HC Deb 14 May 1956 vol 552 cc1645-7
36. Mr. Fernyhough

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if, in cases where a court order for maintenance or alimony has been made against an insured person and that person disappears and fails to carry out his legal obligations to those to whom the court order applies, he will, whenever possible, on application from the wife or mother affected, disclose that person's address.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No, Sir. Since 1911 successive Governments have accepted the view that information supplied by insured persons should be treated as confidential, and not disclosed to other individuals without their consent. We can, however, often help by forwarding communications to the insured person at his last known address.

Mr. Fernyhough

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what it really means is that his Ministry is condoning the breaking of the law? When a court order is awarded and the man disappears, it means that his Ministry is not prepared to help the wife or mother to get the justice the court says she is entitled to. Will he look into this matter again? It means that hundreds of mothers and scores of wives are having to go to National Assistance and are receiving it simply because his Ministry will not give them the facilities to trace the husbands, whom the police could then bring to judgment.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, and I sympathise with it; but this question really does raise very broad issues indeed. There are many millions of people on the registers of my Department who give personal particulars, not only their addresses, in confidence. For many years—in my Answer I said since 1911—it has been considered policy, so far as other individuals are concerned, that information so obtained should be treated as confidential. I will, of course, look into any point which the hon. Gentleman desires to raise, but I would ask him to consider that he is raising perhaps a bigger issue than he in fact had in mind.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

Does my right hon. Friend not think it quite fantastic that if a man steals a shilling out of the gas meter the police can trace him by this means, whereas if he deserts his wife and children, leaving them destitute, earning good wages elsewhere in order to keep another woman, nothing can be done about it? Will he not look at it again in an endeavour to remedy this anomaly?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I said to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), and I repeat it to my hon. and gallant Friend, that I will of course look into this matter; but I do ask my hon. and gallant Friend not to under-rate the importance in the public interest of maintaining that the information which is obtained—a great deal of it, and from a large number of people —should be obtained in confidence. If we do not obtain it in confidence, there is a risk that the information, which is important to the whole social service system, will not be freely given.

Mr. S. Silverman

As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, he and I recently had some correspondence about this very matter. Will he bear in mind that, while the importance of not disclosing these things to third parties is well understood by everybody, the real point which he has to consider is whether a deserted spouse, who already has a court order in her favour which she cannot enforce because she has not got the information which the right hon. Gentleman has, ought really to be considered as a third party for this purpose? Is that not the real point at issue?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As the hon. Gentleman, with his professional experience, knows, there are methods, other than giving the address to the other party, which can be used and which, in some circumstances, can be helpful. As I said in my main answer, they include, for example, facilitating the service of proceedings. As I said, we do try to help in those ways. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a real clash of considerations here, on which I would not wish to adopt a dogmatic attitude; but I would beg the hon. Gentleman to appreciate that there are factors on the other side which have, at any rate, been strong enough to convince successive Governments for over 40 years that these registers should be protected.

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