§ Not amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. F. C. THOMSON
I, and I think my hon. Friends who sit an this side of the House, approve of the Bill and are anxious to see it passed into law. We think that it has some valuable features. The first. Clause gives to the Justices and Sheriffs power to make payments by instalments in cases where arrears of rent are sued for in the Small Debt Court condiditional on punctual payment of current rent, and that, I think, is a valuable provision. Owing to the lack of that r over, the Sheriff or Justice of the Small Debt Court has in many cases been unwilling to grant payment by instalment. Therefore, the first Clause of the Bill, I think, effects a definite improvement in the law. If we come to the second Clause, there, again, I find myself in approval. The Clause raises the limit of exemption of wages from arrest-meat from 20s. to 35s. per week When one considers that 20s. was fixed 60 years ago, and when one remembers the rise in the cost of living since then, I am of opinion that the 35s. which the Bill proposes to enact as the limit is a reasonable figure, and I therefore support it.
It will be within the recollection of those who were on the Scottish Committee that some of us proposed an Amendment to the effect that this provision of the Bill should only take effect in respect of arrestments used for debts contracted subsequent to the passing of the Bill. The original Act of 1870 did not apply to contracts entered into prior to its passing, and we thought, as a point of principle, that it was right that the same consideration should be applied in the present Bill, and that to affect engagements entered into before the passing of the Bill was open to objection. We thought this was an important point of principle, though it would not have much 1498 effect in practice, because, as it was pointed out, the Bill has been printed some considerable time, since the month of March, and we also know that by the Small Debt Act of 1837 it is enacted that workmen's wages shall so far as necessary for their subsistence be deemed not to be liable to arrestment. At the same time this House should be jealous of retrospective legislation interfering with contracts. I do not desire to detain the House longer on this Bill, which I think makes a reasonable improvement in the law of Scotland.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I have agreed to accept the limit of 35s. per week, it is true, hut I am not satisfied, having regard to the time the first Act was passed, that an increase of 15s. represents anything like the increase in the cost of living that has since taken place. I think that an exceedingly good case could have been made out for an increase to well over £2, but we were anxious to have something done immediately in order to help the poor people who are in this position, and therefore we accepted this compromise of 35s. a week. I would have been glad if the Secretary for Scotland could have incorporated in his Bill a Clause raising the amount for poinding purposes. At present it is £10, and I would like to have seen incorporated a provision which would have increased that amount. The hon. and learned Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. F. C. Thomson) stated that some of the Sheriffs were willing to grant payment by instalments.
§ Mr. THOMSON
under the Rent Restrictions Art in the Sheriff Court Sheriffs have most freely granted, in Glasgow and elsewhere, payment by instalments. The point my right hon. Friend desires to achieve by this Bill is that the same facilities should be given in the Small Debt Court as are exercised in the Sheriff Court.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am aware that runny of the Sheriffs are anxious to allow debtors to pay by instalments, but I rather inferred that the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that the Sheriffs were against doing it.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
This is a small measure of justice to these poor people. It will go some little way towards helping them in their trying conditions. The Secretary for Scotland does not seem to appreciate the fact that the Bill does not touch the very fringe of the evictions trouble. I would ask the Secretary for Scotland not to let this Measure end his efforts in this direction. There is a great and crying problem to which I would ask his attention. The Bill does some small justice to these poor people, but it does not touch the fringe of the evictions problem, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to try to get an even bigger measure of justice, for I am sure that most hon. Members will agree it is a crying scandal that these things should occur in civilised community.
The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)
I do not think there is any necessity for me to say much about this Measure. I am glad it is meeting with such a large measure of acceptance in all parts of the House. Only three points of substance, as far as I can ascertain, have been raised. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. F. C. Thomson) evidently has the idea that there is a slight tendency to retrospective legislation in one part of the Bill. I think we thrashed that matter out in Committee, and I need say no more about it. My hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division of Glasgow (Mr. Buchanan) has suggested that this Bill does not touch in any way a problem which affects the poorest of these people, seeing that they can be as freely evicted under it as they could have been before it was brought in. I want to say I profoundly disagree with that. The working out or the Bill will, I believe, have the effect of making it more difficult for the poorest sections of the community to be evicted.
My hon. Friend seems to forget that the unatttachable figure embodied in this Bill—the amount of money that is unattachable—is the maximum, whereas under the old Act it was the minimum. Under the old Act if it were proved that a necessitous family required for normal maintenance more 1500 than 20s., it was within the power of the Sheriff to grant a higher sum than 20s. I think the fact is that most of the people did not know that that was the law, and therefore did not claim the increase. All I have to say, in conclusion, is that I think my hon. Friend had better see how this law works out before he begins to prophesy. I thank hon. Members for the favourable reception they have given the Bill and I hope they will pass its Third Reading forthwith.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.