§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The strange ways of this place and its unpredictability give me the honour of moving the Second Reading of the Bill which would have been proposed this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) had she not been on a Parliamentary delegation in Strasbourg. This is the second time that my right hon. Friend has tried to get this Bill through Parliament.
It is strange that although women are in the majority in this country they have not used the political power they undoubtedly possess to remove the anomalies that still place them at a disadvantage as compared with men. They still have unequal pay for the job which can be performed either by a woman or a man. These debates are taken down by the Official Reporters in the Gallery above, incidentally, the most painstaking and efficient reporters in the world, and the most long-suffering. One of them is a woman, equally competent with her men colleagues. If she were not so she could not hold her post. Yet her salary is less than that paid to the men who sit side by side with her day by day in the Gallery. That is disgraceful.
Similarly, in the Civil Service, in the teaching profession and in industry, anomalies continue to exist as between the rewards paid for the same job of work to two people, one a woman and one a man.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
On a point of order. Are we discussing equal pay, or a Bill which is entirely concerned with technical legal points?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker(Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I am waiting to see how the hon. Member develops his argument.
§ Dr. King
Strange as are the anomalies that I have just mentioned, the anomalies that exist in the conditions of married women are even more serious, and it is to those that I address my remarks. The 808 married man, no matter what kind of being he was, had the right to treat his child as a piece of property until we put that right by Act of Parliament about 100 years ago. We had to win in this House the right of married women to own their own property. We are a long way yet from securing for the wife and mother, the hardest worker in the community, anything like decent, guaranteed economic conditions.
Almost the only income that the propertyless wife and mother possesses in her own right is the family allowance that she receives for her children from the State. For the rest, she is dependent on the love and the sense of justice of her husband. Even when love is there the sense of justice is not always there, and when love has gone the position of the married woman can indeed be dreadful.
The Bill seeks to do something for the woman who is separated from her husband by court order or divorce. As the law stands, a separated woman can obtain a separation allowance. Clause 1 seeks to help her to get the allowance which the court has awarded her. If British law breaks down, it does so on the question of restitution. We can punish the offender, but it is much more difficult for the law to provide satisfaction for the one whom the offender has wronged.
People are discovering just now that if a man forsakes his children and the State quite rightly steps in and takes care of them, it costs the nation £5 to £7 to look after one child, which is far more than most decent mothers get to bring up their children. We punish with a fine or with gaol parents charged with neglecting their children and make them pay a small amount towards the cost of maintaining the children, but that by no means meets the cost. The feckless and wicked parent can shuffle off his responsibility to the State.
If a court order is made against a man for the support of his wife and children, we do not make sure that the wife gets what the court has decided. When the man falls down on the payments we punish him if we can trace him, and he can buy himself off by serving a sentence in gaol. That may be admirable from the point of view of justice, but it does not provide any benefit for the wronged wife, who in the meantime has to be maintained by the State. She often has to go 809 to the National Assistance Board to receive money which her husband ought to be providing, and has the humiliation of disclosing her private affairs before the Board can do anything. If we can deal with that problem she will be spared that humiliation.
I apologise if I speak on the details of the Bill as a simple layman. I may be followed in support of the Bill by the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon), who will deal with the matter from the more technical point of view. Clause 1 provides that if a woman has obtained a separation allowance or an amount for the maintenance of children that she has had by a man, and the man has defaulted, and the court thinks, alter examining the circumstances that it ought to take the action we propose, it may require the man's employer to deduct from his earnings week by week the money to which the woman is entitled, and shall see that it is given to the woman.
I said when we were debating a similar Bill in the House 12 months ago that I knew of cases where such arrangements to deduct some legal payment due from a man's wages are made voluntarily. To take away regularly from a man's money before he spends it something that he has to pay, if the man is by nature improvident, may prevent him getting into very serious difficulties, from getting into arrears and getting so heavily into debt that he flees the town or loses all hope of straightening things out and shuffles along until he wipes the slate clean so far as the law is concerned by serving a sentence in gaol. But this does not do his wife any good, and I doubt whether it really does even the man much good. So much for Clause 1.
Clause 2 attempts to deal with the question of who owns the joint property of a husband and wife if they decide to separate either by divorce or by judicial separation. At present, everything except the wife's own property, which we secured for her by Act of Parliament 50 or 60 years ago, which she brought into the marriage, seems to belong to the husband. The present situation is that as all has been provided by the wage earner, the husband, it all belongs to him and anything that the wife gets 810 is by the grace and good nature of the departing husband.
One needs no imagination to see how unlikely a departing husband is to be in a generous or even a fair mood. Indeed, unscrupulous men use their economic power as an instrument over women. The woman who has been wronged is often faced with sheer economic destitution if she decides to leave or even if the husband decides to clear off. I speak from considerable personal knowledge of problem cases of this kind. May I refer to a case which happened in a town, let us say, not 1,000 miles from here, in which a woman who is not a constituent of mine came to see me a fortnight ago. She was about 60, had brought up her family decently and in dignity; her husband seems to be a worthless fellow and things have become so bad that she wishes to leave him. For years her income as a wife and mother has been something like one-fifth of the man's weekly income. Some years ago her father gave her money with which to start buying a house on mortgage. She has taken in boarders, and by her own work she has gradually paid off the mortgage on the house.
When the married couple first began to buy the house, the money for which was provided by the woman and the mortgage payments on which have been provided from the earnings of the woman as a boarding house keeper, she took it in the name of her husband. She has earned her living as a wife and mother. I believe that being a wife and mother is a full-time job, and, incidentally, I regret the economic inducements that the State is offering to wives and mothers to neglect their full-time job in order to earn a supplementary income outside. This woman had earned her living as a wife and mother and she supplemented this wretched wage by undertaking a second part-time job. Now, faced with the break-up of the home, she looks towards her sixties with almost nothing.
We are in a country where spinsters are demanding pensions at the age of 55. I say seriously that, compared with the economic position of the married women who have lost their attractiveness for the men who once married them—men who are either no longer interested in them or who, in their old age, have become interested in the kind of pulchritude 811 which we see adorning the less respectable of the illustrated papers—single women are living in security, despite the injustice of unequal pay.
Clause 2 therefore gives a court power in the case of a divorce or judicial separation to divide equally between husband and wife their joint savings during their marriage and the household goods and chattels acquired and used during their marriage. It also secures— and to me, with a particularly poignant case fresh in my mind, this seems very important—that if a husband runs away from his wife, if he merely walks out of the house, and if he was the tenant of the house in which the couple lived, then the court, if it thinks right to do so, may substitute the wife's name for the husband's as the tenant of the house, and, if necessary make the husband assume responsibility for the rent.
I shall not weary the house with cases. I had in mind just now the case I know of a wife who now faces anxiety because, although she is still in the house, there is a possibility that the house will be sold over her head and she will be forced not only to provide a living for herself and her children but even to find some new home in which to live. We were told on the last occasion we debated this matter that hard cases make bad laws. We would not have good laws if the need for good laws had not first been made obvious by hard cases. We have also sought in this Clause to protect the obvious rights and interests of the landlord concerned, and if these provisions are not adequate they can be amended in Committee.
Clause 3 extends the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction (Separation and Maintenance) Act, 1925, so that that Act will cover not only the wife who is not living with the husband but the wife who is living with her husband in the same house, but whose husband is wilfully negecting to provide maintenance for her and her children. This Clause, if it is carried, will give some power to deal with husbands who, from the economic point of view, treat their wives and children as unjustly as some of the slave traders and sweaters of labour did in times now happily past.
The main argument which was addressed against a similar Bill which was 812 brought forward a year ago was that the matters with which we are dealing in the Bill are matters between husband and wife and that marriage problems cannot be solved by Acts of Parliament. I would agree with the argument as expressed in the second form. We are building a Welfare State; we are looking after children whose parents are unworthy of looking after them; we are attempting to provide against accidental poverty, sickness and bereavement, and most of the ills to which flesh is heir. Those of us who advocate legislation to build up a Welfare State do not claim that it alone makes a decent society. We are building a democratic system of education, but good teachers and good schools in themselves do not provide a good education. We also want good homes. The mere legislative framework does not provide the dream that all of us have in mind.
I believe that this country, as never before, needs a great spiritual revival— a greater awakening to a sense of purpose and responsibility amongst us all. We do not make people good by Act of Parliament. A good home and decent relations between husband and wife and parents and child do not need any Acts or laws to insist, protect or to secure. But, having said all that, laws can protect the innocent against the guilty. Laws can protect the wronged against the wrongdoer. This Bill seeks, in a very small way, to do just that. It may contain faults in detail; if so, they can be removed upstairs. No Bill that ever came before this House was not capable of being substantially improved, even if the Government have sometimes had to call in the help of another place to improve it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West who would have moved this Bill this afternoon had she been here, is a great fighter. I have always been troubled by the fact that the first generation of emancipated women, having secured the franchise for themselves, tended to stop there, and that most professional women either sit back in their independence and equal status or, at most, fight the battle of equal pay for professional women and leave it at that.
On the whole, in this country it has been left to the working-class women— like those in the Co-operative Women's Guild and the Labour Party Women's 813 sections—to fight for reforms which would benefit all womenhood and children. My right hon. Friend is a fully-fledged British citizen, with a professional status and equal pay—a woman of the character of the late Eleanor Rathbone, with whom and by whose side she played a great part in the fight to secure family allowances.
In this Bill my right hon. Friend is attempting to do something for tie worst-off married women, those who, having been unfortunate in marriage, find that the laws of the land do not help them enough to secure decent and just treatment. I sincerely hope the House will give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I beg to second the Motion.
I do so for more than one reason. The House will be very grateful to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) for the very careful way he has explained the Bill to us and the very moderate terms in which he spoke. I second the Motion without hesitation because there are one or two things in the Bill in which I believe.
First, I believe quite fundamentally that if we have a Measure of social reform on a matter as important as this it is a very good thing for the House to give it a Second Reading and have it fully discussed upstairs. I believe in this Bill because I hold the opinion that all people are born equal and that there should not be limitations of sex, creed or colour, or of the right to equality of treatment and pay.
In introducing this Bill, my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) is tackling an exceedingly difficult and complex situation. It is one that I have always doubted could be put right by statute, but I am certain that she is doing a useful service in raising this important matter and bringing it up for discussion.
We can at least say with some pleasure that after the House has spent night after night, into the early hours of the 814 morning, discussing whether it should do something and, if so, what—and discussing how long it should be discussed—we are setting a very good example today, with the exception of calling a count on a Friday when important matters are being discussed. I say that to both sides of the House. I wish we could have a bi-party Private Members' Committee, or discussions through the usual channels, so that we might arrive at an agreement that this sort of thing should not be done in Private Members' time or on the Adjournment.
I claim that we can take some pride in our activities on this particular Friday in that, after having attempted to control the licence or liberty of the Press— according to our own particular view— we are now discussing the fundamental relationship of parties within the home, and later we are seeking to introduce a whole new matter into our criminal law. We can say that we little men will have had a busy day.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
And the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) is speaking on the Adjournment, when he expects to sweep all the fog away from London.
§ Mr. Hale
I sincerely apologise. I was forgetting that fact, and also that we are going to discuss something about ducks and geese. I do not know what we are going to do about them; I hope it is for the benefit of the ducks and geese, in whom I have always had a sincere and genuine interest.
I want to return to this quite serious matter. Clause 1 raises what has always been a very serious social problem. I do not completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Test Division that this is a wholly one-sided matter. For my sins I have spent many years dealing with this sort of thing, and in my experience the married woman who is over 40 years' old is usually at a very great disadvantage when married life begins to show signs of breaking up. The woman aged 25 is usually in a very strong bargaining position and frequently has no hesitation in threatening her husband with a police court summons when trouble arises. It is the woman of 40 with whom we are concerned. She is in a very bad position and, if she has young children, she is in an even worse one.
815 I do not want to go outside the terms of the Bill, but on occasions the attitude of Government Departments has been a little less than helpful. Many of us have tried to trace missing husbands and have found that we are unable to obtain information as to their whereabouts. I have never seen any reason why that information should not be willingly given to a woman who is seeking the protection of the courts.
But, of course, the question of stoppage from wages has always raised very difficult problems. We considered it on the County Courts Committee. We considered it very much from this sort of aspect because the same considerations arose. To what extent are we entitled to go back on what we said in the Truck Act? To authorise an employer to stop money from a man's wages raises more than one problem. It means the employer has to be informed about the terms of the order. It may mean the employer has to be informed about the conditions under which an allegation of persistent cruelty is made against one of his employees, who may be occupying the sort of position in which that very allegation would jeopardise his employment. It has never been an easy matter.
Certainly everyone on both sides of the House will agree that this business of hauling up an unhappy man in a court of petty sessions and ordering him to be imprisoned for three months or to pay a fine of so much, and to go on making him pay year after year, is a sort of cat and mouse principle. The magnitude of the problem is shown by the number of men involved. It is a substantial proportion of the prison population. It is certainly important that we ought to consider upstairs how to seek to remedy the situation.
Normally speaking, in a modern civilisation, particularly in urban areas, a married woman who spends her life at home, keeping the home and bringing up the children, frequently finds herself at very grave financial disadvantage and under other disadvantages compared with the woman who goes out to work. No one would doubt for a moment, however, that she is doing just as much service to the community. It may well be that one of the things of value that remain in our civilisation is home life. We have 816 managed to preserve our home life from the modern tendency that we see across the Atlantic and in other parts of the world. We have not the divorce rate that we see across the Atlantic or recorded in such works as Robert Lynd's "Middle Town" studies.
I remember that in the early days of my practice as a solicitor I was appalled at the miseries of the divorce law. It is shocking for a husband to discover his wife in an act of infidelity, but how often one has found that frequently the husband has contributed to the wife's infidelity by his own bad habits or neglect of his own wife, driving her into the arms of someone else. Then how hard it is if he refused to divorce her or to let her divorce him. So I was gradually driven to be very much in favour of divorce law reform, supporting it actively and without reserve.
Then the years went on and I saw the results of it. I had young people coming into my office saying, "We have been married six months, and now we are breaking up our marriage." I am not sure, and I have not for some time been sure, how much good the changes have done and how much harm. I have no views to express to the House on that matter because I have not been able to make up my mind about it. but that the changes have done some harm and some good no one who has seen the problem at first hand can have failed to observe.
Clause 2 is really to deal with such cases as the Blackwell case. What a shocking case it was. In that case a woman had saved money from the housekeeping allowance in a Co-operative. She maintained the home, and was able to save only a little at a time, but over many years she accumulated just over £100, if I remember rightly. There was a breach between husband and wife, and the savings were declared to be her husband's because it was out of the housekeeping money he had paid to her that the savings were made. That is really an appalling state of affairs.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for the Test Division made one slip when he said that the courts could be ordered to divide such money equally. Under the terms of the Bill the courts would be able to divide the money 817 equally or in such proportions as in all the circumstances they may think fit. That seems to me a proper provision to make. A married man has no more right to any money saved during the married life than the wife has. I think that that is a principle one can state without much hesitation. If marriage is a partnership it should be a reasonably equal partnership, though I am bound to confess that I think I still spend rather more on my bad habits than my wife spends on her good habits. I must console myself, remembering what Sam Johnson said in consolation to many, "Sir, do you not understand that a man can have good ideas without the capacity to live up to them?"
Those are really the main provisions of the Bill. I close with this reflection. When we have Private Members' Bills I think we should discuss them. We have a mass of them here today, including the one to be discussed next. If it is discussed and voted upon I shall vote for its Second Reading. Many thousands of my constituents will be very annoyed about it. I shall vote precisely on the principle that, without making up my mind on the merits and as to the solution at least until the Third Reading, it is desirable to discuss these things. When anyone sincerely seeks to have Parliamentary and democratic discussion about an important topic, on which there are things which ought to be said, this House ought to assist him to have it.
I felt very bitterly about a Bill in the last Session. I should be out of order if I were to develop that matter now, but it would have been wiser to have discussed it upstairs. No one expected the Bill to pass its Third Reading, but it gave the House an opportunity in Committee of rising a little above party and to put and consider pros and cons that were worthy of consideration about something on which we had previously said we would do something about it and about which we have done nothing yet. I am going a little wide of this Bill, but the principle is the same, and I suggest we ought to give a Second Reading to this Measure to enable it to be fully discussed upstairs. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) on introducing the Bill.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Hon. Members: Count.
§ Mr. Pannell
Does the hon. Gentleman remember that when we were discussing the Transport Bill in Committee the benches on his side of the House were noteworthy for their emptiness?
§ Mr. Bell
We seem to be getting rather wide of this Bill in discussing the Guillotine on another. There does not seem to be any relevance between the one and the other, or between a Guillotine on the Transport Bill and a count.
§ Mr. Bell
What I did notice about the procedure on the Transport Bill was that a quite different set of Members opposite and a quite different number opposite came to speak about the Guillotine from those who had been talking about the Bill itself.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) have moved and seconded the Second Reading of this Bill in terms designed to appeal to our sympathies. Everyone who has given any attention to the matter knows quite well that there are immense human problems which are unresolved, and some will, I think, continue to be unresolved as long as the human race exists. It is very easy to make appeals upon that ground and say to the House, "We ought to pass an Act of Parliament because here are people who suffer hardship and, therefore, the Legislature should take action."
819 I think the Legislature is entitled to ask itself, what sort of action, and what will be the result of it upon those will be affected by it, and not rushed helter-skelter into some kind of action because there are people who are unhappy and who suffer deprivation, or even injustice, inside the bonds of matrimony.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
Would my hon. Friend say that there was really anything unjust in saying that a husband against whom an order of the court has been made should comply with that order?
§ Mr. Bell
My hon. and learned Friend will, I hope, allow me to make my speech. I am setting out, in a preliminary way, my general attitude to the Bill, and I shall then come to the actual provisions of the Bill. I do not think that it helps the continuous presentation of one's case if one knows that he is likely to be interrupted by premature interrogation.
In Clause 1 of the Bill the proposal, in short terms, is that a separation order or a maintenance order made by a court of summary jurisdiction shall be charged or may be charged upon the wages of the husband. I hope that the House will realise what an extremely significant and wide-ranging proposal is embodied in that Clause.
There was a time when almost anything could be charged on wages. In the 19th century a great political battle was fought on the point that charges upon wages should not be allowed. When the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, East (Dr. Summerskill) spoke upon a Bill in a previous Session—a similar Bill—she seemed to associate the disability of a wife to have her order charged upon her husband's wages as being possibly in some way connected with her being a woman.
It is part of the general law of the land that wages as such may not be attached in respect of any debt. There are one or two exceptions, but that is the principle. The disability of the wife in that respect is merely part of the disability shared by any tradesman or any man. Although there may be distraint on a man's goods and all the other remedies which the court allows to a creditor, 820 wages shall not be touched. That is a fairly modern decision brought about by the Truck Acts and other legislation as part of the social law of this country.
We ought then to realise what we are attacking by Clause 1 of the Bill. I think that this is a very serious principle to start to breach. With regard to national insurance and certain agricultural rents, although within very strict limitations, we have in recent years introduced a number of statutory breaches of that principle. One must look at the accumulation of such charges. I think that the House ought to be careful before it authorises any further legal charge upon a man's wages.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Southampton, Test mentioned it, but in Scotland there is a rather similar provision. First of all, it is subject, I am told, to a qualification as to the maximum amount of money that may be charged on a man's wages. Secondly, I am told that in Scotland it has not been found a very useful power.
§ Mr. Bell
That is true. I think that the power in Scotland to which I was referring is also in respect of a defaulter. So far as I know it has not been found a very useful power. I mention that in case the argument should be brought in later that such a law exists in Scotland.
I have referred to the disadvantages of the principle of making charges upon men's wages. I think that they ought, on the whole, to be exempt from such charges, just as the tools of a man's trade are exempt from distraint by a general principle of law.
May I direct the attention of the House to some of the more particular disadvantages of the proposals in Clause 1. The first, as the hon. Member for Oldham. West (Mr. Hale) pointed out, is that the employer must be told about an order, and about the quarrel in a man's domestic life. That is bad enough for a man who is in a job where he has been happy with his employer.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
He can, of course, avoid it by complying with the order of the court. There is no need for the matter to reach the employer unless the man has wilfully defaulted.
§ Mr. Bell
Generally speaking, we keep a man's domestic affairs separate from his business affairs. It is obviously desirable, on the whole, that the employer should not be mixed up with a man's private affairs. Even greater disadvantages are suffered by the man when trying to get a fresh job.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that quite often when a wife was found guilty the husband was the real cause of the trouble. Equally, when the husband is found guilty, the wife may be the cause of the trouble. One of the difficulties about matrimonial jurisdiction is that in a few hours in court one can scarcely ever get down to the real truth about the initial act which caused the breakdown of the marriage and one has to go on some external criterion. The courts proceed against the party which is the first to commit one of the overt acts which the law has listed as ground for an order. I do not believe that we can avoid that, and I am not criticising it, but that is the case, and numerous judges have commented on the fact that a decree of divorce against one party does not mean that in the opinion of the court that party was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.
§ Mr. Bell
It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that the man can always avoid this. It should be remembered that many men suffer from a great sense of grievance and many of them go to prison instead of paying because they believe they have had a raw deal. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that sometimes there is rather rough and ready justice in a magistrates' court, and I am sure they will agree with me that the argument that a man could always avoid this disadvantage is not really a very 822 good one. I do not put it any higher than that, but I feel that I am entitled to put it as high as that. I put it to the House that the fact that the employer will be brought into it and made aware of the facts is a real argument against the proposal.
What are the advantages that might flow from the proposals? Clause 1 can only operate against a man who is in regular employment. It says so. I know that there are husbands who neglect their duties to their wives and fall into arrears under orders, but the trouble that we have is not usually with husbands who are in regular employment, for they can be found and can often be committed to prison. The people who give us trouble are those who are in casual employment or in no employment at all, men who cannot be traced or from whom, when they are traced, one cannot get any money, often because they have not got any money. Such men comprise the main body of defaulters under maintenance orders, and against them the Clause is useless because by its very terms, they are not subject to it.
But take the rather rare case of the man in regular employment, one of the steady chaps, who, nevertheless, is badly in default on an order. Does the Clause get us anywhere in such a case? A charge may be made upon his wages, but if he changes his job the whole proceedings fall to the ground. I can see no provision in the Bill for transferring the order to his next employer.
§ Mr. Bell
My hon. and learned Friend says that it is a Committee point. It is not the first time that we have had a Bill of this kind before the House. Clause 1 is identical to a Clause in a Bill with which we dealt last session. On that occasion I raised this point, but I do not observe that any alteration was made, and so I presume that the promoters persisted with the Clause. If the order cannot be transferred to the next employer, all the man has to do is to change his job. If it is arranged that the order can be transferred to the next employer, how can that be done? Is the man to be entitled, as he is in the case of the first employer, to appeal to the court by some process to have the matter reconstituted again so that any objections that he has may be stated 823 to the court and considered? We cannot administer justice in that way.
Clause 1 is not only bad in principle because it offends against the whole doctrine that a man's wages should not be attached, it is not only bad upon human considerations because it brings the employer into knowledge of the domestic affairs of the employee, but it is also bad because it has no useful application and makes no substantial contribution to the problem upon which the mover and the seconder of the Bill enlarged.
I turn now to Clause 2, which provides for the division of the property of the husband and the wife and for a possible transfer of tenancy. I am not going into any very general consideration of provisions which ought to underlie questions of savings as I think there is a lot to be said on both sides. I do not think that a wife who is a good housekeeper should, as it were, quantify the savings she has made in that way and treat that as something separate and her own. I do not think that that is the way a marriage ought to be conducted. That is my view on the subject. However, I do not wish to be general on the question at all.
I wish to make the points first, that we should not remit a difficult matter like the division of joint matrimonial possessions to be disposed of, in any manner that the court thinks fit, to a magistrates' court, a court of summary jurisdiction. Is that proposal one which the House can seriously consider legislating upon? I have the greatest admiration for magistrates' courts, which exercise a vast jurisdiction and, on the whole, do it very well. But when it comes to dividing up the effects of married people, with no guiding lines, how can one seriously suggest that a court, constituted in that way and sitting in that way, is suitable for that jurisdiction?
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does the hon. Member seriously say that if we give magistrates power to divide up the marriage, we cannot give them power to divide the goods of the marriage?
§ Mr. Bell
Matrimonial matters are decided in courts of summary jurisdiction, but it never seems to me that matters of such tremendous import as the future of 824 the marriage should be decided in that way. I am very loth to increase what is already a maldistribution of judicial functions. I say that without the slightest wish to reflect upon or criticise lay justices, whose conduct, in my professional experience, is extremely high. But they do not sit from day to day as a rule and the magistrates' courts are not suitable, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) knows for jurisdiction of this kind. At present, they have no civil jurisdiction worth mentioning and do not as a rule deal with questions of law of the more complicated kind which require the use of books to be decided. In administering the criminal law it can be done by such compendious volumes as Stone's "Justices' Manual."
§ Mr. Bell
I thought that mention of Stone's "Justices' Manual" would bring the right hon. Member to his feet. Compendious it is: compact it is not. In civil law one has to investigate who is the owner of something and there are third party claims between husband and wife. We have people coming in with competing claims, bills of sale, hire purchase agreements and things like that. Quite definitely, we shall have conflicting claims to the ownership of chattels and a magistrates' court is not suitable to consider that. I do not think the same jurisdiction even exists in the High Court.
Are we not trying to do the impossible here? Marriage is one of those absolute relationships, which either works or does not. There can be no doubt about that. Where it does not work and the marriage breaks up, no provision one can make by Act of Parliament will put the two parties back into the position they occupied before. We cannot do it. We can provide, in a broad way, that a husband shall maintain his wife in a suitable station according to his means.
One can provide that, and, of course, would do, and the court has jurisdiction to make the appropriate order. But to go further and not only provide for maintenance but to try to split the capital and give what was his to her is something quite different. I do not think any court in the Kingdom could decide what is just and proper in a matter of that kind. It 825 is so much a general question of one's fundamental beliefs that no court could decide it.
When we come to the transfer of tenancy I am astonished that anyone should suggest investing a real property jurisdiction in a magistrates' court. That is certainly something the fringe of which we have not approached except in the case of the Small Tenements Recovery Act, of which hon. Members opposite were not admirers; and I agree with them. It has been said from the benches opposite that the magistrates' court was quite unsuitable for the purpose. I do not think that the question of the tenancy ought to arise in a magistrates' court. It will not do justice to the three parties involved—the tenant, the other spouse and the landlord. I hope that the House will not feel that this is a Clause which should be approved even on the most general principle.
Clause 3 is a new Clause. In one sense it is different from Clause 3 of the previous Bill of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West. In her previous Bill the right hon. Lady made the truly revolutionary proposal that if they could not agree about the housekeeping money a husband and wife could go to the court and get the magistrates to fix it and then, I suppose, go home happily and live together. I never thought that that would work, and, quitely honestly, I have not met many hon. Members on either side of the House who thought so either.
It may be a defect in human personality—I do not know—but when husband and wife take private disputes to a public court then, on the whole, the marriage is well on the way to the rocks. I do not think that the House should do anything at all to encourage such an application to the magistrates. A marriage either works or else is in a bad way altogether and we should not do anything to destroy that atmosphere of trust and loyalty that should exist between the parties.
In this Bill the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West is trying to achieve the same result by a different procedure. I admire her ingenuity, but not her objective. This Bill provides that an order made on the ground that a husband has failed or wilfully neglected to provide reasonable maintenance shall 826 remain effective notwithstanding that the parties are living together. On the face of it perhaps that looks harmless, but but when one looks into it further one sees that it is exactly the same as the proposal in the previous Bill and is subject to exactly the same objections.
If the magistrates think that the husband's proposals for housekeeping money are not reasonable they will decide, of course, that he is wilfully neglecting to provide reasonable maintenance. It is the same thing. They can then make an order, and that order would be effective upon the husband although the parties were living together. I can think of nothing more likely to break up a marriage and to cause two people living together to cease to live together than a proposal of that kind. I hope that the House will not look at it for one moment. One cannot legislate for happy marriage.
Where the marriage has broken down it is different, and the law must step in to make the necessary provision. But where a marriage is still a "going concern" it is pure folly for the law to intervene and try to regulate the domestic arrangements of the husband and wife. I cannot understand how the right hon, Lady could possibly think the contrary. We could not have a husband and wife living together in the same home, sitting down to meals with each other, and with the children present, with the whole atmosphere of a home while, at the same time, the husband is paying out each Saturday to his wife under the terms of a court order whatever sum the magistrates in their wisdom decide is a proper proportion for him to pay.
The whole Bill is animated by the same mistaken attitude to marriage. For example, Clause 2 proposes to transfer the tenancy. Separation orders made by the magistrates are not as bad as a divorce. In a good many cases the parties come together again, which is a good thing, because a high number of orders are made. But when such an order is made the parties are very much at arms length and angry with each other. If, at the same time, the wife asks that the tenancy of the house be transferred to her, any possibility of a reconciliation may be forgotten, because that household will never be set up again. The marriage is broken up just as effectively as if a divorce decree had been pronounced.
827 I appreciate that some wives will suffer injustice from the lack of these powers. But I am also satisfied that by the exercise of these powers at least as many husbands will suffer equal injustice and that the hopes of reconciliation in many cases would be destroyed. There is no object dearer to the hearts of everyone in this House than to keep married couples together living in reasonable happiness, and so to arrange the law on marriage and divorce that those entering into marriage have the best chance of achieving a happy state. I must confess that I speak as a bachelor—
§ Mr. Bell
The right hon. Gentleman may feel that is so, but one might think that a bachelor has a more idealistic view of marriage than have married people, whereas I was about to say that one must expect that in every marriage there will be a good many quarrels. If, on the occasion of every quarrel, a legal remedy is provided; if the couple can rush to the magistrates and receive benefits, that will be an unfortunate thing. If no legal remedy is provided it is quite probable that the marriage may settle down again and be successful.
If the husband is being wholly unreasonable the marriage will be broken completely. The wife can obtain an order and live separately from her husband. But if she does not wish to be separated I think it is folly for the law to intervene. I hope that the House will regard this as a bad Bill, however good may be the motives which inspired it. Its proposals are thoroughly to be condemned and could not be improved by mere Amendments in Committee.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I was beginning to see that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), having failed in his rather shabby trick of seeking to have the House counted out, was trying to talk out the Bill. I will endeavour to say what I have to say as briefly as possible. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, and I hope that no one will indulge in the shabby business of talking it out. We 828 all understand why my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) is not here.
When the Bill reaches Committee stage, as I hope it will, I shall probably move a number of Amendments, for I am not at all in sympathy with the whole of the Bill, particularly the latter part. But we never have a Second Reading debate in which we all agree 100 per cent. with the Measure before us. It is the custom of the House, if there is general agreement, or if there is substance in the Bill, to give the Bill a Second Reading and then to move Amendments in Committee which may seem to us to be reasonable.
I ask the House to remember that in a Measure of this kind we are not considering the normal family life. We are not considering the great majority of people who, often in very difficult circumstances, sometimes greatly exaggerated by poverty, manage to maintain a home and bring up their children. We are a kind of doctor; we have to deal with family circumstances in which something has gone wrong. This Bill applies itself to try to ease the position where husband and wife have agreed to separate.
I also ask hon. Members to note that the Bill deals almost exclusively with poor homes. This is not a Bill for millionaires; it is not a Bill for people with substantial means. It is a Bill which affects families where there is a small income of £5 or £6 a week in wages, or where there is a modest salary. I think I am right in saying that it is only in those circumstances that property issues are settled in this way.
Does any hon. Member think it unreasonable that if a court has given an order of separation and has said that the father of the children has an obligation to help to maintain those children, we should do everything in our power to see that the order of the court is implemented? I agree with hon. Members opposite that it is often not a one-sided case. We cannot give absolute justice. The most we can do is to give rough justice in such circumstances. All I am saying is that I believe that justice would be a little less rough if, when an order of maintenance has been given by the court, we see that everything possible is done, even including deductions 829 from wages, to see that the money is paid to the mother who is looking after the children.
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South was shocked at the notion that if the tenancy of the home is in the husband's name, then, where separation takes place and particularly where the wife is left to look after the children, she should be allowed to take over the tenancy. Does he think it reasonable that the wife, who in most instances is also a mother, should have to leave the home and take the children with her, and that she should be the one to search for somewhere else to live, when the husband, in rough and ready justice, is almost certain to be more able to go out into the labour market, to look after himself, to find himself other accommodation? Does the hon. Member think that in those circumstances the husband should be the one to be left in possession of the home?
§ Miss Lee
Then I do not see that the hon. Member has any grounds upon which to object to our attempt to tighten up the position where there has been an unhappy breakdown of the marriage, and particularly where the woman has not been in the labour market for many years. I agree that it is easier for the younger woman. We are particularly concerned with helping the woman who has for years devoted her energies to running the home and looking after the children. I suggest that, in those circumstances, if there is any doubt as to who should receive the tenancy of the house, the bias ought to be in favour of the mother, who is left to look after the children.
I know that there are all sorts of property difficulties. I know that the furniture in the home may have been purchased by hire purchase, and that payments on a television set may still have to be made. I know that there are rather 830 sharp business reasons for not wanting the tenancy of the house and the furniture in such circumstances to rest with the woman, because she is only the wife of a working man, and, if he is earning no more than £5 or £10 per week, the maximum amount which the court will set aside from his wages for his wife's maintenance may be no more than £2, £3 or £4 per week, even with family allowances, so that she will still be in a very difficult position. But the very fact that she will still be in an exceptionally difficult financial position is surely the strongest reason for the Bill.
In regard to Clauses 1 and 2, I am in agreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West, but, when it comes to Clause 3, I shall seek an opportunity to move Amendments in the Committee stage. If a marriage breaks up, the children are the major responsibility to be provided for. If two people are living together, I can imagine the squalor and the lack of elegance in their lives if they have to wrangle about money matters. Here, I would say that I part company with a great many feminists in this country; I am not now alluding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West, who is a Socialist and a member of the Labour Party, but I do part company with many feminists because they are so much on the alert over rights for women and not sufficiently on the alert for rights for children.
For instance, it seems to me to be the first principle of a feminist that she should oppose any threat to increase the price of school meals or to impose any charge for medical services of any kind, and that she should seek every protection for family allowances. Indeed, if we were living in a civilised society, this Bill would be entirely unnecessary, because, obviously, we should have made such provision for children that the dividing of the husband's wage would become a minor matter. But we are living in a society in which children's allowances will be only a small fraction of the income, and we are living under a Government which, I am sorry to say, is attacking the medical service, increasing the prices of school meals and increasing the cost of living.
The point which affects a home most is the cost of food, and, though it is true that the cost of living has gone up by 831 7 per cent., the cost of food has gone up by 15 per cent., and, when we are dealing with women who are living on a settlement from the court, their standard of life is so low that they will have to pay more than 50 per cent. of their money in order to buy food alone.
I do not agree with these things. I consider that, in a civilised society, we should take proper care of the children, and that, instead of talking about wages for wives, we should only be talking about pocket money for husbands. I assure hon. Members that they would be extremely happy in that situation. I am not talking about lives in general; I am talking about the lives I know best, where the women run things and where there is such a good home that a man is not only satisfied, but thinks himself extremely lucky to be in that situation.
By background, temperament and experience I find utterly repugnant this idea that married people should squabble about what they are living on, and that applies whether the means are large or small. There is substance in this Bill. however, particularly in the early Clauses. There will still not be absolute justice, but it will be an improvement on the present situation, so I urge the House to agree unanimously to give the Bill a Second Reading, and those of us who have qualifications to propose can advance them on the Committee stage.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Today has certainly been a day of variety. We started with wills, went on to the conduct of the Press, leaped over ducks and geese, which would have been a very fascinating subject—provision for your unfortunate demise, Mr. Speaker, would not have been a fascinating subject—and have now come to this Bill. It is called the Women's Disabilities Bill, and it proposes to remove certain legal disabilities of women.
That, really, is the very last thing it does. What it proposes to do is to put certain women in a highly privileged position not enjoyed by any other class, type or sex in this community. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) talked about the civilised society in which the husband only got a little pocket money.
§ Mr. Doughty
I am entirely at the hon. Lady's mercy as to the amount it should be. I can only say that if that were the situation some of us might be induced to bring in a Men's Disabilities Bill on the ground of the great necessity caused by this Measure.
I am sure we are all sorry not to see here today the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who moved the last Bill on the subject with such skill and with such lack of success, and who has come back to the charge in exactly the same way, but in a different form of words. She obviously sincerely believes in her object, and I am sure she has not suffered in any way by not being able to be here today to move its Second Reading because the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) did so in such eloquent terms.
However, in mentioning certain disabilities from which women have suffered in the past, the hon. Gentleman endeavoured to couple them with the matters set out in this Bill, whereas, in fact, they have no relation to them at all. He said that he was a person who believed that greater facilities should not be given for the break-up of marriages. After all, the orders contemplated in this Bill are one threat tending to the break-up of marriage. Anything which makes it easier or gives greater encouragement to one party, whichever it may be, to go to the courts and to take this very unfortunate step is a threat to the break-up of marriage.
On the last occasion I opposed the Bill introduced by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham. West. I have looked through this Bill to see whether I could change my attitude, but I cannot. I oppose this Bill as well, not only on the grounds that it should be amended in Committee, but because, in my opinion, every single Clause in it is bad, and, therefore, there is no reason for giving it my approval to its Second Reading.
The first Clause, which was also in the previous Bill, is one to give greater powers to courts of summary jurisdiction to bring in somebody who is no party to these matrimonial disputes, namely, the employer, making him guilty of criminal offences, for which he can be fined, if he 833 does not obey the orders of the court. It also gives to women the right possessed by practically no other section of the community. Sometimes these orders are difficult to enforce. I am not going into cases where there is no money because the man is out of employment and one cannot get blood out of a stone. I am referring to cases where the man will not pay.
The question is whether the courts have sufficient power at the present time of summoning a defaulting husband to appear and, if they think fit, of sending him then and there to prison. That is a power of enforcement practically unknown in any other court in England, and it is generaly exercised upon persons who have prison sentences hanging over their heads. It is extremely drastic, and only a person who is so stubborn that he will go to prison rather than pay a weekly amount will be prepared to undergo it. Would the Bill affect that person at all? If he is prepared to go to prison rather than comply with an order in respect of a weekly sum, changing his job and even going from one end of the country to the other to do so, would be a trifle compared with losing his job altogether and being inside one of the country's prisons.
The legal result of the Clause would not be of so wide a sweep as hon. Members may think. It would bring into matrimonial disputes the employer and his staff, who would naturally see the books and the communications with the court. The staff would know that one of their fellow-employees had been found guilty of, for example, persistent cruelty to his wife. The news would go round among the employees in no time. It might well be that some employers would prefer to discharge that employee and get another rather than give the extra work to their staff of making the deductions and seeing that the money was paid to the right quarter. It would, at any rate, be a very great burden upon employers, upon courts and upon the man himself, without being of any real practical advantage to the people whom it is proposed to assist.
Clause 2 deals with the rights of property after a court of summary jurisdiction has made an order. The Bill came up rather unexpectedly, and I must just look at it again.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon
I only intervene to point out that Clause 2(1) starts:In the event of a decree of divorce, judicial separation or restitution of conjugal rights,and that Clause 2 (2) starts:The court pronouncing such decree or making such order.The decrees can only be pronounced by the High Court.
§ Mr. Doughty
That is perfectly correct, but the Bill also includes orders made by the police court. I have in mind—
§ Mr. Doughty
I beg pardon of hon. Members. I meant Metropolitan Magistrates' courts, magistrates' courts and petty sessional courts.
The court of summary jurisdiction which makes such an order is the worst possible tribunal for deciding these extremely difficult questions. I am not criticising those courts in any way, but they have an enormous number of powers, which they exercise with extreme care. We are proposing to put a burden on their shoulders which I think is a little too much for them to bear. They would have to inquire how much there is tucked away in the form of savings belonging to one or other of both of the parties to an action of this kind. Then there would arise the question whether the savings would still be there by the time the matter came to be decided, or whether one or other of the parties had made away with it before the question came up for decision.
Then there would be the question of furniture. Is a court of summary jurisdiction going to have an inventory and a valuation made of all the property in the house? Is it then going to say, "You can have so many chairs, and you can have so many, but we will give you one more because one of those which we have given you is a bit rickety"? The thing is quite impossible. From a practical point of view this Clause could never be made to work.
Clause 3, I believe, has very few friends in any part of the House. It is, of course, highly undesirable. Think of a home where the parties are still living together, and an order of this kind is 835 obtained. At any time the wife can hold such a court order over the head of her husband if trouble arises. Is she going to frame the order and hang it over the mantelpiece? Is she going to say, every time trouble arises, "Don't forget Section 3 of the Women's Disabilities Act, 1953"? Is she going to say, "Any more trouble, and we shall have to go back to the court together and get another order which we can hang on the right-hand side of the mantelpiece"? They would have a nice little collection of orders before their marriage finally broke up. I submit that that is another ground, though perhaps stated a little picturesquely, for rejecting this Bill.
I have covered every Clause in this Bill, and I believe that I have shown that each is bad. It may be said that the Bill should receive its Second Reading so that it can be put right in Committee. I do not doubt that the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who is certainly tenacious, will produce another Bill, and I have no doubt that if she does so and it is drafted in suitable terms, this House will support it. But this Bill ought never to be called the Women's Disabilities Bill. It ought to be called the Married Women's Rights of Bringing in Third Parties Who Have Nothing To Do With It Bill. Or perhaps it should be called a Bill to change tenancies and make landlords take tenants whom they have no wish to take. It ought to be called the Employers' Further Irritation Bill. It is certainly badly named.
It seeks to alleviate an undoubted hardship by means which will not achieve that end. It seeks to bring entirely new principles into the whole of the law, custom and practice of this country. For those reasons I for one cannot give it my support, and I think that most hon. Members, however much they may sympathise with the persons whom the Bill is designed to help, will agree that it does not in fact help them, and will support me in opposing the Bill.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)
I, too, must confess that I opposed the original Bill and, therefore, perhaps I may be excused for maintaining my opposition now. The Bill, as has been pointed out, is called the Women's Disabilities Bill, 836 and the first thing that strikes me is how odd it is that we as a House, who have the benefit of lady Members, should have such little assistance from them on this occasion.
§ Mr. Bell
I do not remember the House seething with lady Members on the last occasion. Perhaps I am wrong.
I was about to point out that the small number of lady Members has obviously been made up very considerably by the remarks of the hon. Member for Can-nock (Miss Lee). The position is that this piece of legislation is prompted by good intentions and hard cases, but that is always the way. Every Act dealing with marriage has always been prompted by good intentions and by hard cases.
§ Mr. Bell
I, with some 800 million other people in the world, take a rather particular view of marriage. I appreciate that that view may not be understood by the House. This is not the occasion to go into those deeper issues, but I would pause to observe that we have had plenty of legislation about marriage. We can look round and see where marriage is today. If we think that the institution of marriage is stronger, more forcible, more binding and more honourable today, we must take a queer view of our social scene.
This is yet another piece of legislation which, as the hon. Member for Cannock said, was to deal only with marriages which had in some way gone wrong. Marriages are crashing to pieces around us today, and we now propose to patch them up by legislation. If we make legislation on the basis that people will behave badly we shake—as we have shaken—the very institution of marriage.
I shall not detain the House by repeating what has been said very eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) on the detailed provisions of the Bill, but it is to be observed that the detailed analysis has come from the Bill's opponent. The emotion and sentiment has all come from 837 the other side of the House. I do not blame emotion and sentiment, but when we are legislating about a delicate and important thing like marriage it is advisable to consider in detail what the provisions lead to and what they mean.
Briefly, they mean more legislation and more law suits—not merely for the people whose marriages have already started to break up, but something to which other married persons can look to. How can honest people together put money into a savings account when, at the back of their minds, there is a lawsuit? These matters are planned, and the encouragement to look ahead to a law suit breaks down other forms of loyalty and duty.
The very arguments which were powerfully and simply put by the hon. Member for Cannock on Clause 3 apply in principle to the other Clauses. If there should be no dispute about the housekeeping money what other reason is there for anticipating these other disputes? Are we to keep a record of furniture and all other small items in case the skies break and trouble comes? The truth is that we have had a lot of legislation. It is about time we left marriage alone and gave it, in other ways, a little chance. We have had too little of the real things —too little of loyalty and that old-fashioned virtue, love.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
I have great sympathy with the sincerity with which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) and my other hon. Friends opposed this Measure, but as I listened to them it seemed that the whole of their opposition was completely misconceived. It is not enough to say that we are legislating for hard cases. That is no reason why we should not legislate. It is the existence of these hard cases which demands redress. Nor is it true to so say that any step taken by this Bill is any step taken against marriage, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton, East seemed to suggest. On the contrary, any step which advances the status of the married woman in the home is a step which is in favour of the family and consolidation of the family and consolidation of marriage as an institution.
We must realise that the Bill, particular Clause 1, starts with a wrong- 838 doing husband, a husband who, under the existing law, has broken his matrimonial obligations. He has done more. Not only has he defaulted on his obligations to his wife, but he has defaulted against the order which the court has made in consequence. The question really is: are we to arm the courts with power to do what they consider to be right, or are we to give them merely an empty and stultified power? What we are saying is that there shall be power available to vindicate a matrimonial judgment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) said that one must be careful in taking any step which attaches wages. I entirely agree with that, but is there any class of the community which is more entitled to look to a man's wages as a source of support than the married woman, his wife? They are the sole source of her support. There is nothing revolutionary at all in saying that the court shall say that a woman who has been deserted or who has suffered from persistent cruelty or who has been betrayed by her husband shall be supported out of his wages, to which she is entitled to look for support. It is part of the existing law of Scotland, and no one has suggested that the whole fabric of Scottish society has been torn asunder as a result.
It is suggested that it brings the employer into matrimonial disputes, but as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) suggested, the defaulting husband has a very simple remedy if he wants to keep these affairs to himself, and it is to comply with his duty, to comply with the order the court has made. It is true that he may not like it. Very few unsuccessful litigants do like judgments given against them, but that is no reason for saying that they should get away with non-compliance with the orders of the courts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire. South suggested that the judgment of the court in these matters may be rough and ready justice, and that it is difficult to decide whose fault it really was. The court has abundant opportunity and the duty to ascertain whose fault it really was. It is the duty of the court to see whether in a case of adultery there has been conduct conducive to adultery, whether in a case of cruelty there was provocation to cruelty, 839 and in a case of desertion they must weigh up whose fault it really was. There is no question at all that the judgments of the court are the best judgments that can be given in the light of all the evidence, and it is the duty of the Legislature to see that those judgments are given effect to.
In the case of Clause 2 the problem is a very simple one. We have the ordinary relationship between married man and married woman, whereby the woman dedicates herself to bringing up the family. She spends her life in the home. and the husband goes out into the world engaging in economic activities, and he can accumulate savings. The question is: on the break up of the marriage, to whom do the savings in equity belong? Do they belong exclusively to the husband in that case, or should the court try to do equity between the two parties?
This is no novel power at all. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton. East said this was trying to do the impossible; but the courts already do this. The court has precisely similar powers so far as separate property is concerned. When a marriage breaks up and there is separate property the High Court divides it between the parties, as is just and equitable, and that is no more than the powers given by this Bill, which we seek to introduce for a different stratum of society. Courts of law are already practised in dividing up matrimonial property between husband and wife under the Married Women's Property Act. There is no difficulty with regard to the machinery.
I should like to say one word about Clause 3, which has not had many friends. It is not really such a far-reaching proposal as some hon. Members seem to think, and certainly it is very much less far-reaching than Clause 3 of the right hon. Lady's previous Bill. What it does is this. The court of summary jurisdiction can make a maintenance order even though the parties are living together. It can make it on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, desertion and other matrimonial offences. The order can only be enforced when the parties separate. In other words, we set to some extent a premium upon the break up of the marriage. That is reasonable where there is a case of persistent cruelty or a case 840 of adultery, and we cannot expect the parties to continue to live together in enjoyment of a maintenance order. That is quite different in the case of an order for wilfully neglecting to maintain. We may get a feckless husband—we all of us know of many such cases—where the husband drinks away the household money or gambles it away although he is fundamentally devoted to his wife and family. The wife can get an order against him on the ground of wilfully neglecting to maintain, but can only enjoy that order at the cost of breaking up that habitation.
All that this Clause seeks to do is to say she can still continue to enjoy her order even while she continues living with him. Whatever can be said against the Clause, I appeal to hon. Members to see that this is no fundamental part of the Bill. It is a Bill which can be and should be properly amended in Committee.
Hon. Members may remember that Mr. Plimsoll, a very distinguished Member of this House, time after time brought in a Bill to save seamen from going to sea in unsafe hulks. Time after time this House threw out his Bill and seamen continued to go to their graves. This Bill, or some of its provisions, have reached that stage today. I appeal to my hon. Friends and to the whole House to give this Bill a Second Reading so that married women may cease to weep for their own bread and that of their children.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
If this Bill got a Second Reading I should. I am certain, feel bound to vote against much of what is contained in Clauses 1, 2 and 3 when the Bill got to Standing Committee. I think that when an hon. Member finds himself in the position that he feels sufficiently strongly opposed to any Bill to wish to vote against its main Clauses he is entitled to rise to say that the Bill should not pass this House, unless you, Mr. Speaker, accept a Motion for the Closure, and not fewer than 100 Members vote in favour of it.
I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, 841 West (Mr. Simon) feels strongly on this matter. He has spoken to me about this before and I assure him that I should not be speaking now if I had not read the whole of last year's debate and tried to study the arguments put from both sides on this Bill.
§ It being Four o'Clock the debate stood adjourned.