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Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, I welcome in particular Amendment No. 1 which will give a high profile to marriage counselling as a distinct process designed to save a marriage. I have no doubt that this group of amendments significantly improves the Bill. It is also particularly welcome that a purpose of the information meeting is to encourage the party or parties who attend to take up the opportunity of marriage counselling with a view to saving the marriage.
The effect of Amendment No. 28 is to provide a level playing field between marriage counselling and mediation because the meeting with a marriage counsellor will be free for those who qualify for legally aided mediation on a non-contributory basis. Likewise, by way of Amendment No. 41, marriage counselling during the period for "reflection and consideration" will be state funded, again, for those eligible for non-contributory legal aid.
The intent of Amendment No. 40 is to ensure that marriage counselling is available at the time when it is "first needed" and--it is to be hoped--before the marriage has broken down. I believe that this group of Commons amendments accords a rightful high priority to marriage counselling as a means of saving marriages and that it establishes a balanced scheme for the provision of such counselling.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I, too, very much welcome the amendments. I particularly welcome the provision that marriage counselling should be made available at the earliest possible moment. Certainly all assistance in aid of marriage is 10 times more useful if it is available as soon as trouble appears in the marriage.
I have only one question to ask; namely, what is the cost of the counselling services which are now to be provided? That must have been agreed with the Treasury. It is most important that we should know that and, indeed, the total cost involved as regards the measures in the Bill.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I, too, should like to support this group of Commons amendments. We discussed the issue at very considerable length during our deliberations on the Bill. If I have any regret, it is that some of our amendments were not accepted at an earlier stage. However, that is a rather grudging thing to say and, on the principle of better late than never, I am very pleased that the amendments were made to the Bill in the other place.
I should like to reiterate one concern that I have about counselling services. I recently received a piece of literature from Relate. It is quite interesting in that, on looking through the document, one has to read two sections of it before marriage is even mentioned. The literature claims at the beginning that Relate,
I really feel--and this is a serious point--that there is a very real distinction in life between marriage and co-habitation. I have always believed that the Bill should buttress marriage and that the counselling services employed ought to be doing just that and not be involved in other forms of what are today called, "alternative lifestyles".
When my noble and learned friend comes to answer the question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I hope that we will learn what sums of money we are talking about. Indeed, where government money is involved, we must ensure that it really goes to organisations whose function in life is to support marriage. We must be absolutely clear on that point.
Having said that, I welcome anything which encourages couples to stay together. One of the more encouraging statistics that we heard about at an earlier stage is the fact that between 20,000 and 30,000 couples start divorce proceedings each year but do not proceed to the end. We really must try to encourage more couples, who feel that they have to start counselling, to go back together before divorce occurs.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked: where will the money come from? They are all important questions. It is great that we have achieved at least the sense of our amendments, but the questions that remain are: who will the counsellors be? Who will counsel the counsellors? I know that there are many Church organisations which have excellent counsellors, but who will counsel the vast army of counsellors which will probably be needed as a result of this new industry of counselling?
I am also worried about the quality of the training of many of the counsellors--that is, those who currently practise and those who will become counsellors. I repeat: who will the counsellors be; who will counsel and train them; and, finally, where will the money come from?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful for the support for the amendments that I have received from all parts of the House. As regards the point raised by my noble friend Lady Young which was taken up to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I should point out to the House that the Bill makes clear that it is marriage support services and marriage counselling that are in issue from the point of view of support. Therefore, in respect of the clauses we are discussing, there is no question of this Bill authorising counselling in relation to alternative lifestyles. The divorce provisions are relevant only to the situation of marriage. As regards the costs, my noble and learned friend--
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord leaves that subject, I did not speak upon that point but I wish to ask him how will the marriage guidance service be supervised. Will it be supervised by the Government? Will another organisation be set up? How are we to ensure that marriage counselling is about counselling to save marriages?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the provision of counselling will be in the hands of a number of organisations which offer services. However, they will do so under contract or under grant. The grants will certainly be offered under conditions that make it clear what the nature of the service is and the standard of service to be provided. I do not envisage a whole army of counsellors. I have read some suggestion of that in some pieces of paper. However, I do not envisage that at all. I envisage support for a high quality service.
When the Bill was in this House previously, I said I believed that marriage counselling was capable of being monitored in quite an effective way, because one can ascertain to what extent the consequences of counselling have produced continuation of marriages. I believe that can be effectively monitored. We shall put in place effective monitoring as part of the arrangements. That is also important in relation to costs. I have tried to explain before to your Lordships that I believe it is much easier to get money if you show you are saving a lot of money, than if you are not. If this provision works--as I hope it will--the result should be quite substantial consequential savings in respect of other matters such as housing, benefits and the like. Therefore I believe that monitoring the results of the applications of these amendments is important.
The costs of marriage counselling are comparatively cheaper than are the costs of the provision of legal aid under the present arrangements. Of course there is the additional grant which we presently give under the general powers. I have explained that pilot studies will be conducted before we bring the divorce and mediation parts of this Bill into effect. As this Bill comes into effect I anticipate that it will be possible within the total budget that is presently allocated for legal aid to make quite a substantial shift in favour of marriage counselling. Apart from the grants which are presently separate, I anticipate that the overall result of this Bill will be cost neutral.
We want to encourage a variety of counsellors and a variety of help. One area where counsellors are sometimes situated with particular effect is in association with family medical practitioners. I believe that a good family doctor sometimes has an opportunity of picking up signs of difficulty in a marriage before any other professional adviser is likely to have notice of that difficulty. I wish to keep as flexible arrangements as possible in place, but I believe that this is something that--
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord leaves that point, would I not be correct in thinking that he of all people would want to encourage those in the legal profession, as soon as a client comes to them in regard to matrimonial affairs, to be fairly good trained counsellors themselves? They could do so much good.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, of course there are different circumstances in which clients approach lawyers. There are some people who are able to afford to have a reasonably continuous legal service. I heard someone say that some people complained there were too many lawyers in the United States. In fact there are too few lawyers there because not everyone can have his own lawyer; people have to share lawyers.
The point I was trying to make earlier is that the medical practitioner may well, because of his continuing relationship with patients, have an opportunity of detecting difficulties early. Often lawyers are approached rather later in the course of a problem arising. I entirely agree with the noble Lord,
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