Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."A few moments ago we opened our proceedings with a Prayer, in which we asked that our deliberations should be "free from all prejudice and partial affections." In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, dealing as it does with certain legal disabilities of women, I am very conscious of the fact that in this House women represent only a very small fraction of hon. Members, and therefore I earnestly ask those hon. Members who do not belong to my sex to try to free their minds today of all prejudices and to consider my proposals rationally, unaffected, as far as possible, by their own emotions, and, let me say, self-interest. I understand that, long before women became Members of Parliament and sat in this House, there was opposition in the country to a Bill which permitted a woman who had been assaulted by her husband to complain of his behaviour to a magistrate. Before that epoch, in the case of any offences committed against her by her husband, her tongue was tied in what was an English court of justice. Today, I plead for certain women who, as the law stands today in Britain, can seek no redress in circumstances of exceptional hardship. Clause 1 should provoke little controversy, because it is drafted in accordance with Scottish law, which makes the same provision for women in Scotland in similar circumstances. In fact, hon. Members who devote a great deal of their time to examining the cases and the grievances of their constituents will be familiar with the case of the mother who has a maintenance order, and with the case of the girl with the affiliation order, who is unable to obtain support because the man against whom the order has been made has defaulted. It is proposed in Clause 1 that, where a man is in regular employment and defaults, an order should be made by the court requiring the man's employer to pay to the court certain sums in respect of the arrears and current payments which are due to the applicant. In the event of the employer's failing to do this, then there are certain penalties attached. There is no question of this being a harsh and arbitrary direction by a magistrate who fails to take into account the man's particular circumstances. It will be seen in Clause 1 (1, c) that the order can be made only when it is "just and reasonable in the circumstances" of the case. Furthermore, in Clause 1 (2) an employer may, on application to the court, satisfy the court there is good reason why he should not comply with the order; and furthermore, in subsection (7) it shall be open to the employer, the respondent and the applicant to make application to the magistrate to vary or cancel the order in the light of new circumstances. Therefore, I hope hon. Gentlemen will regard this as a reasonable provision. I see that the Attorney-General is here, and I am very grateful that he should be present to listen to the proposals contained in this Bill. I hope he will agree that there is no reason, having regard to the fact that Clause 1 operates in Scotland—and I have not heard any complaints about its operation—why it should not operate effectively in England. Now we come to Clause 2. Clause 2 makes some further provision for the wife whose marriage is terminated in the courts. Let me recall to the minds of hon. Members the Blackwell case, which focused very sharply this injustice which this Clause seeks to remove. Mrs. Blackwell had been married for 16 years when the marriage terminated. In the course of her married life Mrs. Blackwell had looked after lodgers in order to help with the expenses of the home, and it was not denied that this woman was a good housekeeper and manager. After a period of 16 years of married life she had saved £103 in the Co-operative. This was in part attributable to dividends; and also to her personal savings—£103 over the course of 16 years, during which she had not only been married with a family but had also looked after lodgers. When the marriage terminated her husband applied to the Oxford County Court for the savings to be transferred to him. He was successful. On the appeal against the decision, which was upheld, and which I remember very well because I attended the court myself, the argument was advanced by Mrs. Blackwell's counsel that at least Mrs. Blackwell should be entitled to some share of the home and savings which she had helped to provide over 16 years. It was ruled, however, that the profits from the lodgers belonged to the husband because he had provided the accommodation. I take it from that that if Mrs. Blackwell had taken in washing the profits from the washing would have belonged to the husband because he had provided the kitchen sink, the garden where the washing was dried—
And the soap.
Yes, and the soap; but there were Mrs. Blackwell's services. No one will deny that she contributed a great deal of service—as, indeed, one must if one has to wait upon lodgers. Her services were entirely ignored by the court. The services of that woman entirely belonged to her husband for 16 years, whether she served lodgers or took in washing. Furthermore, the dividends from the Co-operative were also her husband's because, in spending the housekeeping allowance, she was only acting as her husband's agent.Here we see a premium placed on thriftlessness. If this woman had spent the whole of that £103 over the 16 years on herself, the husband could not have demanded the surrender of those savings. But she was a thrifty wife; she looked after him well; and she was an energetic woman, otherwise she would not have taken in lodgers; and she saved £103, believing, no doubt, in her complete innocence and ignorance—as women do all over the country today—that the little money in the Co-operative Society which she had saved over a period of years represented a little nest egg of her own. But no. The appeal court ruled that it belonged to her husband because she was only acting as his agent. We see now different versions of the Blackwell case in our newspapers every day, and this Clause seeks to remove this grossly unjust treatment of the housewife. Subsection (2, a) is concerned with savings. Not for one moment do I contend that all women are thrifty and good managers and that the savings which they effect derive solely from good management. It may be that an over-generous husband keeps a proportionately small share of the family income for himself—although that happens, I think, only in very exceptional cases. But by so doing he affords his wife an opportunity of making a substantial saving. In the event of the marriage breaking up, it would be unjust if this man were to be deprived of a share in the family income. On the other hand, a thrifty wife may enable a less thrifty husband to make savings, to deny her a share of which would be unfair, having regard to the joint effort involved in running the home. We feel today that both husband and wife make a contribution to the home, and that this should be recognised. While the husband makes the contribution in the form of money, the wife makes the contribution in the form of services, and the sooner that this partnership is given its proper place in the pattern of home life, the sooner will the institution of marriage command greater respect, especially amongst our young people. In this Clause both husband and wife are safeguarded against the profligate partner, for while a direction is given that savings may be divided equally, they may also be divided in any proportion that may seem just to the court. Subsection (2, b) makes provision for the wife who is forced to leave her home on the termination of her marriage. After all, although all women are not angels—not for one moment do I suggest it—nevertheless, a woman may be an exemplary wife and mother; and yet, as the law stands today, a man can compel his wife to leave the home—which, by her industry and thrift, she may have created—in order to make room for another woman. The hardship endured by innocent women and children in this position has been commented upon time after time by magistrates who are frequently in contact with cases of this nature. It is proposed in this Bill that the wife in this position should have for her use certain furniture and household goods, while subsection (3) empowers the court to give the wife the tenancy of the flat or house where that may seem to the court to be just and reasonable. I want hon. Members to recognise that, throughout this Bill, both husband and wife are safeguarded. A magistrate can make those decisions which I have referred to provided only they are just and reasonable. For example, in the case of an innocent wife with children—in such a case as I mentioned just now—it would seem just and reasonable for the court to secure her a home with at least the minimum of furniture in the shape of tables, chairs, beds, kitchen equipment, and so on. In the proviso to this Clause the landlord is protected, and the wife safeguarded against her husband who, in an attempt to circumvent the law, seeks to bring the tenancy to an end. If there were any contention on this Bill, I should have thought it arose on Clause 3. Now I do not for one moment suggest that Clause 3 would be acceptable to all men. Obviously their self-interest is involved. Let me explain the reasons why this Clause should be accepted. First of all, in my opinion most marriages are successful, and that success is in some measure due to the recognition by a husband that his wife is entitled to a housekeeping allowance proportionate to his means. Nevertheless, the House knows that laws and institutions require to be adapted not to the good man but to the bad. There are plenty of men, stupid men, who do not disclose their wages to their wives. I call them stupid because there is no more certain way of alienating a woman's affections than by adopting this kind of practice, and the man who deliberately alienates the affections of his wife is a stupid man. The legal right of a wife to an adequate allowance to cover household expenses and personal needs has never been properly established. Who can deny the justice of the claim of a woman who cooks, cleans, mends, iron and washes from one year's end to another? There are those who delight in proclaiming the sanctity of the home and the importance of the family unit in society, but who deliberately blind themselves to the need of the one who is the very pivot of the home, and without whom the home loses all its meaning—the wife and the mother. I seek in this Clause to give her the right to apply to the court for protection and help against a man who exploits her labour and her love of her home and children by refusing to give her a reasonable allowance to meet the expenses which she must incur. In those cases, where a man fails to comply with an order that he shall pay his wife what appears to be just and reasonable the money may be deducted from his wages at the source. If he still evades payment, the proceeds of his property, in whatever form, may be vested in the wife to meet the terms of the order. This Bill is long overdue, for it embodies certain reforms which will strengthen the marriage contract by removing a constant source of friction in the home. Furthermore, it will deter those who are prepared to take advantage of a wife's complete economic dependence. Bills designed to protect minorities offer a target to those opponents who argue that the Measure is superfluous because the majority are content. No doubt on this Bill all the old and familiar arguments against any form of emancipation of women in the home will be advanced—carefully disguised, of course, by legal arguments designed to prove the impracticability of these proposals. No doubt we shall be told today that, far from removing friction, this Bill will introduce an element of into the family circle.
I knew it. I knew I should provoke that. I have no doubt that the petty little dictator in the family will be annoyed because this will strip him of a few of his privileges. But it will act as a deterrent and a warning to him that if he does not treat his wife fairly she can exercise certain legal powers. Are we not being told constantly by this Government that the only way to deter the bully is to arm the potential victim of his aggression? That is precisely what my Bill aims to do—to arm the helpless wife with legal powers to protect herself against the mean little tyrant in the home.
The hon. Lady keeps baiting my hon. Friend, who I am certain is the last kind of individual anyone would have in mind to whom to apply her remarks I think someone ought to protect him.
I agree. I have looked at the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) for many year now, and it was not unpleasing. Frankly, I thought he would have been one of the last to whom I could apply what I was saying earlier to indicate that he was opposed to women in the home being given this freedom. But if the hon. Gentleman sticks his neck out he must not be surprised if I retaliate. After all, I have no interest in this matter. Never in my life have I been dependent upon my husband. Our incomes have been pooled. Never have I had to tolerate any of these injustices. Whether or not my way of life appeals to hon. Gentlemen opposite is for them to say. I can only say that after 26 years I have been so successful that my husband is in the House today to applaud me.Would anyone deny that the powers wives possess today against the brutal husband deter the bully from assaulting her?
The hon. Gentleman has softened. That shows what a woman's flattery can do. Yet, when legislation giving her those powers was introduced there were those who argued that the right of husbands to assault their wives would cause more trouble, not less. The Married Women's property Act, which sought to give women some legal rights over her own property and consequent protection against a profligate husband, was introduced in 1857. Then, an hon. Member, Sir John Buller, moved, "That the Bill be read this day three months."History is repeating itself. The Amendment on the Order paper today opposing my Bill is "That the Bill be read this day six months." Except for the period, it is in precisely the same terms as the Amendment moved by the hon. Member who approached women's emancipation in the same way 100 years ago. Sir John Buller then said that the Bill went too far and was calculated to introduce into families a great deal of discomfort and dissension. I hope that those hon. Gentlemen opposite who seemed to agree when I said that this argument would be introduced into the house today, 100 years later, will not attempt to emulate Sir John Buller. Further, efforts to obstruct were made when, finally, the Married Women's Property Act was introduced in 1882. That was an Act to secure for women who inherited or acquired a small amount of property the same protection as the rich could secure through marriage settlements. What did Tory Members say in those days, in 1882? A Member for a Scottish Division was so outraged at this Bill which threatened to undermine the privileges of men that he said that it was a Bill of "enormous importance." He went on to say that it was "as important as all the other Bills that had passed since the Parliament began"; and Sir George declared that the women "righters" had been exceedingly energetic, whilst the friends of the poor married man were indolent, so that the case of the poor married man was hopeless. Just think of it. These were the expressions of a responsible hon. Member in 1882, when a Bill giving the right to a property which a wife had acquired or inherited in her own right was introduced. But what did Mr. Walton say, another Tory Member? He said that the Bill would change the position of the sexes and make the woman, instead of the kind and loving wife, a domestic tyrant. Those hon. Members who have put their names on the Order Paper opposing this Bill apparently approve of these gentlemen who lived 100 years ago. I do not want to be unkind, but I feel that we have here the counterpart of Mr. Walton, Sir George Campbell and Sir John Buller. No doubt, these hon. Members, when they come to speak, will choose their words more carefully, having regard to the political power exercised by women today. They will, I believe, adopt the practice, not unknown in this House, of erecting all kinds of legalistic barriers. Why do I suspect that? Let us look at the names and professions of the hon. Gentlemen who have their names to the Motion opposing my Bill. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) is a barrister, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) is a barrister, the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) is a barrister, the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) is a solicitor, and the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) is a barrister. Do these hon. Gentlemen come here on a Friday because they have an interest in reform? Do they come here because they know anything about women's grievances at all? They come here in force. Never before in my life have I, who more or less know the men who are interested in women's reform, seen them attending any women's meeting or any women's organisation and speaking even for or against women's reform. They are here now as astute politicians, with legal qualifications, determined so far as possible to obstruct this Bill, which is based on sound justice and commonsense. They are going to use any knowledge they have in order to obstruct it. It is significant that these hon. Gentlemen have not been able to secure the support of one woman on that side of the House today. Let me refer to one hon. Member who is not a barrister—the hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle). Is he going to oppose this Bill on rational grounds? By sheer chance I was listening-in the other day at the peak hour—millions of people were also listening-in, so I am not divulging any—confidence to the hon. Member for Handsworth. He is a bachelor, and he has his name on the Order Paper opposing this Bill. He said that in the event of his marrying he would never under any circumstances make use of the divorce laws. I thought at the time that this confidence in his own sex appeal and capacity to make a success of his marriage even before a trial run was quite astonishing, and to my amazement I see his name down here. Has he put his name because, completely ignorant of marriage and all its trials, he is equally opposed, without argument, to mending marriage as well as to ending it? I thought that he would be here as his name was on the Order Paper. I thought that an hon. Member opposed to ending marriage would at least be in favour of mending it. I feel that too much publicity is given to the breakdown of marriage and not enough to the need to remove those grievances which lead to bickering between husband and wife, subsequent estrangement and finally separation and divorce. Even the British Medical Association, in its evidence submitted to the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, addressed itself to the symptoms and final outcome of marital disharmony without diagnosing or treating the cause of the trouble. Like a good doctor, that is what I am endeavouring to do today. Every day in our newspapers we read of divorces and separations and about the disposal of the unhappy children of the chief participants in these events, while marriage guidance columns offer the sensational reading of the popular Press today and so replace the divorce details which are prohibited. Those who give any thought to this social problem cannot fail to relate it to our over-full prisons and borstal institutions, and to the growing army of maladjusted children and adults whose trouble derives from an unhappy home life. This Bill aims at remedying certain fundamental grievances in the home, known to all magistrates and social workers, and by so doing establishing a better relationship between husband and wife, which is bound to be reflected in the family circle. There are those on the benches opposite, and there may be some behind me, who may discount my argument on the grounds that I am biased in favour of my own sex and cannot view their grievances dispassionately. I ask them to read a book which, by a coincidence, will be published on Monday. It is called "Women's Life and Labour," and it is written by Dr. F. Zweig, who is a Simon Research Fellow of Manchester University. This professor is a trained social economist who, for the purposes of his research, has spent a long time among working women and has questioned many hundreds of them. "The Times" said of him:
This book is one which, I think, historians will quote when describing the life of our time. Will hon. Members forgive me if I quote at some length from Dr. Zweig's book, as I should like to be able to quote someone of whom I know nothing personally—I have never met him? This book was sent to me by the publishers two or three weeks ago. They often send books to women interested in women's problems, and they had no idea that I was interested in this debate today. These are Professor Zweig's conclusions after his investigations among women in 1952:"Professor Zweig is an admirable commentator, interested, sympathetic, with a balanced judgment and the ability to see the shape of the wood in front of him in spite of so many trees."
He then goes on to say:"A woman regards herself primarily as a helpmate to man, but that conception may in practice be carried too far and her status of a helpmate deteriorates to that of a servant or a little slave. And how many examples have I seen of that? Having the worse jobs in industry, woman also has the worse jobs at home, the job of fighting constantly with dirt, filth and dust, the job of carrying excessive loads in her shopping, of pinching and scraping. The most menial jobs are again allotted to her."
I commend that book to the House. In the course of my Parliamentary life I have heard hon. Members frequently pay tributes to the housewives of the country. Today the House has an opportunity of translating that appreciation of the British housewife into a Measure which will help her in that place in which all her activities are centred—the home. This is not a party Measure. This will help the Conservative, the Labour and the Liberal woman alike. It represents a charter for the housewife and, as such, I ask the House to endorse it and by so doing earn the gratitude of thousands of women, unorganised and helpless, who serve the nation in the homes of Britain."… a real equality of status could be attained only if a woman who is staying at home could also become at least partly independent in economic terms. Many women staying at home confessed the humiliation they feel if they have to ask their husband for a shilling or two for a ticket to a cinema. I found the sense of economic independence to be a great joy, its value transcending its original boundaries and permeating the far-distant corners of the woman's whole personality. A woman standing firmly on the ground with two strong feet, looking fearlessly into her husband's eye with the recognition of her full contribution, is a being wholly different from the 'professional' wife, who takes her master's wish for a commandment and her master's voice for ultimate wisdom. True freedom can rarely be attained without a certain independence, at least a shadow of independence, and in the arrangement of 'the wages for the Missus' there is often a savour of an employer-employee relationship."
- "A woman's cause is man's. They rise and sink together.
- Dwarfed or godlike, bond or free,
- If she be small, slight natured, miserable, How shall men grow?"
I beg to second the Motion.I should like to preface my support of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), by congratulating the husband to whom she has referred on the privilege he has had in listening to the presentation of a case so convincingly, so persuasively and so intelligently. As the right hon. Lady has told us, this Bill is long overdue. Indeed, I am confident that when it is passed, as I hope and believe it will be, there will be thousands of women throughout this country who will be willing to forget the right hon. Lady's politics and rise up and call her blessed. The law in this matter of maintenance orders has been flouted now for over half a century. We probably all agree that it is almost better to have no law at all than to have a law that is not or cannot be enforced. Time after time the courts have made maintenance orders and the man has changed his employment or changed his residence, and even sometimes changed his name, and has disappeared, and both the applicant for the maintenance order and the courts themselves have been rendered helpless. While this Bill is right in principle and is a good Bill, there are certain flaws in it about which, probably as a result of this debate, many suggestions will be made in Committee to make the Bill a fairer Bill both to the wife and the husband. I should like the House to realise that, although I may offer one or two comments, they are not criticisms of the principle of the Bill but are merely an effort to try to make it a better one. Clause 1, for instance, refers to a husband as one who must be in regular employment. That is clear enough and the responsibility can be placed on the employer for finding the money to meet the maintenance order. But what about the casual worker who moves from place to place and job to job? There is nothing in the Bill to cover that type of individual. Again, what about the husband who is self-employed, and what about those who are described as of independent means, if there are any after the Chancellor of the Exchequer has dealt with them? What about the man who can nip off on £25 and bury himself temporarily on the Continent or, if he cannot find any hard currency for continuous hiding there, can go off to Ireland and bury himself there indefinitely? There is no means that I know of whereby a court order can follow him in such circumstances. Under Clause 1 of this Bill, the notice to the respondent must be served upon him personally. I think that is too rigid. I do not see how that is to be enforced. It would be much better if the right hon. Lady considered as an alternative the sending of the notice by registered letter to his last known address. That would provide a better chance of the order finding its recipient. I think it would be agreed that this Clause is bound to cause trouble, expense and hardship for the employer, and therefore I believe that the fine for noncompliance by the employer who refuses to carry out his duties under the Bill, small though it is, is fair. The sum is £5. But I cannot agree that a like penalty is adequate for the respondent who goes out of his way to suborn his employer from carrying out the order. A fine of £5 is quite ridiculous to impose upon a man who endeavours to suborn his employer. It should be at least £50 and/or imprisonment. Clause 1 (7) is a rather tricky provision. I imagine it is in order to provide for the payment of a lump sum perhaps by the respondent, or the re-marriage of the applicant or possibly some change of circumstances in relation to both applicant and respondent. I do not quarrel with the terms of that provision—I am merely trying to elucidate it for those who may find some difficulty in understanding it. Clause 2 (2) introduces a principle which might render the Bill open to great abuse. I imagine the Attorney-General will be interested in it. Supposing, for instance, that the applicant, while not guilty of physical cruelty to her husband or of adultery or desertion, is just a nagging bitch—and there are such unfortunately—to such an extent that the husband cannot endure it any longer and so leaves her. I know the right hon. Lady wants the Bill to be reasonable so that it may seem to be just as well as be just, but is it reasonable to force that unfortunate man who has had years and years of mental torture to share his savings and furniture with the wife, and indeed possibly be deprived of his home? We do not know what the wife will do when she does get them. She might easily do things of which possibly the right hon. Lady would not approve. I agree that this is a Committee point and can be rectified during the Committee stage. Then we come to Clause 3 (7). I wonder how that Clause can be enforced It says:
How can that be enforced? The courts may find the respondent guilty, and no doubt he is guilty, and the courts may rule that this Clause be put into force, but I honestly cannot see how it is going to be done. Perhaps the Attorney-General may enlighten us on that point and, if so, so much the better. I am, of course, referring to the possibility that the respondent has disappeared. Clause 4 is important. It says that the Act shall not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. That can be well understood about Northern Ireland, for they have their own Parliament and are quite capable of introducing such laws as appear to them good, and such laws as they see working well, truly and fairly in this country. But Scotland is in a different category. It has not self-government so far, and it has to base many of its laws on the principal Acts that have been introduced and passed in this country. I suppose that the right hon. Lady has such complete faith in the integrity, the marital devotion and the fidelity of the Scots that—If a respondent against whom an order has been made under subsection (5) of this section shall wilfully obstruct or fail to comply with any such order, he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction therefor to a fine not exceeding five pounds and on a second or subsequent conviction to such fine and to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months.
It is quite obvious that the right hon. Lady has great faith in Scotland, because the first Clause of this Bill is actually in force in Scotland.
I know the first Clause is in operation there, but the Bill is not concerned only with the first Clause.
I appreciate that.
I was stating when the hon. Member interrupted me—and I was making an important contribution to the debate—that no doubt the right hon. Lady had such complete faith in the integrity, marital devotion and fidelity of the Scots that she did not think it necessary to include us in the Bill. I must, however, disabuse her mind of that idealistic conception she has of the Scots, because we have men and women in Scotland who fall below the traditional high standard of the race. There may be few of them, and there are none in my constituency, as far as I know, but in my judgment sin cannot be computed according to the numbers who commit the sin, and if a thing is wrong, it is wrong no matter how few commit it or how many commit it. Therefore, that wrong should be put right.As I said before, these are all matters which I feel certain can be satisfactorily adjusted in Committee, and I would, therefore, ask the House to send the Bill to Committee and so give us the opportunity of making it the perfect Bill which the right hon. Lady who is responsible for it wants it to be.
I beg to move, to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add: "upon this day six months."The right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), referred to this Amendment in her speech, but I hope she will not lend too much importance to the wording of the Amendment. I have seen a great many Amendments with that wording appear on the Order Paper in past years attached to a variety of different Bills, and I should not have thought that there was any necessary community of belief between the people who have attached their names to the Amendments asking for different Bills to be read upon a day six months hence. I think the right hon. Lady's researches into the rather remote past were an attempt—I say it without malice to her—to sidetrack the attention of the House today. Of course, in the past women laboured under unfair disabilities in certain directions, and it is right that they should have been remedied, but there is no more dangerous argument than to say that, because particular action in a particular direction was right in the past, action in the same direction will always continue to be right, and is right in this particular case. I do not think any of my hon. Friends who are supporting my Amendment today are in any way opposing what one can fairly call women's rights. What I am against is unreasonable claims by whomsoever they are put forward and in whatsoever respect. If I oppose the right hon. Lady's Bill today, it is because I think that the particular claims which she has embodied in it are not themselves reasonable. I should have thought that she would agree with me that we are beginning to approach the borderline—indeed I think it has been reached—in the process of abolishing women's disabilities. Naturally, near it, we get to more debatable ground and opposition will come from people who have not been opponents on earlier occasions. The right hon. Lady said rather disarmingly that there would be all kinds of procedural objections brought against this Bill as to practicability and so forth. I think there will be some, but I certainly shall not confine my remarks to that kind of argument. I would say to the right hon. Lady that the House of Commons is not just a school debating society; nor is this a private Member's Motion. It is a Bill, and if we were to pass it through Second Reading and the other legislative stages, it would become the law of the land. Therefore, we must examine it and its series of proposals which, if passed, would be enforced by the courts and in accordance with which everyone would have to live his or her life. After all, it is not a bad test of a proposal to examine whether, in fact, it can be embodied in any provisions which would be practicable if they were made the law. I do not think that this Bill should be given a Second Reading; because in my view it contains flaws which are not curable in Committee. I propose to examine it Clause by Clause upon that basis. Clause 1 is the least objectionable Clause in the Bill: there is truth in the plea that there is undue hardship in cases with which Clause 1 has to deal. That is particularly so where maintenance has not been paid for a considerable period and arrears have been running up, for it is not always easy to get these arrears paid by the existing process of the law. Let us frankly recognise that there is a difficulty there. It is also true that the provisions of Clause 1 are substantially those of the law of Scotland. I am not an expert in Scottish law, nor have I any experience of it in practice. I have, however, made such inquiries as are open to me, and I am told that these provisions are little used in Scotland and for the reasons which I shall now put forward against the Clause. I want to make it clear that I regard Clause 1 as containing a debatable point, which I personally would be willing to see go forward to Committee. It is not the Clause in the Bill to which I primarily object. The House should realise, firstly, how narrow is the scope of the remedy which Clause 1 would give. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) observed in his speech that the provisions of Clause 1 did not apply to people in casual employment—and that is for a very good reason. It was realised by those who were drafting the Bill that such provisions could only apply to somebody in regular employment. We cannot have a floating or negotiable court order being handed around like a bill of exchange from one employer to another. An order of the court which can be enforced by penal consequences must be addressed to a particular person by name. There has been a constitutional row in the past about things like general warrants, and now it is a fundamental principle of our law that any process of the court which has to be enforced by compulsory measures must be addressed to somebody by name. There is therefore a difficulty, of which one must not make light. I am told that in the law of Scotland the position is, as it is in Clause 1, as proposed by the right hon. Lady, namely, that the measure can only be aimed against a person who is in regular employment under one employer.
There is no statutory counterpart to Clause 1 in Scottish law. The procedure adopted is part of the general procedure of what we call the law of diligence and which, I understand, is known in England as the law of distress. By this law a person can, by decree of the court, use diligence against anyone who has money in his possession belonging to the respondent. A decree obtained by a wife or by a woman who has an affiliation order against a man can be operated in exactly the same way. It means that diligence can be used against an offender against whom a decree has been passed by going to any person with money in his possession belonging to the offender and arresting that money. That would include wages in the hands of an employer, whoever that employer may be, and whether the man was in permanent or casual employment.
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley). I had intended to come on to some of the things which he mentions. I think he will agree with me that there is no such provision in Scots law as was indicated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr. There is no provision in Scots law for what one might call a negotiable court order. Let us remember that we are dealing with an order of the court, as distinct from execution, or diligence, as it is called in Scotland. In order to attach wages in Scotland, it would be necessary to get a particular execution, or diligence, and to enforce it against a particular person who held money belonging to whomsoever it might be.We are dealing with the provisions of the Bill as they stand, and as they must stand. I do not think anything else would be practicable. What the right hon. Lady is proposing is that when a man is in regular employment under one employer, an order can issue from a court attaching his wages in satisfaction of a maintenance order. I have said that the Clause has a very narrow scope, because it is precisely the man who is in regular employment under one employer who is least likely to be irregular in his payments under a maintenance order. He is the person who is most readily amenable to the existing provisions of the law. We can get hold of him and put him in prison. That sometimes happens. We know that he is in receipt of a regular income. He is not the typical case of the person who defaults under a court order. The real problem arises with the man who flits and moves from job to job and from address to address. We all know that the difficult cases of collection are those where we cannot get hold of the husband or where he has nothing when we do get hold of him. Those are the cases which are not dealt with by the Clause, and I do not see how we can deal with them. We cannot get money out of someone who has not got it, and if we cannot get hold of the man we cannot get money out of him even if he has got it.
Would the hon. Member explain his objection to making provision for people whom we can get hold of and who have money?
I cannot think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been following my argument very closely. I said that there were certain objections to the Clause, and I invited the House to observe that the remedy provided by it was narrow. I am proceeding to show why it is narrow. It is narrow because it can be used only against that section of respondents who are least likely to be in default with their maintenance payments. Any respondent against whom such an order is made can evade it by changing his job, when the whole proceedings are invalid and we have to start again; because the order is directed, as it must be, to a particular employer. I am pointing out the limitations which exist in the application of this remedy, and I ask the House to give due weight to them. In a moment I will ask hon. Members to consider some very real arguments on the other side.This proposal involves disclosure to a man's employer of his family circumstances. Let us remember that the Bill relates to any employer, and not simply to a large limited company. The employer may be an individual, and one does not know how intimate the relations of the employer may be with his workers. The Bill involves disclosure of a man's private affairs. Secondly, it involves disturbance of the relationship between employer and employed.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is the respondent who, in the first place, will cause friction between the employer and himself?
Not always. I will deal with that point if my hon. and gallant Friend will leave it for a moment. This matter is going to be a nuisance to an employer, and an expense. It may happen that the employer will get rid of a man who has had an order of this kind made in relation to him or, what is perhaps more likely, will not engage a man against whom such an order has been made under his last employer. We have to take things like this into account, because this House of Commons must do equal justice between husband and wife, and all other parties.
Is my hon. Friend saying that it is part of the duty of this House to do equal justice between a deserting husband and a deserted wife?
If my hon. and learned Friend had been listening, he would have realised that he was merely repeating the intervention of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr to which I said I would be adverting later.Finally on this point, let us realise that under this Bill the right hon. Lady is proposing not to remedy any anachronism but to reverse a deliberate policy of this Parliament, and, in particular, of the trade union movement over a long time past. As the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, East, pointed out, in Scotland it is part of the general law that wages can be attached. I had intended myself to point out that it is not a special provision of the law of Scotland relating to maintenance orders. In England that used to be the law to some extent, but throughout the last 100 years or more that position has been changed by deliberate legislative acts of Parliament carried out in execution of the firm social policy that the wages of labourers, clerks and workmen should not be attached for debt of any kind. Therefore, I say to the right hon. Lady that she is asking the House to embark upon a matter full of serious consequences. We have already breached that principle to some extent—"Pay As You Earn" is, in a way, an example. We allow certain rents to be deducted from wages, although they are not very large, and the principle of deductions from wages is beginning to gather altogether too much way. It is a dangerous path to walk along. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will look at this proposal against the background of the general social policy of this country in the last 100 years, particularly of the trade unions, that if a person has a debt which he can enforce against a man, whatever its nature, the right thing to do is that the debtor should be paid by his employer the value of his work and the creditor should then bring his process in the courts and use the ordinary process of execution, but wages should not be attached week by week as they accrue. A man may be ill, his earnings may drop for a week, and to have fixed liabilities which were prior charges on his wages would be to introduce a dangerous principle, and each breach of that principle would be a precedent for further breaches. I think I am right in saying that in Scotland the law has had to give protection against that by saying that the first 35s. 0d. of a man's wages are not attachable in any case. In this Bill the right hon. Lady has not even made any such provision as that for protecting the workman. So while I agree that this question is open to argument and that there is a grievance, nevertheless there are weighty considerations on both sides, and I would come down on balance against it. Clause 1 is decidedly the least offensive Clause and it gives an unjustified air of respectability to the other provisions of the Bill. I do not intend to say much about Clause 2, not because I could not, but because I see that two of my hon. Friends have a Motion on the Order Paper about it. I assume, Mr. Speaker, that if they catch your eye they will refer more particularly to it, and I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. However, I should like to say something which I said when a similar provision was before the House last Session and which answers the interventions of two of my hon. Friends. Clause 2 would attach considerable significance to orders made by the courts as a result of matrimonial disputes, and particularly to orders made by the courts of summary jurisdiction. It has been observed by the courts themselves that an adjudication of the court in a matrimonial dispute is not a finding that the party against whom the order is made or the judgment is given is the person who was originally and in truth responsible for the break-up of the marriage. The law cannot look into all the intimate and day-to-day happenings of married life; it must have regard to specific and obvious events like adultery, desertion, blows struck, and other matters of importance in themselves which can be given in evidence and considered by a court. It must happen sometimes, then, that the party who first takes the overt act to which the law gives significance is the party against whom the judgment is given or the order is made, although if someone could have a total view of the happenings of that marriage, through all its intimate course, he might reach an entirely opposite conclusion about the real moral responsibility for the breakdown of that marriage. Therefore, it is not really fair to say that the person against whom the judgment or order is made is simply the "guilty party," who, in the case of a husband under this Bill, should be deprived of his possessions or a substantial part of them, or have the tenancy of his house transferred, and so forth. The fact is that we cannot entirely provide by legislation for something like the breakup of a marriage. There are some things that Parliament cannot do. We can remedy the worst hardships, we can avoid serious abuses, but we ought not to take it upon ourselves to pass a final and comprehensive judgment upon the guilt of one or the other party of a marriage. The proposals which the right hon. Lady has embodied in Clause 2 attach a significance of that character to an order or judgment of the court. It is primarily for that reason that I oppose it, though of course there are many procedural objections to the course she has proposed. The right hon. Lady is proposing to give to courts of summary jurisdiction, which are usually composed of lay magistrates, a real property jurisdiction. This may sound to her a lawyer's objection, but I ask her to believe that it is one of substance. She is proposing quite extreme measures as, for example, in subsection (3) (ii), where she empowers the court to grant the tenancy of the house in which the husband and wife were last living before they separated—which might have been years before—to the wife, although the tenancy of the husband has already come to an end. Although he has forfeited the tenancy and the landlord has taken advantage of its forfeiture, yet a court of summary jurisdiction can revive what has gone, perhaps long gone, and give it to somebody else. What a remarkable jurisdiction for any court to be given, and, above all, for a court of summary jurisdiction to exercise—a court which at present has virtually no real property jurisdiction at all. I mention points like that only to show—
I should like to anticipate some of these objections of the lawyers. Of course I, without any knowledge of the law, would not think of having drafted the Bill without consulting the most expert legal brain, in my opinion, in the country—of course, with the exception of the Attorney-General.
I am sure that the right hon. Lady had excellent guidance in the technical process of drafting but, after all, the draughtsman's function is to embody in legal language the proposals which the right hon. Lady wants carried out.
I do not know whether I can assist in an intervention and ask whether my hon. Friend has seen the words in the Clause:
"if it shall seem just and reasonable to the court. …"
My hon. and learned Friend, whose interventions are not as helpful as he hopes, may take it that I have seen all the words in the Bill several times. One really cannot justify a provision like that by saying that the court cannot make an order unless it is just and reasonable. I am objecting to jurisdiction to make an order of that kind being conferred on a court of this character at all.I pass now to the pièce de résistance of the right hon. Lady's Bill, to which all the rest is really only the hors d'oeuvre: that is, Clause 3. I certainly do not base myself on procedurable objections here, because I think that the whole principle of what the right hon. Lady proposes is entirely bad and false. I can conceive of nothing more calculated to introduce strife and disharmony into the home than the right hon. Lady's proposal. Of course, the right hon. Lady says that it will bind the home more closely together. I did not doubt that she would say that, but I ask hon. Members to consider it from a quite a simple, practical, reasonable viewpoint. Would it really bind the home together if the wife is enabled to go to the court and say, "I do not like the amount of housekeeping money that my husband is giving me and I want the magistrates to fix what it ought to be, and then, of course, when they have done that my husband and I will go home and live happily ever after"? Things do not happen like that.
The hon. Member does not know very much about life. Does he know that if a wife is assaulted on a Saturday night, she is quite prepared to go to the court on Monday morning and that, indeed her husband goes with her? She says that she is prepared to take him home and to try again. That happens in our big towns every day of the year.
The right hon. Lady is suffering from some confusion of thought about this. It is perfectly true that a wife can recriminate against her husband for an assault. But an assault is not something which one can argue about; it is something that is wrong, and a man who has struck his wife knows perfectly well that he has done something wrong.Housekeeping money and things of this kind are matters of intimate discussion and of adjustment inside the home, and to say that the wife should be entitled to appeal outside the home on a matter of this kind, and that that would bind the home together, is taking a grossly unpractical view of the matter. I know that the right hon. Lady has her heart set on the Clause, because it is the ultra-feminist element of the whole Bill. I think she sees homes in this way: disputes between husbands and wives, and a casting vote given by someone outside. But that is not the way in which ordinary people live, or ever will live, and there are some things that Parliament cannot provide for; and one of the things that we cannot do is regulate the internal affairs of a subsisting marriage. I emphasise that Clause 3 relates to a marriage which has not broken up—a subsisting marriage. It is the first time, I think, that anyone has attempted to legislate for the relationships of a husband and wife who have not quarrelled and who are still living together. The right hon. Lady says that all this will help. But will it? Assume that a husband and wife are disagreeing about their housekeeping money. The right hon. Lady says that the Clause strengthens the wife's position; that she can say to her husband, "If you do not agree with me, I can take you to court." Does not the right hon. Lady think that when that happens, the marriage is already half on the rocks? In how many homes are there not disputes every day about one thing and another—ordinary matrimonial breezes? In how many homes is there not dispute sometime or another about the amount of the housekeeping money? If a marriage were in danger of breaking up every time that that happened, we should have an even more alarming divorce rate than at present. If a wife is going to say—and some wives will be foolish enough to say it in the heat of the moment—"If you do not give in to me, I will take you to court," a great many husbands would immediately feel that their wives had ripped apart the whole fabric on which the marriage was based. Most things can be forgiven in life, including blows and cruelty, but one thing which is never forgiven in a marriage is personal disloyalty; and it is disloyal of a wife, or, for that matter, a husband, to take a disagreement of this kind out to a strange tribunal and ask them to give a casting vote one way or the other about the conduct of the home. Once that element has been brought in, one destroys the intimate and almost magical personal relationship upon which a happy marriage is based. I know, of course, that there are certain people known as conciliation officers. That is quite different. In this country we have never been willing to unite power and influence together. The whole reason for the influence and value of conciliation officers is that they have no power to intervene. It is only if a husband and wife agree to it that they scan play any part in trying to bring the marriage together. It is precisely because the husband can say, "I will not see the conciliation officer" that he is probably willing to see him; it is precisely because he could have refused to see him that he is willing to concede to him the power to influence and persuade. But an entirely different situation arises when it is a case of the husband being dragged around the corner to the police court and ultimately of being sent to prison. Does the right hon. Lady think that when the husband came out of prison, or when he had been fined, the home would carry on better than ever before? If the husband asks for time to pay, would that bind the home more closely together? Or, of course, the applicant—that is, the wife—could ask for an order, similar to that under Clause 1, attaching her husband's wages at their source—another formidable deduction from wages—for housekeeping money, thus authorised to be attached to wages; and the employer is not only to be told, as in the case of a marriage which has broken up, that there has been a divorce or a separation order, but that he cannot get on with his wife and that she has taken him to court and has got the magistrates to fix the housekeeping money. Does the right hon. Lady think that that would prevent broken homes? I think that her Clause 3 is putting the hand of Parliament and of the law into the privacy of British homes, and that it would disrupt and destroy much of the harmony that prevails in them, and would give a significance to occasional quarrels which at present they do not possess. I therefore ask the House, apart altogether from the innumerable procedural objections which exist to this and other Clauses, to say that this Bill is not one which any amount of amendment or improvement could ever make acceptable, and that it ought to be refused a Second Reading.
I beg to second the Amendment.Although for some undefined reason I seemed to be the particular object of the displeasure of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill)—
No, only temporarily.
I hope that fact may not stand in the way of my congratulating her on the extremely eloquent and persuasive way in which she commended her Bill to the House. The fact that I did not seek to interrupt her in those passages of her speech which seemed particularly directed to me was due to the fact that I was so fascinated by her persuasiveness that I did not wish to intervene and disturb the flow of her eloquence. It was not because I felt that what she was saying to me in any way fairly represented the view I hold but which she was seeking to attribute to me.I do agree with the view, and I make no apology for the fact, that this Bill would increase and not alleviate disharmony and friction in domestic life. But, because I hold that view, I suggest it is not fair that the inference should be created that I hold all those kinds of outmoded and reactionary views which the right hon. Lady with so much diligence has dug up from dim and distant history. If it is necessary, I would like to make it clear to her and to the House that I differ from those views quite as strongly as she does. The right hon. Lady also suggested that none of the hon. Members of this House whose names are attached to the Amendment which I am seconding had ever taken part in the work of any women's organisations or any of those bodies which exist particularly for the ventilation of the woman's point of view. In that respect I think she has done less than justice to the case. I have consistently been a supporter of the principle of equal pay for women for equal work. I have spoken on that matter on more than one occasion in the House—
The hon. Member will recall that I did not mention him; I mentioned all the barristers. I did not mention the hon. Member's constituency, but the constituencies of barristers and their legal qualifications.
I am very glad to have that point cleared up, and I am quite sure that I may leave it to my hon. Friends to deal with their part in the matter as seems to them best. It is a fact, of course, that the kind of view I think the right hon. Lady endeavoured to attribute to me is the kind of view which inevitably will be attributed to hon. Members who do not agree with the principles of this Bill. It is quite obvious that our action in opposing this Bill can be misrepresented and we can be depicted, if hon. Members so wish, as being the enemies of the legitimate aspirations of married women. But any such misrepresentations would do very much less than justice to the views held by my hon. Friends and myself. I do not think that because of the possibility of our attitude in this matter being misrepresented we should be justified in failing to oppose a Bill which, in the view of many hon. Members, is mostly bad.I want to make a point which has not so far been made by anyone who ha spoken in this debate. It is that this Bill is introduced at what is surely the most inappropriate time for this House to be considering matters of this kind. There is sitting at present a Royal Commission which is considering the whole field of the problems arising in connection with marriage and divorce, and the proposals which are embodied in this Bill are all proposals which would fall within the terms of reference of that Royal Commission. The Bill deals with matters which can be and are being considered by the Royal Commission, and it seems to me that in point of time it would be quite impossible to find any moment more inappropriate for the introduction of a Bill of this character into this House. That is one of the reasons why many of my hon. Friends and I feel we are fully justified in tabling an Amendment that this Bill be read a Second time in six months time. Not only are the proposals of this Bill wrong in time, but we believe them in many respects to be wrong in method. I do not think any hon. Members will deny that wives undoubtedly have legitimate grievances in certain respects under the existing law, but I do not believe that the kind of piecemeal approach to the problem which is represented by this Bill is the best or the wisest way of seeking to alleviate these grievances under the existing law. All this Bill does is to isolate a few problems of marriage law, and attempt to remedy some grievances of wives. May I, with due diffidence, make the point that it does nothing at all to deal with the wrongs of husbands and, in attempting to remedy some injustices and to overcome some difficulties, it creates more injustices and more difficulties than the injustices and difficulties the Bill is designed to overcome. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, in the view that Clause 1 is the least objectionable feature of the Bill. I hold the view that the three Clauses are arranged in an ascending degree of undesirability, and I will say a word or two in regard to each of them. My main criticism of Clause 1 is that it makes the employer of the husband a party to legal proceedings in which he has no concern, and to matters with which he is in no way personally connected. It puts him in the position of being subject to penalties in a matter in which he is in no way personally interested. It must be obvious that Clause 1 would inevitably, in practice, jeopardise the employment of the husband. It can have no other result, and I believe it is ineffective in large measure in achieving the object which the promoters of the Bill have in view. In his speech, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) said that we all knew cases of husbands in default under court orders who changed their names, changed their jobs and changed their homes, and that the purpose of this Clause was to meet and overcome difficulties of that kind. It is obvious that this Clause cannot overcome any of those difficulties. The Clause can only deal with the case of the husband who can be found and who, when he is found, is in regular employment. The suggestion that Clause 1 can offer any kind of solution to the problem of the husband who is in default, who has changed his name, his job and his home and cannot be traced, is a complete misunderstanding of the position, and my view is that, in large measure, Clause 1 would be quite ineffective in achieving the object which the right hon. Lady has in view.
I suppose the hon. Gentleman realises that a man can get away with murder so long as he cannot be traced?
I realise that fully, and, if I may say so, the observation seems to be rather of a self-evident character. I was simply dealing with the claim made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr, who said that Clause 1 would overcome the difficulty created by the husband who changed his name, job and home. I was submitting that Clause 1 could not possibly help in cases of that kind.I will now pass to Clause 2 and deal with it quite briefly under two heads. The Clause deals firstly with the division of savings effected and property acquired during the period of marriage. Here the court may undertake division at its unfettered discretion. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South that that is a kind of discretion that ought not to be entrusted to a court of summary jurisdiction, and I certainly think that that kind of discretion ought not to be given without a very clear indication being contained in the Bill of the kind of way in which it is expected the court would exercise its discretion. For instance, is the guilty party or the party responsible for the breakdown of the marriage to be able to benefit under this Clause? That point is not made clear. It would be quite within the competence of the court under this Clause to make an order in favour of the guilty party or the party responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, and it seems to me to be quite wrong that any court should be given that kind of unfettered discretion without any kind of indication of the manner in which discretion should be exercised. Then we come to the second part of the Clause which deals with the transfer in certain circumstances of the tenancy of the home. This seems to me to be open to the objection that it involves the landlord in legal proceedings in matters to which he is not a party and with which he is not concerned. I can see no reason why the landlord should be compelled to go into court, to be legally represented and to incur legal responsibility in a matter in which he as landlord has no kind of interest at all. Although I object to the provision regarding the transfer of tenancies, it seems to me that even if the principle is accepted, the drafting of the Bill is defective in one important particular. If I read the provision correctly—and I am fortified by legal opinion on this point—statutory tenancies under the Rent Restriction Acts would not be covered. If I am right in that view, and if the principle of granting power for the transfer of the tenancy of the home from the husband to the wife is right, surely there can be no case for excluding from the operations of the Clause tenancies under the Rent Restriction Acts which would probably form the large majority of the tenancies falling under this Clause. I suggest that those who are seeking to secure the passage of this Bill into law ought to look at that point. As I have said, I am opposed to the principle in toto in regard to the transfer of tenancies of homes. Passing to Clause 3, which deals with such matters as the division of the husband's income and property in cases in which there is no divorce and no separation, as has been pointed out by previous speakers, this surely embodies a new, novel and surely undesirable feature of law. I submit that no court is competent to deal with matters of this kind, nor should it be asked to deal with such matters. It is, in effect, imposing upon the law an obligation to deal with matters which are outside its proper province and competence. As the Clause is drawn, it seems to me to be open to the very strongest possible objection on the ground of the wholly unjust results which would ensue. The Clause, as drawn, provides that the benefit of property may be transferred to the wife by court order, leaving the husband to bear the obligations in connection with that property. Let us look at the kind of case that can happen under these provisions. Let us assume that the husband is possessed of a leasehold property with a heavy ground rent, a heavy mortgage and a heavy liability to repair under the terms of the lease. Under this Clause the court could transfer to the wife the benefit of the property—that I take to mean the right to receive the income from the property—while leaving the husband with the obligation to pay the ground rent, to be responsible for the repairs and to pay the mortgage interest on the property, and he would be precluded from receiving the income from that property which he needs in order to meet those prior charges. That seems to me to be a most fantastic proposition to which I cannot believe this House ever has or ever would give its approval. I believe that this Bill, so far as most of its provisions are concerned, is undesirable and ineffective in important particulars for producing the results desired. I believe that if it passed into law it would promote disunity and disharmony and would do nothing to promote the harmony and the union which its promoters claim it would assist. I believe it would mark a big step forward in bringing matters between husbands and wives within the purview of the courts—matters in which the letter willeth and the spirit of the parties is the all important factor. This Bill would tend to encourage men to avoid marriage and to enter into irregular unions so that they may avoid from the very severe legal difficulties in which they might find themselves if this Bill became law. In my submission, it does nothing to strengthen and sanctify the ties of marriage and the home. I believe it to be a thoroughly unsatisfactory Bill, and I hope that it will not receive the further support of this House.
Notice taken that 40 Members were not present.
House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
It is a shocking thing, when we are considering a Bill of such tremendous importance as this—whether it be right or wrong—that there should be an attempt made to stifle its discussion. It is a shocking thing that an attempt should be made to wreck the opportunities which are given to private Members to introduce Measures which may be, and in this case I believe will be, for the benefit of a very large section of the community. I should like to express my deep regret that an hon. Member should have seen fit to seek to do that. I am surprised at him. I did not chink he was that kind of person. I know that it is perfectly in order technically, but it is not perfectly in order from a moral standpoint or from the point of view of the interest of private Members, when matters of this description are at issue.
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is making such a fuss about this. It is obvious that there were insufficient Members in this House who were interested enough in the matter to be here, and it was for that reason that I called the count.
Surely that will not do. This is not the first occasion on which Members have had to be in their constituencies in order to deal with their own matters, and it is not by any means the first occasion on which Members who have to deal with their correspondence and everything else that affects their lives and their constituencies have had to be away from the House at the time when proceedings are taking place.I should have thought that the dignity of the House would have been preserved on this occasion rather than that an attempt should be made to destroy the Bill at this stage. I can quite understand a person who opposes this Bill—if he wants the housewives of Henley, or wherever it may be, to be deprived of such advantages as they are entitled to under it—to attempt that kind of tactic, but I hope that on reflection the hon. Member for Henley—I did not think he was the kind of person to do this sort of thing—will reconsider his action and offer an apology to the House when he speaks. The matter with which we are dealing is a very important one. The arguments which have been raised in relation to the Bill, in so far as its limited scope is concerned, have to be taken in the context of what a private Member is capable of getting through the House. I know objections have been lodged and suggestions made that we should wait until we have before us the report of the Commission which is sitting in connection with this matter; but that takes a very long time and, in the meanwhile, a large number of people are suffering from difficulties which ought to be remedied. That is where the private Member has an opportunity of doing something which, under normal circumstances, has to be left for years whilst Commissions and other bodies are sitting, discussing and deliberating and ultimately producing their results, which are then re-examined by the Government and Heaven knows what not, with the result that it may be years or possibly centuries before any result is achieved. Secondly, and I say it with the greatest respect, the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken against this Measure have no idea whatsoever as to the procedure which takes place in the courts on matrimonial matters and the arrangements which are made for investigating and inquiring into the circumstances of the home. The courts today do not regard these matters as being of a public nature, requiring as much advertisement as possible, but on the contrary. A Measure was passed, with which I have no doubt many of my legal friends are acquainted—the Domestic Proceedings Act, 1937—which makes a considerable advance—though I do not say it is sufficient to cover all the points we would like to have covered—in enabling a court of summary jurisdiction to hear this type of case in a more private manner and to have the fullest possible advice on the domestic relationships which exist. Hon. Gentlemen know as well as I do that before deciding on these issues the court has within its knowledge all the facts that are possibly available so that it can come to a satisfactory decision. What is more, speaking in general terms in answer to points that have been raised, a large number of domestic difficulties are settled by the officers long before the cases come up for hearing. In other words, there is a machinery which enables trained people to see the parties concerned and to try to make arrangements between them, or bring before the court the full facts and enable the court, if the matter does eventually go there, to make a decision which is based upon such knowledge as can be obtained of the domestic relationships which exist. I think that point has to be kept in mind before we can deal with the specific points that have been raised here; otherwise there might be some people who would lend credence and weight to those points. Those who have opposed this Measure have not suggested for one moment that there are not grievances which have to be put right, but they have not suggested a method by which they should be put right. All they have said is that this Bill, as it stands at present, is not sufficient to cover the points which they have in mind and which they readily admit must be remedied. Surely they are matters purely for the Committee stage of the Bill. If they have objection to one or other of the Clauses, let them raise their objections on the Committee stage. Let them give this Bill a chance to go to the Committee stage, when the whole of the issues can be properly investigated and Amendments can be suggested. I hope the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) will forgive me for being a member of the legal profession. One sometimes has to apologise for that in this House. Nevertheless, recourse to legal Members has to be had very frequently in order to put right matters which some lay Members have not been able to appreciate. I hope that the right hon. Lady will forgive my intervention in this regard. We know that when affiliation orders are made against erring husbands considerable ingenuity is displayed to try to evade them. I do not want the House to imagine that any of us is trying to weigh or put in the balance husband against wife. That is not the point of this Bill. What we are trying to do in a small Measure, because we cannot carry through a very large Measure—that is readily understood—is to deal with the difficulties that have arisen, and one of those difficulties, as has readily been admitted by those who are opposing the Bill, is that a person against whom an order is made may go off and avoid being found. Opponents of the Bill object that we are relating this Bill only to those who are in employment, but I do not see the force of their arguments. It is perfectly true that we could during the Committee stage add the word "reasonable," or some other words, or insert or remove other words, but the fact is that people avoid their obligations. In the case of an ordinary civil debt, while it is true that it does not apply against wages in certain circumstances, the fact remains that a person can issue garnishee proceedings against another who owes money to the first person's debtor. In other words, if an order is made against Mr. A, and Mr. B owes Mr. A money, then the creditor can drop on Mr. B to pay him instead of paying Mr. A. Why should not the same thing prevail here? What possible objection could a reasonable person, who is in employment and against whom an order has been made, have to such a provision? If there is an attempt to avoid the payment, why should we not take the money from his employer and afterwards, as one hon. Gentleman opposite suggested, the man himself be pursued later? It is too late to close the door when the horse has escaped, and the time to get hold of that money is when it is available. If the erring husband, or a person against whom an order is made under affiliation proceedings, chooses not to pay when he is in a position to pay, I see no reason on earth why the employer should not be approached. It is nonsense for anybody to say that that creates a new difficulty between employer and employee, because, when we come to enforce one of these orders and we know that the person concerned is in employment, we can still subpoena that employer and make him come to court and state how much the man's earnings are. So what on earth is the difficulty? He will know, anyhow, and therefore there is no reason at all why he should not be called upon to hand over a part of that money due to the employee to the wife or other person concerned, and do so regularly. There are Members in favour of the Bill on both sides of the House. This is not a party issue, and therefore, I do not understand the approach of those who are opposed to the Bill. They agree that the terms of Clause 1, at least, are such that they should be carried out, and I say that even if only Clause 1 of the Bill was ultimately passed through Committee, it would be worth while having the Bill made into an Act of Parliament, but I am very far from saying that that is the end of the matter; not by any means at all. Under Clause 2, full opportunity is given to the court to go into all the circumstances. There is one point which I have tried to bring before the House on a number of occasions and on a variety of matters, because I feel it most keenly. Courts of summary jurisdiction, in my view, have to deal with legal matters which are of equal importance to the higher courts. They have a more intimate knowledge of the day-to-day life of the people concerned. Their officers are acquainted with everything that is happening from day to day in the various cases with which these courts are concerned, and, while it may very well be that, on legal points, the higher court may be able to interpret the law better, and, indeed, in some cases, on appeal may, and often do, reverse the decisions of lower courts, the fact remains that, particularly in matrimonial matters, the magistrates in these courts—and in London these matters are handled by the Stipendiary Magistrates—not only have available to them the facts, but full cognisance of the matters that should be taken into consideration, and, therefore, would be in a position to deal effectively with the proposals in Clause 2. Why should not the husband hand over savings to the wife if the wife has, in fact, been instrumental in providing those savings? The right hon. Lady who opened the debate referred to one case, and I would like the House to hear what Lord Justice Goddard said in the proceedings in Blackwell v. Blackwell, in the Court of Appeal on 28th October, 1943. There has been nothing to affect his view since then; on the contrary, circumstances have arisen in other cases which have emphasised the serious position of the wife in this matter. This is what Lord Justice Goddard said, when agreeing to the decision of the court:
It is an extremely serious situation. If a wife has contributed, as she so very often does, towards these savings, and, indeed, if the husband has handed over to his wife certain sums of money for housekeeping and she has been sufficiently diligent to save it, instead of squandering it or using it for her own purposes, why on earth should she not have the benefit, either of the whole of it or such reasonable portion as the court may decide she is entitled to receive? I cannot understand the objection to it. Whom are we trying to protect? We are not trying to protect the reasonable husband, who in any circumstances would allow his wife to use that money. We are, then, trying to protect the rascal who, having done something against his wife, finds himself in circumstances in which she has left him. It is not a case of a wife leaving her husband merely because she wants to, but of one who has left him because the court has made a decision in the matter. Therefore, he must have been in the wrong because, if he was not in the wrong, he would have had a right of appeal to a higher court. In such circumstances, why should he retain everything provided in the house for the benefit of both of them? The same thing applies with regard to Clause 3. I know that there are some people who think that the court should not be available to people who are living together and who are not seeking an order one against the other for separation. Where are they to go? To marriage guidance clinics? It is true that there are some very well inclined people in such places, and I have every faith in the knowledge of those controlling these guidance centres, and I believe that they do tremendously important work. But the experience that stipendiary magistrates get, and that magistrates who have been sitting for years with the assistance of their clerks get, is, in my view, of considerable value to help, and is not utilised to hinder, the relationships between the parties concerned. What would happen? A wife who wanted to get a reasonable allowance, so that she might keep herself and her children in reasonable and decent comfort, would have to satisfy whoever is to decide the issue that her husband was in a position to keep them in that comfort according to his station in life. She would say to her husband, "Look here, I am getting fed up with all this. You do not give me a proper allowance. I shall have to see about it." He would probably object, if he did not want her to have a proper allowance, but wanted to retain too much of his money for himself, for his own comfort and his own pleasures, irrespective of the needs of his wife and children. But how would it be to break the relationships in that family any more than they would have been broken—if the wife were not getting a reasonable allowance and was unhappy because she and her children were suffering because her husband was not giving them for their needs as much as he could—if she were to go to a court and apply in the first place for a summons? She has to apply for a summons in the first place. A summons has to be granted in the first place. That seems to be not understood, or at least forgotten, by those who are opposing the Bill. It is at that time that the magistrate first tries to give advice to the person making the application, and he has then to be satisfied to some extent that there is something to answer. Then, even if the summons were issued, the officer of the court—one of those very experienced officers—would go down to have a talk with the husband and wife; and I should say that in the vast majority of cases they would be able to settle the matter long before it came to the court's having to decide whether an order should be made. I do not want to detain the House long because I know that a number of people want to speak on this matter, but I would say that there is no question whatever that a section of women have grievances. A section of men also have grievances. All right. It may be that my right hon. Friend will see her way to changing possibly the title of the Bill and to introducing some remedial measures in that respect. The fact remains, however, that in the main, it is the women who are in these difficulties. I say we have got to try to remedy, as far as we can within the scope of a Private Member's Bill, those difficulties. I think that 99.9 per cent. recurring of our population in this country—or, at any rate, almost that percentage—would agree that a Bill of this nature can do no harm, and that, on the contrary, it can do a considerable amount of good against those who want to avoid their proper moral obligations. I think the Bill would deter a lot of men from being mean so far as their wives are concerned. There is a certain amount of pride amongst people, and a man will not like the idea of his wife going to have a talk with an officer of a court and so bringing him into the picture. I think that when they know that may happen they will be deterred from doing what is not correct. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I think it would be a mean thing to oppose the Second Reading. I think my right hon. Friend is quite correct in saying that, were the Bill not given a Second Reading, it would appear as though we had not moved an inch in the last 100 years on these matters—if this matter were not sent to a Committee. If there are any difficulties, if there are any Amendments that hon. Members have in mind, let them still allow the Bill to go forward to the Committee stage where they can move their Amendments and ventilate the difficulties fully, and then we can see how far we can get with it. Even if then it is turned down, at least hon. Members will be able to feel that they have not stopped at the beginning something which may be of value—something which, in my view, will be of value, and a very useful and suitable Act to have on the Statute Book. We are very grateful to my right hon. Friend not only for having introduced the Bill but for the manner in which she has introduced it, which ought to have convinced everybody in the House that it is a good Measure."In my view there is no legal right in a wife to retain savings made out of housekeeping money. Even if there had been an arrangement between the husband and wife with regard to those savings, I am far from saying that this sort of domestic arrangement can necessarily result in a legal contract."
It is, I think, appropriate that a Private Member's Bill of this kind and this interest should have been introduced by the right hon. Lady on the one of side of the House and seconded by an hon. and gallant Member on this side of the House, because it does emphasise the fact that there is no party question of any kind involved in this Bill; and I venture to say that this debate has shown already how good the results are sometimes when a matter can be dealt with on a non-party basis.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman forgive me? I should like to apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman that because, unfortunately, I have to go to a funeral, I must leave now; otherwise I should have been here to have heard him.
It is desirable, I think, that I should make plain so far as I can, the attitude that the Government adopt towards a matter of this sort. I believe the appropriate attitude for us to adopt is to approach the matter with open minds, first of all to see if there is any really fundamental objection to the principle of the whole Bill. If there is not, I think it is then right that we should listen to the arguments that are put forward on the two sides and give such assistance as we can by way of advice to the House.In the present case we do not take the view that there is any fundamental objection in principle to the whole of the Bill, and I have been fortified in that view by the observations of both the mover and the seconder of the Amendment. The mover of the Amendment said, with regard to Clause 1, that he would be prepared to see that go forward to be considered by a Committee. The seconder said that, as far as most of the provisions of the Bill were concerned, it was undesirable; but he went on to say that there was something to be said for Clause 1. I am new to this House, but I apprehend that in those circumstances it would not be right for me to suggest to the House that it should refuse to give this Bill a Second Reading. That does not mean for a moment that there are not grave difficulties involved in it. I do not want to appear to be discouraging to the right hon. Lady. I have had experience myself of a Private Member's Bill, and I can tell her that there are moments when one gets very depressed, and possibly very angry with people, about it; but if one persists, in the end the difficulties have a way of solving themselves—unless, indeed, of course, it does become necessary to jettison part of the cargo; and in this particular case, I think, that may possibly be found to be the way to approach it. I should like to say, with regard to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), who I am sorry has had to leave us, that I agree with him that if the only result were to be that something were to come out of this on the basis of Clause 1, I think it would be well worth while. I know that the right hon. Lady will think that that is a very poor, miserable sort of approach to the thing; but, at any rate, it is something. It at any rate does not justify me in saying that I do not think it would be right to kill this baby out of hand. Incidentally, I should like to say that I was very glad the House was not counted out on this Bill. I thought it was a great pity that the House was counted out a few weeks ago on the Intestates' Estates Bill, which also dealt with the grievances of a lot of people. I do not want to introduce any unnecessary controversy, but I think it a great pity when any Private Member's Bill is counted out, if there is anything in it at all. Fortunately, this Bill was not counted out. First let me deal with the general principle. There can be no party question involved in this, but I should like to remove any possible doubts that there may be on that subject by referring to the report of the Conservative and Unionist Committee on Women's Questions presented to the Conservative and Unionist Women's Annual Conference in May, 1949, where it was accepted with great enthusiasm by the large number of women attending that conference. It was included in the pamphlet issued called "The True Balance," and stated unequivocally that we believed in the principle in these words:
I think we are agreed on that. It went on:"While the modern conception of marriage is a partnership, the law undoubtedly lags behind public opinion in this matter."
There are others. It was also stated that representations had been made urging Government action to ensure equal ownership of property between husband and wife. We referred to the proposals in New South Wales, for example, where it was recommended that the wife should have the whole of the money she saved from the housekeeping money, and where the New South Wales Parliament decided she should have half, on the basis that:"Until 1870 and the subsequent series of Married Women's Property Acts and other legislation, the property, earnings and liberty of married women belonged to their husbands and they had no rights over their children. There are still laws which date from this time when the individuality of a woman was lost on marriage and merged in that of her husband. Income Tax is an example."
This was the final statement:"the ideal of equal sharing is enshrined in matrimony."
As regards more specific matters, various questions were dealt with, from women in Parliament down to moral standards, and they were summed up as follows:"we firmly believe that it is of the essence of partnership in marriage—it is certainly implied in the Church Marriage Service—that the wife should know the amount of her husband's income. Under the present Income Tax arrangements the husband normally knows the details of his wife's income. We believe that full knowledge of the facts on both sides should ensure that the family income is laid out to the best advantage, as is undoubtedly already the arrangement in the great majority of marriages."
Today, happily, we are able to approach the consideration of this Bill on an agreed basis. It would be mere impertinence for me to say anything which might be so badly expressed as to be interpreted as being patronising to what the right hon. Lady has said. We know her great experience of these matters and her great interest in them. After all, she has had the experience of administering a great Department in which matters of this kind certainly enter into consideration. Therefore I feel the House will approve of my respectfully congratulating her, not only on introducing the Bill, but on the manner in which she did so. Dealing with the specific matters included in the Bill, I think that there are three points of view from which we must approach it. First, there is the political point of view, by which I do not mean the party political point of view, but political in the strict sense of the word; secondly, there is the practical point of view; and thirdly, the legal point of view. It follows, I think, from the principle I have already tried to state that it is really only the first of those matters which is decisive on Second Reading. The practical application and the legal difficulties are matters which it is appropriate to decide in Committee; and I repeat that there will be grave difficulties in Committee with regard to all three Clauses. As to the political objections—and I again emphasise that I use the word in the most strict sense—I think that there are real political difficulties about Clause 3. I shall say a few words about that at the very end of my observations and I think it is the only part of my speech in which I shall, I hope, come into any kind of conflict with the right hon. Lady. I cannot say I am very optimistic of avoiding it, or that I particularly want to, on that point. There is general agreement that there are cases where serious grievances arise through the absence of anything such as is provided for in Clause 1. One of the difficulties which certainly concerns me at the moment is that, in the past, there have been strong objections raised to this particular kind of machinery. What is very formidable, in my view, is that the Confederation of Employers and the great trade unions have in the past expressed considerable apprehension about it. I do not know whether the right hon. Lady will be able to give the House some assistance on that. I hope she will be able to. It may be that that again is a subject which will require consideration in Committee. It may be that it is the method of application of this principle rather than the principle itself which has alarmed the trade unions. But to say they have not been alarmed and concerned about it is rather to bury one's head in the sand. However, I hope the right hon. Lady will be able to help the House on that. The argument is a very obvious and familiar one: that an employee might be prejudiced by his employer's knowledge of his affairs, particularly if there is an obligation involving reference to affiliation proceedings. That is something to which we ought to avoid having any reference, if possible. It is, of course, the fact that the provision would provide for attachment only after default, and the one great remedy against it is to make regular payments, because then there is no need for it. It might be, therefore, that on moral grounds there is not really very much defence. At the same time, one appreciates that those on both sides of industry who are concerned for the maintenance of good relations, and who are working together in friendly co-operation every day on those admirable bodies which preserve industrial good will, must be satisfied about this before we can feel that their doubts have been removed. So far, I think it is right to say, the arguments against any system of attachment have held the field, but I think it fair to say that the objections against it are certainly not overwhelming, and that there is a lot to be said in favour of it. Therefore, I think we must give the Clause a run. There are very big difficulties about Clause 2, but there again, I have approached it from the point of view of public policy. We have to realise that there is a case to be met. One of the difficulties I feel about this, and, indeed about the whole Bill, is the existence of the Royal Commission. The right hon. Lady did not say anything about that in her opening remarks. I think that she would probably like to say something about it before the end of the day, but, on the face of it, it does seem rather questionable whether we ought to introduce provisions which may well be the subject of considerable discussion and doubt in the Royal Commission. I do not feel that that applies to Clause 1 to anything like the same extent. After all, in Clause 1 a much more straightforward principle is involved, but as regards Clause 2 I am rather apprehensive about it. Reference has been made to the extraordinarily difficult legal position that exists at the present time. The case of Blackwell v. Blackwell was referred to, and I would remind the House of another recent case called the Hoddinott case, where the husband and wife used their savings on housekeeping money to invest in football pools. Some people may think that a reprehensible thing, especially if they do not win. The forecasting was a joint business, and the Court of Appeal held that furniture purchased with prizes won by that method belonged to the husband, as there was no gift to the wife of the winnings nor a contract that she should have them. That was one of those cases where someone might make a rude remark about the law. In another case—Newgrosh v. Newgrosh—Lord Justice Denning had observations to make about the rigidity of the law at the present time. He said, with regard to the suggested transfer of the matrimonial home, that in order to cover cases of hardship of that kind it seemed arguable, at any rate, that that would be a hollow benefit for the wife if she could not rely on all her husband's rights under the Rent Restrictions Acts, because the transfer of the title to the home would not avail her, in those circumstances, against a landlord suing for possession. Of course we know, unfortunately, that the law covering statutory tenancies and deserted wives is extraordinarily obscure at the present time. The position was improved by the decision in the case of Middleton v. Baldock, again before Lord Justice Denning, when he said:"Great changes have taken place in public opinion in the last 30 years and nowhere is this more striking than in the public attitude towards the relationship between the sexes."
It is still not certain whether deserted wives would be protected where the deserting husband had been a contractual tenant as opposed to a statutory tenant. There is another disadvantage or mischief, and that is the one which the right hon. Lady wants to get rid of, that, in general, once a decree absolute has been made in favour of a wife who continues to reside on the premises, the statutory tenancy then determines. There was a Bill called the Deserted Wives' Bill introduced into the House with the intention of dealing with some of these matters. It was defeated on 26th January, 1951, by a narrow majority. Of course, that again is going to be one of the subjects of reference to the Royal Commission. Another very difficult problem in connection with this Clause is the discretion of the court. If it is stated, for example—I think the words are that the apportionment is to be made "equally between them or in any proportions as may seem just to the court"; one cannot help asking how the court is going to decide that. There are a number of other considerations that are bound to come in, such as the question of title, who is responsible for the matrimonial offence and any other conduct of the parties likely to break up the marriage, the relative earning powers and savings that they have contributed, and their relative future needs. It may be—and I know that this is one of those headaches which the right hon. Lady may have to suffer in the future—a question whether some sort of guidance ought not to be put in, or an attempt be made to put in some sort of guidance, instead of leaving the court with that great difficulty. On the other hand, if evidence is to be introduced on all these different topics—and it is difficult to see how one can avoid it—it is going to lengthen the proceedings and make them extremely complicated. There again, of course, these are matters which will come before the Royal Commission, and it is rather a serious question whether one can expect to legislate on that basis until we have had the guidance of the Royal Commission itself. Before coming to Clause 3, perhaps I might summarise the attitude that we adopt with regard to those other Clauses. We feel that this is a Measure which is not without merit in itself and it is certainly designed to extend the rights of women. In these circumstances, we think that if the House does decide—it is entirely a matter for the House, and I should like to assure the right hon. Lady that, so far as I am concerned as representing the Government in this matter, I have not exercised and would not attempt to exercise the slightest influence on anyone on this side of the House as to how they should approach it—that the Bill shall have a Second Reading, it will be for the Government to do their best to improve it in Committee. I am afraid we shall be found to be rather severe about it, hut, after all, that really is our duty. Finally, I must say a word about Clause 3. If there had been an Amendment to leave out Clause 3 rather than to leave out Clause 2—an Amendment which I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you have decided not to call—then I think I should have understood it, because I feel that Clause 3 involves very serious considerations indeed. I believe that our general approach should be that we will not encourage interference by the court in the affairs of married life unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. That, I should have thought, was a fundamental principle. I should like to mention one aspect in which I think the right hon. Lady may be interested and of which she has, no doubt, experience. It is with regard to Service cases. Undoubtedly there is a precedent there for interference, in a sense, between two spouses who may be perfectly happily married but who are separated through the needs of the Service and, as a result of that, it is necessary and possible—and, indeed, it is done—that interference takes place. I should like to admit at once that the idea of having interference is by no means a novelty, but it fits in with the principle I have endeavoured to state, that it is only permissible when it is necessary, and in the case of Clause 3 I venture to disagree with regard to that. I hope the right hon. Lady will not be too cross with me—and I am speaking entirely personally and in no sense in an official way—but I think it is going in the direction of totalitarianism to have the affairs of the family decided by the court. I do not want to pursue that too far but I believe that anyone who is liberal, whether spelt with a big L or a small one, should and would oppose that sort of principle. I have left to the very end any kind of controversial point of view, but I feel the right hon. Lady may have to consider very seriously what her attitude is to be to Clause 3. I do not think I should assist by discussing the provisions in any more detail. I have said enough of a minatory character to give warning that the Bill, if it reaches the Committee, may have a very stormy passage. But we certainly wish the right hon. Lady well with her efforts in a direction which all of us applaud."So long as she remains lawfully there the husband remains in occupation by her."
As every other hon. and right hon. Member has done since the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) opened our debate today. I should like to begin by congratulating her—and I do so most sincerely—upon the cogent, lucid and concise way in which she presented the case for this Bill. It was no surprise to us who have been colleagues of hers in this and previous Parliaments for 14 years. We have great respect for her ability and fairness, which were demonstrated so amply today.There was one phrase, and one phrase only, in her speech with which I did not agree. She said this Bill was a charter for women. But it is really only a small step further along the road to equality. The time when we should have a real charter has obviously arrived. We have gone on step by step and it has taken us a long time. The right hon. Lady went as far back as 1857. I can go back a little further. Not only have we the right hon. Lady but we have other lady Members with us. I would remind the House that in 1847 a Member of this House called William Barclay was venturesome enough to suggest that women might be permitted to hear the debates. There were Members who were so horrified that their wives and daughters might come here to hear what was being said that they had no hesitation whatever in throwing out the Bill. We have progressed considerably since then, with the Acts of the 50's and 80's and the extension of the franchise, but we are still a long way from securing that full charter which I think has been decided in general should arrive. I should like to begin my reference to the Bill itself by saying that the stability of married life is fundamental to the welfare of the State as a whole. The unit for us is the family, and the reason there are so many troubles arising within families is the failure to recognise that this is the greatest partnership of all—the partnership that is agreed upon by husband and wife when they take the oath to wed one another. This House does not legislate for people who maintain the standard of life or conduct which is the accepted standard by the generality. We have only to legislate against those who are below that standard in their conduct. To the household of the right hon. Lady and I imagine all hon. Members—and certainly in my case, as in hers—this Bill is not necessary. But we know that Measures of this kind are necessary in respect of other households, and therefore it is right that we should throw out our protection where that protection is needed. I am glad that the Attorney-General has expressed a sort of general approval of this Bill, but I wish that his burning enthusiasm for the Bill had not been quite so icily chilly. He nearly froze the Bill before it had received a Second Reading. I hope his enthusiasm will either disappear or take another form by the time the Bill reaches the Committee stage. Clause 1 of the Bill provides that the court may order an employer to pay maintenance. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), who moved the Amendment, inquired what the problem was. Surely the problem is one which confronts the woman who has had to be separated from her husband. Her problem is how she is to obtain the money that the courts have decided is hers by right for her protection and the protection of the family for which both husband and wife are responsible but which responsibility she has now undertaken. The wife obtains an order against the husband that she shall receive part of his pay but there is nothing, except the possibility of his being caught and put in prison, to prevent his dissipating the whole of that pay the moment he gets it. The object of this Clause is to see that where the husband is earning the pay, the sum can be estopped and paid to her before he dissipates it all, and to see that she and her children have their rights. Where is the injustice in that? Is that the kind of thing that breaks family life? The family life has already been broken and an order has had to be made to protect the woman and the children. All that this Clause asks is that further protection be given to ensure that the money she is entitled to receive shall, in fact, reach her. Clause 2 provides that the court may make an order as to savings, household goods and tenancy. The Attorney-General quoted the case of Blackwell v. Blackwell. There are even worse cases. Most of us feel that the oath that we take in that greatest moment of our lives
is always binding, but that oath apparently is meaningless to some tens of thousands of others. Therefore, we have had to intervene. It has been found that there are people who are brutal enough, mean enough and petty enough while they are earning large sums of money themselves to keep their wives and their families in actual penury. At the same time, if the wife perchance manages to save out of the household a certain amount, she is not to have the benefit even of a single penny of that. That was the decision in Blackwell v. Blackwell. I can quote another case from Lancashire of a deserted wife who merely claimed a half share of the household savings, which amounted to £280. What was the decision of the court? The court refused to give her a half share or even any share at all. That is the law as it is today. She had brought up a family of five; but out of a wage of £6 a week which the husband was earning all that he had contributed, even when he was earning, was £1 a week. The wife had gone out to work and while he was out of employment she had maintained the household and him by the wages she was earning. Yet the law is such that when, by her thrift and industry, she had managed to save a sum of £280 not one penny of which was due to him, it all belonged to him when he deserted her. Can that be justified? What is the use of talking hypocritically about breaking up a household? This household was already broken up and yet the man was mean enough and petty enough to take every penny piece. I should have liked to see more enthusiasm from the Attorney-General for cases like that and for cases like this one. This man earned £1,700 a year and gave his wife £3 a week. The wife in her evidence said that he had had a car, new suits, went for holidays and belonged to a club. She and the children could seldom go out even to the pictures, and they bought most of their clothes at jumble sales. It is not necessary for me to read any more. If there are cases like that, we must really protect those who are suffering. That is the purpose of this legislation. May I come to Clause 3. The Attorney-General suggested that this was totalitarian and that I, as a Liberal, would object to anything that was totalitarian. I not only object to that, but to anything which savours of dictatorship as well, and it seems to me that the Attorney-General was rather supporting the dictator at home who said, "I will allow so much and no more." I prefer the much more Liberal doctrine of "Let us share alike and share fairly." If a man does not do that, some means must be found of bringing social justice to the woman who so badly needs it. What is to be said today of a man like the one in the case to which I have just referred, where he had his new car, his new suits, went on holidays, and gave his wife £3 a week. The general rule is that women like that are too proud to mention their plight, even to their relatives. Pride forces them to hide it from their neighbours. The mere fact that legislation of this kind is on the Statute Book may have its effect upon the kind of person who has treated his wife in that way; and if it will not have that effect upon him, then, if passed into law, it will give a legal right to the woman to have what is fair out of his earnings. They are both responsible for their family and the household and the manner in which the children are brought up, as well as their outlook on life. The wife in such circumstances deserves fair treatment from this House. I support this Bill on behalf of my colleagues."With all my wordly wealth I thee endow"
I am in some difficulty about this Bill. I know it is the habit of Members to talk about their happily married lives and I myself have no reason to suspect that I shall be in default in the future. Therefore, I think to myself that this Bill, if it becomes an Act, will enable me to make very much more provision for my wife out of my savings if I am expelled or expel myself during my married life, because there would be so much litigation arising from this Bill that I shall be able to increase my earnings. Therefore, I ought to let this Bill go through, since as regards my wife and from her point of view it is much more in her interests that there should be Bills of this nature which invite litigation.I feel, however, that there are other objections. For myself, I enjoy these debates on Fridays. I believe that Members are for a change trying to discuss things and put their minds together. We can for the moment bury some of our prejudices, the political ones if not the sex ones, and we can put our minds together in the common good. The controversy can, of course, be made more entertaining by putting on the one side glorified woman, and on the other the most despicable race of lawyers. It is, of course, possible to deal with the matter by saying that on this side they are rather nice but on the other side they are just lawyers; but we must draw our own conclusions. It is, I understand, the custom—and I am not an unwilling supporter of it—to pay tribute to the person moving the Second Reading of a Bill, and I pay my tribute to the right hon. Lady for the way in which she presented her case. I was fascinated and charmed, as everybody was, by her. I was interested by her praying in aid what happened 100 years ago. I like the humour and the good nature of it all. I thought some of the adjectives lost some of their power by the fact that they had to be read and did not seem to flow so naturally. What did it all add up to? What was the story? The story was that there were wicked husbands and we must do something about it. We are agreed that there are wicked husbands, and there might even be wicked husbands in the House of Commons. If that is so, there must be the power of punishment for the consequences of their acts. One of the most interesting things about this is that woman has not so much confidence in herself as she used to have. As she seems to have lost even real power as a woman, she wants more and more laws to protect her or avenge her. It is rather pathetic and shows that she does not seem to believe that she has the power she used to have. She is always afraid of something, and most important of all of a man letting her down. I wonder if our grandmothers were really quite apprehensive that they would marry badly or their judgment was so poor that they could not discover before they married that a man was a cheat and a blackguard. It would be nice if by law we could avenge every wrong. It would be nice if by law we could make people carry out their domestic duties. We are failing very badly. The law is piling up and women's associations have more and more meetings, but divorce goes on, cruelties to children go on and the law grinds out more and more things which we must do and must not do. Something is wrong. It is not the absence of any law which is breaking marriages up. It is something much deeper than that. I think we distract ourselves by concentrating too much on the legal aspects and rights which have been conferred by law. This Bill is in three parts. The first two deal with what I might call retribution. The third is not really retribution; it is something that is to happen while the marriage is going on. The first two are Clauses dealing with what has happened when the marriage is finished. The first thing I want to say about the Bill, and I am surprised that nobody has so far called attention to it, is in regard to its Title. The Attorney-General referred to the Bill as one to extend the rights of women. He was quite right, but that is not what it is called. It is called a Bill
There are no legal disabilities of women dealt with in the Bill. There is nothing to stop a wife suing, nothing that puts her into a different category to anybody else. The provisions of the Bill do not agree with its Title. There were legal disabilities when a woman could not own private property and could not vote, in those horrid days when women were not even allowed to listen to our debates. No legal disabilities are removed by the Bill; so the first thing to be considered is the Title. I agree that a husband who deserts his wife must pay. Who doubts it? We can be indignant about how easy it is for a blackguard to avoid payment, but that is not a matter for indignation here but for calm thought. Will the Bill enable a wife to get the money? If it will, it is all right, but has it other disadvantages which may, in the end, mean that she does not succeed? We do not need to use "hot air" about husbands who run away. My right hon. and learned Friend criticised the Clause on very sound grounds. He said that if the man is in regular employment, we can get judgment and recover, and that if he is not, we cannot. The Clause can operate only where a man is in regular employment. We have the same idea and the same principle applied to the Army. We make stoppages for the wife against a man's pay, because he has only one employer. The Clause would be quite proper if everybody were under one employer. Perhaps the indignation of some hon. Gentlemen might take them as far as wishing that we had only one employer so that we could look after the deserted wives. The Clause is a matter of experience. It may be that the right hon. Lady opposite has not investigated the number of cases which will be affected. The clerks to the justices would be the best sources of authority. Do they believe that provisions like this would make orders more effective?"to remove certain legal disabilities of women."
It may interest the hon. and learned Member to know that I have a letter here from a magistrates' clerk in which he points out that while the Clause would not cover everybody in all kinds of employment, it would be useful with the group of men in regular employment and would be a solution there to the problem of non-payment.
I think the hon. Gentleman is quite right. It would apply to people in regular employment, but we do not need such a Clause for them. If a judgment or an order is made against a man in regular employment, we know where he is. He has to pay or go to prison. We can enforce the order as directly now as we could under these more extensive provisions. I agree that it is a matter of opinion.I have here a memorandum from the Justices' Clerks Society in which they make the point—besides the points which were made by my right hon. and learned Friend—that the Clause would not be of great advantage in cases of permanent employment and would have the corresponding disadvantage of tending to make a man get out of employment and evade his obligations by changing his jobs quickly and tiring people out. That is a well-known legal dodge. If he went on long enough and moved his employment often enough the other side would get tired of it. That is the danger of it. I do not feel inclined to divide the House on the Clause. I would give it a run, as the Attorney-General said, although I feel a bit diffident about it. I am making no drafting comments about these Clauses or suggesting things that might be done in Committee. I turn to Clause 2, which comes within the general retribution scheme. We rather feel, in this Clause, that if the marriage has to be broken up the financial position of the parties has to be reassessed. It does not seem unreasonable that property which has been used for common purposes should be divided up; but is that really the end of it? If we once begin to anticipate things, we can bring about the defeat of this provision. If we once put it into the minds of persons who are setting up a home that they must watch where the money goes because there might be trouble in future, we begin to make marriage a money affair. It is not quite the same with questions of maintenance. Men do not anticipate and say: "What maintenance am I going to have to pay in the future if I take this job?" They do not ask whether they might have to pay more maintenance in a higher-paid than in a lower-paid job. We must be careful how we put the idea into people's minds that there might be trouble in the future and endless litigation about how to divide up the property and the money. We shall be making people mercenary-minded. It is a bad thing to bring money considerations into marriage at so early a stage. There is already under the Judicature Act provision, as in Clause 2, for the making of orders in regard to a husband's property in the case of divorce or separation. There is a Royal Commission sitting now, which may well have to deal with these matters of property and money. But this means an inquisition. In order to do justice, the court would have to go through all the details of the married life. It cannot be done fairly, and it would not be even rough-and-ready justice. These attempts to anticipate trouble and to divide up property by giving legal rights can lead to deceit, chicanery and caution, and thus would not carry out the objects of the promoters of the Bill, which is to protect women, but not to give them an unfair advantage. The last Clause is that by which somebody can go to a court and say that she is not getting enough housekeeping money. Hon. Members have their constituents. I come from a Lancashire town. We shall not get Lancashire men to agree to this Clause, or Lancashire wives agreeing to their husbands' accepting it. In marriage, nature plays its part. Somebody, where there are disputes, should have the last word. When two people ride a donkey one must ride behind. In the adjusting of household expenses people may have a bona fide disagreement. They may say they can do with less because they want to do some saving. The spending of money is a matter of controversy and discussion from day to day, which alters from week to week as health demands and various emergencies arise. One week the allowance may be all right and the next week it may be wrong. What causes of action would we lawyers have there. What trouble, what disgrace, what humiliation, what opportunities for family blackmail, what negation of the trust and confidence upon which marriage is founded. I cannot understand why the right hon. Lady, to whose attractions we have all paid tribute, should think that there must be so many of her sisters in the country who are unable to persuade their husbands to deal properly with their housekeeping allowance. But if it should reach the stage which has been mentioned, would it not be better to leave the husband? Would it not be better to be separated? Or is the wife to carry on the farce of calling her husband in public mean and miserly but still living with him and having his name? Is that the kind of emancipation women want? They want to carry our names, they want to be known as "Mrs. So and So," but are they only interested in suing us in court for money? Is that what women want? I cannot believe it. I believe it was Coventry Patmore who said that wasteful woman sets her own price on herself. It is dangerous for her to start putting a money price on herself.
I am tempted to enlarge on what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell). I assure him at the outset that my right hon. Friend by no means presented this case as one of ideal woman versus a wicked group of lawyers. Indeed, she said nothing about the legal profession so critical as did the hon. and learned Member in the course of his speech. He has attacked this Bill because it adds to the general mass of English law, and there is something in what he says. Some day we must get down to the problem created by hon. and learned Members who play such a great part in shaping the laws of this country and earning such vast fortunes out of interpreting the laws after they have made them.When the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) waxed emotional in his reference to the wrongs suffered by women, he was not imagining that when a woman is left with six or seven or less children, seeks a separation allowance and, much more important, seeks to get that allowance after it has been awarded by the court, she is actuated by a feeling of revenge against her deserting husband. She merely wants to live. In Clause 1 this Bill seeks to perform an act of economic justice to women and not, as the hon. and learned Member for Bolton suggested to gratify a passion for retribution. I want to pay tribute first of all to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). She is one of that group of emancipated women inside certain learned professions—not all professions, because we have not got equal pay in all the professions yet—who, herself already emancipated, is seeking to bring to the rest of British women complete economic emancipation. At the beginning of this century we had a marvellous team of women who campaigned for, and secured, political freedom for women. One of my regrets is that having got complete emancipation for a class of women, and having got the political machine at their disposal, women have not used it more vigorously to reach out to sweated labour and domestic slavery, but have had to leave that to political parties to deal with. On the whole, I would say that men behave more decently than the laws of marriage demand. It was a woman who said that the present marriage laws are such a patchwork of ragged antiquity, and so ineffective to achieve any reasonable purpose that were not men's actions regulated by more reasonable custom, marriage as at present constituted could hardly survive a moment. But all men by their marriage vows take the oath that they will endow with all their wordly goods the women they marry. I understand the Revised Version is, "All my worldly goods with thee I share." Those who have spoken in support of the Amendment object to our trying to make them keep that oath. When the last Bill of this kind came before the House in 1937 to 1938, it sought to remove the anomaly which had existed up to that time by which a man, after death, could dispense with the financial obligations of parenthood and marriage and bequeath all his estate to some glamorous young female who had entertained him in his declining years. That was a Private Member's Bill, and when it became before the House we heard some of the general arguments that have been advanced today. I am sure my right hon. Friend was pleased when the Attorney-General gave his blessing to the general principles of the Bill, which were also commended by those who opposed it. They thought it was a good case but a bad Bill. Those who have moved the Amendment today have gone further, in spite of what the Attorney-General said, in thinking that it is a bad case and a bad Bill. They attacked the 1937 Bill also on the ground that it was a Private Bill and that it was seeking to make a change in the condition of the law far graver than was warranted by the hard cases which had been adduced. This afternoon, even in the speech of the Attorney-General, we have had a suggestion to the effect that while the general principles are good, Clause 3 will have to disappear during the Committee stage. The seconder of the Amendment said that he agreed with freedom and full rights for married women but was against anything in the Bill which seeks to advance them one scrap, and suggested that the matter should be sent to the Royal Commission. It has been said that hard cases make bad law. Like all adages, there is some truth in that, but I find it is hard cases which often call the attention of people to the necessity for making a new law. I had not heard of the cases quoted by the learned Members who have intervened in the debate, but they show how shocking the present law can be in its incidence as between man and woman inside the marriage pattern. I was sorry that my right hon. Friend in her opening speech dealt so savagely with the lawyers who had put down their names to the Amendment. Since I have come to the House, I have learned sincerely to respect the skill and interest in detail, in the real meaning of words and in the keen interest in justice itself, which is shown by hon. and learned Gentlemen on both sides of the House. But there is often a danger that they cannot see the wood for the trees. They often tend to create with great ingenuity an imaginary hard case the opposite way to the one that is being pleaded, almost as an exercise in forensic skill, almost to satisfy their own intellectual joy in the process, and in doing so they fail to realise great human needs like those with which we are attempting to grapple in the Bill. The contribution which hon. and learned Gentlemen can make most valuably in debates and in the work of the House is not when we are discussing the general principles of a Measure such as this, but when we get down to the details of it in Committee. I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. With my right hon. Friend, we shall welcome painstaking and practical work by learned Members when we get to the Committee stage. It is by no means a perfect Bill; it by no means achieves anything like the aims that we all hope some day will be achieved. I do not want to add unnecessarily to the amazingly lucid review which my right hon. Friend made in her opening speech about the provisions of the Bill. Nor would I weary the House by narrating some of the very sad human cases which are at the back of my mind always when I speak on this matter, from my own professional career and from my public work outside the House over some 30 years. The hardship and injustice caused by the present state of the law of marriage is much in excess of the number of cases that find their way to the magistrates' courts. Through sheer fear of the destitution that the Bill seeks to prevent, many women endure untold hardship. The economic servitude of the married woman who has been married long enough to have lost all opportunity of earning a living, who, despite years of hard work as a wife and mother, has earned nothing that is her very own and who has no income and no savings of her own, means very often on the part of such a woman silent endurance of injustice and wrong. Such a woman has nowhere to go if she leaves her home, and especially if she has to take her children with her. Any social worker will testify to the number of women who have endured indescribable misery and injustice because they have no means at present of escaping from it. The man who is selfish enough to abandon his wife and children often does everything he can to flout the magistrates' court which has fixed meagre allowances for the deserted family. He will pile up arrears. He will sometimes pay off an instalment by serving a prison sentence, which would satisfy the retributory side of the business, if that was what really mattered, but it is no contribution whatever to the maintenance of the wife and child. In my view, it is the duty of the State to look after the helpless, especially the children, whose father, having bred them, is willing and eager that the State should provide for them. But too many feckless parents today park their own just responsibilities on the State, and anything that we can do—and in Clause 1, and in Clause 2 especially, we can do something—to place at least the economic responsibility of marriage and parenthood on the right shoulders, we should do. Paradoxically enough, I believe that Clause 1 can help the man to avoid worse trouble. Some men get so heavily in arrears with their payments that they are faced with a situation from which they cannot possibly extricate themselves except by going to prison. Men get so heavily in arrears that they lose all incentive. They drift from job to job, and they decline morally and become derelicts. Making such a man meet his commitments might save him from that degradation and from getting into an impossible position. A woman suffers when her husband is an irregular payer of the legal amounts which have been charged against him; she can never depend on receiving her money, she cannot order her own affairs properly. Sometimes she borrows when her husband does not pay the separation or affiliation allowance and gets herself more and more into difficulty. Very often she has to go to the National Assistance Board, and I am told by my legal friends that if such a woman gets help from the National Assistance Board and later the husband pays his debts, she does not have to repay it to the National Assistance Board. I know of an interesting case of a man with a good permanent job who would not pay his wife's separation allowance. For a long time she was afraid to go to court for fear of risking his job and pension. Finally, in desperation, she took him to court. He received 90 days' imprisonment, but was released after a short time on payment of the back money that he owed. His employers took him back into work on condition that they paid the separation allowance into court week by week out of his wages. I am told by the court which tried the case that there has been no trouble since. We would be foolish to imagine that the Bill safeguards every case. As the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East, pointed out, we cannot deal with men who float about from job to job, but I am assured by all magistrates' clerks with whom I have discussed this matter that there is a considerable group of men who would be affected by the provisions of Clause 1 and certainly sufficient to warrant its inclusion. I know that there are irresponsible and cruel wives as well as recalcitrant husbands. I think that the safeguard in Clause 1 (1, c), as far as the Bill is concerned, meets that kind of problem. I believe that some time we shall have to look at the whole question of marriage, separation and alimony law to protect the innocent husband against the unscrupulous wife who has made herself a permanent liability and who is herself responsible for breaking up the home; but that does not come within this Bill. I am particularly interested in Clause 2 (3): that is, the protection of the wronged wife as far as her home is concerned. The present state of the law is, indeed, the tied cottage with a vengeance. It is not that so many husbands turn the ex-wife out into the streets or bring the mistress into the house—although they have a perfect legal right to do so, and I understand some of them even do. What more often happens is that the husband deserts the wife and she is left in the house to find that she has no right in law to be there.
I am afraid the hon. Member is wrong. There was a case several years ago, Middleton versus Baldock, when the decision of the court, if I remember correctly, was that, provided the wife was still the wife and had not herself physically left the home, she was entitled to protection as the husband's licensee.
That is not my understanding of the case, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for pointing it out if I am wrong. But if the wife stays in the house she has the feeling that she can be turned out by the returning legal husband. I feel that the landlord's rights should be protected. That is why my right hon. Friend took tremendous pains with the provisos to this Clause.Clause 3 is indeed revolutionary, and I can understand the alarm of the Attorney-General about it. To decent folk it must seem fantastic that such provisions as we envisage in this Clause should need to be made by law, and the imagination boggles at the kind of home which provides the first justification for such provisions. But, again, any social worker in the country can testify to the necessity of establishing the right of a married woman to reasonable maintenance in marriage by her husband. There is more in it than merely safeguarding a married woman from being poor when the family income does not warrant her enduring poverty. The march of economic independence for women is the march towards justice. Single women are much nearer real sex equality than most married women. Married women, earning their own living, are physically, morally and spiritually much nearer to complete equality to the opposite sex than the married woman whose economic status depends entirely upon the good graces of her husband, and this Clause seeks to establish, for the first time, a married woman's right to earn something which is her very own in her own right.
Is it not a fact that it is paid for housekeeping purposes and not paid as profits? She is a sort of trustee for the house and has to buy food with it?
I hesitate to cross swords with a lawyer, but I submit that that is only a quibble. This is the job she is doing, and we are establishing her legal right for payment for the job she is doing.
She will only give it to the mother-in-law.
She probably would not want to give it to her mother-in-law.
My chief interest in this Bill is the children. Throughout the whole debate there have come into my mind pictures, not so much of deserted wives, as deserted children. At present the law makes for them pitifully inadequate provision, and the law has to spend much energy and waste much time trying to secure even the pittances made under separation and affiliation orders.I received, as other hon. Members must have done, quite recently a communication from the National Society of Children's Nurseries, I see there that, in one British county, out of 1,000 children for whom they care in nurseries, 115 were children of unmarried mothers and 168 the children of deserted wives. I would go so far as to say that most juvenile delinquency—as an old schoolmaster I am tempted to say 80 or 90 per cent.—is caused by bad homes. We want a great educational compaign among parents. We want a great moral and spiritual campaign on the value and sacredness of family life and parenthood. Acts of Parliament cannot do that, but Acts of Parliament can and do meet some of the economic injustices caused by social irresponsibility. We can prevent the sins of the fathers falling on the children economically, even if we cannot atone for the spiritual and moral tragedies of separated homes. I believe that in these last years we have moved towards the emancipation of women. In the days before the war the comparative tables of ill-health amongst married women and single women in the country showed that the incidence of ill-health among married women was three times as great as among single women. I believe the National Health Service, in beginning to bring health services to all married women, has done something towards removing one disability from them. I believe in the same way that by paying the Family Allowance to the mother of the household, we have done something to create economic independence on behalf of married women. This Bill is only one stage, and a very imperfect stage, in the march towards the complete emancipation of women. Despite the glorified picture to which the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East referred, 100 years ago in this country the bulk of them were in servitude and bondage. I believe this Bill moves a little forward on the road to emancipation, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having brought it forward.
I am glad to be able to give my voice, as I shall give my vote, in support of this Bill, and to add my respectful congratulation to the right hon. Lady who introduced it. I am quite convinced that all of us, whether we are in support of this Bill or opposed to it, are animated by the same motive, which is to uphold the family as an institution.In recent years we have seen considerable inroads upon the family. War and separation necessarily involved that; and easier divorce, and even the beneficent operations of the State, have caused a weakening of family ties. Most of all a climate of public opinion which does not uphold the family has caused a weakening, and we see in the result, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) said so rightly, a weakening of the fabric of society and particularly an increase in juvenile delinquency. Because I believe this Bill will advance the family as an institution, I give it my support. We must remember, without any sentimentality, that at the centre of the family is the housewife, and it is because in this Bill we advance the status of the housewife that I believe it is a valuable Bill. It advances the status of the housewife in comparison with women who go out to work and single women. So far, for half a century and longer, we have been making it more attractive for women to take part in general economic activities. We have been making it less attractive for women to perform their vital social function of raising a family. This Bill does something to correct that unbalance, and I believe that by doing that it will strengthen the family as an institution and thus strengthen the general fabric of society. It has been said that this Bill does not pay any regard to men's wrongs. It does not purport to do that. The fact that certain anomalies now exist in the law with regard to married men is no reason why we should not deal with what are admitted wrongs of married women. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) said that it is the duty of this House to hold a balance between husband and wife. That is so in general, but not in this particular case where we are dealing with a wronged wife and a wrong-doing husband whose conduct is in question. It is no part of our duty to hold the balance between them. On the contrary, we must see that the wrongs that married women suffer—for that is the premise on which the whole of this Bill is based—are righted. If I may say so with great respect to my hon. Friend, all his criticisms of what might be done under this Bill and of the abuses that might take place utterly disregard the presence in every single Clause of the words "just and reasonable." In each case the court is only empowered to do what is just, or what is just and reasonable. The court is given that discretion, which most courts in this country already have in many matters, and I do not doubt that they will continue to perform it to the best of their ability and with substantial justice as they always do. My only criticism—not a criticism of this Bill, but a criticism of a necessary shortcoming in the operation of the Bill—relates to the courts which have to operate it. Although I agreed with most of the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester. North-West (Mr. Janner), I could not entirely agree with him that we have found an ideal tribunal in courts of summary jurisdiction to deal with this matter. On the other hand, it is the best that we have. I hope that in time, particularly when the Morton Commission have considered the matter, they will propose a system of domestic tribunals—a hierarchy of domestic tribunals and specialist tribunals which can deal with these and cognate problems. I remember the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) saying, in the debate on the Judicial Salaries Act, that he thought it extremely reprehensible that a court of minor criminal jurisdiction should have to deal with these domestic problems, and I must say that my forensic experience, such as it is, entirely bears out what he told us from the wealth of his official and magisterial experience. We may in time evolve a far better tribunal than we have here, but this is the tribunal that we have at the moment. It has evolved its own technique in domestic matters. It sits largely in private. It has an extremely experienced service of probation officers whose sole task is to bring together, so far as they can, couples who are at variance, and although it is an imperfect tribunal, it does its best. It is the tribunal that we have at the moment. However, I suggest that its necessary shortcomings may be a reason for postponing the measure which is proposed in Clause 3. If one had a system of domestic tribunals rather than a summary criminal court to deal with the matter, many of the objections which have been voiced to Clause 3 would disappear. Perhaps, with that introduction, I should now turn to Clause 1. Clause 1 is only a matter of machinery. It gives married women no substantive rights that they do not have at the moment. All that it says is that a woman who has been wronged in a way that the legislature has said gives her a right in the courts—and has not only been wronged in that way but has gone to the court and secured an order in her favour—should not be deprived of the benefit of that order by the recalcitrance of her husband. We all know that there are very many cases in which a husband who has wronged his wife will do whatever he can to prevent her from securing any financial benefits against him. Many orders which are obtained by wives are entirely stultified because the husband takes steps to evade his obligations. The only remedy that is open to a wife is to take her husband before the same court and get him sent to prison. As was said by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test that does not provide for her maintenance or that of the children. It is a barren remedy. The remedy which is given by Clause 1 of this Bill is quite in keeping with the general tenor of the law. There are many remedies which are provided by the law to aid the execution of a judgment. In many cases the law gives a right to anyone who has obtained a judgment to go against a source of income. It does not, however, give the right which is sought to be given by Clause 1 of this Bill. It does not give a married woman the right to go against her husband's salary or wages—which is, after all, the source to which she would normally look for her own maintenance—in order that her judgment shall be of value to her. There is nothing extraordinary or revolutionary about this. It is part of the law of Scotland and part of the ordinary administration of the Army. It was introduced in the war and it did not cause that extraordinary collapse of morale which hon. Members who have opposed this Bill have pictured. One would have expected that from the time of the introduction of compulsory stoppages in pay the. Army would have turned from a victorious army to an army in rout. No such disastrous result occurred. There is nothing extraordinary in the machinery of this Bill. It is not really extraordinary that the employer should be asked to co-operate in seeing that his employees' families are maintained. The employer already deducts Income Tax from his employees' pay on behalf of the State. Is there anything really revolutionary in seeing that he is ordered by the court to ensure that the families of his employees—the future citizens of the State—are properly maintained out of the source to which they are entitled to look for maintenance, namely, the husband's earnings?
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman draw any distinction whatever between a compulsory deduction on behalf of the State—which applies to everybody and the particular circumstances of which are known to the employer—and a matter in which the employer has no interest other than that of an ordinary citizen, of which he has no knowledge as to the rights or wrongs, and in which he has to apply a deduction to this person and to this person alone?
That is a distinction, but the important thing is that all the employer is being asked or ordered to do is to carry out an order of the court. The court has already said that a wronged wife and the children, who suffer most in these matters, must be maintained. Surely it is not asking very much of an employer to co-operate towards the maintenance of future citizens.What is more, the employers are already brought into these matters almost inevitably. I understand very well that there are considerable apprehensions amongst working men and their responsible representatives that the domestic affairs of an employee should not militate against him in the conduct of his work. That is absolutely right. But it already happens. Every day, in the courts of summary jurisdiction, when a wife summons her husband for maintenance or for a separation order, the husband comes along, or is ordered to come along, with a statement from his employer as to his earnings, and so the employers are already, as a matter of ordinary machinery, brought into these matters. This is not introducing some extraordinary innovation whereby the employers, for the first time, learn of the domestic difficulties of their employees. All that it is doing is to see that their help is enlisted, so that a woman who is already suffering a matrimonial wrong, and who has suffered a further wrong in being deprived of the benefit she could get from the court, should not suffer still further wrong. I respectfully submit to the House that, while understanding very well some of the difficulties which my hon. Friends have pointed out, this is an extremely valuable Measure which will right a wrong which exists. The mere fact that it does not deal with every case of this kind is neither here nor there. There are a substantial number of husbands in steady employment who are determined to defeat the rights of their wives, and that is a sufficient justification for giving a Second Reading to this Bill. If I may pass to Clause 2, in my respectful submission it enshrines and gives expression to an extremely important principle of ordinary human existence. In the majority of families, the wife, during many years of her life devotes herself to the raising of her children and to the running of the home. That division of labour releases her husband for the ordinary economic affairs of life, so that he is enabled by it to earn wares, and frequently to make savings. It is purely because of that division of labour that the husband is enabled to do so and that fact should be recognised. There is no reason in equity, as far as I can see, why the law says that any money earned or any savings should belong entirely to the husband. Morally they belong to the whole family. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General mentioned two cases concerning football pools and savings out of housekeeping allowances. But the law goes even further. There was a case very shortly after the war in which the wife had made savings, not out of her housekeeping allowance, but out of the separation allowance paid to her while her husband was in the Forces. If ever in equity there was money which belonged to the wife or the family, surely, it was that money, and yet the law, the history of which goes back to the days when husband and wife were legally identified, says that the money belonged to the husband exclusively, and that the house, instalments of the purchase of which the money was used to pay, belonged to the husband. I submit to the House that that is quite wrong. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), said that this Bill was wrongly entitled the Women's Disabilities Bill, but if ever there existed a legal disability of women, surely it is that, if she saves money herself, it does not belong to her, but to her husband. I suggest to the House that not only is the Bill quite correctly entitled, but there is a real disability there which should be put right.
Is my hon. and learned Friend suggesting the proposition, in law, that if a wife saves money, it belongs to her husband, without qualification?
Yes, I certainly do. If a wife saves money out of her housekeeping allowance, or out of her separation allowance which is made to her by the Services while her husband is away—I am glad to put this matter right if I did not state it clearly before—that belongs in law to her husband; but that, surely, cannot be supported in equity. If it cannot be supported in equity, it should not be supported in law, and the law should be amended in that respect.Not only does this Clause, in my submission, give expression to an important principle of justice, but it is not really so revolutionary as, on occasions in this House, has been pretended. The courts have existing power to vary marriage settlements on the break-up of a marriage. Under that power the court can order how property which belongs to one party shall go—that the property which has been settled on the husband or wife shall be paid to the other spouse or to the children. This Bill does no more in my submission, than enlarge that principle into the ordinary lives of working people, and it is really no new invasion in the law at all. Similarly, the courts have already power on the break-up of a marriage to order that the guilty wife shall settle property which she owns on behalf of her husband and the children. It is exactly the same principle. The court deals with property as equity demands, and that is all that this Clause says should be done now, although it extends it into a different stratum of society. This Clause gives power to the courts to deal with property, which has formerly been enjoyed by both spouses, as equity demands, as is just and reasonable. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) suggested that it might benefit the guilty party. That leaves out of account entirely the provision that the court must do what is "just and reasonable." No guilty party here is likely to be benefited so long as the court performs the duties enjoined upon it by Statute. I respectfully suggest that this Clause is a valuable one. I myself would go further. I see no reason why the principle to which it gives expression should come into play only on the break-up of a marriage. I see no reason why savings which are made by a husband or a wife during the marriage should not belong to them equally during the marriage, as well as on the break-up of the marriage. That has important results, of course, when it comes to the death of one of the parties. We may find that the husband, who has made substantial savings as a result of his wife's self-sacrifice and devotion, is able to leave away from her the whole of that amount. Some mitigation has recently been given, but it is a very small one, and I should like to see the principle to which this Clause gives expression brought into play while the marriage continues, and not only on its break-up. There is one small point—perhaps, a Committee point—on Clause 2. It comes into play on the break-up of a marriage or on judicial separation or on the restitution of conjugal rights, or on a maintenance order under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts. There was recently introduced into the matrimonial law of this country a very valuable provision whereby a woman whose husband has been guilty of wilful neglect to maintain her can secure an order for periodical payments for her maintenance. It saves the cumbrous and archaic procedure for restitution of conjugal rights. I hope that the right hon. Lady will consider an extension of the provisions of this Clause to cover proceedings under Section 23 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, which provides for periodic payments to the wife whose husband has been guilty of wilful neglect to maintain her. I come now to Clause 3, on which I must say I have some misgivings. That is not on the ground that there is not here a wrong to be remedied. There are many cases in which there is, not necessarily a wicked and ill-intentioned husband, but a feckless husband; a husband who is fundamentally devoted to his family but who, out of fecklessness, will spend money which ought to go to his wife and family on gambling or drink. If we could devise machinery less formal in atmosphere than the ordinary court of common law to adjudicate between husband and wife in such a case, and ensure that a reasonable proportion of the man's salary or wages went to the support of his wife, then, in my respectful submission, this Clause would perform a valuable purpose, and many marriages would thereby be saved. My only doubt is because I cannot feel that a court of summary jurisdiction, a court of minor criminal jurisdiction, is by any means the ideal court for adjudicating between husband and wife on maintenance while the parties are living together. Perhaps the right hon. Lady might consider that in Committee. I suggest, on the whole, that this is a valuable Bill, that it rights admitted wrongs, and that it should be given a Second Reading.
I have to ask the permission of the House to speak again, and I do ask the House to give me that permission to take the unusual course of speaking again, quite shortly, at this stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) has the next Private Member's Bill which seeks to secure certain human rights for the whole world population, whereas my Bill seeks to secure certain human rights for only a very small category—for the housewives of Britain. When I found I was lucky in the Ballot I said to my hon. Friend that, if possible. I should be only too pleased to give him a little time, and it would be rather churlish of me to deny him the opportunity of introducing his Bill when the principles contained in both our Bills are very similar.First, I wish to say a word to the Attorney-General. In my most optimistic moments I had not hoped that the novel proposals I have expounded today would be accepted with such sympathy and understanding as they have been by the Attorney-General. For 14 years in this House I have balloted for a place to introduce a Private Member's Bill. I was told that I could approach it in two ways: that I could either address myself to some innocuous Measure which all the House would accept with open arms, or I could use my opportunity on something which I thought was important but which would provoke controversy and which perhaps I would have not the slightest chance of getting passed into law. Well, being a woman who has never been accustomed to the easy way—no woman politician ever has—I accepted the second alternative, and the House can appreciate how I feel today after the Attorney-General's speech, in which he said that, although he realised there was a difficult time in front of me, he recognised that there were in this Bill certain principles which could be accepted, and he therefore recommended that the House should give it a Second Reading. I ask those hon. Gentlemen opposite who have put their names to the two Amendments to reconsider their position in the light of the Attorney-General's attitude. I do not think the Attorney-General would say that any lawyer in his position can afford to be a revolutionary. His attitude has been dictated by the situation in this country affecting the proposals I have tried to expound. No doubt he has been advised by judges and magistrates that the time may come when legislation along these lines will be necessary. May I say a word to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), but before I do so, I should like to apologise to the lawyers. I had no idea, until an hon. Friend told me that I had been "savage," that I had been particularly unkind to lawyers. What I was saying to them as a politician was that the lawyers who had decided to oppose the Bill would, quite rightly, use their legal knowledge in order that the points they made would be more effective. No doubt, if I had had a legal education I would have done the same. On every possible occasion in this House I use my medical education and knowledge to emphasise a point. Therefore, I anticipated their approach, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South would say that I was wrong in my anticipation. He quite rightly pointed out many procedural objections to the Bill, but he did at the same time say that he approved of Clause 1.
I said that I would approve of Clause 1 going to Second Reading; that is not quite the same thing.
I think that he would agree that the procedural objections, which no doubt could be upheld by many other lawyers, could be put right on the Committee stage, and I ask him, if he is not willing to listen to me, to listen to the Attorney-General and allow this Bill to go to the Committee stage where these things can be thoroughly thrashed out.When I was talking about the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), I said that I had looked at him for many years and I was not adverse to his face; so he must not feel too sore about what I said. I agree that he has been identified with that part of the women's movement which for many years has demanded equal pay for women. Here, again, I appeal to his sense of justice. We have had the highest Law Officer in the House saying that this Bill could be examined on the Committee stage, and he has given me due warning. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said that the Attorney-General's acceptance was a little icy. Well, that is the proper legal approach, and the approach of some men who do not want to encourage me too much. I am prepared to accept his terms and conditions. I recognise that this is a gentleman's and lady's agreement today, and I recognise as a politician that if I cannot get the whole loaf today, at least some bread will be very acceptable. After all, we British are masters of compromise, and if I succeed in some of those reforms which very many people regard as revolutionary, I shall be satisfied. Therefore, I appeal to my opponents to consider the advice of the Attorney-General and allow this Bill to go to Committee. My final word is to my supporters. I am very proud to think that I did not canvass on both sides of the House for support. When the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) seconded my Motion, I had only met him one minute before in the Inner Lobby when he said that he was going to support me. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) said: "I want to back this Bill," and the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) said: "May I put my name to this Bill?" I did not want to compromise any man in this House and, therefore, my satisfaction today is great. I think that hon. Members will agree that the opportunity of getting a Second Reading on a Private Member's Bill of this nature is very unusual, and I want to express my gratitude. I wonder if hon. Members realise that by doing this, this day will represent a milestone in that rather long and dreary road which women "righters," as Sir John Buller called them, have to traverse. When I was on the other side of the House as Minister of Food, I had the great honour of piloting a Bill through this House which would ensure that all the milk drunk by the children in this country would be pure and safe. I had to remind hon. Members that 2,000 children a year die from T.B. milk in this country today. I said then that that was my finest hour. This afternoon I can only say that today almost approaches that hour.
I must apologise to the House for not having been present throughout this debate. It is for that reason that I am cutting my remarks short. If by any chance I repeat anything which has already been said, I shall do so in all innocence. I have heard what the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) has just said, but I cannot help realising the very great difficulties represented by this Bill as it stands.The right hon. Lady referred to the objections of the lawyers. I am one of the people from whom apparently she expects objection. But we have seen, not the theory of this type of legislation but the practice of it, and with that in mind I should like to pass a few remarks on the contents of the Bill. The first and second Clauses relate to the enforcement of orders in courts of summary jurisdiction and in the divorce courts. We all know how difficult it is to enforce these orders, because one has such an unwilling debtor. But will this Bill make the enforcement of these orders any more possible or practicable? The powers that the courts of summary jurisdiction at the moment have of enforcing these orders are extremely wide and extremely powerful, to put it extremely mildly. Where a man has had an order made against him and he has not kept up payments, the court can have him brought before it and there and then without any further notice commit him to prison for a very long time. Is it to be said that a person who is prepared to incur that risk will be any more frightened of the fact that a notice is served on his employer? A person who happens to be a few weeks or a few months in arrears is brought before the court and if he is prepared to keep up the payments, the court is usually very lenient. But there is the very real threat that he goes to prison if he fails to pay. If he is a wilful defaulter, all he need do when notice is served on his employer is change his job; and I cannot help thinking that his moving from job to job will be a great deal quicker than the powers of the courts to serve an order upon one employer after another. Nor do I think employers will welcome this type of order, which will increase their over-burdened accountancy and bookkeeping system, and possibly impose some penalty upon them if they fail to keep up an order of the court to which they are no party and in respect of which they have no interest at all. Under Clause 2, on a party separating—and I use the usual expression—the tenancy of premises can be vested by the court by arbitrary action in the wife, if the court thinks fit. It may very well be that between husband and wife that may be a proper thing to do. But the effect upon an employer of having an order served upon him is no more onerous than the effect of serving an order upon a landlord who is forced to take a tenant whom he might consider undesirable and whom, very probably, he does not want and upon whom he cannot enforce the obligations of tenancy with the effect that he could enforce them on a person he himself might have chosen as a tenant. I may be told that under the modern trend of legislation that is going on in many other cases, and I am well aware that that is so, but is that a reason for extending what is an undesirable trend of legislation? Clause 3 is an entirely novel and new theory, and, speaking again entirely for myself, I hold the strongest objection to it. So far we have heard only of couples who are separated by order of the court or by order of the Divorce Courts, but now we come to people who are still living together and yet apparently one party can take proceedings against the other person with whom he or she is still cohabiting. It is going to be very difficult to enforce this, and through this Bill it is going to make divorce more frequent in this country than it was before—and that is already saying too much. If a dispute arises between a husband and a wife through this Bill because many husbands are keeping their wives short of what they should receive, is it going to make relations between them any better if the wife can take a husband to the police court and the family history be thrashed out before a bench of magistrates? I do not think that tea or dinner in that house that evening is going to be a very pleasant meal. I do not think that when the case is fought over again, with the usual charges of perjury thrown loosely over the meal table, the relations between the parties are going to be any more connubial. That is the kind of thing which is going to happen because of this Bill. Then we have the service of the summons. Apparently the wife can serve the summons herself, at breakfast time. At the court she will have to prove proper service to the magistrate, and she will be able to tell him that she served the summons with a boiled egg in one hand, while in the other she held the summons. The magistrate would have to accept that as being proper service. It is hardly likely that there would be an amicable breakfast that morning if the husband knew that he would shortly go to the court where the family history and the income would be gone into. I do not think that this entirely novel branch of the law is desirable at present, and it will lead to a further breaking up of family life in this country. For these reasons, I am completely opposed to this Bill because it is unworkable, impracticable and one which would have a great effect on the life of this country, if ever it were passed into law. While acknowledging that the right hon. Lady's sentiments are highly commendable, with the greatest respect to her I say that she has gone perhaps too far on this occasion. If she is lucky in the draw in future, as I hope she will be, and if she produces a Bill on the same lines though with a great deal less force, and if she will avoid inflicting hardship upon third parties and the breaking up of family life in this country, on that occasion I shall be very pleased to support her, but not the principles that are expressed in this Bill.
In the second speech which she has addressed to the House, the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) took a rather different line and spoke in a rather different manner from the way in which she addressed us when she moved the Second Reading. Even those who have considerable misgivings about the Bill were greatly moved by what she said, and particularly by the personal references she made to herself and to her good fortune in succeeding in finding a place in the Ballot. I am not a signatory to the Amendment for the rejection, and I speak for myself alone in saying that I am not at all certain, in view of the course that the debate has taken and the various points that have been made, that it would be wise to allow the Bill to go to Committee.A great many things have been said, some wise and some unwise, in the course of the debate, but one point has stood out. There is, particularly among those of us who have any connection at all with the legal side of the matter and upon whom to a certain extent the operation of the Bill would rest, a certain amount of misgiving whether or not the Bill is a workable proposition. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) said, when he moved the Amendment, probably the Bill could not be so improved in Committee that it would be workable. The House ought to consider whether it would be wise to proceed with the Bill now. In the speech in which she moved the Second Reading, the right hon. Lady had some rather sharp things to say about those of us who are interested in the legal side of the matter. In one passage she indicated that she thought that most of us were anti-feminist and that we should camouflage our antifeminist feelings by a host of legal points. I am glad to say that by the time she made her second address, she seemed to have realised that most of the points put forward by lawyers have been practical ones based upon experience of the matrimonial laws of this country and likely to be of use to the House. In this Second Reading debate we are not concerned with general principles of whether or not it is right to give married women various types of right in these circumstances, or whether or not marriages can be made more happy, or unhappy marriages can be restored. We are concerned with the Bill now before the House. If the right hon. Lady had wished to have these matters discussed, it might have been better had she sought the opportunity of a Private Member's Motion. She would have had an extremely wide debate and we should not have been closely tied to definite legislative proposals such as are contained in the Bill. The Bill has been badly drafted. I am not going to take up a vast number of drafting points, but there are grave deficiencies and a number of omissions which ought to have been covered somehow, even in the first draft. I do not like the way in which the Bill positively bristles with penal provisions, saddling people who happen to break them with fines or imprisonment. It is a very bad idea to introduce into matrimonial law penal provisions of this kind. Now may I turn to a consideration of the points which appear to me to be important and which have emerged in our discussions of the various Clauses? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, I can see a great deal in Clause 1. It tries to solve a difficulty which anyone with any experience of this kind of case is constantly running up against, namely, the man who has a matrimonial court order made against him and persistently falls in arrear with his payments. The unfortunate woman, perhaps with children, cannot manage to make ends meet because the husband is in receipt of an income which he is not compelled to surrender to her, unless the wife chooses to go to the court and gets an order to put him in prison, which automatically discharges the arrears and does nobody any good. The Bill seeks to place an obligation on the employer of the husband to make a statutory deduction from his wages. I do not think that is the right way to go about it. When the right hon. Lady moved the Second Reading of this Bill, she unwittingly misled the House on one point by saying that this was a provision of the law of Scotland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley) later explained that provision. As I understood his explanation, it is more in the nature of a provision of the rules of court and the general rules which surround what we call in England "distress" and what they call in Scotland "diligence," and not a statutory provision such as we are asked in this Bill to incorporate in the law of England. It would have been better to try to make it possible for a woman who has a matrimonial court order in her favour but who cannot recover arrears, to go against the property and, if necessary, the income of the defaulting husband. I cannot think it is a wise thing, for other reasons which I will give in a moment, to place an onerous obligation upon the employer of the husband which may have other consequences, some of which have been mentioned by previous speakers. I think that the additional expense and trouble and worry to the employer is something we ought to take into consideration. If a man falls into arrear through no fault of his own—if, for example, he is ill and cannot keep up the full payments—then the wife has an immediate right to go to the court and the court can thereupon make an order such as is envisaged by Clause 1. The risk then is that the employer may say, "This man is a confounded nuisance. Now I have to make a statutory deduction from his wages every week. Why should I go to that trouble? It would be easier to give him the sack." Some employers might easily say that. In consequence, the wife would be even worse off because, if her husband lost his employment and could not get another job quickly, her maintenance would be cut out straight away. Clause 2 has not come under quite such heavy fire as I had expected. On the Paper there is the following Motion in the name of myself and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) as follows:
Had I had the opportunity of moving that Motion, Sir, I should have said that my hon. and learned Friend and myself are more concerned with the second part of Clause 2 than with the first. The first part of Clause 2 deals with the right of the wife to share in the savings of the marriage instead of their being entirely the property of the husband, as is now the case in law. We agree that is a good idea. It is the kind of disability with which this Bill should deal. It shines like a good deed in a naughty Bill. However, I do not like the remainder of Clause 2. It cannot be beyond the memories of hon. Members that just over a year ago there came before this House the Deserted Wives Bill in which there was much the same proposition as we have in the latter part of Clause 2. The remarks I made then, and the views then expressed by hon. Members, are equally applicable to the provision in this Bill. I cannot think that it is right or just by Statute to impose upon a perfectly innocent party—namely, the landlord of the premises in which these people have been living—an entirely different person as tenant. What the second part of the Clause seeks to do is to say that if the husband and wife have been living in a house and have had an upset or a disagreement, and if the husband has left the wife or she has left the husband, thereupon the wife can get a separation and maintenance order from the magistrates' court—not from the High Court—and that that court can have the right of vesting in the wife the tenancy with that third party: namely, the landlord. In other words, the landlord has pushed upon him someone with whom he never originally contracted for the tenancy of the house, someone who is in a worse position than the husband—the original tenant—for meeting the rent and other obligations. I know that there are provisions for the husband—After Second Reading of Women's Disabilities Bill, to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 2.
Does not the hon. Member appreciate that the statutory tenant, under the Rent Restrictions Acts, is in exactly the same position?
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a little wrong. That is not so, as I pointed out in answer to a point made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King). The position, shortly, is that if there is a statutory tenancy of a house vested in a husband and he leaves it, but leaves his wife in actual physical possession, the landlord cannot on that ground alone—namely, the departure of the husband—turn out the wife. I quoted Middleton v. Baldock in that connection. It is a different position, of course, if the wife leaves the husband or there is some other ground for possession apart from the departure of the husband. That is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has omitted.
No. I meant the circumstances where the husband who is the tenant dies and, under the Rent Restrictions Acts, the wife becomes the statutory tenant.
I am sorry. I had not appreciated the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind. I concede that there is an advantage there. Incidentally, it is a provision of the law that is not at all popular with a great many people—
Only with landlords.
for another reason entirely—not just the usual landlord and tenant business—and that is that as the Rent Restrictions Acts have developed, it is often extremely difficult to get out not only that particular succeeding tenant but, eventually, a whole series of succeeding tenants.
I think that my hon. Friend is wrong. If the widow takes over the statutory tenancy there is an end to it when she dies.
I think that my hon. Friend is wrong. There has been a recent case about this. Perhaps it would be easier if, when the debate is over, the lawyers argued it out among themselves.
We want it settled in this world and not in the next.
In what way does the hon. Member think that the landlord is hardly done by? Surely, he would have his usual remedies for getting rid of the tenant who could not afford to pay the rent?
It is not always just that point. The difficulty I see is that the landlord has substituted on him by statute somebody to whom he never originally agreed to let his premises, and somebody who, moreover, is probably in a much worse position to be able to pay the rent and to observe the requirements of the lease, as to repairs and all the other things, than the original tenant. We have got to consider all these points.The right hon. Lady is asking the House to approve the Bill, and we ought
Division No. 104.]
|Ayles, W. H.||Hastings, S.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W.)||Heald, Sir Lionel||Pannell, Charles|
|Brockway, A. F.||Heath, Edward||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Reeves, J.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Ross, William|
|Butcher, H. W.||Houghton, Douglas||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hylton Foster, H. B. H.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Deer, G.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||King, Dr. H. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Lindgren, G. S.||Wade, D. W.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||McLeavy, F.||Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Mikardo, Ian||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Dr. Summerskill and|
|Mr. Michael Stewart.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Black, C. W.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Partridge, E.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Robertson, Sir David|
|Brains, B. R.||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)||Teeling, W.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Jenkins, R. C. D. (Dulwich)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Crowder, John E. (Finchley)||Lucas, P. S. (Brentford)||Mr. Hay and Mr. Ronald Bell.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||McAdden, S. J.|
to say that these are some of the considerations that ought to be borne in mind.
May I have an answer? Does not the landlord have his remedy as against the tenant who fails to carry out the conditions of the tenancy or the lease?
I have tried to explain my point of view to the hon. Lady, and I am sorry if she does not understand it.I cannot possibly agree with the principle which is enshrined in Clause 3. The promoters of the Bill have tried to go a little too far in its implications. We cannot legislate for every single activity of our citizens, and it is very undesirable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, said, that we should interfere in an existing marriage, because the risk is that we should exacerbate any had feelings which may already exist by allowing one party to have this very big power placed in her hands. One feels sympathetic, but I cannot help but think that if power of that sort is placed in the wife's hands—
rose in her place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
Question put, "That the Question be now put."
The House divided: Ayes, 54; Noes, 20.
Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 30 ( Majority for Closure); and it being after Four o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.