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The Earl of Perth: This amendment is of tremendous importance in our discussions on the Bill. It seems to me that in fact there is a certain amount of loose thinking reflected in the Bill as it stands. Perhaps I may go back a little. A couple decide that they want to get married for one of many reasons. We have heard from the right reverend Prelate that if they are to be married in the Church of England there is time for very serious instruction. I am all for that. I am equally clear that it happens in the Roman Catholic Church and in others. The parties are told what marriage is all about. They come to a judgmentI am forgetting about the civil registrationand get married. They have been told all about it. They live together for a period of time, then things begin to go wrong. If one is not careful, they go wrong rather quickly.
Under this Bill, as I read it, there is no real provision made for knowing anything about that or, if one does, of being able to help. There is no specific mention or allotment for counselling and reconciliation. I shall read what the noble and learned Lord, The Lord Chancellor said. He said that in the course of mediation the parties may get counselling. I am all for that, but counselling has to be recognised in the Bill and is on its own. The Government must face up to the fact that it is not enough to have all these bodies that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, mentioned, to do voluntary work, although I am all for them.
I do not believe that that provision is in the Bill. I want the Government to put aside money for counselling, reconciliation, call it what one will, before one gets to the stage of mediation. This is one of the very critical issues about this Bill, because that provision is not clear. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, referred to the length of time. That is a very difficult subject. If one believes that this is a very important matter for everyone concerned, then a year or two yearsI put my name to a two-year periodis not too long because it affects not only the whole life of the couple but, more importantly perhaps, it concerns the children and their well being.
Even if the marriage is a failure or has broken downwhatever the word is that everyone uses, because it is very difficult to distinguish between themI return to the one matter: one must try to make
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the marriage work. Having taken vows or even having been in a register office, one really has to try, so the period of time is very important. I repeat: as I now read the Bill there is no real provision for counselling, reconciliation, call it what one will. For that reason, I wholly support the various amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on this matter.
Lord Meston: The groupings suggest that my Amendments Nos. 54, 56, 58 and 60 should be debated now, but having heard the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, as regards his Amendment No. 40, I believe that it would be more appropriate for what I want to say about Clause 7 to be debated with his Amendment No. 40. In so doing, I simply indicate that perhaps the point of Amendment No. 54 is really to draw attention to the fact that the only specific provision in the Bill for attempted reconciliation and for such an attempt to stop the clock, depends on a notice being lodged with the court. I question whether it is appropriate to require the partiesor one of themto lodge a notice with the court at the time of an attempted reconciliation if they wish to stop the clock running. However, I shall return to that point.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: The groupings are a little confusing, but I hope that it is in order for me to say something briefly about the two amendments which stand in my name and which are part of this grouping as it stands. I refer to Amendments Nos. 123 and 125. I hope that they are uncontroversial because they are designed to add precision to this debate and in particular to the relationships between reconciliation, marriage counselling and mediation.
However, we have worries about sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) which appear at the top of page 7. I refer particularly to the reference to "counselling facilities". We believe that that should be a clear reference to "marriage counselling facilities". Many amendments relate to marriage counselling. Some are designed to make clear what is meant by "marriage counselling" and who might be approved by the Lord Chancellor as a proper body to carry out marriage counselling. Therefore, we think it important to have a reference to "marriage counselling" at this point in the Bill rather than simply to "counselling" generally.
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we think that that is muddling. We should like there to be one clear reference to, "people who are qualified to give marriage counselling". Marriage counsellors are concerned with reconciliation. They are the properly approved bodies and we feel that it is muddling at that point to have three references rather than two. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be sympathetic to those attempts to make the Bill more precise on that point.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: Before the noble and learned Lord replies, perhaps I may say how strongly we support what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said. I refer particularly to Amendment No. 32A which relates to the statement to be made by a party. Clause 5(2) states,
The noble Baroness suggests that we should leave out the words "reflection and consideration" and insert instead "reconciliation and mediation". The noble Baroness was modest about the wording but I am sure that the Government will want to take the amendment away and think about it. I believe that the phrase "reconciliation and mediation" is better than the phrase "reflection and consideration" which appears in the Bill because "reflection and consideration" is very broad whereas in the context of the Bill both "reconciliation" and "mediation" have particular meanings. I believe that there is firm support for that on all sides of the Committee.
Of course, there would be some cost implications if marriage counselling and counselling with a view to reconciliation were to appear on the face of the Bill, but the noble Baroness was right to remind us of the huge cost of divorce and of the fact that putting some money into prevention would save a great deal.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for indicating that he will postpone discussion of his Amendment No. 54 until I am called upon to move Amendments Nos. 40 and 55. It is just one out of the many bizarre features of the groupings with which we are faced that his Amendment No. 54, which covers the same subject matter as my Amendments Nos. 40 and 55, should have been grouped with the amendments we are currently considering and not with Amendments Nos. 40 and 55. I am grateful to him for leaving discussion of his Amendment No. 54 until later.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: There has been a good deal of confusion about the terminology of the matters with which we have been concerned. That has not been the
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fault of the principal speakers in Committee, who have been completely clear, not least the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, in his speech on this amendment.
I am inclined to think that it would be better if the terms we use here were statutorily defined because some are overlapping. Conciliation is an overlapping concept. Counselling to some extent is an overlapping concept. What I believe all Members of the Committee wish to see is an opportunity for reconciliationa process of mediation. I agree that our discussion would be better if postponed.
Although reconciliation must be entirely voluntary, I differ from some Members of the Committee in not holding the same view about mediation. Reconciliation is the first concept. We all desire to see that in the sense of helping the parties to restore their relationship, one to another, and therefore also to their children.
As for mediation, I understand that to be an alternative, or preparatory, to adjudication, rather than, as the noble Baroness put it on an earlier occasion, the parties engaging adversarially in conflict before the judge. The mediator can help them resolve their differences. It is the unresolved differences which would go to the judge.
The third concept is counselling. Although it is an overlapping concept, we should bear in mind that counselling may be needed independently to reconcile the parties to the predicament in which they find themselves with the crisis in their marriage and possibly its termination. Parties can suffer severely, and traumatically, when they come to consider the fall-out of a divorce, or indeed of a separation; the effect on the children; and the financial effect. Counselling can help particularly at that stage. That is a late stage.
The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, mentioned that in Scotland the reconciliation agent shares an office with the mediator. That is very important. When we were envisaging the family court, we had in mind that it would be in two parts, a welfare division and a judicial division, rather like the Conseil d'Etat in France. The welfare division would have agents to help in reconciliation, in mediation and in counselling, all sharing the same outer office. The difference would be that counselling and reconciliation, I entirely agree, must be voluntary.
I happen to think that mediation need not be, indeed should not be, because it is an alternative to adjudication. However, I wish to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, and postpone my arguments on that to a more appropriate occasion. I believe that we need to have the terms defined, otherwise not ourselves but many outside will continue to confuse mediation with reconciliation, conciliation and, indeed, counselling.
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