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Baroness Faithfull: I am a patron of the National Mediation Service together with the noble Lord, Lord Habgood. I have spent some time with the officers of that service and I understand that the purpose of mediation is to help people to come to terms amicably with what will happen to the assets, the children, living arrangements et cetera. That is quite different from the specific reconciliation that is done by the voluntary organisations mentioned in Amendment No. 162.
Mediation has a different goal from that of reconciliation. I understand that a proportion of those involved in mediation withdraw when they know what is involved in mediation and divorce. Therefore, by a strange quirk there is an element of reconciliation, but that is not the goal of mediation.
Baroness Young: I support the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, on these very important amendments. They are in line with amendments that I moved at an earlier stage in Committee. Many noble Lords are concerned that the Bill does not find a place for reconciliation in the timetable that is set out in the process of divorce. My noble friend Lady Faithfull has pointed out that mediation is not the same as reconciliation but it is concerned with the division of assets. It may be possible to divide them up in a more amicable way than in a court but, nevertheless, that is its purpose.
As I understand the matter, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor hopes that at some stage in the mediation process something will happen and the mediator can stop the process and say, you should go to reconciliation because all is well. Noble Lords should be very pleased that a proportion of couples attending mediation withdraw. One of the more encouraging statistics that we have heard is that between 20,000 and 30,000 couples per year contemplate divorce, stop and return to their marriages.
Reconciliation, which is a different process, is not included in the Bill. The amendments address this point and ask for reconciliation and that it should be funded from legal aid. Noble Lords know the costs involved in divorce and the figure will probably rise as a result of the Bill. Relatively small sums are spent in supporting marriage, which would be a more useful exercise. Therefore, if we are going to take the matter seriously it should be given support. Can the noble and learned Lord look at the amendments in relation to Amendment No. 162 which concerns support for marriage services?
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, made an extremely important point about the tax system in relation to Amendment No. 162. If we are really serious about wanting to do something to reverse divorce we should first have a complete overhaul of the tax and benefits system. One is constantly sent papers which indicate that married couples are in many ways greatly disadvantaged by the tax and benefits system and that married couples are paying for other cohabiting couples or single parents. This is not the time to go into that aspect and I do not intend to. However, I leave the matter with my noble and learned friend because I believe that we should consider this matter very seriously indeed if we want to do something about it.
Not only should we state that we believe in marriage, we believe in supporting marriage. We do not believe in making divorce easier--as I think the Bill does--and we should have a tax and benefits system which supports marriage. We should make that point absolutely clear. I am happy to support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: I support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. We must probe with an open mind into the causes of the breakdown of marriage. There must be no holds barred. The issue is far more important than some of those we have debated in this House. I very much support what has been said. I am glad to do so because I am sorry when Christian people disagree over a matter such as the Bill.
I hope that the word "reconciliation" can appear somewhere in the Bill. However, the point about mediation is that it encourages people to enter into it with perhaps an open mind. If the word "reconciliation" is used from the start, people feel that the issue has been prejudged and they will not begin to consider the consequences. When they do consider those consequences, with the terrible uprooting for them and the children, and the investment that they have put into their marriage over 15 or 20 years, then they often seek reconciliation. But the word "mediation" is used because it has an attractive appeal to those who wish to enter into it, to begin with, with an open mind.
At Second Reading, I cited that research indicated that 50 per cent. of men and 30 per cent. of women regretted that they went for divorce. People are divorcing in haste and repenting at leisure. Mediation is an endeavour to prevent that.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I listened carefully and with great interest to the intervention by the right reverend Prelate. However, I have to disagree with him. My noble friend Lord Stallard is seeking to put the horse before the cart. In other words, he seeks to say that before the irreconcilable breakdown of marriage--we have been told that mediation means arranging the consequences of the breakdown of the marriage--we want to try to reconcile the differences between the husband and wife in order that they do not have to reach the mediation stage. We believe that that is the way to save marriages. Once one has gone to the mediation stage one has accepted that reconciliation may not be possible.
I am sorry to disagree with the right reverend Prelate. I have said a few unkind words about the Church during the course of debates. However, the reason is that I believe that too many institutions, as we have heard so often in debates, say, "We have to take things as they are". That is an abrogation of leadership. If the Church is not about leadership, politics is not about leadership, the House of Commons is not about leadership, the Prime Minister is not about leadership, and the Lord Chancellor is not about leadership, what are we here for?
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I quite agree on leadership. But if a colonel says to the troops, "Over the top, lads" and turns round to find that they have not come with him, is that leadership?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: You do not lead by following. That is precisely what so many institutions have been doing. Instead of leading they have been following. Instead of pointing to the right road, they have allowed people to take the wrong road without correction. I believe that that is the fundamental flaw about this Bill.
My noble friend's amendments make some attempt to say, "Isn't there something you can do to save this marriage?" As I said, he is trying to put the horse before the cart; and I believe, as always, that that is the proper place for the horse to be.
Baroness Elles: I support the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. The wording is difficult. The right reverend Prelate said that reconciliation already implies that the marriage has broken down. But how many couples do we know who say that they would like to speak to some independent person, perhaps not connected with "marriage guidance", or using the word "reconciliation", but providing the work of reconciliation?
Lord Stallard: The noble Baroness seems to say that reconciliation means that the marriage has broken down. It is the opposite. Mediation starts when the marriage has broken down. According to the Bill, the White Paper and elsewhere, when one person says that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, mediation starts then. They start to discuss property, money, access and so on. Reconciliation is in the opposite direction. It starts before the breakdown point is reached to see whether the issue can be resolved before the marriage breaks down.
Baroness Elles: I do not think that the noble Lord quite heard what I said. I said that the right reverend Prelate had said that reconciliation was the stage at which the marriage was breaking down. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I believe that reconciliation should come long before that stage is reached. It is the nomenclature of organisations available for so many young people who wish to be able to turn to a third party for advice. I support the amendments.
Mediation was described accurately by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. It is a preparation for, or, better still, a substitute for litigation. Mediation helps parties to narrow and, if possible, to resolve the issues between them. In so far as it does not succeed completely, the matter has to go for adjudication.
Reconciliation is quite different. It is designed to bring together the parties whose marriage is in crisis so that their life together can be reconstituted. I agree that it is particularly necessary at the earliest stage of crisis. It is also very necessary at the last stage, when the parties see what divorce might involve for them. It should also be available throughout. I draw particular attention to what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, told us on the last occasion--that in Scotland the reconciliatory agent and the mediator occupy the same office. Thus at any moment there is a chance of reconciliation.
However, mediation is quite different and, as I see it, a substitute for adjudication, helping the parties to resolve their differences. If they succeed, it is likely to be much more successful than anything that is imposed by the court. That was always my experience as regards children. Practically anything that the parties agreed was better for the children than anything one imposed on them.
Mediation goes beyond children. It is particularly relevant to the property and financial differences involved in the fall-out from a divorce. To my mind, what the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, suggested is entirely salutary, except that it points to the necessity for definition of the terms.
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