HC Deb 24 June 1935 vol 303 cc875-8

As from the passing of this Act, section nineteen of the Finance Act, 1920, shall apply to a claimant whose marriage has been dissolved and who has been given the custody of any children of the marriage as it applies to a claimant being a widower except that for the purpose of such a claim the words "or of his deceased wife" shall not apply.—[Mr. Turton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.38 p.m.


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

The purpose of the Clause is to remedy a very small, but very real, injustice under the Income Tax Acts. The amount involved in revenue is so small that I hope the Financial Secretary will regard it not from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence, but from the point of view of justice, because the number of persons involved is not very large. Let me remind the Committee of the position. If a member of the Committee marries and has children, he gets a personal allowance of £170 in order to help his housekeeping, and he has the advantage of having his wife to look after the children. If his wife unfortunately dies, he becomes a widower and is entitled to the special allowance of £50 for a housekeeper in order to look after his children. If his wife does not die, but he has unfortunately divorced her, he is in the position that he has no wife, the court gives him the custody of the children, and he gets no allowance under Section 19 of the Finance Act, 1920.

I feel that when this section was drafted by Parliament it did not consider the invidious position of the man or woman who has to pass through the divorce court and has to look after the children. Many views are taken on divorce, and I do not want to go into them. I do not really appeal for the divorced person, but for the divorced person's child. There is no more difficult position in the world than that of the child of divorced parents, and I hope that the Committee will do everything it can to see that such a child is properly looked after by consenting to this allowance in respect of any kind relatives, or some kind uncle or aunt, or, if no relative is available, some other person under Section 19 who looks after the child. The proposed Clause has one great merit, that, as far as I know, it is not a hardy annual or even a hardy biennial. It has never been proposed before, although there have been cases in the courts where, somewhat rashly, a divorced person thought he was entitled to this allowance, only to find that he was sadly deceived. As this is the first time which such a new Clause has been moved, I hope that the Financial Secretary will allow it to be one of those flowers which are allowed to bloom only once, and then are pressed between the leaves of the Statute Book.

6.42 p.m.


I am afraid that my hon. Friend's proposed new Clause will not find itself crushed between the leaves of the Statute Book this evening. I do not know whether he was in the Committee the other day when a similar Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), which applied to married people living apart. That Clause, however, did not include the children. My hon. Friend hoped by his new Clause to correct an anomaly under the existing law, but, in fact, it would create many more anomalies than it would remove. The difficulty always is that one moment of weakness in these matters of taxation opens the door to a flood of Anomalies, and compels one to make many other concessions that are not anticipated at the time. The original concession in this matter was to the widow or widower with children who was given a special allowance in respect of a housekeeper whom it was necessary to have to look after the children. The Government of 1924 rather weakly gave way on the important point whether there should be children or not, and since then successive Governments have had to resist proposals of this kind and of the kind that the hon. Member for Westhoughton moved the other day.

I would like to state some of the anomalies which it would create. Suppose, for instance, the new Clause were agreed to and an allowance were made in the case of divorced persons where there were children, the demand would be made for the allowance where there were no children, as occurred in the case of the widow or widower. As my right hon. Friend has said already to-day, we cannot in this financial Measure have any views in regard to encouraging or discouraging immorality or morality. Once the allowance is given in respect of a divorced person living alone, what justification would there be for denying it to a single person living alone? A divorced man would be entitled to an allowance in respect of his housekeeper, and the young bachelor who had done nothing that he should be ashamed of would be denied a similar allowance. As the Clause stands it would, as far as I can see, make no provision for the case where the custody of the children was divided, where for six months they went to one parent and for six months to another parent. That would create a difficulty with which the Clause as drafted would not deal. Another difficulty is that the divorced person would be able to claim exemption as long as the children were alive. They might grow up and he might no longer be under any obligation to maintain them, but he would still be granted this allowance.


Surely the word "child" is governed by the interpretation in the Finance Act, 1920, where exactly the same words apply?


Those who have studied the wording of this new Clause very carefully assure me that the divorced man would still be entitled to an allowance for his housekeeper long after the children had ceased to be a burden on him.


Surely Subsection (2) of Section 19 of the Finance Act, 1920, makes that point of no avail. It says: In this section the expression 'child' means a child in respect of whom a deduction is allowed under this Part of this Act.' That governs the age limit.


According to this Clause, in a case where a person's marriage has been dissolved and he has been given the custody of any children, those words are not to apply, but it does not say for how long they shall not apply. There is another weak point about the Clause. I pointed out in reply to a case put the other day by the hon. Member for Westhoughton that it would really pay a husband and wife to live apart rather than together, and in this instance it would be to their advantage to be divorced. A couple might have had an unhappy marriage and decided to live apart, wishing to avoid the unpleasantness of going through the Divorce Court, but if this Clause were passed they would be compelled to go through the ceremony—[Laughter]—the unpleasant process of the Divorce Court in order to obtain the alleviation which my hon. Friend desires to give them. As the Clause would open the way to so many other anomalies and so many other similar pleas, and would really not effect the object which my hon. Friend has at heart, the Government cannot accept it.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.