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Lord Stallard: My Lords, if I am wrong, I hope that I shall be forgiven. I had thought that that was what the noble and learned Lord said earlier although I did not take down his words verbatim. I believe that the noble and learned Lord challenged us by saying that there is no proof that money could be saved. We shall have to look this up in Hansard tomorrow. If I am wrong, I certainly apologise, but I have a clear recollection of the noble and learned Lord referring in some way to the saving of money in relation to marriages.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me. What I said--we are all subject to Hansard and to the vagaries of my memory--was that I thought that if it could be shown that particular services prevented marital breakdown and saved the consequent costs, it would be much easier to get the necessary funding for those services. That is the theory of what I advanced.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I accept the correction because I certainly recall the first part of the statement which the noble and learned Lord has just repeated. However, that makes no difference to what I am saying, which is that it has been shown that if marriages can be saved, money can be saved. That is the point to which I am replying. I think that we can readily agree on that.
Amendment No. 97A, and those grouped with it, would have the effect of doing what we set out to do at the beginning of the Bill, which is to save marriages, by taking the obvious first step of trying to get the couples to think again. We should give them at least six months to think about whether divorce is the right thing or whether they could be reconciled and become one of the thousands of couples who have already decided that they prefer to stay married. Divorcing couples should remember the many more who regret having gone through the divorce process and who would happily go back to their marriages. I believe that that is all that I need to say because most of these points have already been made. I beg to move.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in these amendments. If one thread has run through all the proceedings of this Bill it is the importance of reconciliation. I believe I am right in recalling that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, made this very point at the start of the Committee proceedings.
These amendments promote two things: the possibility of reconciliation right up to the time of divorce and for reconciliation to be funded out of legal aid. They provide for the funding of reconciliation on the same basis as for mediation. If a person's
I like these amendments because they are specific to the individuals involved. They deal with those matters to which individual people are entitled. Earlier in our proceedings today I supported the general funding of marriage organisations, but I consistently made the point that in my view funding should be only for marriage and not for all of the ancillary work that these organisations conducted. Although I welcome general funding, there can be no guarantee that the public money that is given will find its way to the people who really require it for reconciliation. We have recently passed the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about supporting services, research into marriage breakdown and general funding for marriage organisations. But none of these gives a guarantee to individuals that they will be assisted in the process of reconciliation. At the end of the day, that is what it is about.
These amendments may not be properly drafted; they may be too general. I would entirely understand, as I am sure would the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, if they had to be taken back and looked at again. But I believe that everybody would be tremendously reassured to know that reconciliation, to which all of us attach importance, including the noble and learned Lord himself, was made much more specific to the couples who required it and some funding came out of the money which went generally to organisations and was specifically directed to the people whom all of us would like to help.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I have been pleased to put my name to these amendments and I very much support them. I should like to emphasise the points that have been made by my noble friend. Reconciliation is not only about saving marriage, although that must be the prime concern. It can also be about saving the taxpayer's money. Therefore, it is worth taking these amendments and the whole question of reconciliation very seriously. One merely has to give an instance of what has to be done when a marriage breaks down. Whereas one family has been housed in a single house, as soon as a breakdown occurs another house is required. Very often that is supported by public funds. Additional costs will arise. The cost to the taxpayer of marriage breakdown can be very high. It is worth while spending time and money on reconciliation services.
I also agree with my noble friend that those involved in reconciliation do not necessarily need long college training. Reconciliation requires understanding, common sense, experience and, above all, a sense of humanity. I am sure that when my noble friend puts forward these amendments he is talking about proper reconciliation. That is why I support the amendments. Not only will we save money on social services and what have you. If we can save marriages from divorce
Lord Habgood: My Lords, it would be unfortunate if the impression got about that there were two rival organisations, one concerned with reconciliation and one with mediation. What we are concerned with are people we are trying to help in desperately difficult situations, with appropriate techniques for various stages of the process. It seems to me that mediation as it is referred to here comes after the stage when couples have decided that reconciliation is no longer possible and they have to go forward to a divorce. Even so, within the process of mediation the way to reconciliation is not closed. I hope that I shall help the House by reading a short passage from what National Family Mediation says about this subject:
Baroness Elles: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene, because the more we discuss this, the more difficult I find it to understand. The noble Lords, Lord Stallard and Lord Stoddart of Swindon, made clear the role of the mediator, as opposed to that of the person who is, so to speak, responsible for reconciliation. I understood when we discussed this in Committee that the mediator has a role to play which is set up specifically in the Bill as originally presented by my noble and learned friend. It is to deal with financial matters, property and children--making arrangements for the application for divorce. Those arrangements have to be made before an applicant can go to the court to ask for a divorce.
What I do not understand, and I should be most grateful if my noble and learned friend would explain it, is what is the reconciliator's role? Is it the same person as the mediator or is it someone else? I had understood it to be someone else, and that the reconciliator, for instance, would have started, as I hoped if my amendment had been accepted, between the information meeting and the statement being made, so that there would be a chance to fit in the reconciliator at that early stage to avoid going to the next stage of the process. I should be most grateful if I could have a clarification of this matter, and specifically on the mediator's role. Who will pay the mediator? Who will be responsible for initiating the process of reconciliation and providing the help needed to save the marriage?
The process of mediation is a process by which, instead of having adversarial litigation, there is a mediator, who is independent of the parties, as the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull said earlier, who helps them to come to an agreement, and who draws their attention to advice that may be available to them, the nature of the problem, and so on.
I read into the proceedings on the previous occasion a statement from the mediation bodies as to how they address matters of fault and conduct as between the parties, because in order to go forward we need to look at that. That is what mediation is. It is a process which, in default of success, will issue in a legal process. Therefore it is appropriate that legal aid in the ordinary form might be available or extended to cover mediation.
Reconciliation is different. First, reconciliation is a result; it is not a process. If people have been at variance--they cannot get on--and there is a discussion with someone who helps, it may be that they are reconciled. If that happens, the marriage is repaired and the costs that would follow on marriage breakdown are saved. Your Lordships will not find anything I have said inconsistent with that.
Marriage breakdown in this country is costly. I have said, and I say again, that, in so far as services that are provided are proved to be effective in preventing marital breakdown that otherwise would occur, thus saving the financial consequences of marital breakdown, there must be a strong Treasury motive, apart from anything else, in putting the money into the process that leads to reconciliation rather than towards the other costs which follow from marital breakdown. That is my position and always has been.
The next point is that reconciliation is of course, as I say, a result, and it is a result which we would greatly like to achieve, but in looking at this one has to look at the process. What is the mechanism by which it may be assisted? If anything is clear to me as a result of a study of this problem, it is that, where a marriage enters on problems, the sooner it receives help the more likely it is that help will be effective. The more the marriage has got into trouble, the more it is on the rocks, the more difficult it is to get it refloated. Therefore, the earlier something is done the better. That is why I believe it is wrong to attach the provision to a legal process and to think of reconciliation, conciliation or advice services as associated primarily with the ultimate stage of a divorce process. In my submission, the correct way to fund the service is the way I am proposing in the Bill; namely, by grants to those who provide the service.
Of course, there may be a question of how often one can receive such help. In the ordinary course, before one can obtain legal aid one must undertake a test to show that one has some kind of case. Such a test would be difficult to apply to this provision. I understand that we need a recognised marriage counselling service to which people can go when it might be helpful to them. That is the structure that I propose in the Bill; namely, grant aid as regards those services. I have indicated that the level of grant aid is likely to be very much affected by the ability to establish that the aid given by this means is effective in preventing marital breakdown. I submit that the right method to be used in funding help for couples seeking reconciliation is that which I have proposed; namely, by grants to those who can provide an effective service.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford mentioned some figures which Relate has given to test its abilities in this connection. That would be a proper footing on which to give grants. That is the best and most effective way of getting money to people in the form of service which may be of utility to them. My noble friend Lady Young asked whether it would be certain that the money would go to those services. That is precisely why I have defined the services very closely in the grant aid provisions in Clause 18.
I believe that this is the best way of securing the kind of service which the noble Lords, Lord Stallard and Lord Stoddart of Swindon, wish. I hope that your Lordships will support this method of funding, which is not related solely to the end of the process but is likely to provide funding for services at a time when they are more likely to be effective in the structure of the Bill. I hope that in the light of that explanation the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate and for the noble and learned Lord's positive response. I am still a little doubtful about the matter and I wish to study the noble and learned Lord's reply. The noble Lord, Lord Habgood, appears to have misunderstood a point. I said that if the waiting period were extended to 18 months the legal aid funding for reconciliation would be available during the whole period. Noble Lords should think about that suggestion before condemning it totally out of hand.
I am disappointed that on the face of the Bill there is not the same recognition of reconciliation as there is of mediation. I would have thought that we could have been a little more positive about reconciliation for people who qualify for legal aid. I am not so much concerned with the organisations and the grants as I am about the ordinary people involved. If they qualify for legal aid for mediation they should qualify for legal aid for reconciliation. That is the difficulty, and I wish to take time to read the noble and learned Lord's reply. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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