Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Young: My Lords, before my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor replies to the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, perhaps I may ask about the general funds which are given to such organisations. What proportion of the money that is given actually ends up helping married couples, either in terms of counselling or subsequently?

It is often said--some of the material that I have read from such organisations indicates this--that those organisations counsel quite a number of other people, such as unmarried couples, homosexual couples and lesbian couples. As I have said before, if public money is going into something, it should go to those parts of an organisation which the Bill is designed to support and which I think that all Members of your Lordships' House wish to support. I hope that I shall be given an answer to that question because I have received letters which indicate that there would not be such a long wait for marriage guidance counselling if such organisations concentrated their efforts exclusively on marriage guidance counselling and not on other activities.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I should like to speak on behalf of those who have in principle supported the Bill from the start as being a Bill which has support for marriage and the family at its centre . That is why so many of us have supported the Bill through thick and thin.

4 Mar 1996 : Column 56

It is important that the services which support and bolster marriage should be funded because, if we fail on that, I believe that the last state will be worse than the first. We shall be left with a Bill which seeks to support marriage and the family but which is not able to do so. It sometimes happens that splendid legislation passes both your Lordships' House and the other place, but in the end there are not the funds to implement that which has been proposed.

If I may attempt to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, it is possible for there to be pro-rata funding. That happens in a minor way in my own diocese. When I have to ask for the help of, say, marriage guidance counsellors, I can pay for that which they do without necessarily having to subscribe vaguely to their whole enterprise. So, we could deal with that problem.

The cost of divorce to this country is massive, but by comparison what we spend on services to assist marriage is minimal. I hope that we can be as good as our word and have the courage of our convictions. It is good that this Bill has been brought forward by the Government because it shows that they are concerned about the state of the nation. I hope that they will back it with the necessary funds.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I think that there is a consensus that there shall be marriage support services and that they shall be financed with the assistance of public funds. I suggest that there is also a consensus in favour of the proposition advanced by my noble friend Lady Young that that money should be directed to the purposes of the Bill specifically and not elsewhere.

I rise only to ask my noble and learned friend-- I regret that I have not given him notice of this--whether he has thought further about the point that I raised in Committee when I drew attention to the need for some form of preparation during education for the responsibilities of marriage now that it comes so early in life. Indeed, parenthood often comes before the end of a school career.

I suggested that Clause 18(1)(c) should embrace research into the effects of education on marital breakdown. My noble friend did not say that that activity would fall within the definition of this subsection, nor did he go so far as to say that the money would be spent in that way. I hope that he will be able to reassure me on the definition, either now or later in writing. Amendment No. 94 appears to be grouped with Amendment No. 93. One wonders whether the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, will speak to that or whether it will be debated separately.

6 p.m.

The Earl of Perth: My Lords, I should like to support the amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. We are grateful for the noble and learned Lord who introduced the clause. It was introduced specifically to help with the problem of marriage counselling. But I feel that the word "may" does not truly represent the feeling of the House and that what is required is "shall". Although it will still be qualified by the words "with the approval of the

4 Mar 1996 : Column 57

Treasury", it shows that the House is extremely anxious that that should happen. I very much hope that the amendment will be accepted and that the clause introduced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will to that extent be strengthened.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 93. However, I would have liked to speak also to Amendment No. 94. I see that Amendment No. 94 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, is grouped with Amendment No. 93, but he has not moved it.

Lord Habgood: My Lords, I thought that it might be appropriate to take Amendment No. 94 separately. However, I have been persuaded that it should be grouped with Amendment No. 93, because essentially it is a probing amendment. It does not cover the same ground as Clause 18. I do not believe that mediation is included under support services, nor does the particular issue that I wish to raise come under Part II of the measure which deals with the financing of the mediation services.

The point of the amendment is the immediate concern about interim finance if the mediation services are to expand and provide effective central control of standards. When the Act has been running for some time and money comes in through legal aid there may be some other arrangements, as opposed to direct funding, to enable the mediation services to be financed through legal aid. But the particular problem is immediate. We are well aware that mediation is crucial to this Bill, but the fact is that without more resources the present mediation services may not be able to cope with the demands which will be made upon them. They are very small. The central organisation is very small. There is a danger that all kinds of enthusiastic would-be mediators will rush forward to fill the vacuum, unless the central administration of the various mediation bodies can be strengthened.

It is all the more important because the noble and learned Lord has made clear that he does not himself wish to monitor and supervise the standards of the mediation services. Therefore, it is essential to have strong central bodies to ensure that this is done and are sufficiently widespread in the nation as a whole so that they will be the obvious people to turn to, not just those who set up a badge as a mediator, which it is perfectly possible for anybody to do at the moment.

The expansion, consolidation and piloting of the experiments, which the noble and learned Lord has said he wishes to undertake over a period of about two years following the passage of the Bill, will take place at a time when presumably money will not be coming in via the legal aid channel. One looks for a guarantee of interim payments to allow the mediation services to do what must be done if the Bill is to be effective.

It may assist your Lordships if I say a word about how National Family Mediation is financed. I declare an interest because I am one of the patrons of that body. There are 60 local services to which approximately 650 trained mediators are attached. All of these local services are separate charities, and most are

4 Mar 1996 : Column 58

self-sustaining. They are funded from a variety of sources. They get some money from legal aid; some comes from the probation services; some charge client fees; some receive support from local authorities; and they also seek charitable funds. These are held together in National Family Mediation by the central services which consist of three paid employees to cover the whole nation. Those central services are concerned with such matters as: general policy, professional standards, the education of mediators, public relations, monitoring local services, appropriate literature and keeping in touch with mediation bodies on an international basis. All of that is done by three full-time members on a budget of less than a quarter of a million pounds. There is no core funding from the Government for that service. Unless there is core funding this tiny organisation will simply collapse.

There are pressures to bring together the three main mediation services in the country to form a so-called college of mediators which will provide training and assure standards. That cannot be done as long as the mediation services are dependent upon finance from trusts, charities and, as to a small amount, affiliation fees. For a variety of reasons (which I need not go into) trust money is drying up, not least in anticipation that if the Government put through this legislation they will pay something for it.

I fully recognise the problems faced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in trying to secure finance from the Treasury. I deeply sympathise with him. But there is a question of credibility here. The sums required are extremely modest but are crucial to the successful implementation of the procedures. Therefore, although I do not press the amendment, I very much hope that he can give an assurance that, first, he understands the problems and, secondly, that help will be forthcoming.

Lord Coleraine: My Lords, as a patron of National Family Mediation--which we know is the larger of the two organisations that look after mediation at the moment--is the noble Lord telling us that unless substantially more funding is available it will not be possible to get mediation off the ground and properly piloted during the two-year period presently anticipated by my noble and learned friend?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page