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New Clause—(Extension Of Finance Act, 1944, S 25)

Volume 466: debated on Friday 24 June 1949

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(1) In relation to payments pursuant to any order made in accordance with paragraph ( c) of section five of the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895, or section one of the Married Women (Maintenance) Act, 1920, section twenty-five of the Finance Act, 1944 (which requires that certain payments for the maintenance of a married woman or for the benefit, maintenance or education of a person under sixteen years of age which do not exceed two pounds a week or one pound a week respectively shall be made without deduction of tax) shall have effect as if in subsection (1) of that section for the words "two pounds" there were substituted the words "five pounds" and for the words "one pound" there were substituted the words "thirty shillings."

(2) The references in the foregoing subsection to the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895, and the Married Women (Maintenance) Act, 1920, shall be construed as references to those Acts as amended by this Act.—[ Mr. Glenvil Hall.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

2.0 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

As the House is aware, at present maintenance payments to women at a rate not exceeding £2 a week and similar payments for children up to £1 a week were, under Section 25 of the Finance Act, 1944, taken out of the rules for the deduction of tax at the source and were instead made subject to a direct assessment on the recipient. This was done originally at the request of the Magistrates Association because of difficulties, into which, perhaps, I need not enter now. Under this Bill we are changing the limits of amounts up to £5 in the case of a woman and 30s. weekly for a child. It therefore becomes necessary to move up the amounts to correspond with the change which I take it the House is now prepared to make. This is purely a matter of machinery. It does not affect the tax liability of anyone and I am sure therefore that it will commend itself to the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, are you proposing to call the very admirable Amendments on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills) and myself?

No. Mr. Speaker has decided not to select them as they seek to amend the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1925. The effect of these Amendments is outside the scope of the Bill.

2.3 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I rejoice that this Bill has met with a general measure of approval. I am not unmindful that there have been criticisms, but I am satisfied that those criticisms have been entirely due to a misconception of the purposes of the Bill. The changes which are suggested, if the Bill becomes an Act, are neither numerous nor complicated. It is not my intention to reiterate what I said on Second Reading, but I would take the opportunity of expressing my thanks to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the co-operation which they have afforded in bringing this Bill to this stage. I am satisfied that everyone has been animated by a desire to remove an anomaly which has existed for far too long.

I feel that the measure of sympathetic consideration given by hon. Members of this House will also be given when the Bill goes to another place. If this Bill is passed we shall banish insecurity and despair and bring a ray of hope and added comfort and a great measure of happiness to many who have lost much of the joy of life, due to the circumstances with which we have been dealing. I would thank the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) for his kindly assistance in dealing with the legal complications associated with this Bill.

2.6 p.m.

I wish especially to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) for promoting this Bill and I am grateful for the amount of hard work he has put into it. For a long time I have been anxious that this anomaly should be rectified, but I did not dream that I should ever be in a position to take a minor part in its rectification. It is an excellent Bill and will do a great deal of good to many people who have been sorely tried in the past. It does not come within the category of Bills, referred to earlier this afternoon, which give complete and universal satisfaction, because I think the hon. Member has received a number of threats from irate husbands regarding it. I wish also to thank the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) who has used his knowledge to remedy the legal defects of this Bill, and I thank the members of the Department concerned.

2.7 p.m.

I too am pleased that this Bill has arrived at this stage, and I hope that it will meet with no obstacle in its future career. The original idea of this Bill came from a casual conversation in a car between the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) and myself. She originated the idea; it has germinated; the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) watered and encouraged it, and in a number of ways other hon. Members have contributed to it. In particular I thank the Home Office and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Parliamentary draughtsmen, without whose help this Bill would indeed be in a sorry state.

This is one more Bill dealing with one particular subject. The Statute Book on this subject—as on many subjects, but this one in particular—is getting more and more into a chaotic state. I find it quite impossible myself to understand it without a great deal of application and concentration. I hope the Home Office will find it possible, not just to consolidate, but to examine afresh the whole of the law on this subject; because I believe much of it is out of date and a relic from a day when our ideas and outlook on these matters were very different from what they are now. This Bill is a very valuable stop-gap in order to deal with an anomaly and an injustice which does exist, but I hope that something very much more comprehensive and far reaching will be brought before this House before very long.

2.9 p.m.

In congratulating the promoters of this Bill on the success which has attended their efforts so far, I wish to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones). Here we are taking advantage of such limited facilities as Parliamentary procedure affords to improve the conditions of various people who, whether through their own fault or for other reasons, have not been fortunate in their married life. I associate myself with the plea that at some time or other the Government will find it possible to deal with the whole subject of matrimonial relations in a comprehensive fashion. It is a long time since the matter was really adequately considered by a Royal Commission.

This Bill makes a notable addition to the powers of the magistrates courts in this country. To the extent that it makes that addition it detracts from the powers of the High Court. No longer will it be necessary for any woman to go to the High Court if she requires maintenance in excess of £2 per week. The fact that this Bill makes it unnecessary for certain people to go to the High Court does not worry me in the least. What does worry me in some small degree is the feeling which I have that these cases are not always dealt with as satisfactorily as they should be by the magistrates courts. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) referred to the small number of courts which did not act in a responsible way or did not take their duties seriously. Of all the cases which leave a sense of grievance and heart burning in the minds of ordinary people, I should say that the matrimonial decisions of magistrates probably topped the bill.

I express the hope that magistrates called upon to come to a decision in cases where the maximum allowance may be as much as £5 a week for the wife plus additional amounts for the children, will realise that within the scope of such a provision, will come a large section of the working population. I hope that no false optimism will be created in the minds of women who have not hitherto been very well treated. I hope that they will not immediately assume that with the passage of this Bill their weekly maintenance will go up to £5. As far as I can see, the only people who are likely to gain from the provisions of this Bill are those women who are drawing the maximum £2 a week at present. In other words, women who are drawing less than £2 a week—unless of course there is a considerable change in their husband's circumstances—will not derive immediate benefit. It is right that this should be stated. People easily get a false idea of what is implied in an Act of Parliament. They are sometimes led away by what may appear in the headlines of the newspapers.

I hope that these important additional powers will be carefully exercised by magistrates. There are indications that the authorities are concerned with the age, quality and capacity of magistrates, and I do not think that I am transgressing the bounds of courtesy when I say that in some parts of the country magistrates have not carried out their duties in this and other respects in a way which left those who came before them without a sense of grievance for a long time afterwards. This Bill is a useful Measure. It fills a gap in our matrimonial law, as the hon. Member for Hitchin said. I hope that the reception which it has had will induce the Government to view favourably the possibility of further legislative reforms in our matrimonial law.

2.13 p.m.

In adding my congratulations to my hon. Friends who have promoted this Measure, I think it is wise to point out, not for the sake of hon. Members but for the sake of the general public, that the Bill only covers one really small part of the problem involved in the separation of married people. I was particularly sorry that it was not possible to extend the powers which will be granted under the new Clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) concerning the duties of collecting officers in respect of the enforcement of maintenance orders. While that would help in a large number of cases, there will be a much larger number where even the enforcement officer will not be able to help the woman who is suffering because her husband has defaulted on the payments he has been ordered to make. That fact emphasises the point which my hon. Friend put later about the need for a complete revision of the law in this connection.

Also I was particularly unhappy that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were unable to call the Amendments which stood in my name. There again if we had been able to consider them, we should have come up against an anomaly.

The fact that they were not selected means that they cannot be discussed on Third Reading.

I was merely referring to them, not to discuss their value had they been moved——

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.