HC Deb 07 May 1924 vol 173 cc544-7

Order for Second Reading read.


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

8.0 P.M.

The Bill is introduced for the purpose of assisting in overcoming difficulties in connection with recent cases. It has been found less difficult to get eviction in certain cases under the Small Debt Acts than under the Rent Restrictions Act, and a considerable number of cases, particularly in the West of Scotland, have been taken under the Small Debt Act instead of under the Rent Restrictions Act. That has caused a great amount of inconvenience and hardship to a section of the community. This small amending Bill seeks, if possible, to put that right. As regards Clause 1, the position is that Sheriffs and Justices of the Peace have, respectively, discretion under the Small Debt (Scotland) Act, 1837, and the Justices of the Peace Small Debt (Scotland) Act, 1S25, to direct payment by instalment in small debt cases in any small debt Court. Where the debt is for arrears of rent, there is a difficulty in the way of exercising the discretion owing to the lack of power to make the concession of payment by instalments conditional upon the payment of current rent, a course which is open to be adopted under the Rent Restrictions Act. It is obvious that, without such a condition, an order for the payment of arrears by instalments would be ineffective. In the Sheriff Small Debt Court in Glasgow there has grown up, on this account, a practice of exercising discretion in cases of decree for debt which is arrears of rent, and strong representation has been made to me that there should be a uniform practice of exercising the discretion in the large number of cases of arrears of rent which are now being taken at these Courts. In view of the hardship which may result from a decree for immediate payment of a substantial sum, the exercise of discretionary power rests with the Sheriff or Justice. This removal to another Court is regarded as an obstacle to its wider application.

Clause 2 seeks to change the Small Debt Act in respect of the amount of money that cannot be attached from the wages of the workers. Under the Small Debt (Scotland) Act, 1837, the wages of labourers regarded as necessary for subsistence are not liable to arrestment, and by the Wages Arrestment Limitation (Scotland) Act, 1870, the wages of a labourer, in so far as they do not exceed 20s. a week, are rendered unarrestable. The surplus over 20s. remains arrestable as before the passing of the Act. If, therefore, it can be shown that the surplus over 20s., or any part of it, is necessary for the subsistence pf the debtor, the benefit of the exemption conferred by the Act of 1837 can still be claimed for such surplus, or part of such surplus. But inquiry is necessitated and the delay resulting is apt to involve hardship, and, having regard to the alteration in the value of money since 1870, it is proposed in Clause 2 to raise the limit of wages which are not arrestable to 35s. per week. The reform dealt with in Clause 2 of this Bill is long overdue. If it were fair that 20s. in 1870 should be unarrestable for debt, then with the change in the value of money and the increased cost of living as compared with that time, surely it is reasonable that it should be raised to the figure I have placed in the Bill. I hope that the House will give me the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, as it seeks to remedy a grievance that is imposing very great hardship on considerable sections of our people.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir JOHN GILMOUR

I do not, in any sense, rise to obstruct or delay the passage of this Bill. Indeed, having considered its terms and being aware of the difficulties which exist to-day in Scotland for many people in meeting the calls made upon them in regard to the payment of rent, I think all parties in this House are agreed that something of this kind is desirable and necessary. With regard to Clause 1, that appears to me to be expressed in a very clear manner. But I would like to ask something about Clause 2. At first sight it is perfectly clear to most people that the fact that the amount was settled so long ago makes it certain that some alteration in it is necessary at the present time. I conclude the Government have carefully considered this matter and taken upon themselves the responsibility for this increase. I have had certain representations made to me by various interests, to the effect that the sum of 35s. in this Clause is excessive. That perhaps is a Committee point. It may well be that, when we come to the Committee stage, something further might be said on that matter. The representations which were made were, I understand, from those who are in the habit of receiving payment for goods by instalments. No doubt, it is a matter of opinion whether that system is, or is not, open to some objections. It is clear, however, that this is a matter about which some reservation of mind must be kept, and it must be considered open to those of us who are interested in this matter to raise it on the Committee stage. With regard to the general purpose of this Bill, I wish to say, not only in my own behalf but on behalf of my friends who have considered this matter, that we are entirely in favour of the reform, and will do nothing to put any obstacles in the way of the further passage of this Bill.


May I, in the first place, thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) for kindly supporting this Measure? This Bill possibly affects a poorer section of the community than any Bill which this House is likely to pass. The amount provided for in the Bill errs on the conservative side. It might well have been put at £2. I took the trouble to-day of looking up the Act which this Bill seeks to alter. It was passed in 1870. I found that the average workman's wage in Glasgow district then, for an ordinary labouring man, was from 12s. to 16s. To-day the average wage paid to a similar type of workman ranges from 35s. to £2 10s. Taking the ratio of increased wages, and the increased cost of living, the amount in the Bill should be increased to at least £2. Shortly after the end of the War, a case came before the Court of Session in Scotland dealing with alimony for children. Before it reached the Court of Session, the Sheriff decided that, in view of the increased cost of living, the alimony for a child should be increased, and judgment was given for, I think, almost double the amount. That view was taken also by the Court of Session Judges afterwards. We have uniform opinion, both legal and lay, on this question. I learn also to-day that the house factors of Glasgow, to whom I have been generally opposed, state they are not going to oppose this Measure, not even the amount They think that 35s. is a fair limit. I only hope the Bill will go through. The Small Debt Court provides a sordid side of Glasgow life. It is one of the most cruel sights that one could see, and I only hope that this very meagre Measure will receive the whole-hearted support of this House, and will help to alleviate the terrible sufferings which, all Members are agreed, are far too acute at the present time.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.