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Baroness Seear: As regards what the noble and learned Lord said about charging and free services, did I understand him to say that it would really in a sense be--and I do not use the words--pejoratively "means tested", and that those who could pay would pay? Alternatively, is the noble and learned Lord really saying that everyone will have to pay something? If that is the case, especially at the stage at which the divorce is pending when people are thinking very hard about how much money they will have, I believe that a great many people will decide not to have counselling if they have to pay for it. While I quite agree that earlier on in the process is a better time to take counselling, sometimes those concerned have not done so at that time and the success or otherwise of saving the marriage may depend upon such counselling. Will that facility not be available free to anyone?
The Lord Chancellor: At present, some of the organisations provide such assistance free to some people. They then have a sliding scale of charges which depends to some extent, rather in a rough way, on the financial situation of their clients. I certainly would wish to take such matters into account when considering whether grants should be made.
The last thing that I would want to do in the area is to have too detailed a system of regulation. I do not believe that the Government would be in a position--and, indeed, it would not be wise--to try to do so. After all, the Churches of many religious organisations which undertake marriage preparation have such a system. I would leave the responsibility for what they do to the people who have been assigned the task and take account of the nature of the arrangements that they make. For example, some organisations invite a donation. That is another way of dealing with the matter. I should like to keep the system as flexible as possible.
Baroness Elles: I have two points that I should like to raise with my noble and learned friend. They concern the information officer, so to speak, who will run the session. First, I presume that that person would merely be an administrative officer who would provide information but not give specific advice? Can my noble and learned friend give me either confirmation or denial on that point?
Secondly, such an administrator--or whoever it is--will give the information to an individual, whether it be in a group session or whatever. However, someone may come along and say: "I want to get a divorce. Can you please give me the information regarding who I should see?" After he or she has been to the information officer, presumably there is no obligation to do anything else but to make the statement? That is how I read Clause 8(2). I absolutely agree with the noble and learned Lord, and others who have spoken, about the need for marriage counselling; and, indeed, albeit at an early stage where there is property involved, about the need for legal advice as regards the children. Is it obligatory to see any of those people before making the statement? Further, how does that fall within Clause 8(2)?
If I have raised this matter at the wrong time, I apologise to my noble and learned friend--and he may like to answer later--but I think that it is very important, while we are discussing this clause, to define what the role of the information provider will be and the relationship between that provider and the person who will give the genuine advice or counselling that the party might need.
The Lord Chancellor: My noble friend is right about the information provider that I have as my model, as it were. Even with that, one has to be quite careful because one can provide information with different emphases. That is why I have been rather keen, if I can, to at least have as one of the models for the trials that we will have on this aspect of the Bill a system under which the people providing the various services--the lawyers, the marriage counsellors and all the other people who may feel that they have an input to offer--are able to make their own presentation so that the emphasis, as it were, will come from the people explaining what they have. Then we will try to put it together in, perhaps, a video, or something of that kind, which contains these messages. One could have in more input personally to the editing of that than one could have a whole lot of
The second point is that the best that I can do is to ensure that people get all the information available about the services on offer. You cannot compel them to take any particular service--that must be a matter for them--just as you cannot compel them to do other things that you might think was in their interest. They have to see to that themselves. After all, they are people who have been married, who have gone through a marriage service in church or at a registry office. The emphasis should be that we provide them with all the information that they need, as effectively as we can, and then leave them to use it, and use it to the best advantage that they see from their point of view.
I do not think that compulsion is likely to be useful at that stage. Of course, there is power in the court to direct that people should attend and be told about mediation if, for example, in the course of the process the court feels that they are trying to litigate things before they have had a proper opportunity of considering, or have not considered fully, the advantages of doing it by mediation. That will be a power in the Bill, but, otherwise, it will be a matter best dealt with in the way I have just described.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me whether I meant to include children in that. Yes, marriage support services include where there are children; they take account of that. I am inclined to use marriage support services rather than family support services for reasons which may already have appeared.
I think this is quite important because if we are going to tackle the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, so forcefully drew to our attention a few moments ago, we need to look to see what is the cause of marital breakdown.
Paragraph (c) is related to research into ways of preventing marital breakdown. Many services are already in the field and dealing with these matters, and the working party, to which I have referred more than once, is looking at the extent of coverage by voluntary means of these services.
The voluntary services have a very distinguished record in this area. Many of them have raised money in difficult circumstances by their own efforts in order that they may help people who would not be able to afford the services if they had to pay the full cost. It is right for me to say also that many judges who are concerned with family cases have given of their time and effort, and I have no doubt also out of their own private pockets, to support services of that kind. That is one of the most eloquent tributes to the effectiveness of those services.
My noble friend Lord Elton has tabled Amendment No. 162A. There are problems about just how far that goes. I do not wish to duplicate efforts on education. The Department of Education and schools have responsibilities in that connection, and as my noble friend Lady Young said, that is a delicate area. Depending on the situation, it may be difficult to become too deeply involved.
Lord Elton: Will my noble and learned friend allow me to point out that I am merely asking for a commitment to undertake research? If my noble and learned friend's department is taking into its hands the whole issue of divorce, it seems appropriate that it should also take into its hands the question of how divorce might be prevented. Clearly, it would then fall to other departments to implement the results of the research.
The Lord Chancellor: Paragraph (c) of Amendment No. 162 refers to research into ways of preventing marital breakdown. If my noble friend is content to leave it at that, the coverage which I have been able to agree is fairly comprehensive. In so far as it may impinge on areas which should be left to others to implement, all well and good. I believe that that phrase is general in character and fairly comprehensive.
I am not keen to use the specific phrase "marriage support services" as suggested in Amendment No. 163A because, as I mentioned, there may be aspects which would not fall strictly under any of the headings and yet would be useful in connection with supporting marriage.
In addition, we have to hope that the Bill will last for some time and that other possible services may be developed in the future arising out of the research referred to in paragraphs (b) and (c) of Amendment No. 162. I have no doubt that marriage counselling requires training and supervision. Those aspects would be covered in relation to any grants that would be payable to a particular organisation.
I hope that I have dealt, albeit briefly, with all the matters that have been raised in these two groupings. Subject to what I have tried to say, I certainly wish to take account of them as we go forward.
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