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The Lord Chancellor: Reconciliation is highly desirable. It is a misunderstanding to suggest that there is not already reference to it in the Bill. It underlies the statement in the heading about the period for reflection and consideration,
The Lord Chancellor: I believe that reconciliation is an outcome; namely, that the difficult differences between the parties have been resolved. That is what reconciliation is. It is not a process but a result. I would happily pay for it if I could be sure that that was always the result, but sadly it is not the situation. The purpose is to reflect on whether the marriage can be saved. I have explained or sought to explain that the purpose of the information session is to draw people's attention to the services that are available to help them in that connection. It will include outside help with reflecting on whether the marriage can be saved.
As regards mediation, as my noble and learned friend and others said, it is a process under which people consider--in substitution for litigation--what the future has for them if they should go forward to divorce. As I have often said and as has been agreed by a number of speakers, that may well be the best way of effecting reconciliation late in the day.
The point about reconciliation is that it may be helped by services such as marriage counselling or other types of counselling. I gave some examples earlier and will not repeat them because it is desirable to make progress, if we can. As regards marriage guidance, it is quite wrong to think of it as applying only after a statement has been lodged that the marriage has broken down. The best hope for marriage guidance and help is before one comes to that stage, when people are in crisis. Therefore, to give special funding to marriage guidance, which is resorted to at the end, is to invite people to go to the end in order to obtain the funding.
A great variety of services are needed in this connection. For example, I mentioned bereavement counselling in some situations. Those services are better provided by voluntary organisations funded by grants. As I said earlier in the debate, many provide people with services for nothing, sometimes there is a donation, sometimes charging is in accordance with a sliding scale, depending on people's needs. Many people who find themselves in this situation could well afford to secure the services themselves. So I do not think it right to use the mechanism of legal aid for the purposes of helping to pay for marriage guidance or counselling. That is better done by funding a voluntary body. I shall take good care that the voluntary bodies which are funded to provide such services receive the funding on the basis that they attempt to get into the situation as early as possible and do not wait until the process of divorce has been begun.
Although I understand well the spirit behind the amendments, I do not believe that they are appropriate in the circumstances of this case, because I believe that help coming early is best. Therefore, to put a premium on later marriage guidance is not suitable. What is suitable is that organisations which provide the kind of support I have described should be given grants and left to make their own decision as to how the priorities in respect of providing their services should be determined.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Simon said, referring to something which my noble friend Lady Faithfull said earlier, I too believe that it is a good idea to treat marriage counselling and mediation as complementary. There are combined services in Scotland as well as a combined counselling and mediation service in Northern Ireland. There are six combined services in England and Wales, with others being developed. So there is a degree of complementary development taking place.
I strongly support the idea that the parties should try to be reconciled. My train of thought was slightly broken, I referred earlier to Clause 7 and said that at the very start of the process there was a period in which to reflect on whether the marriage can be saved. Then I provide for breaking the period off, stopping it if parties require time to attempt reconciliation. The word "reconciliation" is in the Bill in terms. I believe that it comes twice in the provisions. So it is referred to and I intend to refer to it again in relation to the code that I hope to have for mediation.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I have been reflecting on what he said about reflection while he was speaking. I cannot reconcile reflection with reconciliation. The noble and learned Lord has not convinced me that they mean the same thing. If they do, would he have any objection to re-heading Clause 7 "reconciliation"? Would that meet his point?
The Lord Chancellor: No, the two are quite different. The purpose of reflecting is so that the marriage can be saved. Let us suppose that a marriage is in difficulty and then the marriage is saved. I do not know how the noble Lord would describe that, but for my part I am perfectly prepared to describe it as reconciliation. If a marriage has broken down and then that marriage is saved, that has resulted in reconciliation. That is precisely what Clause 7(1)(a) is about. As my noble and learned friend Lord Simon said, people may need help to become reconciled; they may need help with reflection; they may need help in a number of ways. That help is marriage counselling or a marriage support service of some kind.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I wonder whether he can assist the Committee on this point. He indicated earlier that a reason for withholding legal aid for attempting reconciliation was that the reconciliation might not succeed. Legal aid will be available for mediation which may not succeed. Why, therefore, should it not be available for attempted reconciliation which may not succeed? What is the rationale of making legal aid available for mediation but then, if the mediation has to stop because the mediator learns from the parties that they would like to attempt a reconciliation, continuing to make public money available for the ongoing process
The Lord Chancellor: I do not believe I said the reason was that it might not succeed. If I did, I certainly cannot think of a context in which I would say that. No doubt Hansard will tell me. Obviously, I am not reading from a piece of paper.
The rationale is this. Mediation is at the stage where people are considering, the marriage having broken down, what arrangements should be made for the future. That is a substitute for litigation. Therefore, it is appropriate that legal aid should be available. But attempts at reconciliation and the services that assist in that are available not only at that stage but much earlier. People often meet with crises in their marriage before there is any thought of divorce. That is the best time for them to use the service and get help. Therefore, there should be no distinction between the treatment given for reconciliation attempts and the assistance available for that at whichever time in the history of the marriage it comes along. Consequently, I believe that it is right to provide the same system for help in reconciliation at whatever stage in the marriage that help may be required.
To provide help at the expense of the state only at the late stage is to invert the priorities, when the more successful attempts at reconciliation are more likely to be at earlier stages in the crisis. Those are the reasons why the situation in regard to reconciliation is quite different from the question of providing mediation, which is in effect a substitute for the legal process because the issues that are the subject matter of mediation are themselves justiciable.
Lord Stallard: I thank all who participated in this short debate and offered support. The whole matter is becoming more and more confused as the two words are bandied about as though they were interchangeable. They are not. I do not even accept that reconciliation is the end of the process. The end of the process of reconciliation is that the couple are reconciled. That is the difference. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that reconciliation was the end of the process. It is not. It is the beginning of a period of discussion to see whether the marriage can be saved. If the period that I call reconciliation is successful and if, at the end, the parties are reconciled, there is no need for mediation. That process of reconciliation should be funded and encouraged if we are really serious about saving marriages. If we are concerned only with speeding up divorce, or making it tidier and easier for divorce to take place, reconciliation will not be needed. But if we are serious about saving marriages, there has to be a period during which people can attempt reconciliation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.