|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
To exclude the possibility of mediation whenever any indication of concern about domestic violence has been made is to withdraw at the outset one means of securing an appropriate level of contact between children and their divorcing parents and deny parents the ability to continue to parent their children. NFM contends that an indication of concern about domestic violence should not preclude the possibility of mediation.
As the House has heard, it is not just the Opposition who believe that mediation should form a much firmer part of the process. That view is shared by outside bodies that have great understanding of these matters.
We intend to press the motion to a Division because there is clear evidence that mediation can create better long-term outcomes for our children. At present, the availability of mediation is, at best, patchy. By amending the Bill, we would make mediation a routine part of divorce, hopefully take the sting out of the tail of some of the more acrimonious situations in which families find themselves and, ultimately, ensure better outcomes for children. Time does not allow a full debate on the two amendments in the group, so I shall bring my remarks to a close. [Interruption.]
Mr. Beith: In a sentence, on a matter that affects the welfare of many children caught in difficult and desperate situations, which I would have hoped was of concern to hon. Members, even those standing below the Bar, the Select Committee strongly recommended that there should be an element of compulsion to embark upon the possibility of mediation, and recently recorded that participation in the family resolutions pilot project was so poor that the project had to be accounted a failure because there was no element of compulsion about it. Those seem to be strong reasons for including a provision along these lines in the Bill.
The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) was so familiar with the debate in Committee that she able to readmostly, but not entirely, correctlythe arguments that I advanced to show why we could not accept the amendments. I accept that the amendments arise from a desire to promote family mediation, which we want to do, but I do not believe that compulsory family mediation is desirable or likely to be successful.
Contrary to the comments of the hon. Lady, amendment No. 14 and new clause 22 provide for compulsory mediation. As we explained in our previous debates on the matter, we have serious concerns about the effects of compelling mediation, rather than encouraging it in the strongest terms and providing for parties to have an information session about mediation. We think that is the right way to go.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke got one of my reasons right, which is that her amendment potentially contravenes the Human Rights Act 1998 on access to the courts. However, the main issue is that requiring parties who are not willing to sit in the same room to
The Bill is important and will have considerable implications and benefits for many families. It is therefore important that we can say that our debates at various stages of its passage have been constructive and valuable and, above all, have shown the commitment throughout the House to improving outcomes for children.
The measure tackles some difficult issuesfor many families, the most difficult and emotional that they will face: the break-up of families, parenting children and, in difficult circumstances, adopting children in other countries. It has received rigorous scrutiny from hon. Members of all parties at all stages. I am grateful for the chairing of our discussions today and for the equally kind but firm chairmanship in Committee.
I thank the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who led the debates from the Opposition Benches, and their hon. Friends. I also thank the previous Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), now Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for the valuable part that she played before moving on to other things.
I especially thank the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who showed today how well he has grasped the detail in a short time and responded to amendments and hon. Members points with consideration and thoughtfulness. I hope that hon. Members appreciate that. He is not in his place to hear that tribute because he needed to have something to eat, but I want the record to show my appreciation of him.
I also want to thank all my hon. Friends who have taken part so actively in the debate, and all the Clerks and officials who have supported us so well. It has been apparent that all Members have approached these issues with great diligence, and with great commitment to getting the detail of the Bill right. I want to thank them for doing that, and to pay tribute to the spirit in which they have done it. Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to the members of the Joint Committee that gave the Bill its pre-legislative scrutiny, who were responsible for some important changes before the Bill reached the Floor of the House.
I have already said that the Bill addresses some fundamental issues. As we have seen again today, some fundamental differences have been expressed during the debate, particularly on the question of whether the Bill should make explicit reference to the need for reasonable contact and so, in our view, compromise the principle of paramountcy of the welfare of the child. I believe that Opposition Members share our aim of providing for the childs best interests above all else, but we have fundamentally different viewsthey have been explored somewhat graphically on occasion todayon how that should best be achieved. We are united in the view that the courts will want to enable children to maintain good contact with both parents. In our view, however, compromising the principle of the paramountcy of the individual childs welfare is not the right way to achieve
that. Notwithstanding the rather intemperate remarks of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, I hope that he and his hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench will accept that we have come to our view with careful thought and integrity, just as I accept that he has done to his, however misguided I believe it to be.
From a childs point of view, the break-up of a family is a devastating experience in most cases. Most children want their parents to stay together, almost at any cost. So when parents have decided that that is not possible, the first and overriding priority must be to safeguard the childs welfare, her emotional and psychological health, her experience of being loved by both parents, and her ability to draw strongly on the contribution that each parent can make to her health, growth and development.
The Bill gives the courts the power to do what is right for children. It offers them the flexibility to support the 10 per cent. of separating parents who turn to them, by helping to facilitate contact at the start of proceedings, and by giving them options about how to enforce it when things go wrong, but focusing always on the interests of the child. Thanks to a very welcome amendment in the other place, the Bill also now introduces an important new measure to safeguard children involved in court proceedings by requiring a risk assessment when CAFCASS has cause to suspect that a child might be at risk of harm. This is equally a Bill about inter-country adoption, and about putting in place the right arrangements to help children in difficult circumstances in other countries to find a home in ours.
This is a Bill that has at its heart the principle that every child matters. It deals with some of the most vulnerable children in our society and abroad, and I believe that it will make life better for many of those children. I welcome the support that the vast majority of measures in the Bill have received from Members in all parts of the House. I think that our debates have dealt with some of the important issues of detail, and that some have led to improvements.
Tim Loughton: Perhaps my few comments, with the support of other speakers, will take us past the 9.45 pm watershed after which it will be safe to summon colleagues back for a debate that may or may not happen.
I, too, thank the various Members and staff who have aided our deliberations. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller), who has performed a tour de force on the Front Bench throughout the Bills passage. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) and for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), both of whom served on the Committee, and of course to our assiduous Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). To be fair, I should also congratulate the new Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon.
Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), on dealing single-handedly with the entire Report stage, apart from two minutes before 9 pm. For him to do that after being thrown in at the deep end was no mean feat, given that this is a complex and controversial Bill that has been around for a year, since well before the hon. Gentlemans promotion. He had a very quick dinner, but some of us did not have any dinner at all. There are those who did not have any lunch either, but that is another matter.
This has been a long journey. Back in 2004, we saw the Green Paper Parental Separation: Childrens Needs and Parents Responsibilities. Back in January 2005, we saw the next steps progress report. Soon after that, we saw the draft Bill. Before the last election, the draft Bill was presented to a pre-legislative scrutiny Committee in a rather truncated form. On 29 June 2005, almost a year ago, the Bill started its passage in the other place. It came to this House on 14 November, and ended its Committee stage at the end of March. Three months later, we are finally finishing Third Reading. It seems to take rather a long time for some Bills, particularly those dealing with children, to progress through both Houses, and there seem to be large gaps between the ending of their Committee stages and the start of their Report stages. This is not the first time that that has happened.
Meanwhile, there has been an extraordinary development in the shape of early-day motion 128, which has been mentioned several times today and which was signed by a majority of Members of Parliament of all political persuasions. The signatures of 345 Members appear on that motion, which supports us on the principle and presumption of reasonable contact being in the child's best interests.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The figure is rather more significant than my hon. Friend suggests. A good many Members, including me, do not sign early-day motions as a matter of principle, but profoundly supported the thrust of that motion.
Tim Loughton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, as well as those who do not sign early-day motions for reasons of personal choice, there are Ministers, who cannot sign them. That means that a vast majority of free-thinking Members put their pens to the motion. Only 146 of those 345, however, were prepared to go into the Lobby this evening, when it really mattered. That speaks volumes about the attitude of certain Members.
The Minister said that, taken as a whole, the Bill offered improvement in life chances for some of the most vulnerable children in our society, and elsewhere. We, of course, support that intent. She also said that the House was united in wanting to maintain good contact with both parents, and we agree with that too. However, she could not resist tagging on a condemnation of the Oppositions approach, which she said compromised the paramountcy of the childs welfare.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|