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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful for the support which the amendments have received. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 17:


Page 7, line 8, at end insert--
("(aa) requiring the person making the statement to state whether or not, since satisfying the requirements of section 8, he has made any attempt at reconciliation;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 18:


Page 7, line 28, leave out ("or has been").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 19 to 21. I have tabled Amendment No. 19 partly in response to an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, at Report stage and partly to bring the duty of legal representatives into line with that placed on mediators by Clause 24 of the Bill as amended on Report. The amendment will empower the Lord Chancellor to make rules which impose a duty on legal representatives to inform a client who is initiating, or proposes to initiate, the divorce process of the availability of marriage support services and mediation; and where there are children of the family, to inform the party that in relation to the arrangements to be made for any such child the party should consider the child's welfare, wishes and feelings. Under the terms of the amendment, any rules made by the Lord Chancellor will also require legal representatives to provide the party with names and addresses of persons qualified to assist them to effect a reconciliation and in connection with mediation.

Your Lordships will see from the Marshalled List that I have tabled an amendment to Clause 24 to require mediators to have arrangements in place to ensure that parties are informed about the availability of independent legal advice, in addition to those matters specified in the new Section 13B(6) of the Legal Aid Act 1988 inserted by Clause 24.

Under Amendment No. 21, any rules made by the Lord Chancellor will require the legal representative to certify whether he has complied with the provisions of the paragraphs introduced by Amendment No. 19, and also to certify whether he has discussed with the party any of the matters mentioned in the first of those paragraphs or the possibility of reconciliation and, if so,

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which of those matters he has discussed. The form of that is intended to elicit reasonably detailed answers rather than a rubber-stamped form.

Amendment No. 18 restricts the provisions to legal representatives currently acting for parties making or proposing to make a statement.

Your Lordships will see that Amendment No. 20 removes the reference to counselling from Clause 11(2)(c). I have considered carefully the arguments put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on Report and your Lordships will note that I have changed the references from "counselling" to "marriage support services". I know that the right reverend Prelate and others in the House were concerned that the requirements of this clause should be focused on the issue of reconciliation, and I believe that that is achieved by the changes. In addition, the amendments I am proposing enable rules to impose a duty on legal representatives to inform their clients of certain matters. While I am sure that the usual practice of legal representatives is to inform their clients of many services which may be of assistance to them, I believe that, in the context of the Bill, it is only appropriate for the Lord Chancellor to impose a duty on legal representatives in relation to the matters raised in the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for Amendment No. 19 and for Amendment No. 25, which amends Clause 24. I believe that these amendments are responses to the amendments that I moved at earlier stages. I thank the noble and learned Lord very much for his amendments.

I wonder whether I may ask the noble and learned Lord a question which is not exactly directly related. On Report I moved Amendment No. 63 for my noble and learned friend Lord Archer. The noble and learned Lord said that he would not accept that amendment but would bring forward an amendment, probably on Third Reading. I have not yet found that amendment, although that may be due to my stupidity. However, when the noble and learned Lord responds, I would be most grateful if he could tell me whether I have just missed it or whether, perhaps, that will be an amendment tabled in another place at a later stage. Nevertheless, I thank the noble and learned Lord for what has been done.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford is unable to be present at this stage but he has asked me to express his thanks to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the amendments and in particular for the inclusion of "marriage support services" in Amendment No. 19. On his behalf, I am glad to express my support for the amendments.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful for that support. If the noble Baroness, Lady David, could tell me the subject matter of her Amendment No. 63, I might well be able to answer her question, although I may be able to answer it in due course. I cannot

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recollect at this moment the precise subject matter of the amendment, but I will probably remember it if it turns out that I have dealt with it.

Baroness David: My Lords, I must apologise to the noble and learned Lord. I have just been reproved by my noble friend for not having mentioned the subject matter of the amendment. It related to divorces which were agreed to on bogus evidence, where false information had been accepted. Is that enough information to trigger the noble and learned Lord's memory?

The Lord Chancellor: Yes, my Lords; my impression at the minute is that it is a little removed from the subject matter now under discussion.

Baroness David: My Lords, it is.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I do not wish to incur a further rebuke from the noble Baroness and I am sympathetic to the amendment that she moved on Report. However, I have to ascertain whether it is necessary to do something along the lines suggested and, if so, on precisely what terms. Therefore, the answer is that I have not yet been able to deal with the subject matter of the noble Baroness's amendment. If it turns out that something is required, then I shall seek to promote it in another place.

Baroness David: My Lords, will the noble an learned Lord allow me to write a letter to him in order to explain the position a little further? I regret that I have been so inadequate in explaining what I wanted.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Baroness wishes to write me a letter. I must say that I am always extremely glad to receive communications from Members of your Lordships' House. I believe that I have the point in mind now. Once we got away from the number of the amendment to the subject matter I remembered the position quite well. As I said, I must ascertain what is required, if anything, to deal with the point that the noble Baroness and her noble and learned friend raised.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21:


Page 7, line 30, leave out from ("made") to ("names") in line 38 and insert--
("(aa) to inform that party, at such time or times as may be specified--
(i) about the availability to the parties of marriage support services;
(ii) about the availability to them of mediation; and
(iii) where there are children of the family, that in relation to the arrangements to be made for any child the parties should consider the child's welfare, wishes and feelings;
(ab) to give that party, at such time or times as may be specified,").
Page 7, line 41, leave out ("(ii) by counselling").
Page 7, line 42, at end insert ("; and
(ac) to certify, at such time or times as may be specified--

11 Mar 1996 : Column 697


(i) whether he has complied with the provision made in the rules by virtue of paragraphs (aa) and (ab);
(ii) whether he has discussed with that party any of the matters mentioned in paragraph (aa) or the possibility of reconciliation; and
(iii) which, if any, of those matters they have discussed.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 14 [Financial arrangements]:

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 22:


Page 9, line 10, at end insert--
("(aa) to provide that such orders are not to be made, except in cases of special and immediate need, during the first six months of the period for reflection and consideration, in order to promote reconciliation and, where reconciliation is not possible, the settlement of arrangements for the future by negotiation or mediation; and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 55 and 57. Amendment No. 22 is a paving amendment for the latter and it is supported by my noble friends Lady Young, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare and the noble Earl, Lord Perth. The intention behind the amendments is to provide a period in which the parties to a divorce can attempt to resolve their financial arrangements for the future by agreement with the aid of mediators or their lawyers and without the threat of an immediate order by the court hanging over them.

The amendments would provide that no court order for financial provision of property adjustment may be made in the first six months after the statement, except where there are shown to be special circumstances of "urgent need". That provision takes account of points made by my noble and learned friend on Report. The sort of circumstances which are intended to be covered by reference to "urgent need" are cases where, shall we say, a wasting asset needs to be sold such as where there is a negative equity situation, where one or both of the parties requires to be housed when they are both living together and it is impossible to house them, or for an occupation order under Part IV of the Bill to be made. In that sort of case, one would readily agree that it would probably be necessary for an immediate order to be made.

The amendments would apply to immediate orders as well as to the orders taking effect on the divorce only, which are the orders presently favoured by my noble and learned friend. I would preclude those. Allowing a court order of whatever sort to be made immediately the statement has been made will inevitably result in increased acrimony as solicitors' letters are exchanged, bargaining goes on, positions are jockeyed for and the solicitor for one party or the other attempts to get on top in the battle of finance straight away. In many cases, the early settlement or financial arrangements made under duress will produce de facto an early, irretrievable breakdown of marriage and give no opportunity for mediation to work or even to be tried.

The amendments do not preclude applications to the court during the six-month period. They do not preclude the procedures leading up to the hearing and the need to

11 Mar 1996 : Column 698

make financial disclosures and the like. The intention is merely that the order should not be made in the first six months so that, if a party feels that nothing is being achieved by mediation or attempting to reach agreement, that party will still be able to apply for an order. The fact that the hearing of the application may be delayed until the end of the six-month period will provide the incentive for both parties to negotiate.

It is a very modest amendment. When my noble and learned friend dealt with the matter at earlier stages in a different form he was fairly lukewarm in his opposition to my amendment or to what we proposed. That did not surprise me because I know that my noble and learned friend has no wish for the court to be tried in preference to mediation or negotiated agreement elsewhere. However, I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to say that the thoughts behind the amendments are now agreed, that they may need redrafting and that he will bring forward something in another place. In the meantime, I beg to move.


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