HC Deb 27 July 1951 vol 491 cc818-22

In relation to payments pursuant to any order made under the Guardianship of Infants Acts, 1886 and 1925, or any order made under paragraph (b) of the proviso to section seven of the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895, section twenty-five of the Finance Act, 1944 (which requires among other things that certain payments for the benefit, maintenance or education of a person under sixteen years of age which do not exceed one pound a week shall be made without deduction of tax) shall have effect as if in subsection (1) of that section for the words "sixteen years of age" there were substituted the words "twenty-one years of age" and for the words "one pound" there were substituted the words "thirty shillings."—[Mr. de Freitas.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. de Freitas

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

This is technically a new Clause. It had to be left out in another place because of a possible question of Privilege.

Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

I should like to raise one question about this new Clause. I apologise to the Under-Secretary for not giving him notice about it, but I only thought about it very late last night. Clause 2 (2) extends maintenance benefits up to the age of 21 for a child engaged in a course of education or training. This new Clause purports to extend to these payments the exemption from tax permitted by Section 25 of the Finance Act, 1944. That Section relates to payments: for the benefit of, or for the maintenance or education of, a person under 16 years of age. I should like to draw attention to the-fact that that Section of the Finance. Act does not relate to training as opposed to, education, as Clause 2 does. This has aroused certain suspicions, especially as the Preamble of the Bill repeats the same anomaly. The. Preamble says: An Act … for enabling payments of maintenance … to be continued in respect of children over the age of sixteen engaged in a course of education or training, and for requiring certain payments of maintenance … to be paid without deduction of income tax; … Under the various Finance Acts which deal with Income Tax, there is an anomaly between children over the age of 16 who are being educated and for whom a child allowance is made, and children over the age of 16 who are being trained in a trade for whom a child allowance is made only if their earnings, do not exceed the old-fashioned figure of £13 a year. An effort was made this year to remedy that anomaly without success.

I should like to know whether, in this new Clause, we are consenting to the same anomaly. Is it a fact that under the Clause maintenance benefits of any sort granted under the Bill for education purposes are tax free and that those for training purposes for a trade are taxable? If that is so, can anything be done at this stage? I do not think that it can. I think that it would involve an Amendment to the relevant Finance Act. If the answer is unfavourable at this moment, I ask for the support of the Under-Secretary and his right hon. Friend in any effort made to remedy this anomaly when the occasion offers in due course.

Mr. de Freitas

My answer is really the same as that I gave to the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams). The Bill does not purport in any way to change the law except on two small and non-controversial points. I am not here to give an interpretation of the existing law on an intricate point in the Finance Acts. But I would reassure the hon. Member, no change is contemplated here. It might well be that his construction of the present position of the law is wrong. It might well be that the provisions in the existing Acts are wide enough to cover payments for the benefit of a child taking a course of training.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. de Freitas

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

In moving the Third Reading, there is little that I can or need say on this matter. The Bill will put right what we believe to be two wrongs, one the venue in law and the other the amount which the courts may award. It has proved to be a non-controversial Bill, I believe it to be a good Bill and I commend it to the House.

11.21 a.m.

Miss Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)

I venture to interpose for a few moments before this Bill receives its Third Reading, because I have exchanged correspondence on this subject with the right hon. and learned Gentleman who was formerly the Attorney-General, and I would like to congratulate him and his Department, as well as that of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, on the fact that that correspondence was concerned with, to use a well-worn phrase, the matter under consideration. We all join in welcoming the results of this consideration now in substance in the Bill before us.

I believe that this Measure will be welcomed by all, and not least by that very good band of citizens the local magistrates, from whom I have received many representations regretting the limitations imposed upon them by the anomalies outlined by the Under-Secretary. Women's organisations of all kinds, of all parties and of no party welcome this culmination of the long battle which they have waged on what may seem to be a small matter of legislation, but one of very real concern to those deserted or injured women who have not been able to run their husbands to earth in the courts of law.

In Clause 1, power is given to make an application not only in the area of the respondent but in that of the applicant, and this is almost as important as the levelling up of the rates. The married woman from the humble home is not normally a traveller, and this new provision remedies a very real grievance which has been felt by these injured women, who, because of the ability of their husbands to flit from pillar to post and from time to time, have not been able to bring them into the courts and accept their real responsibilities.

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a question? Is it a fact that a man may go across the border into Scotland, and that his wife cannot establish and enforce her claim in an English court? If so, I hope that, in subsequent legislation, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will give consideration to an examination of the differences between English and Scottish law on this subject, to see whether some measure of uniformity advantageous to both countries, and particularly to those women whom this Bill seeks to help, can be brought about.

11.24 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

The Under-Secretary, when introducing the Bill on Second Reading, made reference to the fact that certain hon. Members had for some time been uneasy about the law and had suggested fresh legislation. As one of those hon. Members to whom he made specific reference, along with the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne), I think that perhaps a word or two from me at this stage would not be out of place.

My hon. Friend suggested that the Bill now before us would meet some of the doubts that I have expressed arising from the decision of the court in the case of Rex v. the Sandbach Justices. I wrote to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary because, in my view, arising from the judgment, it was necessary to take some action. I had thought that it might be necessary, either by means of the introduction of a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule or by a Private Member's Bill, that the reform should be brought about.

However, I was delighted to learn from my hon. Friend that the Government were intending to introduce some legislation to deal with the point. This is, indeed, a noteworthy occasion, because it is the first time that any matter about which I have felt uneasy has been remedied by the Government without making it necessary for me to embark on a campaign of agitation with other hon. Members here or with the general public throughout the country as a whole. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having made agitation on this particular occasion unnecessary on my part.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

My hon. and gallant Friend is on a good point this time, but not always.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that friendly intervention.

In my view the Bill does establish one important principle, namely, that the Government are not precluded from introducing reforms, however small, on the subject of the maintenance of wives, children and matters of that kind, while the Royal Commission on the marriage laws generally is in course of being consituted. I hope the Government will not feel themselves debarred from making any changes in the matrimonial law that are necessary, such as the one we are now discussing, by reason of the fact that at some time or other a Royal Commission may investigate the whole problem.

This Bill has become necessary by reason of a decision of the courts in a particular case. It is not the first time that this House has found it necessary to introduce legislation arising from a decision in the courts which has spotlighted some abuse or difficulty in the present law, and I hope that the attention of my right hon. Friend has been drawn to a case which occurred the other day, in which a woman who had been married for 18 years and who has six children, was divorced on the grounds that she was a few months below the age of 16 when the marriage took place. That is the kind of decision which judges sometimes reluctantly have to make, and which imposes on this House the obligation of doing something by way of legislation to remedy a state of affairs which a particular judgment of the courts has exposed.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now going beyond the scope of the Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

I quite agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the last sentence that I uttered was beyond the scope of this Bill, and I hasten to return to the Third Reading debate and to say, finally, that I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend on having introduced it.

Mr. de Freitas

If I may, by leave of the House, reply to one small point, which was raised by an intervention on Second reading, when I said that I would deal with it if it was raised in Committee, may I explain that this Bill does not in any way change or go back upon the great advance which we made in the Act of 1950, which gave an English court of summary jurisdiction the power of jurisdiction in a case, provided that the mother and the child were resident in England, and that is expressively preserved here. It is a fact, of course, that the Bill does not change anomalies in the Scottish law, but it should be made quite clear that that provision is expressively preserved in this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with an Amendment.