HC Deb 26 January 1951 vol 483 cc487-535

Order for Second Reading read.

1.15 p.m.

Mrs. Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

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

I hope to follow the example of the mover of the previous Bill and not take up too much time, because of those who are to follow me. This Bill is an effort to deal with a very real and pressing problem, and the many letters which I have received show me that it is a problem which affects many women.

It is a privilege to have the honour of presenting this Bill. I am sure that all Members of the House have at some time or other, dealt with very distressing cases of the break-up of the matrimonial home and of family life. All of us who have had a happy family life can have much sympathy with these people in their difficulties. It is to try to alleviate this distress that I welcome this opportunity, in a small measure, of bringing some relief. I am quite aware that the Bill may perhaps not cover all the cases of difficulty that there are, and in fact I know that it does not, but if it focuses interest on these particular problems and further legislation can put other anomalies right, I shall feel that my time has not been wasted.

It is intended by this Bill to ensure that a woman resident in the house of which her husband is the tenant, if she has obtained a court order against him, shall have the tenancy transferred to her. I am aware that early last year there was a case decided in the Court of Appeal— a case in which I know one of the parties concerned—and by that decision the wife can remain in the house of which her husband is the tenant, and he cannot turn her out. I want to make quite sure that it is the law Apt the wife may have the tenancy of the house in her own right. I think that a woman will feel much happier if she knows that she is the tenant of the house and is not merely there on sufferance because her husband is the tenant. There is rather more security in feeling that one's name is in the rent book.

The decision which was given in the case which I have just mentioned would not really prevent the husband from coming back to the house of which he is still the tenant and bringing a mistress there. The wife would be powerless to prevent him, as he is the tenant. If the wife were the tenant, her name being in the rent book, in the situation which I have mentioned she would have full right as the tenant and the privilege of saying who should or should not enter her house. I recognise that by giving her the rights as the tenant, she would, of course, have her obligations to the landlord.

I am hoping that if this Bill is passed, and if these anomalies are corrected, the people who benefit by them will endeavour to observe their due obligations. It has been suggested to me that the Bill might be some obstacle to reconciliation, but that is not so. If reconciliation proved practicable at some future time, then everything could be arranged satisfactorily. One thing that occurs to me is that the Bill might be found to be a deterrent to some possible wayward husband.

I want to mention the position of council houses, which the Bill cannot really touch. As a member of a local authority, I am well aware of the different position which they are in compared with the landlord under the Rent Restriction Acts. I make a point of mentioning this at this stage in the hope that local authorities will give the same consideration to cases brought to their notice as others will be required to give under the provisions of this Bill if it becomes law. I am a member of a housing committee, and I know the difficulties which can arise, and that all local authorities do not administer their affairs in the same way. If a wife is granted an order, it is usual for her to ''be given the custody of the children. I think that hon. Members do not need to be reminded of the difficulty of a wife who may feel that she must get out of a house and try to find other accommodation. We are all anxious that family life should be preserved and that there should be a home for the children. Because of that, I feel that hon. Members cannot do other than support the Bill.

I now come to the second part of the Bill. The wife having been given the tenancy of the house, the benefit of that would be nullified if the husband were allowed to take away the furniture. Many of the letters which I have received point out that that has been done. I think I am right in saying that during the last few years, housewives have contributed more to household goods than perhaps in the past, although I am aware that to a certain extent that is true of many housewives even in those days.

I know, from comments that have been made by Members on both sides of the House, that the Bill involves a difficulty, and I am most anxious to meet any points of difficulty. It is suggested in the Bill that courts of summary jurisdiction should apportion chattels, and I am advised that it would be better for the county court to have the matter put in their hands. I am not quibbling about this criticism. My concern is that provision should be made whereby the housewife will not only be able to have the things she can vouch she has paid for, but that she shall be provided with some of the essential articles of furniture that are necessary for her to make a home for herself and her children.

The difficulty regarding the county court can be surmounted. I would make one comment, however, in this connection, which is that my purpose has been to speed up a decision in these cases, and that a county court takes a little longer than a court of summary jurisdiction. Perhaps I might be allowed to suggest, if the county court is to deal with these cases, that provision should be made for a stand-still order when a separation order is granted, so that the husband cannot remove any goods from the house until the matter has been decided by the county Court.

I have been accused in some letters of having seen only one side of this question. I am a magistrate and I have seen both sides. I quite agree that it is not always the husband who is the offender. But I am dealing with cases where the husband is the cause of the break-up of family life. I am particularly anxious that children should not have a feeling of insecurity, which breeds a lack of confidence generally in society. I know that the Bill cannot help all, but if it has done something to focus attention on this problem, I shall not feel that my efforts have been in vain.

I wish to say how much I appreciate the help, sympathy and agreement that I have found among many Members opposite, as well as among Members on this side of the House. I am grateful to them for the advice they have given. As a new Member I am learning all the time, and I understand that alterations can be made to the Bill during the Committee stage. I am quite aware that there are many adjustments and improvements which can be made. My chief desire has been to simplify the whole process in these difficult cases, but I am afraid that, as an innocent abroad in the legal world upon which I have embarked, I have found that simplification is not very simple. I hope that the House will be able to see its way to give the Bill a Second Reading.

1.25 p.m.

Viscountess Davidson (Hemel Hempstead)

I wish to support the Motion. I became aware during the war, perhaps more forcibly than ever before, of the very real tragedies that are caused when a husband leaves his wife. The wife finds that she has not only suffered the break-up of her home, but that she is left with no home and very often with no possessions at all. It is because of several cases that came to my notice during the war that it has always been my hope to be able to support a Bill of this kind. I hope that the Bill will help women who find themselves in this position in the future, and that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

1.26 p.m.

Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

am perfectly certain that the intention of the Bill is most laudable, and that those who support it have directed their attention to the alleviation of what they believe to be a hardship in family life. As one who has some little knowledge of the matter, I can only say that the Bill will result in complicating and not elucidating the subject. I would very readily support any Measure to relieve the hardship of a wife and her children. I think it will be found, on closer examination of the legal position, that not only is this a very small part of the picture, but that a woman is already protected by law over a much wider field than is embraced by this Measure.

Clause 1 is of little or no value, because it applies only to desertion in the case of statutory tenancies, and does not take into account the position of contractual tenants and local authority tenants. The Bill is in these and other respects extremely limited. A married woman, by decisions in the courts, is not only protected in regard to the case of desertion, but is protected over the much wider sphere, both of contractual and public authority tenancies. All we should be doing, if this Bill were passed, would be to complicate and throw doubt on the present position. That, in itself, would be more than enough to justify the rejection of the Bill.

I cannot understand why contractual tenancies and public authority tenancies should have been excluded. I cannot believe that there is any dark or sinister motive in the exclusion. If, it is true that there is hardship which justifies legislation, why should these two categories have been left out? The same hardship and need is to be found in these two classes as in the case of statutory tenancies. The only difference for this purpose between a statutory tenancy and a contractual tenancy is that where there is a contractual tenancy, it does not become a statutory tenancy under the Rent Restriction Acts until and unless a notice to quit has been served. Apart from that particular characteristic, the relationship to this particular case and to the circumstances of the relief that is sought is identical whether the case is one of a contractual tenancy or a statutory tenancy.

The same observation applies to the case of a local authority tenancy. A tenancy of that kind is a contractual tenancy in the same way as a lease or any tenancy agreement, and when a person takes a house from a local authority there has to be an agreement. It is a weekly or monthly tenancy and there is a rent book, which undoubtedly constitute a contractual tenancy. It is, therefore, for all practical purposes, and for the purpose of this particular Measure, a contractual tenancy. To ask this House to put on the Statute Book an Act to cover a case of hardship where a woman happens to be under a statutory tenancy and to exclude a case which is identical, and which may create even greater hardship, because it happens to be a contractual tenancy or a tenancy with a local authority is something which I do not think anyone could reasonably justify.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman asserting that he would be prepared to interfere with the rights of local authorities over their own houses, because it would be of great interest to all of us to know if that is what he is really advocating?

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I do not think that that is a very important point.

Miss Ward

It is indeed.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I do not think it is, as I will show in a moment or two.

The object of the promoters of this Bill is to deal with hardship. It is not a question of public expediency. There is no reason why, if it is a hardship under a statutory tenancy, it ought not equally to be the same hardship in relation to a public authority. Surely it is not going to be suggested that a public authority should be entrenched behind a statutory protection against a wrong as opposed to some ordinary landlord whose position is one of a private landlord. I cannot accept that for a moment, and I cannot believe that the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) would impose such an exception.

Miss Ward

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman consider the alteration of the rights of local authorities a suitable matter for inclusion in a Private Member's Bill? I should be very interested to know whether that is his view.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I will answer that quite briefly. Unfortunately, the hon. Lady's lack of knowledge of the law—

Miss Ward

I am not a lawyer.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

Exactly, and that is why the hon. Lady's lack of knowledge of the law prevents her from knowing that under the law as it stands a local authority is bound in the way that I have indicated. I will come to that in a moment, but the remark she made is, with respect, pointless. I will go further and say that I cannot conceive, even under rent control, why a public authority ought to have a preference in these matters.

Before I come to the legal position as I see it, I should like to refer to a deficiency in the ground that is covered by this Bill. It merely embraces desertion. One would nave to accept in those circumstances that desertion was at least the biggest consideration in trying to bring the proposed relief to married women whose husbands had behaved badly, and who were meeting with difficulty in connection with the retention or enjoyment of the matrimonial home. We must, however, look at certain other matters which are involved in this question, because they may involve, for instance, cases of very harsh and considerable cruelty. One has only to scan the cases both in the courts of summary jurisdiction and in the High Court to see the sort of grave circumstances in which women are faced with most intolerable domestic positions. In the former courts an order for maintenance may be given under Section 5 of the 1895 Act and under the later Act of 1925.

There is also the case of neglect to maintain the wife and children. There, again, an order may be made by the courts of summary jurisdiction. For neither of those two cases is there any cover at all in this particular Bill, and these cases provide very often much greater hardship than desertion does. There are also cases where the husband has made an assault upon his wife. Those are very serious cases indeed—cases of physical violence which one would have thought the promoters of this Bill would have considered in the light of providing relief as regards the occupation of the house which husband and wife jointly occupy.

Then there are cases of habitual drunkenness. That is another kind of case which falls into that comprehensive category to which I have referred and which I should have thought would have been dealt with in this particular Measure. Then there are cases of adultery which are just as bad as any that the hon. Lady mentioned when introducing the Bill. There is often even greater hardships to be considered, in the case of divorce.

Not one of the cases in the list which I have given, and which are derived from matrimonial disputes, is covered in this Bill. Therefore, to pass a Bill which deals only with one isolated point and to neglect all the others I have recited would probably result in throwing all the others into greater complexity. That, in my submission, would be a very unwise thing for this House to do.

Let me now come to the present law, because, in fact, the situation of the married woman, as the hon. Lady very frankly adumbrated in her opening speech, is not quite as difficult as is implied by the provisions of this Bill. There has been more than one decision in the Court of Appeal on the wife's rights in the matrimonial home, and I think the law may now be regarded as firmly established, although the matter has not yet been before the House of Lords. I do not want to go into technical details, but the doctrine of agency undoubtedly governs this matter; the wife in such circumstances is her husband's agent. On that point, the decisions in the Court of Appeal are absolutely clear. As her husband's agent, the wife has the right to the possession of the matrimonial home, and she has exacty the same rights in statutory tenancies as if her husband had died.

That is not a proposition of my own but is taken, more or less verha ipsissima, from a judgment in the Court of Appeal and was part of the ground of the decision in the particular case in question. Under the Rent Restriction Acts, a wife like a widow is entitled to all the rights of her husband.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

In the case of intestacy.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

Intestacy or not, she has that right under the Rent Restriction Acts, and indeed also in the case of contractual tenancies. Of that there is not the slightest doubt. It has been definitely stated in the Court of Appeal. Even if the husband serves notice to quit, he cannot under the present law, dispossess his wife of the tenancy or occupation of the house, where both are living. It does not matter whatever the husband may do. A wife is her husband's agent in these matters, and he cannot revoke that agency.

When I come to deal with chattels, I am not at all sure that the same rule as to agency does not apply. I do not see why it should not apply. The husband cannot divest his wife of the right to stay in the house, except where she is the guilty party, and even so, I do not see any way of getting the lady divested, unless the husband went to court. It would then be for the court to decide that the situation was such that, owing to the lady's own delinquency, she ought not to be entitled to stay in the house.

Miss Ward

The husband would get an order against her.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

It has been stated as a reason for supporting the Bill that the husband has a right to live in the house at present because he is the tenant, but this matter is to be purely discretionary, so far as the Bill is concerned. The Bill says that the court "may." The promoters of the Bill are asking the House to enact a very serious thing, completely in the air, in saying that in all circumstances, whatever the facts are, the husband must be prevented from living in the house. If the man brings another woman into the house and lives there in adultery, the wife might be able to get an injunction against her husband to prevent him from using the house in that way.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)

May I say one word—

Mr. Turner-Samuels

Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me finish my point. We are being asked, without knowing the whole of the facts, to take the step of depriving the husband of a home for himself. If the Bill said that in certain specific circumstances the tenancy should be terminated, there might be something to be said for it, but it proposes merely because a wife gets an order, that her husband is to be divested of his tenancy. Even if there were a point with some force, the defect of the Bill being as limited as it is would make the Bill unworthy of support.

Mr. Janner

Is my hon. and learned Friend suggesting that an agent can turn the principal out of the house, and that an agent has more power than the principal himself? Further, suppose that desertion occurs by the two parties living in the same house but not actually cohabiting in the same room. What, then, is the husband's position?

Mr. Turner-Samuels

It has been the case since 1925 that even where the man remains in the house the wife can get an order for desertion, as long as there are two households. We are now asked to say that in those circumstances the husband is not to be entitled to live in the house. It is all very well to say, as a sort of sympathetic observation, that because a wife gets an order we must turn her husband out, but the Bill does not safeguard that situation sufficiently. The Bill is very much limited in respect of what, if it were passed, the law will actually provide, and therefore is a bad Bill and ought not to be proceeded with.

I do not say that if the Bill had been wider and had proposed that in particular circumstances that a husband could be divested of his tenancy of his house, it might not have been another matter and worthy of consideration. The Bill does nothing of that sort. It leaves the whole position at large. What the promoters are seeking to do is to have the husband thrown out of the house whatever the circumstances are—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—wait a moment; we have to face this—merely because there happens to be a desertion and because there happens to be an order for maintenance.

Miss Ward

Be fair.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

That is a proposition which no reasonable person would support, and the mere exclamation "No" does not meet the point. Therefore, in addition to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), not only may a woman now stay in the house with the husband and get an order for desertion, but the fact that she stays in the House does not imply any forgiveness or condonation of the husband's conduct.

So far as the tenancy is concerned, the present position, in my submission, is that the wife is sufficiently protected. It is true that under the law as it is at the moment a husband will be entitled to stay in the house as well as his wife. I submit that that is not unfair unless, of course, the husband has some other woman in the house and is carrying on systematic adultery there. That certainly would not be proper. But in my submission—I say it in spite of the opinion in the House which appears to be against it—the wife could have a recourse to the courts and she would be entitled, her rights to the house being equal to those of the husband—it has been laid down—to some form of relief by an injunction or otherwise which would not expose her to having to live in the house where she is entitled by law to live, with her husband living there with a woman in a state of adultery. As the law is, it adequately protects the wife both in contractual tenancies and in statutory tenancies. Tenancies of public authority houses are also amply covered.

I want to put another point to the promoters of the Bill. Not only are those matters covered, to which I have referred, but where the husband is the owner of the house he would have the greatest difficulty in getting the wife out because he could not sue her. That is because to do so would be tantamount to bringing an action in tort against his wife, which he cannot do. What could happen would be that under an Act of 1882 the wife or the husband would be entitled to go to the court and ask it to decide which of them should have the right to the occupation of the house. So that, even where the husband is the owner, he cannot get his wife out because he cannot bring the necessary action to do so.

I want now to turn to the question of chattels. Assuming a wife was left in a house—that is to say, assuming we gave a wife under the law as it stands the benefit of the tenancy—it would rather leave her in difficulties if, on the one hand, we gave her that and, on the other, we enabled her to be deprived of the use of all the furniture by its being taken by the husband out of the house. That would be a very serious proposition. Supposing that is right, are the promoters really asking the House to pass a Bill which contains only that provision? That is really what it would amount to, even if the law made it necessary to cover that. I doubt whether the law makes it necessary to do so. If it is true that a wife is the husband's agent in connection with the tenancy of the house—

Mr. L. M. Lever

While they are living together?

Mr. Turner-Samuels

No, not while they are living together. If the wife is the agent of the husband in regard to the tenancy of the house, I submit that she must equally be said to be the agent of the husband in regard to the enjoyment and benefit of the furniture which goes with the house. I should be prepared to argue that, and I believe that it would be held to be good in law. I cannot see the difference between the right to the tenancy which the wife has and the right to the furniture if the wife is accepted as her husband's agent. I am not saying that that would be held, but in my submission it seems as a proposition to be just as strong in regard to chattels as it is in regard to the tenancy. In any case, whether that is so or not, to ask this House to pass a Bill which will merely deal with an item like chattels is asking the House to do more than it ought as a serious legislature to do.

Though I would certainly be anxious to support any Measure designed to bring substantial relief not already available to a married woman or her children, the present law is so much wider than any provision which the Bill seeks to make that, even if there is a small margin of good in the Bill, its passage would complicate the present law and put married women in difficulties which they do not have to face now. For those reasons, the House ought to reject the Bill.

1.57 p.m.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

The remarks made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) would encourage rather than deter anyone who wished to support the Bill. The greatest justification for the Measure is the speech which he has just made. This is a matter which affects the sanctity of family life in its day to day relations and does not call for the pontifical observations of a higher court with which my hon. and learned Friend is associated. The Measure is intended to deal in a simple manner with the problems which affect ordinary men and women in their marital difficulties. If on every occa- sion when there is desertion of a wife by a husband the lawyers have to indulge in remarks as lengthy and complicated as those in which my hon. and learned Friend indulged, the whole object of the Measure, which is to give succour and support to the deserted married women, will be completely defeated.

This is a Measure which completes an aspect of the very great service which, by common consent, the lay magistrates of the country have been rendering. I am one of those who believe that the intelligence and common sense of lay magistrates are an additional advantage to those who submit their problems to the magistrates. The Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1875, gives magistrates power to grant an order to a deserted wife, but as soon as the magistrates have proclaimed the order their power ceases. In effect, they can only partially remedy the problem they are called upon to solve. That is the reason for this Measure. Magistrates can say to a deserted wife, "You can have your order, but we do not know where you will live after tonight, whether you will have to wander along the streets, perhaps with three, four or five children, or whether you should go to the already over-burdened housing department to inquire whether it can do anything." With such a situation the community is faced with a very difficult position. I feel that, rather than overburdening the difficult situation of housing committees, we ought to ease their position, and this Measure will assist in that regard. It also puts the wife, in whose favour an order is made, in a strong bargaining position from the point of view of reconciliation. There is nothing in this Measure which is of complete permanency. Every Clause of it indicates that the value of this Measure lasts only so long as an order exists.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to various other grounds on which husbands and wives can be separated, but I would point out to him that desertion may cover many of the things to which he has referred. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman knows what is meant by constructive cruelty. It can include conditions which make it obligatory upon the wife to leave the home, and while it is perfectly true that Clause I says: … deserted her and, at the time when the order is made, she is resident in premises … the courts may very well construe, in constructive desertion which compels a married woman to leave the marital home, that she still resides in the home, even though physically she may not do so. Therefore, I feel that this Bill is a contribution of benefit. It will act as a preventive against separation, and, in my view maintain the integrity of the family. I feel that if a separation on the ground of desertion does take place, then inevitably the wife will be put in a strong position; and the children will gain immediate benefit in having a home over their heads without any of the legal complications to which my hon. and learned Friend referred.

In regard to the chattels, quite obviously when we give the benefit of the home we are also giving the wife and children—because it is confined to the case where there are children or a child—the benefit of the furniture. I see a difficulty which ought to be dealt with in Committee. Clause 2 (3) states: Nothing in this section shall authorise the making of any order with respect to any property in which a third person has any right or interest, and any order made under this section, insofar as it purports to relate to any such property, shall be of no effect. We know that in these days many married people buy their furniture on the hire purchase system. Suppose all the furniture is on the hire purchase system, then all the furniture would be property in which a third person has a right or interest. The giving of an order for the transfer of the tenancy to the housewife might be completely nugatory. If all the furniture is on the hire purchase system nothing could be done by a court of summary jurisdiction in relation to that. May I say, to their credit, that in many cases where furniture is bought on the hire purchase system the wife contributes a substantial portion of the cost. Where a wife has contributed to the cost of any property in which a third party has any right or interest I would even provide the court of summary jurisdiction with the opportunity of giving a remedy, and of dealing with that property to which the wife has contributed.

I feel that this is a Measure of social benefit which can do no harm. There may be many points to which we would wish to refer in Committee, but that does not in any way minimise the necessity for the Bill. After nearly a quarter of a century of experience as a solicitor in the courts I can speak of many cases where an order given by a court of summary jurisdiction has been of no value whatsoever, because the wife was in a worse position after the order, from the point of view of domestic circumstances, than she was before. It is a question of whether she is better off free without a home, or whether she is better off in the home with an irritating husband, or a husband whose conduct may cause her to desert or create family schism. I hope the House will recognise that. After all, we must do honour to our women. We must do honour to the women who are bringing up our children. We must not weaken their hands. By strengthening their hands we shall strengthen the bonds of matrimony which particularly in these days would be of great benefit to the community, and of far-reaching effect, from the point of view of conditions both today and in the future.

2.6 p.m.

Mr. John Bay (Henley)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House while recognising the undoubted necessity of providing adequate protection for deserted wives and their children, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which confines relief only to wives who are deserted, does not provide relief for wives who divorce their husbands, limits relief only to premises to which the Rent Restriction Acts apply, interferes with existing private contracts of tenancy to the detriment of lessors, and which, by failing to provide a procedure for the re-vesting of tenancies and chattels if the parties resume cohabitation, will impede reconciliation in unhappy marriages. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) has left the Chamber, because although there were a number of points upon which I was in complete agreement with him, there were a great many others in which I was certainly not in agreement. The main point upon which I agree with him is that I do not like this Bill. I agree with him and with my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) who moved the Second Reading, that there is a great social opportunity here. Those of us who have had anything whatever to do with the matrimonial jurisdiction of magistrates know perfectly well that this problem does arise, that under the provisions of the 1925 Act unless the wife is actually living separate from the husband in some other place, any order which the magistrates make, as the hon. Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) has just said, is nugatory. If my hon. Friends had wanted to deal with this situation it would have been better to direct their attention to that particular provision of the 1925 Act rather than produce a Bill which I am bound to say touches, in my opinion, only the very fringe of this problem; and which may, if left unamended, do very substantial harm.

The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester in the course of what I think was the more accurate part of his speech — —

Mr. L. M. Lever

Which part was that?

Mr. Hay

—referred to the present legal position. This Bill deals only with the case of a wife who is deserted. Because of the scope of the Bill, I can foresee considerable difficulties on the part of those of us who wish to improve it when we come to Committee stage. At present the law shortly is that if a wife is deserted by her husband in the sense that he physically parts from her, the landlord cannot recover possession of the house if it is rent controlled unless there is some other ground apart from the absence of the husband. That is the case of Middleton versus Baldock to which reference has been made.

But this Bill does not help us at all to deal with the other case touched upon where the wife is constructively deserted, where the behaviour of the husband—the cruelty of the husband—causes the wife to leave the matrimonial home. That sort of person is not assisted by the Bill, because Clause 1 (1) in terms requires the wife to be resident on the premises when the order is made. The fact that she will have left the matrimonial home, because of the conduct of the husband which gave rise to the actual desertion, precludes her from coming within the umbrella of protection which that Clause provides.

Mr. L. M. Lever

The court has power to determine that she may be deemed to be resident, and the term "resident" may mean physical presence such as would have existed but for the constructive desertion.

Mr. Hay

The word used in the Bill is actually "resident," and I think the hon. Gentleman is now turning into a latter-day Humpty-Dumpty in that he is using words to mean just what he wants them to mean—no more and no less.

Let me put the second objection which I have to this Bill, which was touched upon by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester. I am worried about the scope of this Bill. I agree that there is a great problem here, and I want to help these women as much as do the promoters of the Bill, but I cannot see the sense, logic or decency of merely confining the relief which is proposed to be given by this Bill to wives who are deserted. There is the likelihood that cases of persistent cruelty, cases of adultery, cases where the husband has committed an aggravated assault upon the wife, cases of habitual drunkenness or where the husband has compelled the wife's prostitution—all these cases for separation orders are far more likely to be met with by the magistrates than cases of desertion. I think that is generally understood.

Frequently, magistrates have these applications before them, and, if desertion is alleged, they will not do anything which will prevent the parties coming together again. The very nature of a separation order is protection of the wife, and in this sort of case the wife is not covered, because if a separation order is given, she cannot be resident in the premises. Therefore, I feel that this Bill is too limited in its scope.

I want to go a little further and ask my hon. Friends who support this Bill or anyone who will reply why it is only in the cases where separation or maintenance orders are made that this sort of relief is to be given. Let me remind the House that if a wife chooses to divorce her husband on the ground of desertion, automatically, as soon as she receives her decree absolute, she loses the status of that man's wife and thereby loses the protection of the matrimonial home if it is a rent-restricted property.

As a solicitor, I appeared for a wife whose case has become the leading case on this point. What happened in that case was this. This unfortunate lady was living in rent-controlled premises with the child of the marriage, when her hus- band went off and left her. He had contracted to pay the rent to the landlord, and, for all that the landlord knew, he was resident in the flat. When the wife took proceedings to divorce her husband on the grounds of his desertion and got her decree, instantly the landlord came along, and the Court of Appeal held that he was quite entitled to get possession of the premises, because, in fact, the wife's status had been determined. Why are these wives not protected by this Bill? I think there is just as much right in the case of a woman who takes the step of seeking a divorce against her husband on the grounds of his desertion as there is in the case of a woman who makes an application for a separation or maintenance order against her husband also on the ground of desertion.

I turn now to another point which was touched upon by the hon. Lady who moved the Second Reading. She referred to council houses and local authority property, and, as I understood her, she said that her intention was that this Bill was to be one short step along a very long road, and that in time it might be possible for other types of property at present outside to be brought within the protection which this Bill gives. There are other sorts of property concerning which I think there is a strong case to be made out today, quite apart from the question of future policy, where this sort of protection ought also to be given.

What about furnished flats? So frequently we find that people who have matrimonial differences are living in furnished houses. Why should it be that a woman living in a rent-controlled house would be entitled to the protection afforded by this Bill, whereas a woman in a local authority house in the next street does not get that protection? I think that is unjust and unfair, and I do not think that the House of Commons ought to pass a Bill which does not contain provisions for dealing with both types of case.

In the more inaccurate part of his speech, the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester talked a lot about statutory tenancies, and inquired why it was that the Bill did not deal with contractual tenancies. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not appear to have read the Bill, because, if he had looked at Clause 1 (3), he would have seen that the expression "statutory tenant" is there defined. I shall read only the last three lines: and includes any such person who enjoys his interest in the premises under a contractual term which has not expired. To the ordinary practising lawyer, the words "statutory tenancy" mean a definite thing—a status and right of occupation, but a statutory tenancy is nowhere defined in the Bill, nor in the 1920 Act, except by way of a sidenote to Section 15. This Bill now seeks to expand the definition of statutory tenant to something very much greater, and, under this definition, a statutory tenancy includes any contractual term—not only a weekly, monthly or even quarterly tenancy, but all leases for a period of years.

What will be the effect of the Bill if it goes through as it stands? It means that, when a court is making a maintenance order for a wife, it can transfer the liability under the lease, without any reference whatever to the landlord. The situation is this. The wife goes to court and asks for a maintenance order, and the court, as part of its general order, gives her the statutory protection which this Bill seeks to provide. The landlord is not called in at any stage of the proceedings. Without any word to him, he finds that he has had someone else substituted for his tenant. He has contracted with a man, who was to pay the rent and perform certain covenants, and here are the magistrates, without reference to the landlord at all, having the power to substitute the wife for the man with whom he had contracted.

Mrs. Corbet (Camberwell, Peckham)

As the law stands, there is provision for consultation with the landlord.

Mr. Hay

I think it is a pity that the hon. Lady did not address that point to her hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester.

I think it is unfair to the landlord that, by an Act of Parliament, we should substitute, or give the power to substitute, someone else for the person with whom the landlord had contracted. These are private contracts, and it is a pretty big principle to introduce in a Private Member's Bill to say that, if A and B agree to some contract, the court has power to substitute C for A, because that is what will happen.

What is to happen to the unfortunate lessor of property of this kind? It may well be that the wife, in the nature of things, may find it extremely difficult to pay the rent. The very fact that the wife is the wife means that she probably will not have very much money with which to pay the rent, and she may find it very difficult to make ends meet. I am very concerned about this matter, because it is rather unfair that we should substitute the wife for the husband as the tenant of premises to the detriment of the lessor.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

But that happens when the husband dies.

Mr. Hay

Not always, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me if I correct him on that. It does not always happen. In such a case the wife usually succeeds to the husband's property and estate. But here is a case where a husband has gone off and is only liable to pay maintenance—and not all such husbands pay as they should—and the wife's financial position is inevitably worse because her husband has left her. The two situations are not on all fours. I think it possible to provide some kind of system whereby the landlord is entitled to be heard before the magistrates when they decide on the subject. I think that the present wording is a serious objection to the Bill as it stands, and a fundamental one.

I want now to say a few words about Clause 2 of the Bill which deals with the question of furniture and chattels, and this is in many ways a very bad provision. In moving the Second Reading, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) referred rather ingenuously to this provision by saying that the matter could be arranged satisfactorily. I do not think it can, and I am very worried about this provision. Under it a court is being given power by an Act of Parliament to vest the ownership of furniture and chattels, which may have been bought jointly, or may have been bought by the husband alone and are therefore his property, in a wife. Very often these cases of matrimonial upset, where one party leaves the other, are six of one and half a dozen of the other. I have heard magistrates say that one might just as well go behind a court bench and toss a coin to see who is telling the truth.

Miss Ward

Not always.

Mr. Hay

Not always, but very often as I said, and I am sure that anybody who has had any experience of matrimonial cases before justices knows how very difficult it sometimes is to get the truth.

Let us suppose for a moment that there is a matrimonial difference between two parties. Under this Bill the court is being given power to vest the ownership of the furniture and chattels in the wife, although it may have been as much her fault as the husband's that the home was broken up. It may just happen that he has got "fed up" first and has gone off, and therefore the wife has brought the proceedings. What about the husband? Is he going to be assisted in any way towards that reconciliation which I think is so important in public policy? Is he going to be assisted along that particular road by the fact that the tenancy of his home has been vested compulsorily against his will in the wife, and also the furniture and chattels which he owns? I do not think so: I think we are going to have husbands becoming extremely embittered and very resentful if that sort of provision is allowed to stand.

I will go further and say that the Bill as it stands makes absolutely no provision at all for the re-vesting of chattels. If hon. Members will look at the actual wording of Clause 2 they will see that it makes it clear that once there is a vesting the ownership passes to the wife. There is no provision at all that if the parties come together again—which is, after all, what we want to see happen if possible, and broken marriages can be mended—that the wife will not still retain the ownership of the furniture and chattels and the right to the tenancy. I should want to see substantial changes made to Clause 2 before I was prepared to agree to it. There, in short, is my view about the Bill.

May I make clear to hon. Members before I resume my seat that my objection is not to the principle underlying the Bill. I think that protection ought to be given to wives who are either deserted or cruelly treated by their husbands, but I think that this Bill is wrong in the way that it tries to give such protection. I am not sure that it can altogether be remedied in Committee, and therefore, I ask the House to accept my Amendment.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Bell (Bucks, South)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), I ask the House to decline to give this Bill a Second Reading, and like him I do so without in any way wishing to imply that I have not the greatest sympathy with the condition in which many wives find themselves when deserted by their husbands, and even when an order for their maintenance has been made against the husbands. But however great the sympathy which one may feel with wives in that position, this House must exercise great discretion and responsibility before it places on the Statute Book a Measure which, in remedying one abuse, might bring into existence a greater one, and which might even be ineffective to do that to which it is directed.

I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) and also to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). We have had some rather strange law in the debate this afternoon. At one time the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester appeared to be contending that the courts might make injunctions against living in adultery, and I think the hon. Member for Ardwick was suggesting that the term "residence" might be construed as meaning where somebody would be living if he were not, in fact, living somewhere else.

I do not intend to follow those hon. Members up those devious by-ways of the law, nor, indeed, am I going to invite the House to give much consideration to the imperfections in the Bill, however serious they may be, if they are matters which can be cured during the Committee stage. I want to oppose this Bill because I think it is incurably bad. One may want to help wives who are deserted, but can one do so by passing a Bill which confers upon the courts of summary jurisdiction the power to make orders—I apologise for using a technical expression—in rem?

I am already rather unhappy about the matrimonial jurisdiction in the lower courts of this country, and although I yield in no way to the hon. Member for Ardwick in his admiration for the work done by lay magistrates, nevertheless I have often felt very unhappy that we have to remit matrimonial causes to their adjudication. Very often the decision in those courts is no less grave, or very little less grave, than that which is made by judges of the High Court in divorce proceedings. Indeed, very often it becomes almost the basis of divorce proceedings.

In my professional capacity I have had considerable experience of matrimonial causes, as no doubt many other hon. Members have, and I am always struck by the difference between the conduct of a defended divorce in the High Court of Justice, which may last two three or four days before a High Court judge, and the course of a defended application by a wife for an order before a magistrate, of which frequently half a dozen are heard in a day. It often happens that only one of the parties is represented and in those cases it is nearly always the husband who is not represented. I know that, however carefully magistrates' courts hear these matters, they cannot be fully discussed and the final truth of the matter arrived at in this way.

One has also to remember—and I think it was referred to in a High Court judgment recently—that a judgment in favour of one party or the other in this kind of proceedings is not a judgment of the court nor an opinion of the court that that party is to blame for the breakup of the marriage. It means that that party has been found by the competent court to be the one which has committed the specific matrimonial offence. If one could look at the whole story of the marriage, one would sometimes find that the other party was the one who, in the small matters of every-day life, had destroyed that sentiment which binds a marriage together. But the law does not and cannot look at such matters of detail. It has to look at a specific act, like desertion or a blow struck or something of that kind, and it says, in effect, that the first person who is proved to have taken the tangible step of a prescribed action is the person against whom an order or a decree of divorce has to be made.

It must not be assumed that, because an order or a decree has been made, the court has found that that party is the one which has broken up the marriage. In these courts of summary jurisdiction these matters are carefully and conscientiously inquired into by the magistrates; and the difficulties under which they labour in exercising this jurisdiction are really substantial. They rarely have the advantage of hearing the case presented by counsel. Quite often they do not have the advantage of hearing any legal representations at all. One knows that when husband and wife get into court in this way, without representation, there is a tendency for the matter to develop into recrimination and counter-recrimination rather than into allegation, defence and explanation.

I should be extremely unhappy, and I ask the House to feel the same way, if one were to add to the significance and consequence of the orders made in this way. When one comes to the High Court of Justice with one of these orders made in the inferior court in an undefended case of divorce, that order can serve as corroboration of the allegation.

Mr. Kaberry (Leeds, North-West)

As prima facie evidence, not necessarily corroboration.

Mr. Bell

I am obliged. No decree of divorce can be given without the evidence of the petitioner. It is within the experience of all of us in this House who have had to deal professionally with these matters that it is not a great disadvantage in the High Court to go in as a petitioner with an order of this kind made against one. In a defended suit the fact that an order has been made is really not regarded by the court. This has been justified by the High Court by saying that it is well known that these matters cannot be inquired into with the same particularity before courts of summary jurisdiction as they are in the High Court of Justice. I mention these matters because this Bill proposes to give to the courts of summary jurisdiction the power over the property of the parties which I do not think is actually possessed by the High Court of Justice.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Under the Married Women's Property Act, 1882, proceedings can be taken with regard to questions of ownership of matrimonial property.

Mr. Bell

That is another matter, but this Bill is to transfer property owned by one party to another. This Bill admits that tenancy belongs to the husband and proposes to give it to the wife irrespective of existing rights. The Married Women's Property Act procedure is to decide what the relative rights are. I think that is quite a different thing.

I have no experience of the Probate Division purporting to transfer property. I do not say dogmatically that they cannot, because I have not checked it. I do not know of a case in which it has been done —a tenancy transferred from the husband to the wife as part of an order of maintenance made by the court. It would be surely a striking thing if, by a Private Member's Bill, this wide and unfamiliar power were conferred on courts of summary jurisdiction.

I should be very sorry to see any extension of the real property jurisdiction of magistrates' courts. I do not think they are a suitable court to deal with these matters. The Small Tenements Recovery Act, 1838, is the only Act of that kind with which they deal at the moment. I hold the view that that is not very desirable. I know there are arguments in favour, but I think the balance of argument is in favour of a transfer to the county court and that, on the whole, these powers should not be exercised by the magistrates because they are not a suitable tribunal. They have not the time nor the legal training to decide matters of law or matters that may require extended argument for a considerable period of time.

This matter is not curable in Committee and it goes to the root of the Bill, because the Bill proposes that the court which makes the order, and presumably knows the background, should make an order transferring the tenancy or apportioning the chattels. To my mind, that is a fatal argument against the Bill. I say that without the slightest disrespect to magistrates who work so hard in administering the law, but I really think that these are not matters that ought to be consigned to courts of that nature.

I know I am making a criticism without offering an alternative to achieve the aim we all want to achieve in relieving hardship on women in this position. The county court is overburdened already and will not have heard the original matri- monial dispute. I do not offer any constructive alternative; I merely state my reason for feeling that the court of summary jurisdiction is not the suitable court for this purpose.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Which means the High Court?

Mr. Bell

That may be so. I cannot offer the House an alternative. I have not arrived at one. It is a very difficult matter, because whoever exercises discretion of this kind wants to know an awful lot about the merits of the matrimonial dispute.

Then there is the matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Henley has referred, which answers the point made by the hon. Member for Ardwick about the effect on reconciliation of an order of this kind if it were made. The magistrates, upon hearing these matrimonial causes, have power to make either a maintenance order or a separation order; but it certainly is not their custom, and in fact I think it is extremely rare, to make a separation order upon the ground of desertion. I have never known a separation order made on the ground of desertion. It may be that such an order has been made in recent years, but I have no knowledge of one and I think that they are confined exclusively to cases of cruelty and are made for the wife's protection.

I know that a court has full jurisdiction to make orders in the case of desertion but they are not usually made, partly because the wife's remedy in the divorce court would be impaired if a separation order were made, but also because the remedy is felt to be peculiarly appropriate to cases of cruelty. Cases of desertion are precisely those in which reconciliation is most likely. Where there has been cruelty or adultery, reconciliation is much more difficult; but the ordinary cases of the spouses separating are the ones in which reconciliation is more possible.

Here we are dealing with the separation of three years, as in the divorce court, but with a temporary separation. The applications to the magistrates are often made quickly, within a week or two of the husband leaving, because they are usually poor people and the wife has to get money in order to carry on. The applications are made sometimes very quickly. Those are, above all, the cases in which reconciliation is possible. But any prospect of reconciliation will be gravely damaged if the courts begin to exercise this jurisdiction of transferring the tenancy to the wife.

It is true that at present the husband can go back. It is very desirable that he should go back. The law requires that if the wife wants to petition for divorce she should, for three years, be ready and willing at all times to receive the husband back. That is the law, and surely it is more than the law; it is good sense. The rate at which marriages are breaking up in this country is something which must disquiet the House and public opinion. Any Measure which would make it more difficult for the parties to resume cohabitation could not be one which would really serve the objects in the minds of those hon. Members who have put forward this Bill. Once a tenancy was transferred to the wife, she would be in a position in law to prevent the husband from going back. To strengthen that position is not really the way to encourage reconciliation.

I often think that people over-estimate the extent to which the law can assist reconciliation. My view is that very often the interference of the law, however well intended, destroys the prospect of reconciliation. Once the parties are at arm's length, it is difficult to get them together again, and the further apart we set them he more unlikely it is that they will come together again. On that ground alone, I should be sorry if a Measure which sets out to do just what is set out in the Bill were to be passed by this House and put upon the Statute Book out of any vague feeling of sympathy with the undoubted hardship of wives who are deserted and find they have nowhere to go when they have got their order.

Now I refer to the duration of such orders if they were made. Once made they are, as far as one can see, irrevocable. I am not merely referring to reconciliation. Suppose an order were discharged upon the grounds of the husband's adultery, an order made under this Bill would continue in force. That would be a remarkable state of affairs. If the maintenance order against a wife were discharged on the ground of misconduct, these orders vesting the chattels and tenancy in her would continue in force. That is a point which might be remedied in Committee, but at the moment it is a matter of substance.

Lastly, on Clause 2, which concerns chattels, I would repeat to hon. Members the same argument that I put forward on the question of tenancy. I do not think that a court of petty sessions is really suitable to decide a very tricky matter like the transfer of chattels from one spouse to another. All sorts of questions will arise upon such a matter—questions of law, questions of hardship, questions of relative value. We are familiar with some of them in proceedings under the Married Women's Property Act in the High Court, and the sort of evidence one must call to make out one's case on value and so forth. I really cannot see, as a matter of practical politics, how we could administer this Bill, if it were to become an Act of Parliament, either on the tenancy side or on the chattel side. I just do not think it could be done anyway, however laudable the aims may be, and I must ask the House, without in any way recording its lack of sympathy with the motives and intentions of the Bill, to refuse to give it a Second Reading.

2.47 p.m.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I fail to understand why the Amendment has been moved or why there is any objection to this Bill, except perhaps on the one ground that possibly in Committee those points which require to be amended would not be so amended. That is an entirely wrong attitude to be taken by anyone who professes to be in sympathy with a Measure and who is anxious to remedy an evil which undoubtedly exists and which should be removed as speedily as possible.

This is a Private Members' Bill. It is not a Government Measure and it is not a major Measure in the sense of being comprehensive. Indeed, if a Measure had been introduced which was comprehensive, it would take a long time to discuss in Committee and it would not be appropriate for a Private Member to attempt to pass it through this House. The whole object of Private Members' Bills is to set the ball rolling in a certain direction, to get some wrong put right; some Measure introduced on to the Statute Book which will help to remove difficulties that exist; possibly to be used as a guinea pig in relation to further legislation. But certainly Private Members' Bills should not be heavy comprehensive Measures.

What does this Bill profess to do? I am not happy about the wording of it. With the greatest respect to those who are promoting it, I would say that the wording might have been very much more happily framed; but their intention is good and I do not think that, because the wording is a little bit difficult and perhaps does not fully carry out what they want to do, we should turn down the Bill. The wording can be put right in the Committee stage. I hope that hon. Members who have so far opposed the Bill, will try to help in the Committee stage to put the wording right.

Let me take the strongest argument that was used against the Measure—that a court of summary jurisdiction ought not to be vested with the power that this Bill attempts to place in its hands. A court of summary jurisdiction already has the power to grant an order; and that, after all, is the material issue, if it is a question of happiness, and of deciding what is in the best interests of two married persons who fall out with each other. It is much more important than deciding any question relating to the house in which they live or to a chattel that one of them is to use. No one has suggested that the first power should be taken away from the magistrates.

It is true that it has been said that the High Court takes longer in arriving at a decision. I see that hon. Members who spend weeks in the High Court arguing about some case or a number of cases in which technical points decide the issue, positively fear that the dignity of the High Court and the importance of the High Court may be interfered with. But that has already been done. The magistrates have been given that power; and not only have they been given that power, but it has been given in a definite sense, because that type of case is submitted to a particular type of tribunal. Usually—and I think that this is probably within the experience of all those who practise in the courts—the magistrates who deal with these matters are people who are regarded as specifically suited to deal with this particular type of investigation and inquiry.

Moreover, they are helped by extra legal evidence and by court officers. I know that some legal big-wigs think that that ought not to be done; that it is not right, it is not proper, that anything should be inquired into except on absolutely, strictly legal lines and by the rules of evidence. However, the fact remains that this has been accepted by those who are better qualified—if I may say so with respect—than others to decide these matters, and that method of inquiry into and investigating these domestic difficulties is the one which is at present in use. There are inquiries by the court officers, and every attempt is made to reconcile the parties. The magistrates who decide these cases are not devoid of human feelings or of anxieties about bringing the parties together.

If their discretion can be relied upon to grant an order, then I see no reason why those matters that should follow from the order, the decisions that have to be made with regard to making the order effective, should not also be in their control. They know the facts of the case they know about the family of the parties they know what has happened in the course of the marital relationship between the parties; they delve into every point; and they do it, I think, as closely as possible within an atmosphere of privacy, and on the basis, as far as possible, of friendliness towards the parties concerned.

They ultimately come to the decision that an order should be made—I take this specific point—for desertion. I agree that the scope of the Bill might be extended. It could be extended to cases of cruelty. It might be extended to all sorts of cases. But this Measure attempts to deal with one of the positions. In passing, I may say that many of the arounds—cruelty, and so on—could be utilised in order to obtain an order for desertion without applying for an order on the grounds of cruelty. That is the first point. I agree that it might be extended later on to divorce proceedings. It might be extended later on to all sorts of proceedings. But for the time being let us try to break the ice and let us get on with the job.

Let me give an illustration of what I mean. I remember years ago that a Measure was introduced in this House for compelling mining companies to be insured so that a person claiming compensation would not suffer if the company went into liquidation. It was passed. It was a small Measure, but it was an important Measure. It is perfectly true that one might have argued at that time—and rightly argued—that it was illogical to do that merely for mines, and that it ought to have been done for all employers. Nevertheless, that Measure led the way towards other Measures and was an important addition to the Statute Book. It is in that light that I regard this particular Bill, and I hope that hon. Members who have quite rightly criticised its limitations will withdraw their Amendment and their objections and give the hon. Lady an opportunity of doing something that is really worth while for those who suffer in the manner referred to here.

Let me make another point concerning the question of the discretion with regard to occupation of homes. It is within the discretion of the court today under the Rent Restriction Acts to decide whether a person should have the use of a house or not, irrespective in many cases of what the superior landlord would want. Hon. Gentlemen here who have practised in the courts will know that on the death of a tenant a widow is entitled, irrespective of what the landlord wants, to take possession of the house as a statutory tenant—that the executrix or executor under a contractual tenancy is entitled to remain in the house, in certain circumstances, irrespective of what the landlord wants. So it is not introducing something new to give the courts of summary jurisdiction the power to do what is asked for in this Bill.

I have mentioned on numerous occasions in this House—and I hope I shall be forgiven for repeating it—that I consider that a court of summary jurisdiction has as great powers as a county court; that it has tremendous powers—I am not going to say of life and death, but powers of importance; extensive powers to fine; tremendous powers of moulding the futures of people and over the homes of people in its hands. I do not think that this extension of these powers would be such a terrible thing as it has been made out to be, particularly by the hon. Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell), who seconded the Amendment.

Mr. Bell

Is the hon. Gentleman's argument that because courts of summary jurisdiction already have extensive powers, then logically there ought to be no limit to the extent to which those powers should be further extended?

Mr. Janner

That is the whole trouble. I understand the hon. Gentleman is a barrister, which explains the position, for he deals in a much higher sphere, in that sublime atmosphere which regards the lower strata as being beyond recognition. Desertion carries a comparatively small weekly payment. A person who can afford to take proceedings in the higher courts does not usually come to the police court to have her case decided.

We are not talking about large vested estates being handed over. We are not talking about huge fortunes being trans ferred in the way of chattels. We are talking about what magistrates will consider reasonable in the discretion they have in order to allow a deserted wife to have a roof over her head and a little furniture with which to carry on a home. No magistrate worthy of his salt would be incapable of deciding whether a few chairs and a table ought to be granted to a deserted woman. It is to be a discretionary right. Suppose a deserted wife were suddenly to ask for some piece of Chippendale furniture to be handed over merely because she liked that ornamentation in the home, I cannot imagine the court saying that that was of such vital importance to her that it must be handed over.

We are here dealing with ordinary human beings who have not a large amount of wealth, with men and women of the ordinary classes who come before the courts. We are trying to prevent a decision of the court made in favour of a wife who has been deserted from becoming useless. If a wife is to be thrown out of the house and not to have a roof over her head or any furniture, that is either compelling her to return against her will and against the decision of the court—not giving her the right to decide for herself, but making it impossible for her to refuse—or possibly, as often happens, driving her into an immoral life from which she cannot escape.

Mr. Hay

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that part of my speech in which I said that, at the moment, the law covered this position of desertion both from the constructive point of view, and from the point of view of ordinary physical desertion? Does he also agree that what is really needed is an amendment of the 1925 Act?

Mr. Janner

It does not entirely cover the position. It does not cover it to the extent that this Bill would have it covered. I would alter some Clauses of this Bill. I am not altogether satisfied that its provisions should apply only to a case in which the wife is still living in the house; the scope of the Bill might be extended there. I hope that this Bill will be given a Second Reading so that we may consider it in Committee and amend it where necessary, for then I am certain that we shall have done something really worth while.

3.4 p.m.

Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

It is very easy to utter noble words about the plight of deserted wives, and it is very easy to get up here and say, as we all do, that we ought to get some evil remedied, and that we ought to try to do something about it. I do not for a moment suppose that there is one hon. Member on either side of the House who would not desire to see something done in the interests of deserted wives. When we are considering a Bill, whether it be a Bill promoted by the Government or whether it falls into that humbler category, as apparently my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), would describe it, of the Private Members' Bill, we have still, I suppose, a duty to see that the Bill is a practical Measure.

Of course, one realises that if the only objection to a Bill is some small point in a particular Clause that may be remedied by an Amendment being put down, so that the Bill can be made into a really effective Measure, it would be our duty to support the Bill. I suggest, with all respect to the promoters of this Bill, that however much we all are in sympathy with the object of the Bill, the Bill, as drawn now, cannot stand, and that this Bill, as one would visualise it in any way with regard to the possibility of amendment, cannot become a satisfactory Bill. I suggest that there are so many difficulties in the way of this Bill, that they make it fatal for the Bill as it now stands.

The first point of criticism which I want to make is one which has already been made, but which, I think, must be emphasised. I do not know whether there is any particular virtue in a deserted wife as against a wife who has had an aggravated assault committed upon her or who has suffered from persistent cruelty or from a matrimonial offence of some kind. I see that the authors of the Bill have chosen to take desertion and base it on an order under Section 5 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895. My recollection is that Section 4 of that Act sets out not only desertion but a number of other matrimonial offences, and why on earth the promoters of this Bill should have chosen the evil of desertion as being the one thing on which the whole of the consequences set out in the Bill should follow, I do not know.

Mr. Janner

Would my hon. Friend answer this question: In any of the points which he has made and which entitles a person to apply for an order on any of the other grounds, is there one of them which would not entitle a person to have an order for desertion?

Mr. Weitzman

My hon. Friend has entirely missed the point I am making. Of course it is open to a police court magistrate in a court of summary jurisdiction to make a desertion order on these grounds; but that surely is not the point. Surely my hon. Friend is not saying that, if a wife has had an aggravated assault committed upon her or has suffered from persistent cruelty or neglect to maintain and the magistrate has made an order but not a desertion order, the relief set out in the Bill should not apply. Surely if it is right that the relief given here should follow an order for desertion, there is no reason why other offences set out in Section 4 of the Act of 1895 should not attract the same relief.

The first criticism, therefore, is that the Bill is far too limited in its scope. I know that it may be said, "You can remedy that in Committee," and if it was a point that remained alone, possibly we could; but it seems to me that it is wrong in principle to give an advantage because the offence of desertion has been committed and not any other offence and to say "You may claim the benefit of Clause 1 of the Bill because a desertion order has been made," taking no account of other matrimonial offences.

My second criticism is on a matter which has also been mentioned and which again, I think, ought to be emphasised. The law as it stands at the moment substantially provides for the enactment that is now proposed in Clause I of the Bill upon an order on the ground of desertion having been made. It has already been pointed out that the law of the land is that when a wife is deserted she has a right to remain in the matrimonial home and if a landlord brought proceedings for possession against her, she would have a perfectly good defence. I suggest that this Bill does harm to the existing law, and if in fact this enactment is placed upon the Statute Book, I see no reason why some astute lawyer should not argue that what is the law today has gone.

If we look at the words in Clause 1 (1) —and I invite some of those who have spoken in such general terms about it to look at the words carefully—we see that: Where a woman obtains an order under section five of the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895, on the ground that her husband has deserted her and, at the time when the order is made, she is resident in premises of which her husband is the statutory tenant, the court which makes the order, or any court of summary jurisdiction sitting for the same petty sessional division, may, if on her application the court thinks it just to do so having regard to all the circumstances of the case, order that she shall be substituted for her husband as the statutory tenant of those premises: What is the position of a woman who has applied for an order if the order is not made? What is the position of a woman who has been deserted by her husband if no application of any kind is made?

I suggest it might be argued that, as there is a provision in an Act of Parliament specifically for cases where an order of this kind is made, where an order has not been made the law will imply that a woman has no such protection. There is a positive danger there. At the moment, the common law protects the woman who is deserted by her husband, without the necessity of any Act of Parliament. If we put in an Act of Parliament provisions dealing with the rights of a deserted wife, we are laying ourselves open to the argument that the rights are limited to these provisions. This is a real danger and it may do positive harm.

There is a further point of criticism with regard to the Bill. I should like to support in the strongest possible manner the criticism that has been made of the suggestion that a court of summary jurisdiction, which is a police court, should deal with this matter. I have heard the eulogy of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), in regard to the work of the police court magistrates. I agree that they do a great deal of very important and valuable work. But, what an extraordinary thing it is to say that because they do very important work we should therefore give them still more important work, and then to counter that by the argument that, after all, we are not dealing with very great sums of money by way of chattels, but only with a few sticks of furniture, such as chairs and tables. Those chairs and tables are just as valuable to the woman as the vested estates or great sums of money are to the wealthy.

Mr. Janner

Will my hon. Friend explain why we have county courts, police courts, quarter sessions and other courts to deal with specific cases?

Mr. Weitzman

I should be prepared to deal with that but for the fact that I am afraid I should be ruled out of order.

I wish to emphasise that in my view the police court is the worst possible tribunal to deal with this matter. It is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend has said, that police courts deal with matrimonial causes. He has said that the magistrates in the police courts are persons skilled in this sort of work. All the Metropolitan magistrates are very able persons to deal with matrimonial causes. But, surely he does not suggest—I know that he has had considerable experience in police courts—that a police court can do justice in a matter of this kind. We know that the police courts have to deal with a large number of criminal offences, and many other matters, and then, perhaps, take a number of matrimonial cases within an hour or two. Does he suggest that such a court can do justice in a matter of this kind? Anyone who has had any considerable experience of courts of summary jurisdiction would surely agree. I am not suggesting this from the point of view of competence, but because of the very onerous duties which are placed upon courts of that kind, and it would be extremely wrong to put upon that class of court the specific task of dealing with a matter of this kind.

It does not stop there. The magistrate has little experience of matters coming within the Rent Restriction Acts. For the very first time we propose to ask magistrates to deal with questions involving the perplexing status of a statutory tenant. If it were really desired to make this section effective, it would be far easier for the application to be made to the county court judge. There the matter could be tried out in a much calmer atmosphere and the necessary order obtained in that court.

Mr. Kaberry

Would the hon. Member say what the county court judge should try out?

Mr. Weitzman

Presumably—and I am following the Bill for a moment as though it were an Act—what the county court judge would try out would be an application made by a wife, who has obtained an order, because of the desertion of her husband, that the statutory tenancy be vested in her, whereupon under this Bill she would have to give notice to her husband, to the landlord and to all interested parties to attend the county court when the matter was dealt with.

Might I suggest that there is a much simpler way of dealing with the matter. Under Section 12 of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1920, there is a definition of the word "tenant." Already that word has been extended in certain ways. We know, for example, that "tenant" includes the widow of the tenant or a member of the family. So if it is really desired that some protection should be obtained for a deserted wife, it would be the simplest thing in the world to amend Section 12 of the Rent Restriction Act so that the word "tenant" should include the words "deserted wife." If desired, words could be inserted giving the court discretion in the matter just as they have a discretion when it deals with the question who is a member of a family. Clause 1 of this Bill would, therefore, be entirely unnecessary, and its object achieved by an amendment such as I have suggested.

May I turn for one moment to the proviso in Clause 1 (2). I do not think anything has been said about that proviso. It is said there that the liability of the husband for rent should remain the husband's and should not be trans- ferred to the deserted wife. But what about the liability for covenants to repair? What about other covenants contained in the tenancy? That is something on which this Bill is completely silent.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals with chattels. A considerable amount of the criticism which I have made about Clause 1 applies to Clause 2. First of all, it is limited to cases of desertion. Again I venture to suggest that the criticism of the use of the court of summary jurisdiction as the tribunal, applies also to this Clause. Because of the mass of work upon which our courts of summary jurisdiction are engaged, it is unfair to put upon a magistrate the task of deciding what shall be done with regard to the ownership of chattels. I would remind hon. Members that this is not a case where an order is made automatically, but where a magistrate must go into the circumstances of the case. It will be necessary for the magistrate to hold a detailed inquiry into all the circumstances. The worst possible tribunal, in my view, to inquire into a matter of this kind, is a court of summary jurisdiction.

I have another objection to the Bill. There is a proviso in subsection (1) of the Clause that no order shall be made unless there is a child of the marriage under the age of 16 years living at the date of the application. What is the point of putting that proviso into the Bill? The promoters may think that a younger married woman with no children could start her own life, but surely they are forgetting the woman of 50 years of age or over who has no children. Why should not she have the benefit given by the Bill? Why limit the order to someone who is the proud possessor of a child or children under the age of 16?

Another point arises under subsection (3) where this provision appears: Nothing in this section shall authorise the making of any order with respect to any property in which a third person has any right or interest, and any order made under this section, insofar as it purports to relate to any such property, shall he of no effect. If that became law, the easiest thing in the world for any husband to do if he wished to defeat his wife's claim to the ownership of chattels, would be to give a third party an interest, at any time before the making of any order. As a result, the whole of this Clause would become nugatory. Obviously, to make it effective, some limitation would have to be inserted as to the time when that interest was obtained by the third party.

I suggest there is a much simpler way to achieve the result desired by Clause 2. Reference has already been made to the Married Women's Property Act, 1882. Under Section 17 of that Act, either spouse has the right to bring an application with reference to any question of the ownership of property. A simple Amendment of Section 17 would achieve the purpose of Clause 2. If it were desired to put in words with regard to the discretion of the court they could easily be inserted. If it is suggested that a third party might suffer after having acquired the property from the husband or wife then, if the provisions in this Bill were the law of the land, the third party would acquire with the knowledge that such an order might have been made.

The promoters of the Bill are trying to do everything they can to remedy what they consider to be a very serious evil affecting a deserted wife. I have tried to show that the position of deserted wives as the law now stands is not the desperate one they have put forward as compared with some others. Surely the sad position is that of the wife who has divorced her husband on the ground of his adultery, desertion or some other matrimonial offence. Yet when a wife has done that, she ceases to be a wife and loses any right to the tenure of the matrimonial home or the ownership of any chattel. Why is that not dealt with here? It is a very striking evil, and is an important omission.

I have studied the Bill very carefully. I am extremely sympathetic towards the aims of the promoters and I am exceedingly anxious that every evil of that character shall be remedied, but I respectfully suggest to hon. Members that if they examine the defects in the Bill and the criticisms which can be made of the Clauses they will see that it is not a Bill which can be amended in Committee to remove the defects and criticisms. However sympathetic one may be towards its objects, the Bill, ought not to be allowed as it stands or as it could possibly be amended to go upon the Statute Book. The Amendment proposed by hon. Members opposite ought to be accepted by the House.

3.27 p.m.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

As I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), I came to the conclusion that I was very lucky to have remained a spinster, because nothing could have been worse than to have found myself as an aggrieved married woman in court defended by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I offer my most sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) and congratulate her most heartily on having raised this very important subject.

This has been a lawyer's day. I am not a lawyer but merely a lay magistrate, and I hope that it will be recorded on the right side of my Parliamentary balance sheet if I restrain myself from discussing the relationships between lawyers and lay magistrates. I want, with very great diffidence, because I have a high respect for the legal profession, to comment upon one or two of the points which have been raised.

Many hon. Members have asserted that wives are adequately protected and that if a husband left a matrimonial home the landlord could not get possession of the house under the Rent Restriction Acts if the wife remained in occupation. If the husband sold all the furniture and left the wife without a single stick of furniture, I wonder whether she would still be protected. In any event a woman who would seek a remedy through the courts of summary jurisdiction would certainly not be able to refurnish a home for herself and her children. Anyhow, I doubt very much whether under the existing law there would be any protection, and I am not at all certain that the landlord would not be able to obtain possession of the house.

The second point I wish to raise is the point put with very great emphasis by my two hon. and learned Friends opposite—I hope they will take it as a sign of friendship that I still refer to them as hon. Friends. That was the question of giving to the courts of summary jurisdiction the right to deal with chattels. I cannot follow the argument—I do not call it a legal argument—as to why it is such a retrogressive step to give power to deal with chattels when courts of summary jurisdiction already have the power to deal with money. I know that certain people do see property in a different light from money, but I have not such views. If the courts of summary jurisdiction can allocate part of the patrimony of a man, or his wages or salary, to maintain his wife and children I do not think we are going too far in just widening the scope to deal with chattels. I think that argument is quite unreasonable.

I wish also to take the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester regarding local authorities. My hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that she hoped, if this Bill became law, that its principles would be embodied in local authority practice. She told the House that, in fact, it is a practice which is followed by the Manchester local authority, of which she and the hon. Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) are such distinguished members. I am not being political today—merely friendly. Therefore, I agree that there is already a basis for following the principles embodied in the Bill.

I consider, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was very unwise. I noticed that he evaded my question as to whether he was prepared to alter the accepted principle today that local authority housing is dealt with by local authorities, and must not and cannot be interfered with either by politicians or courts of summary jurisdiction. I have been in the House of Commons a long time and my experience tells me that if my hon. Friend had set out to bring the local authorities within the ambit of this Bill, the Government would have been involved and certainly would have opposed the Bill. A great many hon. Members on both sides of the House would have raised that as a point of substance against the Bill. That does not go just for the present Government; it goes for the Opposition if it had been the Government, and I assume also for the second Opposition in the House of Commons. Therefore. I do not think that was a point of substance.

I wish to give an opportunity to the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) to introduce his Bill, which stands next on the Order Paper because it also is a Bill in which we are all interested, so I will at once deal with the main objection to this Bill, which is its restricted scope. I want to put this point of view to hon. Members on both sides. I am quite certain that my hon. Friend and those of us who are supporting her would be very willing to withdraw this Bill today, and not to test it in the Division Lobbies, if the Government would say that they have been so impressed by the volume of issues, raised mostly by legal Members, showing that there is a very wide variety of matrimonial difficulties which require legislative action, that they would be prepared to substitute for this Private Member's Bill a Government Bill covering all these various points.

I do not notice anybody jumping up from the Front Bench to accept my offer, but I would like to say in all sincerity that I do appreciate quite a number of the points which have been raised by Members of the legal profession today. They are very wise indeed to emphasise some of these points, although I thoroughly enjoy pulling their legs on occasion, since lawyers are always included in general jokes on the community, and I noticed the emphasis on the High Court instead of on courts of summary jurisdiction.

Quite seriously, however, the real issue is that it is almost impossible—and, again, this goes for my party as well as the party opposite—for some reason or other, for any Government to find time to deal with a Bill that raises issues particularly relating to women. It is, indeed, a most extraordinary thing. I remember very well the hon. Lady who was formerly a Member for the Combined Universities, Miss Eleanor Rathbone, fighting for very many years until we managed to place on the Statute Book, against the advice of all the lawyers, the Family Inheritance Act, which provided very many fees for the legal profession, who should be more grateful for the efforts of some women Members of this House. The point is that we never are able to get Government time for such a Bill, and I was particularly struck, in the first King's Speech after the General Election, when the Government were supposed to be looking for legislation of a non-controversial nature, that some of these issues dealing with some outstanding problems relating to women were not included in it.

Not so very long ago, certain lawyers introduced a Bill, which is now on the Statute Book, dealing with maintenance orders and in which we brought Scotland and England closer together in relation to the law. That was before the Stone of Scone disappeared. I listened to the speeches of all the lawyers, both from my own side and from the Government side, in which they said that the provisions of that Measure were essential to the proper administration of the courts of summary jurisdiction and were also essential to the protection of women. It has taken nine years to get that Bill on the Statute Book, and I refrained from saying what I thought about the lawyers at that time. What a cynical thing it is, in a world full of hardship and distress and of legitimate grievances crying out for remedies, that everybody should sit and congratulate one another, when it has taken nine long years to bring about an alteration of procedure which even the lawyers agreed was essential for the proper administration of the law.

I am very pleased about this Bill, although it may be narrow in scope. I think that the procedure for Private Members' Bills has been very cleverly laid down in Erskine May in order to discourage Private Members from introducing such Bills. At any rate, my experience in the House of Commons has always taught me that on Private Members' days, the simpler the Bill the more chance there is of getting it, at any rate, a Second Reading. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friend is very wise to make the first step forward. The reference of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) to the Miners' Compensation Bill—and I am very proud to say that was a Conservative Member's Bill; miners and Members please note—was a very sound and a very good illustration. This is only the beginning, and in case anybody thinks that we are going to be satisfied with just the very small provisions of this Bill, it may be that if we take an inch we will get the ell.

Therefore, today we are going to try to strike a blow for a very narrow, restricted Measure, but we all feel that this is the first step. As the hon. Member for Wythenshawe so very wisely, and so very gracefully said, if this Bill focuses public attention on the need for such a Measure, then we shall not have fought this battle in vain. Even though it is narrow in scope and has all sorts of difficulties, it may be that if it is given its Second Reading and goes to the Committee stage, it will be improved, but if, after it has gone through the Committee stage and comes back to this House, it is then not acceptable to the House, that would be the occasion on which to oppose the Bill, and not on Second Reading.

I think I am right in saying that it is the traditional approach of the House to these matters to give a Second Reading to a Bill and then see what can be done to amend it in Committee. We feel very strongly that there are many grievances outstanding so far as women are concerned, and now that we have been lucky enough to have a woman Member gain a place in the ballot, I think it would be ungracious of everybody not to give the Bill a Second Reading today. Therefore, if I may in my small way commend it to the House, I do so in the hope that we will give it a Second Reading and will see what we can do, with the help of the lawyers, to amend it in Committee.

3.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Lindgren)

After having had the pleasure on the previous Bill before the House today, of being able to assure its promoters that it had the Government's blessing, I am sorry that on this occasion, particularly when the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) moved this Bill so charmingly and with such sincerity, I cannot give the same assurance.

If I may say so, the speech made by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), puts the point of view which is taken by both the old Ministry of Health, whose interests in this field will soon be taken over by the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, and of the Home Office in regard to Clauses 1 and 2. I do not think the case could have been stated better or with greater clarity, and it is not with any lack of symapthy in any shape or form that we must ask the House, if the promoters cannot see their way to withdraw the Bill today, to reject it. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) suggested that I might be able to give some guarantee as to future legislation. I am afraid such a guarantee cannot be given. but I could, if the Bill were withdrawn, give the hon. Member for Wythenshawe the guarantee that we would be quite willing to enter into discussions with her and some of her hon. Friends on the points she has raised so far as both the Ministry of Health and the Home Office are concerned. But a guarantee of possibility of legislation is really out of the question at the present time, because of the very wide range of the subject and the fact that any Government proposing to bring in such really fundamental legislation ought to be certain that it was going to be dealt with as a whole. It would be difficult to do that in the present Parliament.

Miss Ward

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but will he say whether, from his point of view as well as perhaps from our point of view, he would put it in his next party programme and leave us to deal with our party?

Mr. Lindgren

Speaking personally, I have spent most of my life trying to make it possible for folk to live together rather than apart. In spite of such activities we do get these problems, and in dealing with them I am not concerned with party programmes. I am sorry I missed the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). Unfortunately I had to go to lunch and therefore I missed what I understood from him just now was really the last word with regard to this Bill. I really cannot enter into discussion of or criticise what he said but I understand that he too took the view that this Bill was not exactly necessary, though perhaps for slightly different reasons.

The reasons why we oppose Clauses 1 and 2 have been very ably stated by a number of legal gentlemen today. The first is that Clause 1 is completely unnecessary in the view of the Ministry of Health, inasmuch as the recent legal decision in the case of Middleton v. Baldock, quoted by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), really gives the protection which the deserted wife requires. The point was made by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe with regard to local authorities. She referred to her experience as a member of the Manchester City Council, and certainly those of us who have had local government experience know that in these difficult matters the local authority although they are excluded under the Rent Restrictions Acts, have always given security of tenure to the woman in these circumstances. Therefore, so far as the local authority side is concerned, the point is covered.

As the law is already safe with regard to married women, we feel that Clause 1 is redundant and, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) it makes the position much worse in many instances. It certainly makes it more uncertain than ever before; and we could not ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading because it would cause still greater uncertainty.

When one comes to Clause 2, the uncertainties and difficulties are much greater than in the case of Clause 1. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe in her opening speech herself put the point so far as the division of these chattels is concerned. Really, in working-class circles, it is a joint issue all through. In most cases the girl, to ensure that she is going to have a home some time, takes some of the money from the fellow each week. Sometimes he has even got to marry the woman to get his money back. That is common in working-class circles. Really, from the start, the home is a joint affair. The old idea of the provision by one partner or the other of certain parts of the home is out of date. It never existed at all in the case of the majority of those whom I am certain the hon. Lady wants to help.

On the question of a division of property which has always been joint property, can one expect the petty sessional court to do the job well? It is a matter for agreement. Even when people are at loggerheads, there is more likelihood of agreement by discussion between the two parties than by a decision by a court. In addition, this Bill might encourage husbands to do something which they have not thought of doing. If they started to take action before the wife got her order under Clause 2, they could forestall her and she would be left with nothing at all. If Clause 2 was operated it would make conditions even more insecure for women who are left in these circumstances.

I conclude by expressing genuine sympathy with the intentions of the hon. Lady. It must be most annoying for her. She has been dealing with a human problem which she has found in her public work in the city which she represents. She is concerned to do the right thing by these people who are suffering distressing circumstances. Our legal friends have pointed out how difficult it would be on the basis of the wording of the Bill to deal with existing circumstances. Therefore, without reference to the problems with which the hon. Lady wanted to deal, if she cannot find it possible to withdraw the Bill I recommend that the Amendment should be supported in order to do justice, or to maintain what justice there is, for these people.

3.54 p.m.

Mrs. Corbet (Camberwell, Peckham)

I have listened to the whole debate and I would say, as one of the supporters of the Bill, that it is clear that some Amendments during the Committee stage would be desirable. It would be our intention to accept every Amendment that would meet the objections raised today. I understand that many of those objections could be met by Amendments.

Mr. Bell

Does the hon. Lady agree that the Preamble to this Bill would itself confine the scope of the Bill to desertion and would make it impossible to amend so as to include cruelty?

Mrs. Corbet

Yes. I agree that perhaps the Preamble is the most unfortunate part of the Bill. If it is not possible to amend the Preamble, we shall be prepared to bring in a limited type of legislation. We would do that realising that this may be just the beginning of more comprehensive legislation which would clear up the whole business. We have not, as far as I can gather, got any promise of any kind to deal with this comprehensively, and, after all, that is what we mainly want. I think that all of us want to bring in every category of separated or divorced or otherwise unhappy women—and sometimes even men, for all of us must be aware that there are unhappy men. I myself have come across men who have been deserted by their wives and left with the children to bring up, and whose wives have somehow or another spirited the furniture away.

I know perfectly well that there is a vast range of problems here that ought to be dealt with, and dealt with speedily, because they are creating considerable hardship every day.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

They cannot be in this Bill.

Mrs. Corbet

I am told that they cannot be in this Bill, but I am not being told by the Government that they will do anything about the matter. If the House voted for the Second Reading of this Bill, it would show that it wanted something done about it. Moreover, then the Bill would go to Committee, and although we cannot do very much in this Bill, we can do something to help. There is always the Third Reading on which a Bill can he turned down. Even then, the subject can be given another airing. The whole business can be given an airing in Committee if the Bill goes to Committee. I see no harm, and, indeed, every good, in granting a Second Reading to the Bill and sending it to Committee. I hope that, as a result of the deliberations, the Government would be prepared to bring in a comprehensive Bill, and that, if they were not, Private Members would get together to bring in a Bill—perhaps next year.

Let me just take the point about the tenancies. I know that the position is fairly satisfactory, but I know of cases at this moment in which the husband persists in remaining in the house, and he is a nuisance and makes life a burden to the wife in the house. There is no remedy against him, because he is the tenant. He can do what he likes in the house, and if he wants to confine his wife in one room with the children, and take all the rest of the furniture in the house for himself, he can do it. It is not a satisfactory position. It is all very well to say that the wife has all the protection that she needs. She has not.

Let me take the question of the chattels. Here, I am still more anxious, because there is here a principle. I think it is recognised to be a principle of some validity. It is a principle that may shock, because it does arrange for the transfer of ownership—not, as was suggested just now, a decision as to whose the ownership is, but a transfer of ownership—from one person to another, and that has been suggested by a court—

Mrs. Hill rose in her place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mrs. Corbet

I do not wish to say anything further.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)

I listened with very great care and attention to the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill), and while I did not follow her absolutely, I feel that the House is really indebted to her for bringing this matter to our

It being after Four o'Clock the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.