Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elton: As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, specifically mentioned my amendment, Amendment No. 162A, which, like many other amendments which have now been discussed, falls within the next grouping, I hope that I too may graze in those pastures. It may be that my noble and learned friend will move his amendment, Amendment No. 162, and I hope that he will forgive me if I anticipate that by speaking to my amendment, which is an amendment to his. I address only the principle, not the mechanics--that is my excuse.

The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, made a most stirring speech in which he pointed out that the answer to the ill to be addressed lies largely outside the Bill. However, I tried in my amendment to point to an area which is relevant to this Bill and where the sense of the alarm that ought to be felt can to some extent be answered.

A year or two ago I chaired a committee of inquiry into discipline in schools, which ranged rather wide. Our attention was drawn to the apparent increase over the years in violence and disorder among pupils arriving in schools, and to research which attributed that to the children's upbringing and to the quality of the marriages in which they had been brought up. It is self-evident--is it not?--that some aspects of parenting are instinctive, but that most are learned. We observed an increasing and worrying number of children in our schools with single teenage mothers, some of whom were themselves the children of single teenage mothers. It seemed to us that there must be some way of breaking the cycle which is otherwise self-perpetuating.

23 Jan 1996 : Column 991

In chapter 5 we made a couple of recommendations about what might be done. Recommendation No. 69 was that the Secretaries of State should ensure that education for parenthood was fully covered as a cross-curricular theme in the national curriculum and that governors and head teachers should ensure that education for parenthood was fully covered in a school's personal and social education programmes.

We then went beyond our brief and in Recommendation No. 70 suggested that the Government should develop a post-school education strategy aimed at promoting socially responsible parenthood. I do not think that that recommendation was ever acted on. The situation is now more urgent than it was and given that the report was well received by the Government at the time I hope that they will revisit this matter in the near future.

Although this is the Family Law Bill, the Bill is concerned primarily with proceedings for divorce. Therefore, I suppose that I should discuss first the question of preparation for marriage. Again, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, that it is no good rushing to the fire with a bucket when the house has burned down; you have to take away the matches or provide a fire extinguisher in the house to start with. The first thing that we have to do is to teach people what marriage is about. Even that has an element of the classroom in it because marriage is about human relationships, one with another. In the same chapter of our report we discussed the fact that children were entering reception and nursery classes insufficiently educated within the family to be able to have conversations or to play with their contemporaries. That is a disaster and it must be tackled. Those children will eventually become young married couples, so the problem has to be tackled in the school.

As this matter is largely still not understood or appreciated, the focus of my amendment is to ask my noble and learned friend, when he moves Amendment No. 162, to say that he will use some of the resources which he will be acquiring thereby not only for,

    "research into ways of preventing marital breakdown",

but also for research into,

    "preparation for marriage and preparation for parenting".

We must research how that education can be properly and effectively given. It is, as the noble Lord said, an emergency.

Baroness Faithfull: I wish to make three brief comments. First, I support the recommendations made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. To take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I am worried about finance. I am sure that my noble and learned friend must be also. I understand that Relate, for instance, charges people for its services. Will it continue charging them? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that those who cannot afford the service are not always receiving it at the moment.

My second point relates to accountability. I shall be moving Amendments Nos. 164 and 171 regarding the mediation service, and the whole issue of accountability; that is, supervising the training and running of the organisation.

23 Jan 1996 : Column 992

The third point relates specifically to my Church. There should be somewhere, such as Leeds Castle, so that everyone who is to get married in church can spend a week on a course. That is what would probably put it on the map.

Baroness Young: I support the amendments in principle. I am sure that they are in line with what we wish to see, which is the buttressing of marriage. If public money is to go to any of these organisation we want to ensure that they are organisations which believe that marriage is what people should be in, and not one of a series of alternative lifestyles. I find the name Relate an unfortunate one because it suggests that marriage is just one of a series of alternative lifestyles. If public money is to be used we want to be sure about where it is going.

Secondly, in the discussion about schools if we are asking teachers to do this work we must bear in mind that it is a tricky business. In a school one-third of the pupils will be from broken homes. I should not like to comment about the number of staff who are divorcing. It is difficult to ask people to conduct a great many lessons in marriage. It is not an easy proposition. We must be very careful what we are saying before we leap into doing that.

Baroness Hamwee: We seem to have to have moved on to the content of Amendment No. 162 tabled by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I wish to ask him one point which he may care to answer in response to this debate or when he moves that amendment. In proposing grants in connection with marriage support services, did he consider "family support services" as an alternative to that description? I ask that in the light of the debates the Committee has had about the importance of taking into account the position of the children of a marriage. I suspect that my concerns will be catered for by the description "marriage support services", but I should be interested to hear the noble and learned Lord's comments on support for families as well as marriage.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: We seemed to have strayed on to the next group of amendments. To save the time of the Committee I want to make a few comments about Amendment No. 71B. I agree with the principle of marriage counselling provided that the counselling is designed to save the marriage. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, just said. It is important that that should be the objective.

I also believe it is absolutely essential that the people who undertake the counselling are not qualified simply by examination. I wish to be assured that the people who undertake it will be qualified by experience too. Experience of life is necessary in order to counsel people on keeping their marriage together. I hope that those two aspects will be borne in mind; that is, not only a professional qualification but a qualification of experience and common sense.

Finally, I greatly welcomed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. I am sorry that he has been unable to speak in previous debates. I never thought that

23 Jan 1996 : Column 993

I should find the message coming from the Synagogue more acceptable in many respects than that coming from the Christian Church.

9.30 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: I too welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, in which he associated himself with the speeches that have been made in these matters by others, including those from the Bench of Bishops.

We have before us an extensive group of amendments. I shall try to deal with them as best I can in the way in which they were raised. Perhaps I may first try to deal with the group at which we are formally looking; that which begins with Amendment No. 64. I have already dealt with some of them--

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: So far as I am concerned, my noble and learned friend has dealt with that group entirely satisfactorily.

The Lord Chancellor: I am glad to know that I am giving satisfaction in some quarter as regards at least part of what I have to do. I am grateful for that. However, I have not yet had an opportunity to deal with some amendments within the group which were spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. One or two others have not been mentioned particularly but I shall try to skate over them.

As regards Amendment No. 69 and the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I should like to provide a system in which the information sessions are conducted in circumstances as congenial as possible. I take account of the fact that the way in which the sessions are provided is extremely important. If the sole source of information is a provider, in my view the person needs to be extremely balanced. That is why, on the whole, I am moving towards a situation in which the various providers of services are allowed to give their own information. I believe that a video presentation may be the most effective way of doing that because they can then say what they believe they are able to provide.

As regards Amendment No. 71, the right reverend Prelate said that those attending information sessions should be offered a counselling session with an approved marriage counsellor. I intend the information sessions to include information about the marriage counselling services that are available. The word "approved" is slightly difficult for me. I anticipate that grants will be given to organisations offering such services with some system of monitoring. I wish to ensure--and I believe that I am echoing the various anxieties expressed, for example, by my noble friend Lady Young--that if public money is involved what is given is reasonably effective for the purpose for which it is given. Therefore, I would not be inclined to approve individuals in that way, or indeed organisations, except in so far as they might be awarded grants. On an award of a grant I would wish to test that they had arrangements in place to monitor the success of the operation because I would be accounting for public money.

23 Jan 1996 : Column 994

The next one goes one step further and suggests that the counselling offered should be free. Obviously, I am very anxious that any resources I get are used to the best effect. Your Lordships will know this is a competition which one has to engage in yearly and quite a difficult matter it is, because the Government are faced with so many priorities. Many people who would wish to have counselling are quite able to pay for it; therefore I do not think that it should be a condition written into the Bill that the counselling session should be free.

There is another consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, mentioned most effectively the need to take action early. If it was the case that the counselling session before a divorce process--the one which I am able, as it were, to have some control over--was to be free, whereas the counselling sessions one was able to get earlier had to be paid for, that would put rather an unpleasant emphasis on the later ones. On the whole, if I had enough money, which is always a big question, I would prefer to encourage people to go early by making the earlier sessions free and the later ones perhaps not so free, because if the people did not come until awfully late it becomes more difficult and so perhaps the counselling should be made more costly. However, the point is that it would be an undue restraint on the need to use the money effectively.

The next amendment that I need to deal with is Amendment No. 73. It is associated with one or two other matters. Regarding the requirement to make regulations which shall deal with various matters, that I think is a matter of form. What one puts into it--and my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale has from time to time commented on that type of power--are the two essentials really. These are the need to prescribe time and place and so on, and also the need to give information in writing. I think that information packs, as well as direct personal information, are wise things to have because experience shows that a combination of these is often the most effective step.

The identification, qualification and responsibilities of an accredited information provider might well arise. If I am able to have the actual attendant more or less a formal person, obviously that would not be necessary with a video and some formal attendance. But I would certainly think it most important to ensure that the arrangements for the provision of information is effective and responsible.

Turning to Amendment No. 79, in this section "relevant information" means information about the benefits of marriage counselling, about the emotional, psychological, financial and legal aspects of separation and divorce and their effect on the parties and any children of the family. Obviously, these subjects would require to be covered and also, for example, the availability and nature of legal services, advice, representation and so on, together with various other possible services as well as marriage counselling that might be relevant.

I have no quarrel at all with the need to consult. I would not make regulations in this kind of area without wide consultation and I think it would be right for me here, since the consultation point is mentioned, to

23 Jan 1996 : Column 995

acknowledge the terrific help I have received personally from a great range of organisations, not least from all the Churches in addition to many other organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, has been very kind to me in giving me the benefit of his advice at various stages. I have had from many sources almost more advice than I could cope with, but I value it all. Of course it is not all to the same effect, I might say, and there is no unanimity of advice. There is a degree of variety, and indeed great variety, and I should like to acknowledge the help I have had from that.

I do not believe that we have had particular reference to Amendment No. 140, which is tabled in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. However, we did take account of it in our earlier discussion on the form of the information sessions. Obviously, I would want to take account of the substance of that amendment and the way that I would try to handle such a matter.

I now turn to the second group of amendments. I do so because I believe that practically all of them have now been referred to in some way or another and it may save a little time--which is obviously at a premium--if I were to speak to them. I have already said in principle what I have to say about Amendment No. 71B, which is tabled in the name of the right reverend Prelate.

I am anxious to keep open as far as possible the nature of the organisations to which grant might be payable. Referral agencies are sometimes useful. Indeed, some of them provide help lines which can provide people with information about the various services that might be available. The ChildLine is an example of that in relation to children and there are other types of helpline available. Indeed, I might find it useful to give grants to such an organisation which might not specifically fall within the type of service under discussion. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to intervene. I give way.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page