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Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, I echo the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I also support the noble Baroness. Contact is absolutely essential to the father; contact and custody to the mother is the norm. I am not going to repeat what the noble and learned Lord has just said but, very sadly, it is absolute fact. One of the most damaging things to a child is indoctrination. It is one of the hardest things to eradicate and one of the most difficult to get into a form of equanimity when it comes to both parents. I totally agree with what the noble Baroness has said.

Lord Meston: My Lords, the norm nowadays is governed by the Children Act which includes the presumption that there is no order, either for residence or contact, unless an order is specifically necessary. The question of enforcing contact involves the court in what can often be a delicate and difficult task requiring, from the point of view of the judge, a combination of tact and firmness which is not always easy to achieve.

Certainly, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, is absolutely right in suggesting that fathers--and typically it is fathers who wish to enforce contact, either by achieving an order or by enforcing an existing one--should have proper representation. But I am by no means sure that legal aid is somehow excluded in cases in which an application has merit and the applicant has passed the appropriate means test. Therefore, I question the necessity for the first part of this amendment unless there is evidence that somehow legal aid is being withheld in appropriate cases.

8.45 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, civil legal aid is already available for proceedings in the county court and High Court, not only in relation to applying to the court for a contact order, but also for a further application should the order not be complied with. In the magistrates' court assistance by way of representation is available. In appropriate circumstances emergency legal aid is also available. So the first part of this amendment is already fully covered.

Under Section 7(1) of the Children Act the court may ask for a court welfare report regardless of whether or not legal aid has been granted to the parties. The court also has the power under Section 16 of the Children Act to make a family assistance order. That requires a court welfare officer or local authority officer to be made available,

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    "to advise, assist and (where appropriate) befriend any person named in the order".

Those named in the order may include,


    "any parent or guardian of the child; any person with whom the child is living or in whose favour a contact order is in force with respect to the child, [or] the child himself".
There are thus already arrangements in place to ensure the kind of aid and assistance which my noble friend would regard as desirable.

It would be wrong to try to impose a new and separate system on the one presently in existence. But I would like to say one thing about the background to this matter. As has been said by my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale--I believe it was taken up also by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh--one of the great difficulties is indoctrination. In the experience I have, that usually takes place at the earlier stage when the parties are getting into conflict. One of my most fundamental objectives in making it unnecessary to make allegations against the other party to the marriage where that is not necessary is just precisely to limit that because there is nothing more harmful to the relationship between a parent and child than to have that parent denigrated by allegations which the child comes to know about.

Therefore, I believe that it is part of the background to all of this to try to relieve the situation of the kind of material which leads to indoctrination because once one has it, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, said, it is mighty difficult to eradicate. Once it is there it is very difficult to remove.

It is very difficult for the court to know what to do in that situation. I am sure that my noble and learned friend has faced this as a judge, as I have, where the mother has all sorts of reasons why the father should not see the child. It is very difficult to get behind them. It is mighty difficult for the court to really have effective means of enforcing the measure without harming the child. I believe that the kind of arrangements which are in place are the best that are available. I say to my noble friend that one of the important things is to some extent to try to attack the root of the problem. I do not claim that all the problems will be solved. I believe that what is proposed, and the atmosphere sought after in this Bill, at least goes some way towards meeting the problem.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. Perhaps I may make two points. First, I am most grateful to him for having laid down and made public from your Lordships' House that there is a system which can be adhered to for the time being. I have to say, unkindly, that there are some--perhaps court welfare officers--who have not helped the men when they have been in trouble. Secondly, while I agree that there is indoctrination, there is the other side of the coin. I have come across children who have run away from home because the mother will not let them see the father. That has caused great problems. Therefore, there is another side to the matter which has to be tackled. Perhaps that may be done on a social work basis rather than through the law. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2l [Legal aid for mediation in family matters]:

Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 97A:


Page 11, line 16, after ("to") insert ("reconciliation or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is designed to do two things. It provides funding for reconciliation on the same basis as it is provided for mediation. It provides that where a person's financial circumstances qualify him or her for legal aid, they will automatically qualify that person for legal aid for reconciliation also. I stress "a person's financial circumstances" because I am not referring to organisations. Funding for such organisations has already been well covered today. I have great admiration and respect for those Members of your Lordships' House who have declared themselves to be closely involved with such organisations, particularly in relation to mediation, and I am happy to declare my interest: I am not connected to any organisation at all. I am more concerned now with individuals than with organisations.

I believe that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who touched on what is a real fear among many people. I refer to the growth of the mediation industry. There is a fear that mediation will take over and that we shall see a huge organisation, with state funds and God knows what else, such as colleges offering diplomas for mediators. It has already been said that people are queuing up to get on to mediation courses. However, that is not what the whole thing is about.

I thought that we had laid to rest the argument about mediation versus reconciliation--at least, I had hoped that we had done so. However, many noble Lords appear to use the phrases indiscriminately, making a mistake that the Law Society did not make in its briefing on the facts of mediation, which clearly states:


    "The purpose of mediation is not reconciliation. Instead, it is intended to help divorcing couples reach decisions for themselves about future arrangements for the home, the children, finances etc. Mediation can help resolve disputes about these issues.


    Mediators have a clearly defined role. The mediator's job is to help couples reach agreed solutions. They assist negotiations as a neutral third party. They do not:


    Provide marriage guidance counselling.


    Offer legal advice.


    Comment on whether an agreed solution is fair to both parties and properly protects their interests.


    Advise the parties independently".
For me, that is an essential definition of a "mediator".

However, I am arguing that before a mediator becomes involved in future arrangements for the unfortunate marriage, there have to be attempts to reconcile the couple. I believe that reconciliation is the stage before mediation. I have suggested that nothing should happen in terms of mediation until at least six months have expired for reconciliation. I still hold to that point of view. The amendment is designed to promote that possibility of reconciliation right up to the

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time of divorce and to provide for reconciliation to be funded from legal aid funds in just the same way as it is funded for those who qualify for mediation.

I believe that it was the Lord Chancellor who reminded us about the first amendment which was designed to save marriages. We should do all that we can to save marriages. I have taken the view right from the beginning of our deliberations on this Bill that, without reconciliation, we have hardly any chance of saving any marriages. If we are sincere about saving marriages, we must be sincere about reconciliation. Reconciliation must be the first step. I believe that some form of reconciliation might have helped to save the marriage breakdowns that we read about every day.

We have voiced our concern about the effect of divorce on children. There is enough evidence to prove that the children of divorced parents are significantly more likely to under-achieve at school, to be unemployed, to turn to crime and to repeat the whole cycle by becoming divorced themselves. There have been many studies into, and reports on, that. There is also robust evidence to show that experiencing divorce as a child can have adverse effects on one's health, behaviour and economic circumstances 30 years later. We have heard evidence to that effect in this debate.

We also know that divorced men and women have significantly worse health problems than those who are married. Evidence on that is contained in a book called Marital Breakdown and the Health of the Nation (second edition) 1995. Furthermore, 50 per cent. of divorced men regret being divorced. I understand that between 20,000 and 30,000 people every year petition for divorce but turn back from going through with it. We need to get as many couples as we can to try reconciliation.

The Lord Chancellor's own MORI poll was quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who reported that it showed that 60 per cent. of people support the present two-year separation period where both parties consent. Indeed, those who supported the period for reflection and consideration favoured a period of 20 months. There is a feeling outside--among the fellows on the Clapham omnibus--that there should be more time for consideration. Divorce should not be rushed into. It should not be something that is hurried, with only 12 months' notice being given and "bang bang" and that is the end of it--divorce with no holds barred.

I believe that it was the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who said that there is no proof that money could be saved as a result of this process. However, the state spends over £3 billion every year on the consequences of divorce and we know that reconciliation is possible because we know that every year there are between 20,000 and 30,000 fewer divorces than there are petitions. We know that a substantial proportion of couples turn back from divorce. That saves money. Every time a couple turn back from divorce and are reconciled we save money

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on social security and other benefits. Therefore, it is not absolutely factual to say that no money could be saved by adopting our proposals--


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