HC Deb 27 July 1951 vol 491 cc815-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

11.7 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

On Second Reading the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) asked me to look very carefully into the possibility of putting down an Amendment which would prevent a possible abuse by an applicant in that under the terms of this Bill more courts were to be open to the applicant. I have given very careful consideration to that, and the Attorney-General has considered it in great detail. He has asked me to convey to the Committee the points which have influenced him and me in deciding the impossibility of doing so.

First of all, the law already enables a court of summary jurisdiction to turn down an application for maintenance on the ground that a previous application has been refused and that no fresh circumstances have arisen. It was that I hinted at when I said on Second Reading that there may possibly be a defence of res judicata.

We also considered whether it was possible to put down an Amendment requiring the setting up of a central register for applications for maintenance under the Guardianship of Infants Act, so that the clerk of every court of summary jurisdiction would know of every other application in every other court. As soon as we looked at this idea we realised the administrative impossibility and expense. It would be impossible to implement because an application must be heard before it can be determined whether or not there are any fresh facts. We therefore leave the position as it is.

I submit that there is a greater safeguard than was appreciated by many hon. and learned Members on Second Reading in that the court always has discretion as to costs, and if there was any sign of abuse no doubt that discretion would be exercised to prevent it.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

I have looked at the reports of the Second Readings of this Bill, both in another place and in this House, and I have noted the points made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller). I had, however, in my own mind come to exactly the same conclusions as those reached by the Under-Secretary and the Attorney-General, that it was impossible to meet this point by inserting any words in the Bill.

Circumstances in relation to the guardianship of a child may change so frequently that it would be wrong to place any limit upon the number of applications which may be made in regard to it. I am perfectly satisfied with the Bill as it stands, and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the explanation which he gave.

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

I should like to ask the Under-Secretary about the position of an illegitimate child. He may be able to tell me straight away, but according to my information it is a fact that, under courts of summary jurisdiction, a sum of only 20s. a week may be awarded as maintenance for an illegitimate child, as opposed to the 30s. mentioned in the Bill. I think that all hon. Members will agree that the cost of maintaining an illegitimate child is just as severe as the cost of maintaining a legitimate child.

There may be some reason for keeping the maintenance award slightly lower, in that it may not be wished to give equal treatment to the bearer of an illegitimate child. If that is so, I hope that the Under-Secretary will think again about the matter. It is the father and mother who should be penalised if anyone, but in this case the hardship will fall upon the child. A sum one-third less than the normal amount will be awarded for its maintenance.

I should like to know whether the word "child" in this Bill includes the illegitimate child. If not, will the hon. Gentleman consider seeing that the illegitimate child is included during a later stage of the Bill?

11.15 a.m.

Mr. de Freitas

I think I can help the hon. Gentleman by pointing out that the Bill does not pretend in any way to make big changes in the law relating to the guardianship of infants. It is limited to two small and, so far, non-controversial points. One has to do with reversing the effect of a certain decision by the Sandbach magistrates; the other has to do with removing one anomaly. The Bill does not remove any other anomalies or suggested anomalies in our law, or any distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children. I can say, however, that if we consider changes in the whole law relating to this matter then, of course, we will bear in mind the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2, 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.