HC Deb 12 March 1958 vol 584 cc563-6
Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 3, line 12, to leave out from the third "the" to the end of line 13 and to insert: court shall grant the application on being satisfied in the prescribed manner that, at the time when the application was made, an amount equal to not less, in the case of an order for weekly payments, than four or, in any other case, than two of the payments required by the order was due there under and unpaid". I undertook, in Committee, to consider both the principle and the drafting of subsection (3), which entitles a person entitled to receive payments under a magistrates' court order who considers that the order could be more effectively enforced to obtain registration as of course, without applying to a magistrates' court.

The Opposition were concerned lest the person referred to as the vindictive wife, whose spirit brooded over our proceedings upstairs during this part of the Bill, should register an order merely to put her husband to expense and embarrassment in the High Court. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North—and I was grateful to him at the time—pointed out that, whereas enforcement proceedings in the magistrates' courts were discretionary, a writ of fieri facias could be obtained in the High Court virtually over the counter. He suggested that a wife whose husband had set up another home might be tempted to break it up by putting the bailiffs in.

Two solutions were suggested by the Opposition for overcoming this difficulty. One was to give magistrates' courts complete discretion whether to let the application be made or not and whether there should be reconsideration or not. The other was that there might be a qualifying period of arrears of payment as a pre-condition of granting the application, but that if there were four weeks' arrears, for example, the application should then be granted as of course.

We had to consider those two alternatives. Quite candidly, we prefer the second. We feel there might be quite unnecessary trouble caused by having a complete discretion about registration and possibly a separate hearing would arise. We are impressed with the second suggestion that there should be a pre-condition of a period of arrears and we consider that that is workable.

To embody that suggestion, I am moving this Amendment. The period of default we have chosen is four weeks, which is the same period as that laid down in Clause 6 as the necessary period before an attachment of earnings order can be made. There is consistency there and a great deal of logic to commend the period of four weeks. The effect of the Amendment will be that there will have to have been a clear default under a magistrates' court order of four weeks of payment before the High Court procedures can be invoked by registration. I hope that this Amendment will commend itself to the House.

Mr. J. Silverman

We on this side of the House welcome the Amendment. We are fully prepared to support it, because it meets the case and the arguments we put in Committee. We are glad that we made some impression on the Joint Under-Secretary. If he had been as conciliatory on the first new Clause tonight probably the Government would have saved themselves a great deal of trouble. This Amendment meets the case we put forward and we feel that without it Part I of the Bill might have introduced a great injustice.

Amendment agreed to.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 3, line 16, to leave out from "proceedings" to the end of line 18 and to insert: for the enforcement of the order shall be begun before the registration takes place and no warrant or other process for the enforcement thereof shall be issued in consequence of any such proceedings begun before the grant of the application". This Amendment and the next three Amendments hang together. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you would kindly allow us to discuss these four Amendments together.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am quite prepared to allow that if it is for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Renton

This rather formidable looking group of Government Amendments is merely intended to cure a small technical defect in the Bill, to overcome what might otherwise be a slight procedural difficulty. It is not a matter which was discussed in Committee or, indeed, one which occurred to us as being a possible danger until after the Committee stage, when we were reconsidering the Bill.

The position is that where an order is registered under Clause 2, or where the registration is cancelled under Clause 5, it is essential, to avoid an overlap of jurisdiction between those two things, that all existing methods of enforcement should be terminated. In other words, we want to get a clean break in one method of enforcement before we start on another. We do not want any kind of overlapping jurisdiction.

That danger will be avoided if we make these four Amendments to subsection (4) of Clause 2 and to subsection (4) of Clause 5. I could spend a good deal of time explaining to the House in some detail exactly how and why, in the drafting of the words put forward, these Amendments are necessary and how the defects are cured, but I can assure the House, having considered the matter, that they have the effect which I have described.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 26, leave out from "no" to "in" in line 28 and insert: process for the enforcement of the order issued before the grant of the application remains."—[Mr. Renton.]