Sir: Your editorial ("Labour joins the right: divorced from reality", 29 May) is misleading.
No, we have never advocated compulsory counselling for all married couples. Yes, we did dare to express the view that someone seeking a divorce should first explore on a one-to-one basis with a qualified counsellor whether the marriage might be saved. If this is too radical and communitarian a notion for the Independent, well so be it. Broken homes often mean damaged children and divorce costs over pounds 4bn a year. The state has a legitimate interest in promoting measures to save marriages that are capable of being saved.
Labour's position is as clear today as it has been throughout. We gave the broad thrust of the Family Law Bill our support at Second Reading and made it clear that our support at later stages was dependent on the Government's response to amendments designed to strengthen protection for the victims of violence in the home and the interests of children.
The assertion that we propose mediation for violent marriages is completely untrue. We moved an amendment that would have had precisely the opposite effect by removing the danger that the Legally-Aided victims of domestic violence would be forced into mediation with their attackers. The Government rejected that amendment.
Unfortunately, the Government chose to reject all attempts to strengthen the Family Law Bill in this regard. They chose, instead, to seek to buy off rebellion in their own ranks by making concessions which distorted the Bill and rendered it, ina number of key respects, unworkable and unsupportable.
The Independent may take the view that a Family Law Bill that works against the best interests of children and the victims of domestic violence is "far from perfect". The NSPCC and the Women's Aid Federation of England go considerably further than that and with good cause. They warn of the "serious problems which women and children escaping violence will face in the divorce process if the Bill goes through in its present form" and that the changes have "diluted its principles and worked against the best interests of children". It is for these reasons, rather than "for the sake of short-term political gain", that Labour finds itself unable to support the Family Law Bill in its present form.
We shall in the light of these and other legitimate concerns about the workability of the mechanisms proposed, continue to try to improve the Bill throughout its remaining stages. The Government's willingness to respond positively in this regard is crucial to the creation of legislation capable of delivering a sensible and family-friendly divorce process. The opportunity to move towards this principled objective, rather than political expediency, will determine whether or not Labour votes against the Family Law Bill at Third Reading.
PAUL BOATENG MP
(Brent South, Lab)
House of Commons
The writer is Labour Legal Affairs Spokesman.Reuse content