|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment and speaking to those grouped with it I come to a completely separate issue which concerns reconciliation. Amendments Nos. 21A, 21B, 21C, 32A, 33A, 35B, 38A, 38B and 39A incorporate a one-year period for reconciliation before a year for mediation.
There has been a great deal of discussion at both Second Reading and Committee on the importance of reconciliation. I accept that these amendments may not be properly drafted, but I hope very much that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will look very seriously at incorporating into this whole process a period of reconciliation. He said today in Committee that he hopes that during the period of mediation couples will come together. There has been much debate about what mediation can do, and no doubt we shall discuss the matter further. But, as I understand the Bill, there will be a statement of the intention to divorce and then mediation will begin to operate, but not until the couple have reached that stage. Therefore, it is concerned much more with dividing up the assets. One hopes that there will be a more amicable settlement. One cannot imagine that it can be made compulsory. I do not believe that anyone would necessarily go if he or she did not want to do so. Be all that as it may, I do not argue against mediation. I submit that we want something more than mediation. We want reconciliation.
I believe that that is perfectly possible. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine, at the last Committee stage made that very point about the importance of reconciliation. I believe that many people quite wrongly may see divorce as a solution to their marital difficulties. In fact, divorce can be a cry for help. Indeed, the White Paper, as I said before, admits that some, possibly many, divorce petitions represent a cry for help which may not reflect a seriously thought-out decision to end the marriage. It seems to me that if we are left with a no-fault provision in the law, the provision for reconciliation becomes even more important. It becomes important to the Chancellor of the Exchequer because the cost of family breakdown is at least some £3 billion every year.
22 Jan 1996 : Column 880
I understand that the Bill envisages one year for mediation during which a couple, having faced up to the realities of what life will be like after divorce, may have second thoughts. I hope that they will do so. Certainly I am not against that. It will be easy, under mediation in the Bill, for the couple to talk immediately about splitting their assets; then, where no financial agreement is reached at the end of one year, under Clause 9 a spouse can apply to the court to end the discussion and make a divorce order.
That matter was referred to in an earlier debate and I shall read again what my noble and learned friend said on that point. The Bill appears to remove a number of obstacles to divorce and does little to encourage people to think again. Mediation and reconciliation will be difficult to carry out at the same time because they do not serve quite the same purpose.
I hope that in this series of amendments we can consider including these measures in the process, perhaps when the marriage is in crisis or when concern is expressed, as my noble and learned friend Lord Simon said. That is when one wants reconciliationbefore one ever reaches the stage of statements or mediation.
I do not know what the answer is, but there is a great deal of feeling in the Committee that we ought to write into the Bill some provisions on reconciliation. That was a point made by Cardinal Hume in his article; he was concerned about this. I believe everybody is concerned to improve these arrangements. If we are to strengthen marriage and help those in difficulty, this is what we need.
I shall be the first to admit that none of the amendments may be quite appropriate. The ideal would be for my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to come back at Report stage with an amendment of his own that meets our worries. However, at this time of the night I do not intend to take up the time of the Committee by repeating the arguments in relation to the buttressing of marriage. We dealt with those on the first amendment and said, when we agreed generally on the importance of that amendment, that other amendments should be judged against it.
The first point of the first amendment was to buttress marriage. A provision incorporating reconciliation would do that. That is something that is not only wanted in your Lordships' Chamber but, judging from the correspondence that I received and the people to whom I have spoken, it is one of the issues about which a great many people feel very strongly. I beg to move.
Baroness Faithfull: I agree with my noble friend Lady Young that we must concentrate on reconciliation. However, does she not agree that there are some powerful organisations already in this country which deal with reconciliation? For instance, Relate receives core funding from the Home Office and covers the whole country. We have a Roman Catholic marriage guidance council, a Jewish marriage guidance council and many other councils doing reconciliation work.
22 Jan 1996 : Column 881
As my noble and learned friend will be aware, in Scotland the reconciliation and mediation services share the same office. A person goes to the reconciliation department before going to mediation. Perhaps taking into account what my noble friend Lady Young said, we can build on what we already have.
I feel strongly that reconciliation is important. But if that is what we want on a national scale, far more resources will be required than are presently available. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, mentioned some of the organisations. In theory they provide a national service, but what percentage of the separating or divorcing couples do they actually reach? It seems to me that far more trained marriage counsellors will be required and far more money to pay for them. That is one of the points which Cardinal Hume was attempting to make in his article.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: The noble Baroness, Lady Young, moved the amendment most modestly because she acknowledged that she may not have got the balance right, while at the same time correctly drawing the attention of the Committee to the need to get a correct balance between mediation and attempts at reconciliation.
I do not desire to anticipateit would not be right to do sothe argument and discussion there will be on Amendments Nos. 40 and 55 which stand in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell. At that stage I shall attempt some suggestions as to what the correct relationship should be. If the noble Baroness will forgive me for saying so, in relation to her amendments, I do not think that a mandatory year for reconciliation is the right way through. On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that mediation is not as such about reconciliation. That is what the mediators are always telling us. The mediator is not a reconciliator. He is a mediator of solutions for parties who have reached the stage of having agreed that they must part and he is the mediator of solutions for them to try to agree, if they are able.
However, in considering the important relationship between mediation and attempts at reconciliation, we shall have to consider whether mediators should be put by Parliament under some kind of duty to encourage the parties to consider attempting reconciliation. That would not be a duty to be put on the mediator to engage in a process of trying to persuade the parties to become reconciled. It would merely be a duty to say to them, "Do consider attempting reconciliation. It is an option that is still there although you have embarked on mediation". If the answer was no, the mediator would have to accept that answer without demur and get on with his job, which is mediating. If the answer was, "Yes, we would like to think about reconciliation", the mediator should refer the parties for counselling if that is acceptable to them both.
22 Jan 1996 : Column 882
With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, what I think lies at the root of her concern in this area is to avoid legislating in such a way that mediation acquires a momentum of its own so that once embarked upon it excludes attempts at reconciliation. However, I do not think that a mandatory period for reconciliation, whether of a year or any other period, is the right way forward because one cannot compel people to attempt reconciliation. They have to want to attempt it. If in the view of both the marriage has broken down and neither wants to attempt reconciliation, that is the state of affairs in the hard world in which one simply must engage and then the mandatory period of a year for reconciliation would be a period of delay and would be, in my view, to no sensible purpose.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|