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New Clause 22 — Mediation pre-child contact order where the safety of the child is not an issue

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 20th June 2006.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education) 8:45 pm, 20th June 2006

That is a matter that the hon. Gentleman has obviously considered in detail in respect of other aspects of the Bill, but I shall confine my remarks to the pertinent point that we need mediation to become part of the process.

I am mindful of the time, so I shall pick up on a few of the points that the Minister detailed in Committee. She set out three main arguments against the inclusion of a mediation clause in the Bill. She said that it would contravene article 6 of the European convention on human rights and remove the right of access to the court, which would make such a provision unacceptable. She then made two judgments that I found interesting—that mediation would delay proceedings rather than always yielding a benefit, and that some people would feel pressurised by the mediation process. I am not sure that those arguments hold water.

The new clause does not make mediation mandatory, so it would not hinder access to the courts. I am not sure that that argument blocks our way. In her remarks in Committee, the Minister was prejudging the appropriateness of mediation. The evidence that I presented earlier shows the long-term benefit not just to the parents but, much more importantly, to the children, who retain longer contact with their parents over many more years.

In conclusion, a quote from a National Family Mediation briefing concisely sums up our feelings on the matter. It states:

"To exclude the possibility of mediation whenever any indication of concern about domestic violence has been made is to withdraw at the outset one means of securing an appropriate level of contact between children and their divorcing parents and deny parents the ability to continue to parent their children. NFM contends that an indication of concern about domestic violence should not preclude the possibility of mediation."

As the House has heard, it is not just the Opposition who believe that mediation should form a much firmer part of the process. That view is shared by outside bodies that have great understanding of these matters.

We intend to press the motion to a Division because there is clear evidence that mediation can create better long-term outcomes for our children. At present, the availability of mediation is, at best, patchy. By amending the Bill, we would make mediation a routine part of divorce, hopefully take the sting out of the tail of some of the more acrimonious situations in which families find themselves and, ultimately, ensure better outcomes for children. Time does not allow a full debate on the two amendments in the group, so I shall bring my remarks to a close. [Interruption.]