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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is my noble friend also speaking to Amendment No. 98AA?

Baroness Faithfull: No.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, notwithstanding that very short answer, I think my noble friend's remarks in respect of Amendment No. 96A probably cover Amendment No. 98AA as well.

Mediation primarily arises in this matter from the provisions of Part II in relation to legal aid. There are concerns about protecting a client against the risk of incompetent mediators. It is clearly important that at a stressful time of life, during the breakdown of a marriage, couples consult professionals who can be trusted to perform a good job.

However, I do not see this as an area in which the Government should be subjecting the mediation profession to unnecessary regulation. I am not persuaded that the consumer is at significant risk. National Family Mediation and the Family Mediators Association have in place procedures to ensure adequate selection, training, supervision and accreditation of family mediators and powers to remove individuals or mediation services from the registers if they do not reach minimum standards.

In addition, I understand that a United Kingdom college of family mediators has been formed which has agreed common standards and will have the same power to remove from the registers services that do not reach those standards. The United Kingdom college is

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planning to work out consistent standards with the Law Society in respect of family solicitors offering mediation. The Law Society intends to regulate solicitor mediators. That indicates quality of standards in an area that the profession is taking seriously and is dealing with adequately without the need for government intervention. After all, those bodies are all in existence as voluntary organisations at present. It must also be remembered that standards in mediation in this country have been built up over the past 15 years, and neither mediation nor high standards are new.

In relation to legal aid I have tabled Amendment No. 99B, which provides that mediators must have in place,

    "arrangements designed to ensure ... that the possibility of reconciliation is kept under review throughout mediation; and ... that the parties are encouraged to consider the welfare, wishes and feelings of the children".

    It also provides that the Lord Chancellor may direct the Legal Aid Board to include in the contract such other provisions relating to the provision of mediation for the purposes of legal aid as he may require. The Legal Aid Board will require mediation services with which it contracts to meet the terms of a mediation franchise specification. That specification is to be developed during the pilot study. But one option is to require that mediators and their supervisors are accredited by a relevant professional body. The board will audit compliance with the specification and non-compliance in key areas will result in suspension or termination of the contract.

These arrangements would appear to me to meet the concerns indicated by the amendment in relation to accreditation. I should not consider the Legal Aid Board entitled to contract with any service that did not comply with those standards. I do not believe that anyone could object to the information meetings giving information to those attending about the possible risks of attending mediation with a service that has not been accredited and approved for state funding purposes. It would be perfectly possible, for example, at the information meeting to declare which are the state accredited systems. Anyone who went to anyone else would do so at his own expense and accept the consequences.

I envisage the standards set by the Legal Aid Board becoming a kite mark for quality across the profession. That would give the client the information necessary for him or her to make an appropriate judgment regarding which mediation services to use without the Government needing directly to approve the mediation services as well.

In those circumstances, I feel that it would be unwise to develop a system which goes beyond that. The approval will flow from the fact that the Legal Aid Board is entitled to contract for state funded services with the particular type of services envisaged. I regard that as giving a very reliable indication to clients as to whom they might use reasonably safely for that purpose.

In the light of that explanation, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment. The same principles also apply to the later amendment to which I referred.

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8.30 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, perhaps I have a low IQ but I am not sure that I understood that explanation. Am I to understand that the Legal Aid Board would approve of and give approval to the mediation services?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the point is that I would be able to specify with whom the Legal Aid Board could enter into contracts. Those contracts would specify the standards of service to be provided, including the professional standards to which I referred. That is the most effective way to secure such regulation as is necessary in that area. My noble friend would be the first to agree that over-regulation in mediation--the Lord Chancellor knows best--would not be a very wise policy for me to adopt (apart altogether from my inherent humility). I think that that method of accreditation, which is not more than saying that this is who the state would use, is right in principle and sufficient.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. I understand that it would not be proper for the Lord Chancellor to undertake that. I only wanted a body to be accredited, not to include training or having anything to do with individuals. After all, the National Health Service is paid for by the Government. The Royal College of Nursing is a body on its own but it is acknowledged by the Department of Health. I thought that possibly it would be the same in this case.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may tell the noble Baroness that that is what I had in mind. The bodies which will receive public funding would have that stamp of approval. That would be a fairly secure indication to anyone looking for mediation services that those would be the services to which to go.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that explanation. I should like to consider the matter further and perhaps bring it back at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 97:

Before Clause 21, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) Where a marriage or relationship has broken down or is in danger of breaking down and a contact order (as defined in section 8 of the Children Act 1989) in respect of a child of the family has been granted by the court to one party to the marriage or relationship and has not been complied with, the Legal Aid Board may grant representation under Part IV of the Legal Aid Act 1988 to that party to assist him in seeking enforcement of the order.
(2) Where a party to whom subsection (1) applies is not eligible for legal aid, the court may appoint a court welfare officer to assist in seeking enforcement of the order.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment concerns the position of men or women--not only men--who do not conform to the access arrangements laid down by the court. I recognise that this is a very difficult area. The situation refers in the main to men.

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In this country at the moment, as in the past, it is mostly women who are given the custody of children. But sad to say, some women find it very difficult to allow their children to visit their father. They make excuses, which, on the face of it, appear to be valid--excuses such as the child is ill, or the child has a sports day, etc. As time goes by, the children begin to lose contact with their father.

That is not the wish of the children. I regret that it is the wish of some mothers, though not all. If the father is given custody, which is not very often, a similar situation might arise. At the moment, if people do not comply with the contact arrangements there seems to be no way to enforce them. Therefore, the first part of the amendment seeks to ensure that if a man does not have access to his children he can obtain legal aid and go to court to ask for enforcement of the access arrangements. However, many men are just above the legal aid level but cannot afford to go to court. Therefore, the recommendation is that they could go to the court welfare officer.

I realise the weakness of my amendment. What does the court do? What are the sanctions? I have not made any reference to sanctions. I should prefer first to hear the debate. I beg to move.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I do not want to protract the proceedings this evening but I should like to utter a few words of welcome to the second part of the amendment, simply because it is a gesture toward that rather large section of the population which is too rich to receive legal aid and too poor to afford the law. It is nice to see something being done for them.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, perhaps I may add one or two comments. The noble Baroness said that it is the general practice of the courts to award custody of the children to the mother. My experience is now many years away and I should welcome hearing what my noble and learned friend has to say about that. But in my time, the practice was rather different. If there were very young children, almost always the custody was given to the mother. But by the time that a boy was seven or eight years old, it was generally considered that he needed a father's influence and that was reflected in the custody or access order.

Secondly, the reference by the noble Baroness to access calls to mind a point that has been frequently canvassed in the course of the Bill; namely, whether it is the divorce which does the damage to the child or whether it is the preceding acrimony or even the separation. That question has been repeatedly canvassed. We may have lost sight of two matters which perhaps make the divorce the decisive element. There are remarkably few men in this country who can afford more than one wife. So one of the results of divorce is that one, or generally both families, go down to income support level. That poverty has its effect, as well as any emotional disturbance, on the child.

The noble Baroness referred to the difficulty of enforcing access and contact. That is a very real difficulty. That is the second stage which makes me feel that divorce can be decisive. My noble and learned

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friend referred to it in Committee as the indoctrination of a child. So often, after a divorce, quite naturally one finds a surrogate parent substituted for the natural one. That is again a source of great strain as it almost invariably involves, sometimes unconsciously, indoctrination of a child.

Now that we have come almost to the end of our deliberations, is it not quite plain that the only way we can save children from the trauma of divorce is by putting children first, not merely with our lips but in our legislative acts, and say that there shall be no divorce when there is a child of the family under 16 years of age?

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