HL Deb 21 January 1953 vol 179 cc1173-94

4.30 p.m.

LORD MERTHYR rose to call attention to the effects upon family life which are likely to result from the drastic reduction in Treasury assistance to marriage guidance organisations; to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the annual grants to such organisations can now be restored at least to their former level; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have no doubt that your Lordships are by now familiar with the suppliant who comes with his plea for assistance, saying that he is entirely in favour of economy, that he appreciates to the full the need for pruning public expenditure but that his particular expenditure is the only one which should not be cut, that his branch of the tree is the only one that should not be pruned. I am true to type and I readily admit it. Nevertheless, I say that my case is a special case. Perhaps I should add at this stage that, although I have no personal interest in this matter, I have an interest because I am the Chairman of the National Marriage Guidance Council.

I would ask your Lordships to cast your minds for a moment to the topic of the break-up of family life, one of the most serious and disturbing topics before us to-day, and from there to go to the problem of the broken home, and the close connection which these two have with the further topical problem of delinquency. I was amazed to see in The Times of December 8 some figures on delinquency which, I must admit, startled me very much. It was there stated that more indictable offences are to-day committed by ten-year-old people than by twenty-year-old people; that more are committed by nine-year-olds than by nineteen-year-olds, but of the ages between zero and a hundred, the most criminal age of all is fourteen, closely followed by thirteen. I was amazed. Possibly some of your Lordships were also surprised, but it needs only simple arithmetic to go back from there to the time when those children were born and, of course, you immediately come to the middle of the war.

One begins to wonder what is the connection between these various things, and one then remembers that it was the war which, as everybody knows, multiplied divorce exceedingly. The war caused the figures of divorce to rise from their prewar level until they reached their peak in 1947. The figure has since settled down to a steady figure of about 30,000 a year, which is four times the number that it was in 1939. We are told, and I believe it to be true, that for every divorce case there is, on the average, a little more than one child involved. Therefore, if those figures are right, and, as I say, I believe they are, in every year over 30,000 fresh children emerge upon the world from broken homes. And this takes no account at all of unhappy homes, unhappy marriages, which do not result in divorce. desertion or separation. There are a vast number of those. Unhappiness alone causes delinquency.

Are these facts connected and, if so, to what extent? My submission is that, if you start with delinquency, you can un- erringly trace it back to broken homes. From broken homes you can go to unhappy marriages, and from unhappy marriages you can go back still further to lack of guidance, before marriage and after marriage. So that leads me to the topic of marriage guidance and what is the remedy for this very disturbing situation. To utter the platitudes that "Prevention is better than cure," "We must tackle this problem early," and "It will be cheaper if we do tackle it early," will not help very much; but your Lordships may think, nevertheless, that those platitudes are true.

Marriage guidance is a new thing. In our parents' time it was unheard of. Now, however, it is not only recognised officially by the Government and by Parliament, but has enjoyed, and much appreciates, financial assistance as a token of that recognition. It has received Treasury grants which are largely spent, I should inform your Lordships, on the training of marriage guidance counsellors who, however, perform all their services voluntarily and have no pay. But no one is considered fit to be a counsellor until he has received a very thorough training, which costs money. These branches of the Council, and the counsellors whom they employ, are now established in every large town in this country, and I should add that there is more than one marriage guidance council—there are, I think, three or four altogether. These grants, which were fully used and, I think I may claim, economically spent, were suddenly cut by 50 per cent. about a year ago. We all, of course, appreciate the need for national economy, but your Lordships will appreciate how dislocating it is suddenly to have your grant halved and to have to adjust your programme accordingly. A cut, therefore, has been made in the prevention of this evil, but no cut was made in the cure.

Now I come to the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949. That Act, of which, on the whole, I was in favour, was a balanced whole consisting of several parts. It consisted mainly of advice and aid, free or assisted in both cases. Only one part, the aid, is in force. The section of the Act devoted to free or assisted advice has not yet been brought into force, and so there is unbalance instead of balance. The only aid—I think this will be admitted—which is in force applies to High Court cases. It will also be admitted, I think, that more than four-fifths of all the High Court cases to which the aid is applied are matrimonial causes. Therefore, roughly speaking, the money is spent only on litigation; it is not spent on conciliation. I believe that I am correct in saying that it has been announced in your Lordships' House (I think by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack) that he would urge the committees who administer the Legal Aid and Advice Act in these matrimonial cases to make as much use as possible of probation officers in conciliation, with the object, of course, of avoiding cases being fought at all, and thus reducing the cost.

I believe I am also right in saying, however (I shall apologise if I am not), that so far that suggestion has not been put into operation, and that in that regard the fullest use is not being made of probation officers. So it comes to this: a plaintiff, having secured legal aid, thinks, sometimes wrongly, that he can fight for nothing. If, on the other hand, he seeks legal advice he does not get that free; he has to pay for it. Human nature being what it is, what I think is happening is, roughly speaking, that he neglects to seek advice, knowing that he will have to pay if he does, and goes straight ahead with his litigation, thinking, probably rightly, possibly wrongly, that he will get it free. I do not think that is a healthy situation. I am not against legal aid—far from it; nor am I criticising the body that is administering the Act. I have nothing to say in criticism of that. Nor am I against divorce. But surely this is a topsy-turvy situation, which needs some remedy.

Now as to the cost of the aid that is forthcoming, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said in your Lordships' House, on March 20 last, that an estimate of the cost in a full year would be £1,500,000, and taking the proportion of four-fifths paid on matrimonial causes, we then have £1,200,000 a year spent on those matrimonial causes, which can be roughly, though of course not entirely, described as assisting divorce. But the amount that was spent on grants for marriage guidance was £12,000 a year and is now £6,000 a year. So it comes to this: that in helping people to get divorces we are now spending two hundred times the amount we are spending on trying to guide them away from it. My Lords, I think that is a situation that merits investigation.

As I said before, there has been no cut in legal aid; the cut is only in the prevention and not in the cure. One ironical point about this situation is that, for good reasons, for proper reasons, the free legal assistance is, of course, given to the larger families, because they need it more. But your Lordships will agree that it is in the larger families that divorce is most damaging. Where there are many children the effect of divorce is worse, not only from the point of view of the family but surely also from the point of view of the State. For mathematical reasons, with which I do not quarrel but which are nevertheless disturbing, much more money is spent on divorcing couples who have large numbers of children than on those who have none, in which latter case it would not be so damaging from the social and public point of view.

That really is the point I want to make this afternoon. It is a short point, and I do not propose to trouble your Lordships much further with it. Undoubtedly it is a great social problem. I submit that it is being tackled at the wrong end; that we should look at it in a different way; that we should get at it at a much earlier stage, and that we should tackle this problem before people get married, rather than seek to tidy up the mess, so to speak, which we find left over after the marriage and the home have been broken. To that end I come here this afternoon respectfully to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will not think again on this matter, and whether, in reviewing it, they will not decide at least to restore the grants which were formerly paid towards marriage guidance in this country. I think I can say, on behalf of all the organisations concerned, that they would welcome the fullest investigation into the way this money is spent. I can say from personal knowledge, in one case, that, so far as I can see, not a penny is wasted. I ask that this matter may be looked at again and I now beg to move for Papers.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has impressed us all with his earnest and fundamental approach to this terrific question. I will speak, if I may, in a personal capacity and from the angle of one particular organisation that he mentioned, the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council. But before doing that I am sure the noble Lord and the whole House will agree not only that the giving of marriage guidance is important but that there is great difficulty in giving it correctly. I do not know what noble Lords would feel if, for example, they were asked the question that I was once asked some years ago. I used to be a prison visitor before becoming a member of the late Government—I will not say whether that was a step up or a step down. At any rate, I was a prison visitor, and I visited one particular gentleman for quite a while in prison. About a year after I had been a Minister, this gentleman called on me and said he was intending to get married within a week, and he asked whether I thought he ought to tell his bride-to-be that he had been in prison. That is the sort of difficult question that those who set themselves up, or are asked, to undertake the work of marriage guidance have often to deal with. I gave my advice, though it is of no relevance to the debate, that he ought not to tell her, because I felt it might break up the marriage. Eventually, about a year after that, the lady discovered, and so, of course, I was rightly blamed. I ought to say in my own defence that I told him that if ever he was discovered he could hold me responsible, and I must hope that that saved the marriage. So far as I know the marriage is going well, and I can only hope that my advice was correctly given.

That is but one small incident in a life of giving advice to people, sometimes unasked. I think we must all agree, to start with, that people who undertake officially this work of marriage guidance must be most carefully selected and trained for the wonk, even if, as I suppose happens, their advice is frequently wrong. I am sure I carry the whole House with me when I say that that is perhaps the first thought that comes into our minds this afternoon.

As regards the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, as the noble Lord has told us, they also have had their grant cut by 50 per cent., from £1,500 a year to £750, and naturally they would very much like to see it restored. But, in fairness to the present Government, I would say that a representative of the Catholic Council saw the Home Secretary, last year I believe, and expressed a readiness to acquiesce in this cut, in view of the gravity of the country's financial position. It would be wrong for me, therefore, to rise in this place without making that admission. But, having made it, let me at once say that I am sure that the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council would be very pleased if the Government now felt that the situation permitted the restoration of the full grant. As regards the other bodies concerned, about which I know little, I would make the comment only that I feel sure that, while their ideas are not in all respects the same, their energy and sincerity are quite equal to those of our body. I do not wish to say more than another sentence or two. If I should be asked whether I am, perhaps, biased in favour of Catholic guidance, I should say that that may naturally be so. But, in a broader sense, I should hope to carry the House with me in a bias in favour of Christian guidance. I should hope that all guidance that is given in this connection—certainly any guidance which is subsidised by this Christian Government of a Christian country—is based on Christian principles. With those words, I join my hopes with those of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, that the Government will see their way to restore the grant.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to intervene for only one or two moments. I do so by the courtesy of others taking part in the debate, who have kindly allowed me to interpose, as I have to leave the Chamber to keep another engagement. And, indeed, I have little to say beyond the briefest possible observations on a subject which, as Lord Pakenham has well said, has been forcefully introduced to your Lordships' House by Lord Merthyr. The noble Lord covered the ground amply and well. I suppose that in this House your Lordships may well hold differing views about the dissolubility or indissolubility of marriage. But, whatever may be the views held by any individual in this House, there cannot be any division of opinion, I should think, about the frightful gravity of the figures which were quoted by Lord Merthyr in his opening speech, because, from whatever angle we may approach it, we should all, I have no doubt, regard the family as the essential basis of any stability in the State. When we watch the process of the destruction of the family that is going on under our eyes all the time, there can be no argument as to its misfortune, however much argument there may be about its cause. There is, therefore, no need at all to discuss at any length what these figures mean in the social and the religious life of our nation.

I am not familiar—except for what I have been able to read and what I have heard—with the work of the Marriage Guidance Council for which Lord Merthyr told us he spoke, but what I have been able to read about it and what I have heard of it—indeed what I have heard of it this afternoon—has impressed me greatly. I am bound to say that I deplore the reduction of aid upon which Her Majesty's Government have felt bound to decide. Their contribution to this work seemed to me to be pitiably small before it was reduced, and to have that pitiably small contribution cut in half, with these figures staring us in the face, is, in my view, in the highest degree regrettable. Therefore I add my plea to that which has been made by Lord Merthyr and, from a different angle, by Lord Pakenham, and again express the hope that Her Majesty's Government may feel able to give this matter further consideration.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, we are, I think, in general agreement that the unity of the family is so important for the happiness of the members of the family and of the whole of society that every possible step should be taken that can be taken to achieve reconciliation where it is needed. A good deal is now being done in a general way by the Churches and other organisations, to enable young people to face the disciplines of married life before they reach that stage, but the fact remains that many people seem to look forward to matrimony without giving it much contemplation, and they run into considerable difficulties. Once a case of estrangement gets into court the chances of reconciliation, I am afraid, are small. The very fact that the issue is brought into court and argued for and against—possibly by legal representatives of the two people concerned—tends to make reconciliation difficult, and there are few more frustrated people in my acquaintance than the magistrates who have to sit week by week in the courts dealing with matrimonial cases of this kind. The work of reconciliation, if it is to have any moderate chance of success, has to be begun before that stage. Clearly, it must be personal and, as we should say in the Church, pastoral.

I should like to quote a passage about that from the very able Departmental Report which was published in this subject five years ago. I read it at that time, and I thought it an extremely good Report. I read it in the train coming to London yesterday evening, and I again thought it extremely good. It also struck me as being as relevant to-day as it was when it was published five years ago. The Report pointed out why this work is, on the whole, better done by volunteer agency workers than by professional ones. I quote the following passage: … probation officers are too closely connected with the work of the courts to make Them suitable agents for dealing with all classes of persons who need marriage guidance. The need for guidance is not limited to any one class and there are many persons who would never look for guidance if they could find it only by applying to officials, however competent, whose main duty is to supervise offenders or to act as conciliators where the marriage difficulties have reached the magistrates courts. From my own rather limited experience and range of vision, I believe that that is true. To give an example, last year the Marriage Guidance Council set up in the City of Sheffield, and of which I have been a President since its inception, responded to 257 requests for advice and help. In about half of those cases, I am told, the help given resulted in difficulties being overcome and the situation considerably improved. Obviously, the success of this work depends on the counsellors being well chosen and carefully trained, on their having available behind them some good professional consultants, and, as I believe other speakers have already said, on their having sound principles on the whole subject as the bed-rock of their advice. This is work which requires a great deal of patience, a great deal of tact and a great deal of wisdom. It is not, on the whole, work which any one person can do effectively for many hours of the day. All this points to the desirability of its being done by volunteers.

The Harris Report, to which I have referred, reviewed the whole subject with the utmost care and made recommendations on which the Government then and since have acted—namely, to supply a certain amount of grant aid, primarily for making training more effective and partly to help with administrative expenses of the Central Council. There was one other recommendation made by that departmental committee which, I think unfortunately, has not been implemented. They suggested that the Treasury might be willing to reimburse up to some point local authorities who were willing to grant aid to local councils. Speaking as the president of one local council, I have seen what immense difficulty a local council has in finding adequate funds to do its work well when breaking new ground. I think it is clear that unless this work is well done it may do more harm than good. I take it that that is partly the point which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, had in mind. It is just this grant aid coming in from the Government which helps to raise the quality of work done by subsidising competent training. Of course, it also helps to extend the work, but it is the raising of its quality which I think is so important and for which this grant aid is so valuable.

I will not repeat the rather curious comparative figures which the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, brought out in his speech, between the trifling sum given for this constructive work and the considerable amount of money made available to give legal aid in the divorce courts. I do not quarrel at all about this expenditure of money on legal aid. We have depended far too much on the splendid bounty of the poor man's lawyer. Still, the fact remains that under the heading of marriage guidance a constructive effort is being made to prevent estrangement leading to separation and divorce, and that this is given a very small share of the moneys available for these purposes.

It seems to me that there is no virtue in just saying that marriage guidance touches social welfare beneficially at a vital point, unless we are prepared to do something about it. The whole work of the marriage guidance councils is still in its early stages. I think I can say truthfully that it has the good will of the Church which I represent and of the Free Churches, too. We believe, and indeed know, how valuable this work is: only the scale of it is so small at the present time. It is not associated officially with the Church but much of the personnel on the councils is drawn from the membership of Christian churches, clerical and lay. My own belief is that it will be our own fault if that ceases to be so. However, we are quite certain that careful selection and sound training are essential for the success of this work, and in practice this must depend on some help coming from the Treasury to finance both selection and training. So I support those who are asking Her Majesty's Government to realise how relevant to the stability and happiness of society and how constructive is this quiet, unassuming work of true neighbourliness. I express the hope that they may be able to restore the grants, and perhaps also help this work to expand by reimbursing local authorities in a way which will encourage local authorities to support the work also.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I have great sympathy with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, regardless of his political leanings. I should have sympathy with any Chancellor who had to deal with affairs as they stand in these days. I quite understand that it does not rest with any person to complain against some cut merely because in actual value it is a small one. In these days we have to cut expenditure and practise most rigid economy wherever we can. We have to search for places where we can save shillings and pennies, as well as pounds. Nevertheless, I believe this particular cut to be a thoroughly bad one. The main reason for my thinking so is that it is a cut into direct human welfare, into the direct good of humanity. The marriage guidance councils have been adding directly to the sum of human happiness in a way which can scarcely be done by any other means, and I cannot imagine any more worthy purpose for spending any sum of money than support of these councils.

I believe that this cut is a matter of bad priority and that, cut as we must, there are other places where cuts could have been made more economically before the situation became so desperate that a cut had to be made here. I would put this kind of work as almost more valuable than food. In this country we are a little short of food, but we are not dangerously starving. Personally, I should be prepared to support a decrease in our food or an increase in its cost, rather than support a cut in this direction, though I am aware of how important the food subsidies are. I believe that there is a further objection to be made against this cut; I believe that it is not even an economy, although it may appear to be so on paper. The sum we are being asked to save is £6,000. Every time a couple, especially a couple with a large family, get divorced, that places on the community large additional costs, directly and indirectly, which the community has to pay, partly through its members and partly through the Treasury. We have heard already that divorce encourages delinquency. Delinquency means more costs in every direction: the support of Borstals, police, probation officers, courts, extra judges and all the rest of it. Furthermore, there is the housing cost. Every time a family splits up they require more housing. These are clear matters of pounds, shillings and pence. Do you mean to tell me that we are not losing more in housing by one or two extra divorces than we are saving by saving this £6,000?

Then there is the legal aid side of the matter, about which we have already heard. Every time there is a divorce the Treasury have to dip their hand in their pocket and help finance it. On top of all this, with the decrease in human happiness through the extra divorces which are not being attended to, there is a definite decrease in human efficiency, output, and everything else. I believe that not only is this wrong from the human side, which, in my opinion, is far the more important, but that you are cutting the wrong things, and that this particular cut is not even saving the Treasury anything, but is increasing the burdens which this measure is supposed to decrease.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, the House cannot but be impressed by the unanimity on all sides in support of the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. I do not propose to go over the whole question as he has done, although I have similar figures on the cost, and that sort of thing. I should, however, like to draw attention to some of the outstanding effects of this cut. I will content myself by epitomising what the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has said in regard to the need for more money to be expended in guidance. What is really asked is that we shall spend more money on preventing the trouble so that we shall not have to spend so much after it has happened. In the Memoranda submitted to the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce there appears, under the heading of "Effects of Legal Aid," this statement: It is contrary to the national interest and harmful to marriage and family life that the State should, as at present, give far more money and attention to facilitating divorce than to seeking its avoidance. That seems to me to be a common-sense viewpoint. And we ought not to allow anything to stand in the way of implementing the proposal implied. That is strongly supported in the same publication, in which it is stated: The first Report of the Law Society has been published on the operation and finance of Part I of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, and the comments and recommendations made by the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee in its Section 21 points out that 'the question of reconciliation does not appear to come into the Legal Aid Scheme as at present administered. We feel it should play an important part in connection with the Legal Advisory Service and result in fewer applications for legal aid for matrimonial disputes.' That, I think, summarises the case to which we are asking the House to give attention.

I happen to be on the hoard of one of the hostels to which youths who have fallen into the hands of the law are sent, in the hope that they may be won from the error of their ways. I venture to say that the case papers of those who come before us—and they are numerous—bear out that in 90 per cent. of the cases the root of the trouble is in the home. I hasten to add, however, that I believe the root of the trouble lies equally in the general moral and spiritual collapse in the whole of society which we are witnessing, not only here but also in other countries. Hardly a case comes before us where we do not find that there has been unhappiness in the home, through divorce or something of that sort. That is not confined to one section of society. I heard a headmaster of one of our leading public schools say the other day that all round the country there are lads in these boarding schools who come from homes that have been split up owing to trouble in the matrimonial home. It is a problem I of a serious nature, and sometimes we are inclined to do more harm than good by not fully exposing the facts. While, no doubt, the amendment of the divorce laws did some good, nevertheless it brought a considerable amount of harm in its train. When recognition is given by the State to certain breaches of these (shall I say?) natural laws which are necessary in our society, it makes it easier for people to do wrong, and particularly for weak people to go astray. Therefore, as I say, although seine good has come of this amendment of the divorce laws, it has also done a great deal of harm in this respect.

It is a dreadful thing to see in one of the religious papers (it was quoted by an eminent divine the other day) that one of the major industries in London now is prostitution. Somewhere in the region of 10,000 women are engaged in this dreadful business in London. Surely that indicates that there is a need both to amend the divorce laws and to make inquiry into these matters. This nation has been built up on its moral integrity; if that collapses, everything else will collapse. I have recently been reading through Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I am bound to say that I have seen things there that make me wonder whether we are not likely to go down that same slope, unless we take the necessary care and use every means we can to prevent it. I want to add my plea to those of others, that more should be done, and that at least there should be re-instituted the former amount given for carrying on this work of marriage guidance. There are so many young people now who enter into marriage without the firm intention of carrying on with it: they intend to do so for a year or two, and then they feel that they can break away. That is the trouble, and it must not be allowed to continue. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, for having raised this matter this afternoon.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, replies, I should like to add a word or two to what has been said by several noble Lords this afternoon in relation to the problem of juvenile delinquency. I do not think, for example, that the point which my noble friend Lord Ammon has just made can be emphasised too much—that all scientific investigation into this problem proves more and more that juvenile delinquency is to a large extent caused by trouble in the home, and particularly by broken homes. If one had time one could give one instance after another of this sort of thing from cases which are coming up every day of the week before assize courts, courts of quarter session or magistrates courts. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, in his interesting speech, pointed out that it may well be that the small amount which the Government stand to save on this cut will not only be not to the balance of the country in the end, but may well result in a heavy overdraft. When one considers the fact that every lad who is sent to Borstal costs the community something like £300 a year, and that every boy who is sent to a Home Office approved school costs the country, I understand, something like £250 a year, one sees that it does not take many of these cases to add up to a great deal more than the amount which the Government are saving by this cut.

I therefore suggest to the Government that they should think again. Everybody appreciates that the financial condition of the country at the present time is a difficult one, but surely these cuts should be judged on the basis of whether the services which they are bringing to an end are what one might call remunerative services. Taking that test, I suggest that this marriage guidance work is one of the most remunerative of the services which shave been established in recent years. One can measure that fully if one makes a careful investigation into this problem of juvenile delinquency and sees the return which is given to the community every year as a result of this comparatively trivial expenditure. Therefore, with the others of your Lordships who have addressed the House this afternoon, I do ask the Government to take this matter away and consider it to see whether they cannot restore this very small amount.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Merthyr spoke, as he always does, with great sincerity and conviction upon a subject on which he is well qualified to speak, because, as Chairman of the Marriage Guidance Council, he is entitled to no small measure of credit for the valuable work that that Council is doing. It is said that marriages are made in Heaven, but unfortunately they have to be lived on earth and in a world where in almost every way things are a great deal more difficult than they were twenty years ago.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention—this point has been raised by several noble Lords—to the external causes which affect this problem. The Final Report of the Denning Committee draws particular attention in paragraph 7 to the housing difficulties and all the other shortages which undoubtedly have made a great impact upon this question of marriage—couples have been unable to get married because they could not get a house; couples have been living with their in-laws; couples have been huddled up together in houses far too small so that life becomes almost intolerable. We have all that sort of thing on the one hand, and in addition the daily machinery of life, which has put a great strain on people. That is one of the problems which has led to broken marriages and to the disintegration of family life, with all the disastrous consequences which have been enumerated by one noble Lord after another this evening, and all of which I fully recognise. There is the external difficulty and also there is the problem which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, and by the Denning Committee in their final Report.

If I may, I will read their words. They say in paragraph 9: It should always be remembered, however, that whilst individual causes may be treated, the institution of marriage itself needs to be anchored by effective public opinion, sound moral teaching, and careful administration of the law as to divorce. One of the questions we all have to ask ourselves is: Is, in fact, the institution of marriage still anchored by an effective public opinion? Do people care about this any more? And if it is not anchored by an effective public opinion, how is that effective public opinion to be built up again? That, perhaps, is the greatest problem of the lot. I mention that—it is a subject in which I am personally very interested—only because I think there are more fundamental issues as well, and I believe we should deceive ourselves if we were to imagine that this terrible problem can be overcome merely by an expansion of marriage guidance councils, because I do not think it can. Indeed, I do not think my noble friend Lord Merthyr himself would claim that that is the case. I believe that something more is needed.

Having said that, I would immediately go on to say that I agree with the noble Lord's views that we, the Government, and everybody else should do everything we can to arrest this lamentable trend. I turn straight away to the comparison which the noble Lord drew—a very striking comparison—between the large sums spent by the State in matrimonial proceedings and the comparatively small sum given by the Government to marriage guidance councils. Frankly, on the face of it, it does seem unfortunate that, as a nation, we should be prepared to spend so much money helping people to break up their marriages, and so little in trying to stop them getting divorced. One feels almost inevitably that if even a quarter of the money which goes towards legal aid in matrimonial causes could he transferred to assisting those forces which are lighting divorce, it would be infinitely better spent. But, of course, like many attractive ideas, it does not work out quite so simply in practice. In the first place, I think your Lordships would agree with me that if the principle of legal aid is accepted, you cannot say to people: "You may have legal aid for this kind of case, but you cannot have legal aid for that kind of case."


But we do.


In the High Court, no. After all, legal aid has been introduced only in part, has it not? If 80 per cent. of the legal aid certificates issued are in respect of suits for divorce, this large expenditure to assist people to break up their marriages is inevitable. Of course, at the same time we may hope that as lime goes on the amount of money spent on legal aid in matrimonial causes will be reduced. I think there is little doubt that the spate of divorces which took place in 1950 and 1951, just after the Legal Aid Bill had been introduced, was to a large extent an accumulation of marriages which were already irreparably broken, and which were not brought before the courts previously bemuse of the expense of litigation.

My noble friend Lord Merthyr raised two other points with which I might deal now. First, he raised the question of the legal advice powers of the Bill not at present being enforced, and also the question of probation officers seeking to conciliate couples contemplating divorce before the cases go to court The Lord Chancellor who made a statement on that matter was the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, when he was Lord Chancellor. When he made that statement—and I have checked this up—I do not think he ever said that the probation officers would undertake conciliation until advice services had been introduced. He said that that might happen simultaneously. In other words, when legal advice services were introduced, couples seeking to get legal advice might then be passed on to the probation officer for conciliation.

On the subject of legal advice there are a number of difficulties, including the financial one, and this is under consideration. I cannot, therefore, make any further statement on it this afternoon. Therefore, although I agree that it would be attractive to say that we will spend no more money on people getting divorced but will rather spend it on prevention, I do not think that that is entirely practicable. On the other hand, let me say quite definitely that I do not underestimate the importance of making guidance available to those who are about to get married. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Merthyr, and with the right reverend Prelate and others who said that probably the right way to tackle this problem is to tackle it at the start, and not when it is halfway down the hill. I do not underestimate the importance of attempting conciliation in suitable cases, and I am sure that in this field, marriage guidance councils are doing most valuable work. It might well be argued, as indeed it has been argued by the right reverend Prelate, that on these grounds not only ought the cuts to be restored but a good deal more money ought to be given to the marriage guidance councils.

On this point I have three observations to make. In the first place—and this is probably a stock answer which anybody standing at this Box must make—the amount of aid which the State can give depends on the economic circumstances of the time. If the noble Lord will wait a little time he may get something that may make him happier still. It is, of course, a fact that the economic situation is difficult, and that is a factor which remains true. In the second place—I think this is a very important point and it was stressed by the right reverend Prelate—marriage guidance councils are voluntary services. I am quite certain that if they are going to do any good they will have to remain voluntary services. If they are to succeed, they have got to win public confidence in the efficiency and the effectiveness of their methods and on the advice that they give. I do not believe they would ever have the same confidence if they were to be a State orgdnisation in any way. Whatever we nationalise, for heaven's sake, do not let us nationalise marriage guidance councils! At the same time, if they are going to remain voluntary services, there must obviously be a limit to the amount of financial aid which they can receive from the State. Inevitably, if they were to receive the bulk of their funds from the State they would, in time, even if not in name, become State services—and then, I believe, half their value would go.

The third thing is this. Marriage guidance, I think it is generally admitted, is still in its infancy. Methods of counselling and attempting reconciliation still remain, to a great extent, experimental. As noble Lords are probably aware, the Marriage Guidance Training Board has undertaken an inquiry into the methods employed for selecting and training marriage guidance counsellors and this inquiry will be most helpful in enabling all concerned to assess the progress which has been made so far.

Nevertheless, as your Lordships are probably aware, when the Harris Committee recommended Government grants to these councils, it recommended that the grants should be for an experimental period of five years; and that experimental period ends in the financial year 1953–54. Therefore, clearly, in 1954 there will have to be a general review of the present arrangement, and, obviously, so far as that is concerned, noble Lords will not expect me to anticipate what the outcome will be. One thing, however, I feel I can say, by way of assurance to the noble Viscount. Lord Merthyr, and to all other noble Lords who have participated in the debate to-day, is that full weight will be given to what has been said to-day about the importance and value of the councils' work.

Turning to the question of the cut that was imposed on these councils last year, I need hardly say that, like many other cuts, it was imposed by the Government only with extreme reluctance, and purely in view of the critical state of our national finances. In the circumstances, economies were essential, and as I said when I was referring to the speech of a noble Lord opposite concerning another cut which he said was "monstrous," it is a case of "Cut anything else, but don't cut me." I think noble Lords have been very moderate to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said there was no complaint at all about the cuts. I think that that was a very admirable attitude and I wish more people would adopt it.


I hope that the noble Lord is not going to exploit that statement of mine, because that would not encourage me to take the same attitude on another occasion. I hope that when this more generous era dawns it will not be counted against the particular organisation for which I am speaking to-day that we adopted this very tolerant attitude. There was no question of our not making any complaint.


I thought the noble Lord was showing the Christian resignation which one would expect of him.


I will not refrain from a Christian act, but I do not want to carry it to the point of inflicting a martyrdom on all those who call themselves Christians.


The noble Lord always has the last word! We tried, when we imposed these cuts, to see that, though inevitably painful, they should not be lethal, and I like to think that the councils will not feel that the cuts were, in fact, lethal. I cannot pretend that the cut which was made has not retarded training, and to an extent, development; but the cuts were not, I think, of a wrecking nature. I am not surprised to-day that the noble Lord should come back and ask for a restoration of the cut in the corning financial year. Furthermore, I must confess that I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, and with other noble Lords who have spoken to-day. In fact, there has been very great unanimity of opinion. I am not in a position this afternoon to give any absolute assurance to the noble Lord on this matter. But I will say this: that I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what has taken place to-day and that, further, anything that I personally can do to ensure the restoration of this cut shall be done. More than that I cannot say; but so far as that I am prepared to go. In these circumstances, I cannot accept the noble Lord's Motion, and I hope that he will now be prepared to withdraw, it.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, before I ask leave to withdraw this Motion, may I be a little more explicit on one particular point—the point about securing the services of probation officers which was mentioned by myself and by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd? I do so particularly because the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, is here and I want, with your Lordships' permission, to quote something which the noble and learned Earl said. Speaking on June 27, 1949, he said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 163, Col. 338): I am certain that the time for a reconciliation is before the people have got, as it were, set and have made up their minds what they intend to do. It is a question of timing. Therefore, we have had to consider the position of the probation officer. The right reverend Prelate may like to know that the Home Secretary and I are proposing to amend the existing rules relating to probation officers so that their services will be available alike to legal advisers and to local committees under this Legal Aid Bill. I shall urge the Law Society—and I am sure I shall not urge them in vain—to see that their committees make the fullest possible use of the services of the probation officer. I think that this will improve the chances of reconciliation. That is what the noble and learned Earl said. I beg leave to say, without absolute certainty though with a good deal of assurance, that that has not been done. May I leave that point and say that the noble Lord who has answered my Motion this afternoon has. I readily agree, given us about as favourable a reply as he could have done? The point which I endeavoured to make seems to have been fully appreciated by the noble Lord, and for that I can only thank the other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate—I am sure it is not because of anything that I said. I am very much obliged to all of them and to the noble Lord who has given us such a full reply. I beg leave to withdraw this Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.