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Baroness Elles: My Lords, first I should like to thank noble Lords who have supported the amendment. Also, I should like very much to thank my noble and learned friend for his reply and for his courtesy in receiving me yesterday to discuss, among other things, the effects and objectives of this particular amendment. It might have been helpful to state that attempts have been made. I think to some extent this would come after the point raised quite correctly by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, when he spoke of his anxiety about bureaucratic attempts.

I did not expect to have a long list such as "a cup of coffee at Lyons" or "a hamburger at McDonalds" or whatever, in order to discuss matters with the spouse; but that when signing the statement they face the fact that some attempt might have been made to effect a reconciliation before signing the statement. I absolutely accept that that would have no legal significance because the statement is not, as I understand it, justiciable; it is merely a declaratory statement without any legal value. I believe that that point was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer.

I very much hoped that the amendment would be accepted in, as it were, the spirit in which it was moved. Of course, I would prefer such a provision to be on the face of the Bill because I know that one of the objectives of my noble and learned friend is to cut down on the expenses. Many people will actually read the legislation when it becomes an Act in order to ascertain how to proceed. Therefore, if such a provision were in the legislation and people knew that there was a chance to have reconciliation after the information meeting but before making the statement, I believe that that would make them aware of the reality of the situation.

On the other hand, if such a provision were merely placed in the rules--and that, of course, would be quite correct--by my noble and learned friend and his department and appeared somewhere at the bottom of the A to Z of the requirements that one has to meet in the statement, I believe that it would lose its strength and value. It is a most important consideration as regards what could happen between the information meetings, if they are to be of any value at all, and the completion of the statement.

However, I shall leave that to my noble and learned friend and, possibly, those who have supported the amendment. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale may have another view on that aspect of the matter. On that basis, I am content to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 21:

Page 3, line 19, after ("state") insert ("the attempts which have been made to promote their reconciliation and").

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The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in saying that I do not wish to move the above amendment, I hope that I may at least add an expression of thanks to my noble and learned friend for the spirit and content of his reply.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 3, line 23, at end insert--
("( ) A statement may specify whether the party or parties making the statement wish to apply for a divorce order or a separation order.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I return to a matter that I ventured to question in Committee. If the purpose of the statement is at least partly to notify one party that the other has initiated proceedings, then surely it ought to specify the nature of the relief for which the party is asking, as that may affect how the other partner may wish to respond.

On that occasion, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke of the virtues of flexibility but suggested a middle way; that is, to give the maker of the statement at least a discretion to say what relief was being sought. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord has had an opportunity to reflect on the matter. The purpose of the amendment is to give him the opportunity to tell us. I beg to move.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, in Committee I saw the possible advantage of something along the lines suggested. The difficulty is knowing what effect it would have in the sense of being able to come back, so to speak, to the other possible order. The idea is to keep the options open so far as possible. However, I was impressed--and, indeed, I remain so--by the view that, where a party is absolutely clear that he or she does not want anything other than a separation order, it might smooth matters. But, as the noble and learned Lord knows, this could also be the basis later for another type of order. Therefore, there is some difficulty in that respect.

For my part, I do not have too much objection to it but I find it just a little difficult to specify what effect the suggested provision would have in the later stages of the process. Indeed, that remains quite a considerable concern. If the noble and learned Lord could help me to address that, I might well be relieved in a way that I have not been so far and, therefore, able to accept the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I am grateful for that invitation. As I had understood it--although I have a rather faulty recollection here--the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in Committee that this measure was not irrevocable, and that the statement could be changed; it is not intended to be the law of the Medes and Persians. If that is so, it seems to me that it cannot restrict what the petitioner--I hope I may call him that, as we do not have a word for the person who files the statement--may wish to do at a later stage if he or she changes his or her mind. What it would do at the outset is at least to give the other party an indication

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of the thinking of the maker of the statement. I should have thought that would be helpful in deciding how to react. Like the noble and learned Lord, I do not feel dogmatic about this and I would not lead resistance at the barricades, but it seems to me that the earlier, and the more clearly, the respondent partner knows at least the workings of the mind of the petitioner, the more likely he or she is to know how to react, and perhaps he or she will be less likely to put unnecessary obstacles in the way. I hope that that is helpful. I believe that the noble and learned Lord has just indicated his agreement. I wish to emphasise that this would not be binding in the sense that it could not be amended later.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should say that I am grateful for that indication. If the noble and learned Lord is prepared to withdraw this amendment now, we may be able to consider it further. We have not been able to consult the practitioners' bodies on this matter as fully as I should have liked. If the noble and learned Lord is willing to withdraw this amendment, we can take it forward at the next stage if it appears to commend itself to the practitioners.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, that is an offer which I cannot refuse. I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 24:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause--

Statement of marital breakdown: views of children to be taken into account

(". Parties who--
(a) have made a statement of marital breakdown under the provisions of Part I of this Act; and
(b) are making any major decision which involves fulfilling a parental responsibility or exercising a parental right,
shall have regard so far as practicable to the views (if he wishes to express them) of any child for whom they have parental responsibility, taking account of the child's age and maturity.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 25, 60, 61, 62 and 75. This group of amendments concerns children of the marriage. I seek with these amendments to give appropriate information to the children and to ensure that children are listened to. The amendments also concern the welfare of the children and contain provisions for the representation of the children where that seems to be necessary.

Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 both seek to provide for appropriate information to be given to the children. In addition, Amendment No. 60 aims to secure provision of advice and assistance to children and, where necessary, representation in the children's interests. That is to be achieved by the appointment of a special children's officer attached to all family courts and to divorce hearing centres.

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Amendments Nos. 24 and 75 are addressed to the parties, and they instruct the parties to listen to the views of their children. In addition, Amendment No. 75 requires the parties to have regard to the welfare of their child or children. In parenthesis I should say that I understand it is not the intention of these amendments to suggest that the child should dictate to the parents. The intention is only that his or her views should be taken into account.

Amendment No. 62 addresses a slightly different point. Where parents for whatever reason are prepared to agree a solution for the child and for the finances of the marriage which is not in the best interests of the child, there ought to be the possibility for a grandparent, teacher, youth worker, or some other party interested in the welfare of the child, to alert the court to the need for the child to be represented, even though the parents may have agreed a particular solution.

Perhaps I may give an example. Suppose that the wife has fallen in love with an attractive man who is younger and perhaps richer than her husband, and she is longing to go off to live with him in Majorca or Manchester. She may be prepared to agree to the children being kept by the husband, even though the children may hate the husband or he may be an inappropriate person to care for the children because he is violent or addicted to alcohol to a certain extent.

At Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, told us what happens in the courts today in respect of the safeguarding of the interests of the children. I shall be most grateful if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can give the Committee an assurance that the same kind of cursory and inadequate procedures will not be adopted in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine, said:

    "48 people will turn up legally unrepresented. They will sit together waiting their turn to be called in to see the district judge ... On average, it takes about five minutes for each couple. In essence, the judge is told what the parties themselves have agreed and that, in practice, is what the judge accepts".--[Official Report, 11/1/96; col. 283.]

The noble Lord went on to say:

    "I am not criticising the judges".

I have to say that I certainly am criticising the judges. It seems a most irresponsible and cavalier way to deal with the future of the children of the marriage. However, I may be wrong. I do not know exactly how these things work.

Amendment No. 25 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, provides for all of those considerations to be swept together by providing for the Official Solicitor to represent any child in any proceedings under this part of the Bill. I assume that by "proceedings" the noble and learned Lord means court proceedings. I should like to know whether that amendment would mean that all children of divorcing parents would be represented, including those whose parents have agreed a settlement, or whether that would only be where the matter was taken to court.

Subject to a positive assurance on that point, I urge the Committee to accept either Amendment No. 25 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, or

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Amendment No. 60 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, both of which largely cover the points made in the other amendments in the group, including Amendment No. 24 in my name. In addition, they secure advice, assistance and, where necessary, representation for all the children of divorcing parents. I beg to move.

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