settlements, nor in disputes relating to children, and should not be required to certify that they have discussed these matters. Both lawyers and mediators, on the other hand, must have regard to the primary principles of this Bill, one of which is that the parties to a marriage which may have broken down are to be encouraged to take all practical steps to save it. I therefore have no hesitation in making amendments which will more strictly enforce the role of lawyers and mediators in that respect.

In the light of that explanation and that I accept the principle of the amendment, insofar as I have described it as acceptable, I hope the noble Baroness may feel able to withdraw it.

4 Mar 1996 : Column 40


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