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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, we agreed from the start that we want to see a level playing field between people who receive direct payments and those

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1424

who receive services when it comes to the contribution that they are asked to make to the cost of their care. I am pleased that your Lordships welcome the extra clarity that the amendments bring.

Perhaps I may briefly respond to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. I am sure she will agree with me that the matters to which she referred are not directly related to the amendments now before the House. However, I am pleased to respond to them briefly. I thank the noble Baroness for the courtesy of giving me advance notice of the issues.

The noble Baroness wished to know why people over 65 were not considered in the beginning, especially as many of them work. We thought it right that those who first campaigned for the Bill--disabled people of working age--should go first and people over 65 should follow. I can confirm that the Government are committed to reviewing the eligible group when direct payments have been available for one year, with a view to extending it to people over 65. We believe that it is only sensible that we should wait until we know the outcome of that review, in particular whether any serious problems have emerged in the first year of operation of direct payments, before coming to a decision about extending eligibility.

The noble Baroness was concerned about the restriction on paying relatives and friends to provide a service. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege agreed to look carefully at the restrictions on paying relatives and friends. The Government reviewed their proposals in this area in the light of responses to the consultation. Our reasons for these restrictions were widely accepted. We have no specific plans to review these restrictions when direct payments are available, but I hope that the noble Baroness will be comforted by the knowledge that we shall of course monitor the implementation of this legislation and will consider whether any changes to the framework we are laying down are necessary in the light of experience.

I am pleased to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that we believe that the technical advisory group's advice has been helpful. I am sure that it will continue to be so. We are committed to consulting the group in the preparation of the guidance on direct payments. As I have already explained, these amendments do not change the effect of the Bill but I hope they remove any doubt about the Government's intention. They respond to concerns raised in this House and elsewhere by introducing wording which matches more closely the wording of existing legislation.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

2

Clause 1, page 1, line 13 , leave out from 'him' to second 'of' in line 14 and insert ', in respect'.


3

Page 1, line 15 , at end insert ', a payment of such amount as, subject to subsections (2) and (3) below, they think fit.'.


4

Page 1, leave out lines 16 to 23 and insert--


'(2) If--
(a) an authority pay under subsection (1) above at a rate below their estimate of the reasonable cost of securing the provision of the service concerned, and

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1425


(b) the payee satisfies the authority that his means are insufficient for it to be reasonably practicable for him to make up the difference,
the authority shall so adjust the payment to him under that subsection as to avoid there being a greater difference than that which appears to them to be reasonably practicable for him to make up.
(3) In the case of a service which, apart from this Act, would be provided under section 117 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (after-care), an authority shall not pay under subsection (1) above at a rate below their estimate of the reasonable cost of securing the provision of the service.'.
5

Clause 4, page 3, line 15, leave out 'pay' and insert 'make'.


6

Page 3, line 15, leave out from 'him' to second 'of' in line 16 and insert ', in respect'.


7

Page 3, line 17, at end insert ', a payment of such amount as, subject to subsection (2) below, they think fit.'.


8

Page 3, leave out lines 18 to 22 and insert--


'(2) If--
(a) an authority pay under subsection (1) above at a rate below their estimate of the reasonable cost of securing the provision of the service concerned, and
(b) the person to whom the payment is made satisfies the authority that his means are insufficient for it to be reasonably practicable for him to make up the difference,
the authority shall so adjust the payment to him under that subsection as to avoid there being a greater difference than that which appears to them to be reasonably practicable for him to make up.'.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 8 en bloc. I spoke to these with Amendment No. 1.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 8.--(Baroness Miller of Hendon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Marriage Ceremony (Prescribed Words) Bill

10.42 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(The Lord Bishop of Southwark.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Burnham) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Alternatives for prescribed declaration and words of contract]:

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 1, line 7, after ("building)") insert--
("(a) after the words "and each of them shall say to the other" the following words shall be inserted--

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"I (name) have carefully considered the promises I am making here today and I understand that I am entering into a marriage partnership with you (name) under which each of us is making a commitment to support and care for the other and for any children of the marriage for as long as we live. I acknowledge that even if this marriage should end in irretrievable breakdown I shall continue to have a responsibility to love and contribute to the support of any child or children of the marriage and"; and
(b)").

The noble Lord said: I say immediately that I entirely support the main thrust of this Bill. It is not my intention in any way to damage that thrust. This is a probing amendment. If it had arisen earlier in the evening, I had rather hoped it might lead to an interesting and important debate. I daresay at this hour it will not.

There is a need to encourage young couples who are contemplating marriage to consider carefully the nature of the engagement they are entering into. One may ask, do they not already do so? Surprisingly, many do not.

During the debates on the Family Law Bill many noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor repeatedly referred to the importance of the beginning of marriage, and to the fact that when the question of divorce arose it was much too late in a marriage to be able to do anything effective to put it together again in most cases. Professor Father Jack Dominian, who is possibly one of the greatest experts in this country on the subject of marriage, said that,


    "The only way to reduce marriage breakdown is preparation for marriage".
A marriage guidance counsellor to whom I spoke recently talked about people coming for counselling advice being asked, "Are you communicating with one another?" He said that some of them never seem to have communicated--although there must have been some body language somewhere.

An intelligent young Roman Catholic priest from Australia who deals regularly with marriage preparation told me that many of the couples say to him, "Father, we know all about it. We know you have to do this but it's only a formality, isn't it?" His attitude is, "Yes, it's only a formality but I have to do something about it. Would you mind filling in this questionnaire? You go over there; and you go over there". In many cases, even on the simplest question the couple's answers are completely different.

There is probably consensus that if couples were clearer about the nature of the commitments they were making, they would have a better chance of the success and happiness both for themselves and their children which some of us have been fortunate enough to enjoy in our marriage and would like to see others enjoy.

I have put down a clear, unequivocal, easily understood promise which is made by each to the other in front of friends and family. I believe that it might help. The words which I propose look simple but they are designed to cover several important issues. First, they emphasise that marriage is a very serious promise made by each partner to the other. Secondly, it emphasises that marriage is not just about a relationship. It is also about a partnership to do a specific job: to

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1427

care for one another, and to care for the children of the marriage. My words define what that job is. Finally, in the first sentence, the parties agree that the partnership is intended to last for life.

The second sentence of the amendment may cause a certain number of raised eyebrows. Having promised that the partnership is for life, why are we talking about irretrievable breakdown? We have just passed the Family Law Bill which accepts irretrievable breakdown as a possibility. If we were to accept a provision of this kind in this Bill, or draft it in some future legislation, we would have to bring couples face to face with the fact that if they are too selfish, too greedy, too demanding, or if they take too much out of the marriage and put too little in, they may end up joining the 30 per cent. who now face irretrievable breakdown with the great suffering to themselves and the children which that involves.

Divorce is the single greatest threat to children in our society today. It also causes untold misery to their parents. I wonder whether a promise along the lines of the amendment could make a contribution to reducing the number of adults and children who suffer the trauma of divorce. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was so courteous as to give me advance notice of the wording of his amendment. Therefore I have been able carefully to consider it. I have also had the opportunity to ascertain that the Labour Party has not yet finalised its policy position on this matter. So I am empowered to say that I find myself very much in sympathy with the impulse which underlies the amendment and with the desire of the noble Lord to make the seriousness and lifelong responsibilities of civil marriage as clear and as binding on the parties as it is possible to be. In many ways that is what the amendment does.

It is especially true so far as concerns the children of the marriage. His amendment sets out absolutely unambiguously what those responsibilities are. But the difference between religious and civil marriage is such that one cannot, in making laws about civil marriage, avail oneself of the understandings and assumptions which belong appropriately to a religious understanding of marriage as a sacrament. In a religious context, one can easily and well talk about "a responsibility to love", which is the wording of the amendment. It means something in the context of the vocabulary of theology or ecclesiology or liturgy, but within the context of a secular jurisprudence or among the arcane attics of the parliamentary draftsmen, it is very difficult to ascribe to a phrase like "a responsibility to love" any precise or enforceable meaning. It is difficult to see how a responsibility to love could be established or denied in the courts.

Given that difficulty, it is not easy for us on these Benches to give our unreserved support to the noble Lord's amendment. But if the Minister could find it in his heart to take the amendment away and consider it

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and return at a later stage with a more easily enforceable form of words, it could perhaps improve not only the morality but also the euphony of the Bill to its and our inestimable advantage.


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