§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Mathers.]
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I desire to put some questions to the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions, arising out of a Question I asked him a fortnight ago. As there seems to be more time than usual, perhaps I might recall to the House what the Question was. I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs:If he is aware that instances have occurred where affiliation orders made against members of the Canadian Forces have not been carried out owing to the soldier or airman concerned having returned to Canada; and if he will communicate with the Dominion of Canada with a view to seeing if such orders can be made enforcible in Canada?The hon. Gentleman replied:If an affiliation order is made by a court against a Canadian soldier, the Canadian military authorities make such deductions as they deem appropriate from the pay of the soldier concerned for the benefit of the mother. These deductions cease on the man's discharge from the Forces, and there is thereafter no way in which payment of the order can be enforced by the Canadian military authorities. Civil proceedings can, however, then be taken in the appropriate Canadian court. It would be difficult to ask the Canadian Government to pass special legislation for the enforcement of affiliation orders made in this country, since no provision exists in United Kingdom legislation for the enforcement here of affiliation orders made in Canada.I went on to say:Surely the hon. Gentleman must realise how profoundly unsatisfactory his answer will be to these unfortunate people? How can some poor girl institute proceedings in Canada? I desire to give notice that I shall raise the matter at the earliest possible moment, as I think a gross injustice is being done.1449 The Under-Secretary then said, though, if I may say so, he was out of Order, as I had already given notice that I would raise the matter on the Adjournment:Very few cases have arisen up to now, but we are keeping a watch on the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1945; Vol. 416, cols. 1924-5.]I shall show that so far from that being true, as the Under-Secretary will probably admit now, after inquiry, a very large number has arisen. I shall refer to some very poignant cases that have come to my notice.
I wish to make one or two points clear. First, I am speaking entirely for myself and am not representing the views of my hon. and right hon. Friends, although I have no reason to believe that my colleagues would disagree with my view. Secondly, and this may be considerably-more disputable, I think it is undesirable in general for Privy Councillors and ex-Cabinet Ministers to ballot for the right to raise matters on the Adjournment. I think that because we are notoriously entitled by long standing precedent, which the Chair, even if it wished to do so, which it does not, could not break, to certain privileges in this House, we should not avail ourselves of the Private Member's right to raise matters on the Adjournment. I stand to some extent apologetically at this Box for having raised this question. I only do so because it affects quite a number of my constituents, and because it is a most poignant matter.
When I say that no party issue could arise, it is only right to say to the Undersecretary that I do not consider that this Government can be held to blame for the situation as it exists. It was one of the things they took over from previous Governments, but I would venture to go a little further, and I hope that this will not be considered contentious. They will be very much to blame if, when they have heard the evidence which I propose to give, and which I hope will be supported by at least one hon. Gentleman opposite, if he is fortunate enough to be called—I am anxious to emphasise that this is not a party matter—they do not say they are then prepared to take some action. I am prevented by the Rules of the House from discussing whether or not reciprocal legislation, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, is possible or not. Technically I would be entitled to press for legislation in Canada, because under 1450 the Ruling, as I understand it—it is, I think, not a Rule of the House but the result of a Ruling of a previous Speaker —one cannot refer to legislation on the Adjournment, or deal with a matter requiring legislation. But that Ruling does not refer to matters on which other countries might legislate.
I am concerned to argue that, whether it is possible or desirable that there should be reciprocal legislation, which it would be out of Order to deal with fully, the matter can be handled without legislation, at any rate, so as to ensure a reduction of the gross and poignant injustice by certain actions which I shall suggest. I know Canada fairly well. I have relations in that country, I own some small property there. I have been there a great many times, and I happen to have had nearly 35 years' friendship with the right hon. Gentleman the great Prime Minister of that country. I shall say no word in derogation of that great Dominion. It is because I intensely admire its superlatively brave and kind hearted people that I make an appeal, which is a very real one, which comes from my heart, to the Canadian people and to the Canadian Parliament to see that a wrong is righted. This problem is considerably greater 1han the Minister was prepared to admit. I have a lot of letters here from different parts of the country saying what has happened, and I have received others since I put the Question. I have sent some of them to the hon. Gentleman, but not all of them.
It is a simple process; an affiliation order is made against a Canadian Service-man at the instance of a girl over here. So long as he is in the Army the amount is deducted from his pay, as in the same way as in the case of the British Forces. He then goes to Canada. I am dealing only with the Canadian problem, because that particularly affects my constituents, but the same problem may arise in the case of Australia and other countries as well. The soldier returns to Canada, and if he is discharged there are no means of obtaining the money from him. I am most anxious not to be unduly critical, because I want to put this matter on a non-party basis, but the hon. Gentleman said in his reply that it was possible for civil proceedings to be taken in the appropriate Canadian court. I do not want to make a rude observation to the hon. Gentleman who is to answer, but how can it be 1451 seriously suggested that some unfortunate girl, perhaps 18 years of age, who has been betrayed, can institute civil proceedings in a Canadian court to see that her wrong is righted? The thing is quite impossible.
I have two suggestions to make before I come to my main suggestion, which is the most important of all. I sent on these suggestions to the hon. Gentleman in order to give him a chance of considering them. I think he might ask the Ministry of Defence in Canada—and the same would apply mutatis mutandis in the case of the Ministries of Defence of other Dominions —to refuse to grant demobilisation credits in money and kind to any Canadian Serviceman who has had a British affiliation order made against him unless he gives satisfactory assurances of his willingness to pay the money to the girl whom he has betrayed. It might have a considerable effect if the man knew that he would not get his £50 or £60 or any civilian clothes. My second proposal, which is one to which I hope the hon. Gentleman will give particular attention, is that the British High Commissioner in Canada should be instructed to institute proceedings on behalf of any British woman who has failed to obtain money which is due to her under an affiliation order made in this country. He should institute proceedings on her behalf in a Canadian court. The unfortunate girl might have no means of giving direct instructions, but as soon as she had notified the authorities there a case could be brought in the court in Canada. I think that should be done.
§ Earl Winterton
Yes, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for the suggestion. The most important thing of all is that the hon. Gentleman should give us an assurance—I make no complaint that he did not do so when I originally raised the matter—that he will enter into discussions, if he has not already done so, with the Dominion Government. He could perfectly well give us such an assurance without breaking the rule of the House that subjects which call for legislation cannot be raised on the Motion for the Adjournment. Even if the result of his discussions did mean that it would be necessary to introduce legislation, that legislation need 1452 not be referred to tonight. I do not want to quote these letters, but believe me, they are really of a most poignant character; and there is no reason to suppose that the letters I have received, of which there are a considerable number, represent the whole of the case. Nearly every one of the writers says that the Undersecretary is wrong in thinking that this is an unimportant matter. Perhaps he did not say that. Therefore, I do hope that we may get an assurance from him, because I am just as determined in non-party matters as I am in party matters, and I say frankly that I am determined to pursue this matter continuously until we get justice, and I hope other hon. Members will take the same line, and it would be a great assurance if the hon. Gentleman would tell us that he was going to enter into negotiations at once.
I conclude on this observation, that this is only a bucket in relation to the huge sea of misery and anxiety which encompasses the world at the present time, but that is no reason why we should not use that bucket to reduce that sea. Let it go out from this House tonight to these unfortunate people, these correspondents who have written to me, some of whom are in a most desperate position, that, irrespective of party, we are determined to do what we can to see that this evil is cured.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I wish to speak only for a minute or two, to lend my support to what the noble Lord has said. He has raised this matter not as a party issue at all, but as a human issue which is, to some extent, obstructed by legal, or. should I say, legalistic, difficulties. Those difficulties should be overcome, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for Dominion Affairs is going to do all in his power to overcome them. It was purely by coincidence, that only this morning I had a letter from one of my own constituents, a woman who was betrayed by a man in the Royal Canadian Air Force. She actually obtained an affiliation order against him in the courts for 15s. a week. He has returned to America—he is an American citizen who was serving in the Canadian Air Force—and the affiliation order is now some £50 in arrears. This unfortunate woman is in great difficulties and has a baby. She is owed £50 by this 1453 man who is living with his parents in Los Angeles, and nothing can be done about it, either with the American authorities or, as things are at present, apparently, with the Canadian authorities. I wished to say that brief word from this side of the House, to support the plea which the Noble Lord has made.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
May I express my gratitude to my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) for having raised this very important matter? I confine myself to one aspect only, and that is in regard to the facilities for these girls to raise their cases in the Canadian courts. I am going to address myself not so much to the Under-Secretary as to the Solicitor-General. I think we are most fortunate in having the presence of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because we are now dealing with abstruse legal points. Speaking as a layman, it seems to me that restitution in the Canadian courts is opposed today by almost insurmountable obstacles and the first of them is the question of passage to Canada. This is not easy to obtain in any case, and not easy to finance in the case of many of these wronged women. Here again I am addressing myself to the Solicitor-General. These cases rest on the possibility of cross-examination of the woman, and she should be able to appear in court to be cross-examined. Upon that, surely, must turn to a great extent the decision in these matters. I imagine evidence could be taken upon affidavit.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I am dealing with the cases where that is not so. An affidavit could be put in, but surely the decision of the court is strengthened inevitably by the impossibility of the presence of the girl in question for cross-examination. Many of them, as we all know, come from humble homes, and the question of cost must inevitably be something of a gamble.
I now come to the point raised by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock). Many of these cases have already been heard in this country, and an affiliation order has been made in Britain. The 1454 point upon which I am in some doubt, and upon which I would much value the guidance of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General, is this. Where an affiliation order has been made in a court in this country, can some machinery be devised to meet the case put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), whereby that affiliation order made in a British court is enforceable in Canada? It seems to me that that is really the crux of the large majority of these cases—not all of them, but perhaps the large majority, and certainly a great number of them. If an affiliation order made in this country could be enforceable in Canada, that would meet the point made by the hon. Lady, and would certainly relieve the anxiety of many of us as regards a large number of these cases. But I am still concerned with the other aspect of this problem, and it is upon this that I think we would like some kind of reply. Where the injured girl's presence in Canada is necessary, if she is going to win, what machinery can be devised, first, to get her across the Atlantic to the hearing? Secondly, having got her there, the question of the cost must arise, and it is upon that matter that I myself am exercised.
I have not intervened in this Debate merely for the sake of making these observations. I also have had brought to my notice in my constituency some extremely painful cases of girls, the parents of whom are very well respected, and it has been a very sad affair for the parents. I am quite sure that hon. Members, on whatever benches they may sit, will be united in desiring to see some kind of solution to this problem. I know other hon. Members desire to speak. I merely wanted to put those particular points, and I have put them, as I say, to the hon. and learned Gentleman because I think they are matters which require some legal reply.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Major Sir Frank Soskice)
I would not have intervened in the Debate except for the fact that questions have just been addressed almost personally to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite). Without having regard to anything which may be said by my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for the Dominions, who is to answer for the Government, the 1455 answer which I would make to the questions which have been asked is as follows. A distinction must be drawn between those cases in which an order has already been made in this country, and those cases in which an order has not been made; and, in particular, cases in which the paternity of the child is disputed. I think one's general sense of justice does prompt one to this view, that where a person is alleged to be the father of a child of a particular girl, as a matter of justice to him if he really disputes it, he should have the girl brought forward in order that she can be cross examined and his case can be put. It does not, of course, always follow, because a girl alleges that a particular man is the father of her child, that he is the father. Therefore, in those cases it seems to me that there is a very real difficulty, as was indicated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask the Solicitor-General a question arising from that? When a case is brought in a British court, and the Canadian soldier has gone to Canada, is there any power under the existing law by -which the British court can require his attendance?
§ The Solicitor-General
So far as I know, the answer is in the negative. There is no way. I was just saying, when the Noble Lord asked me that question, that the class of case in which an order has already been made is entirely different. There again, speaking purely offhand and not having considered the matter, I should not think there would be insuperable difficulty in an order made here being enforced in another country.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland)
The House should be very grateful to the Noble Lord for having brought this matter forward. Everyone associated with a police court knows that this is not an isolated case but is one of hundreds. It is a difficulty arising out of the war. In normal times it was an occasional lapse. American and Canadian soldiers have come here, and respectable homes have opened their doors and given admission to these men. Very often acquaintance has been made with the daughter, there has been companionship and she has been betrayed.
§ It being a quarter past Nine o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.1456
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.'' —[Mr. Pearson.]
§ Mr. Logan
The result of the friendliness has been an obligation of the kind that would fall upon an Englishman, who would bear his responsibility. While in the Army there is no trouble about these soldiers, except the disgrace that has been caused and the liability established by the order of the court, but when they leave the Service, and go back to Canada, it is the same with them as with men of the African race, who live in hostels and have no habitation here. The soldiers go away, and then the same procedure has to be followed as in these black and white questions.
There is no reciprocity. If, out of today's discussion initiated by the noble Lord, a solution can be found for something which has been puzzling many of our courts for a long time, we shall be pleased. I hope that the Solicitor-General can move himself and see whether there can be reciprocal treatment with Canada. Where the paternity of the children has been established in the English court, the liability ought certainly to be carried into Canada. If that can be accomplished, we shall have done a useful service to the public.
§ Captain Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
I would like to join with my hon. Friends in saying how grateful we are to the Noble Lord for raising this matter. I hope I may be forgiven for introducing a slightly different note. This matter raises the whole subject of illegitimate children. I hope that the general provisions of the National Insurance Bill which, will be introduced next year will make sure that mothers with illegitimate children—they are people with whom we all have the greatest possible sympathy and particularly in view of the fact that Christmas is nearly here—will be covered, as will all cases of that kind.
I should like to hammer that point home, as a lawyer who has been in the welfare department of the Home Office dealing with these cases. The legalistic points made by the Solicitor-General, although perfectly correct in law, are not those which commend themselves to anybody with a sense of justice. The law is that if you are a mother with a illegitimate 1457 child you can obtain an affiliation order only if you will produce corroboration. It is not sufficient, as in the normal case, to go into court and say, "As the result of my connection with this man I had an illegitimate child." You have to give them proof and corroboration. I am sure that any lawyer, whether on these benches or on the benches opposite, knows perfectly well that that makes it inevitable that in a large number of cases it is quite impossible for mothers to prove their cases.
The hon. and gallant Member is now advocating something which would involve legislation. He cannot do that in an Adjournment Debate.
§ Captain Blackburn
I am not advocating that at all, and I am very sorry if what I have said has given rise to a misapprehension. I am merely pointing out by way of illustration how difficult it is for the mother of an illegitimate child to prove her case against the man responsible. Every lawyer here knows perfectly well that I am justified in making those remarks. This is a matter of more importance, perhaps, than appears on the surface. In a world which is now a world of exaggerated nationalism, it may give rise to most unfortunate approaches to Canadians, Americans or whoever they may be. We want to see the British Commonwealth of Nations knit together, and to see the Americans knit together with ourselves, in brotherly love. Everyone knows perfectly well that cases of this kind are calculated to sow the seeds of discord. The only real solution of this problem lies in a radically new approach to the whole question of mothers of illegitimate children, and I hope that that may come about later on.
May I conclude with one further remark to the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, for whom many of us on these benches feel the greatest good will in view of the great work he did before this Parliament assembled? It is surely rather a remarkable thing that my hon. Friend there, a junior Minister representing in this House an extremely important office, has no discretionary funds whatsoever at his disposal. It reminds me a little of the situation in the Army, where a commanding officer has power almost of life and death over some 800 or 900 men, but is not allowed to 1458 spend more than £5 without the consent of the War Office. I do feel that my hon. Friend ought to command a Fund which would enable him to deal with stupid and trivial matters of this kind which should not come before the House at all. He ought to have the money and be able to solve the problems on the spot.
§ Captain Blackburn
No, I think it could be done without. I do hope that these observations may be considered in other quarters, and that my hon. Friend should be given a discretionary power which would make his path much easier in the cause which we all have in mind, namely seeing that the British Commonwealth of Nations does not merely remain in its existing state of accord, but is bound even more closely together without being endangered by influences such as arise from cases like this.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
I also am pleased that the Noble Lord has raised this question. It affects not only Canadians and Americans, but goes much further. There are many cases in this country, and particularly in the ports, where women have married foreigners and the men have now returned to their ports of origin, leaving no trace. I think the time has arrived when this matter should be discussed not merely on the Adjournment but in a very serious Debate on the Floor of the House. May I quote cases with which I am dealing at the moment? In Liverpool there were a tremendous number of Chinese seamen when the war broke out and their home ports were closed. The Maritime Agreement made it imperative that those men should be returned home as soon as their ports of origin were open.
They have been in Liverpool and other seaport towns for some four or five years. They have legally married Englishwomen, and these women have perhaps two or three children. Now that the ports of origin of these men are open, they are being compelled by the shipping companies to return to their ports of origin, the shipping companies having no further obligation to pay the men maintenance while they remain in port. The women who are left with two or three children have no possibility of getting any sort of 1459 maintenance from the men they have married.
The time has arrived when some sort of international arrangement ought to be made to cover these cases. We shall have the same problem from other countries. There will be women left in other countries with children from British soldiers and sailors. We cannot expect anything else under wartime conditions. Some arrangement ought to be made internationally whereby the financial responsibility of maintenance of the children, whether legitimate or illegitimate, should be put upon the fathers. The most difficult thing about the whole problem is that these women are finding themselves compelled to apply for and receive public assistance. Respectable girls coming from respectable families, whose families find themselves not in a position to maintain the girls, are having to apply to the public assistance committees for the maintenance of themselves and their children until the children are old enough for the women to go out and seek work again.
This is a very great problem which does not relate only to Canada and America; it is a matter which ought to be fully discussed, and some Department ought to see whether an arrangement cannot be made whereby orders made through the British courts or the courts of other countries, when the men leave whatever country it may be, shall be effective and the maintenance orders collected either from this country or whatever other country it may be.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)
As has been said by hon. Members who have spoken, this problem is rather wider than the matter brought up by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton). A large number of United States troops have been billeted in my constituency, and the result has been that this problem has arisen in various ways. I will quote two cases. In the first case, there is no doubt whatever as to the paternity of the child. No affiliation order was sought, but an agreement was arrived at in consultation with a solicitor. The soldier has now returned to the United States, and the agreement is not being carried out in any way. In the other case a marriage was arranged, in consultation with military authorities, and 1460 now it has turned out that the marriage was not legal, and that a bigamy was committed by the United States soldier. The soldier has now returned to his own country. This discussion has opened a very wide field indeed, but in spite of its wideness, I hope that some way will be found out of the difficulty. I want to emphasize that the cases which have come to my notice involve decent girls from decent homes. It is up to the House to do what it can to give protection to those girls and their families.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Parker)
We have had a very useful Debate, and I would like to join with other hon. Members in thanking the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) for having initiated the Debate, which has not only dealt with the question of Canadian troops but has been widened to cover a very wide field indeed. Dealing first with the wider issue, I much appreciate the points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock). Having worked for three years in Liverpool on the Merseyside Survey in the past, I know a great deal about the problem of deserted families and the large number of cases where there is a mother with a great many children, the parentage of many of whom is very doubtful. That is a very wide problem. The hon. and gallant Member for King's Norton (Captain Blackburn) raised the general subject of legitimacy. I think that much of what has been said tonight will have to be dealt with by the Government as part of the general policy for facing the whole of this wide question.
I now turn to the rather narrow issue on which I can definitely speak for the Department—that raised by the Noble Lord. I would like to go into some detail in dealing with the difficult points in connection with this rather narrow issue in relation to children of Canadians or with regard to the liabilities of Canadians in this country.
§ Earl Winterton
Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman is going to convey to the Leader of the Government the strong feeling that there is that we ought, at some time, to discuss the wider question?
§ Mr. Parker
Certainly. I did not intend to suggest in my answer to the Noble Lord, when he put his question, that I thought it was an unimportant question. What I tried to suggest was, that the numbers were not large. We have been into that matter. We have not the full figures. The Canadian Government are making inquiries as to the full figures, but I can give figures with regard to the Army, and they are rather larger than was thought. With regard to affiliation orders, the total number of deductions of pay to meet affiliation orders is 446, and the total number of cases in which payment is still being made is 163, so that there is a balance of 283. In some of those cases the stoppage has been due to subsequent marriage or adoption and so on, but in many cases is due to the fact that a man discharged from the Forces is no longer meeting his obligations. There are thus a number of cases arising, apart altogether from those connected with the Canadian Air Force or with the Canadian Navy, of which we have not the numbers.
The problem falls under two heads. There is, first, the case of the woman who wishes to take proceedings against a man who is in Canada, for the purpose of establishing paternity of her child and securing an order for its maintenance. Hon. Members who, as magistrates, have some experience of affiliation proceedings of courts of summary jurisdiction in this country will know that such proceedings are often closely contested, and it is frequently a matter of considerable difficulty for the magistrates to arrive at a just decision. Ordinarily, the parties both appear in court and the evidence given by each side is subject to cross-examination by the other. An order adjudging a man to be the putative father of a bastard child and requiring him to pay for its maintenance continues, until the child reaches the age of 13, or, if the justices so direct, until the child reaches the age of 16. If the case is contested, a court in this country will not usually make an order unless the defendant has been brought before the court to answer the allegations made against him and has been given an opportunity to cross-examine the complainant and her witnesses.
If the complainant is in this country and the defendant is in Canada, there is no practicable means by which the con- 1462 fronting of the parties can be secured, and in a matter of this kind it is very important that the court should be able to see the parties, observe their demeanour and how they give their evidence, in order to come to a just decision as to which, of the two sides is telling the truth. For these reasons, it is, I am afraid, impracticable to devise any workable scheme which would allow of a woman in this country taking proceedings in a court here against a man in Canada or taking proceedings in a Canadian court without herself appearing before that court. The difficulty is fully appreciated by the Canadian military authorities, and they have been very willing in cases where a woman contemplates such proceedings to delay the transfer of the soldier concerned overseas so that proceedings can be taken in this country while both parties are here.
The second type of case is that in which an order has been made in this country while both the parties are here, and the woman desires to enforce it. So long as the Canadian is a serving member of the Forces no difficulty arises. The Canadian military authorities do everything possible to help by making deductions from the man's pay of an appropriate amount, having regard to the terms of the order. If, however, a man has been discharged from the Forces the Canadian military authorities have naturally no further control over him.
The Noble Lord suggested that, in such cases, a deduction should be made from the man's discharge gratuity to meet payments under the Order. Consideration has been given to this suggestion, but it is understood that it is not practicable because, by Canadian law, the gratuity cannot be withheld or reduced in payment of a debt or any other claim. Any alteration in this respect would require legislation in Canada and could not be effected by Canadian Order in Council. Moreover, there would be practical difficulties about such a solution, arising from the fact that the gratuity is a lump sum payment, while payments under an affiliation order are continuing payments of so much a week.
As matters stand, therefore, the only remedy for a woman in this country who wishes to enforce an order of an English court against a man in Canada who has been discharged from the Canadian 1463 Forces is to take proceedings in the Canadian courts, and, in most cases, this is not a practicable remedy. Consideration has been given to the question whether it would be possible to make any arrangements with Canada for the reciprocal enforcement in one country of affiliation orders made in the other. Hon. Members may be aware that there is already on the Statute Book an Act of 1920—the Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act—under which it is possible for reciprocal arrangements to be made between this country and other parts of the Commonwealth and Empire for the enforcement in one part of the Commonwealth of wife maintenance orders made in another, and arrangements of this kind have been made with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, who have all passed the necessary domestic legislation to bring the Act of 1920 into operation. It has not. however, been possible to make such arrangements with Canada, since the necessary legislation has not been passed by the Canadian Parliament. Moreover, Canadians tell us that such legislation would have to be passed through each of the several Provincial Parliaments in Canada.
The Act of 1920 does not apply to affiliation orders, but, if Canada were to adopt the scheme of the Act and pass the necessary legislation to bring it into operation, the question of extending the Act of 1920 to affiliation orders could be considered. It will be clear, however, from what I have said, that this solution of the problem cannot be envisaged for some time to come and must depend upon the decision of the Canadian authorities on the whole question whether they will introduce such legislation. It is possible, as a long term solution, but it will not help those women who are in difficulties at the present time.
1464 The Noble Lord also suggested that proceedings might be taken in Canada by the United Kingdom High Commissioner on behalf of a woman in this country. This would be an entirely new departure, and would, in itself, I believe, require legislation in Canada. Moreover, it would suffer from the disadvantage that applications would have to be made as arrears accumulated, perhaps from week to week and from month to month. A procedure of this kind has no advantages over the general scheme of the Act of 1920, under which an order, once made in this country, is enforced in the Dominion concerned in exactly the same way as if the Order had been made in the Dominion, and I see no reason to think that the difficulties in the way of legislation on the lines suggested would be any less than those in the way of legislation with a view to the adoption in Canada of the Act of 1920. I am afraid, therefore, that this suggestion would not provide any immediate practical remedy.
There is, however, a good deal of feeling in the country, as well as in this House, that something ought to be done to meet this very difficult situation. I understand that the Canadian authorities fully appreciate the seriousness of the position, and the feeling that there is in this country about the matter. We, in the Dominions Office, have fully gone into the whole position and we also feel strongly on the matter. I can say that we will examine the matter with the Canadian authorities. We are already doing so, and we will do our very best to see what action can be taken to deal with the whole question. More than that, I am afraid, I cannot say at the moment.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one Minutes to Ten o'Clock.