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 9:32 pm on 20th June 2006.

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Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:32 pm, 20th June 2006

I, too, start by thanking the Officers of the House and Chairmen who have already been mentioned. I particularly thank my hon. Friend Mark Williams who stood in for me in Committee during the brief time when I was unable to attend. I also thank the Chairman of the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs; he and his Committee have produced two reports that were pertinent to our discussions.

I pay tribute to the former Minister, Maria Eagle, now the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I am sorry that she was ill during the Committee stage, but I am pleased that she seems to be fully recovered. We should pay tribute, too, to the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Mr. Dhanda. It was remarkable and refreshing to hear him answer our points in a clear, non-confrontational and helpful way. I would like to say that I look forward to working with him on future Bills, but this is my fourth Bill this Session and I am reaching saturation point, having also been a member of the Standing Committee considering the Education and Inspections Bill, so I hope that the Minister for Children and Families will let us consolidate children's measures for a while—perhaps we could do lots of good work in our many all-party parliamentary groups rather than spending our time on Bills. I thank the Minister who has been exceedingly courteous and helpful throughout our proceedings.

We need to focus on children and, as I said earlier, we have been in danger of straying into the realm of what parents want. Recently I received a letter—not from someone in my constituency—and I got to the third page before the child was mentioned. That really made me think; it was all about "I, I, I" and "I want this", which is worrying. That is part of our culture, so we must make sure that we put our children first. It is a sad reflection on society that children, who are entirely innocent parties, are dragged into conflict and suffer a great deal.

We must move forward in a number of areas. The Bill does not go far enough, but I do not disagree with any of its measures, so it would be extremely churlish to vote against it. External problems must be addressed, and we should not overlook the fact that the Bill is only a small part of the equation, as CAFCASS, the family courts and the judges are all important. It was not appropriate to support new clause 22, but we have said all along that there should be a compulsory meeting on mediation, even if the couple had to meet the mediator separately—in different rooms if necessary—provided that there were no domestic violence issues. I am sorry that an amendment was not tabled to that effect, particularly as the Bill identifies a compulsory meeting before mediation as a contact activity. I do not see why mediation should not begin earlier, and I am sorry that we did not include such a provision. I did not manage to table a suitable amendment, despite giving the matter a great deal of thought, although proposed subsection (3)(a) of new clause 22 is almost perfect for my purposes. We should not be complacent, as the failure of the family resolutions pilot project, in which there was low participation, cannot be ignored. I am sure that we all wish to avoid expensive, harmful and hurtful court procedures, and early intervention is a much better option.