HC Deb 02 May 1958 vol 587 cc810-2

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

3.54 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

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

Several hon. Members have asked me to explain the provisions of the Bill. Time is short, but I will do what I can. The Bill is uncontroversial and makes several useful changes in the law, all of which were recommended by the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce.

Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)

My hon. Friend cannot say that.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

If my hon. and learned Friend reads the Bill he will see that that is so. None of the proposals of the Bill touch the grounds of divorce, nor do they either offer encouragement or discouragement in that respect. The Bill simply deals with the rights of the supreme authority after the divorce or separation has taken place. The Bill is not intended to be comprehensive, as my hon. and learned Friend appears to think. The proposals have been carefully thought out as being those upon which no controversy can take place.

Clause 1 and the Schedule to the Bill are matters of very small moment. At present, the court may not make an order for maintenance after pronouncing a decree of divorce, nullity or judicial separation, unless the applicant first obtains the leave of the court. That has proved to be very cumbrous and unnecessary, and Clause 1 therefore enables the court to make an order at any time. The rights of the husband are taken care of by subsection (5), which requires that the court shall still take into account any delay in making the application. In other words, the substantive law is quite unaltered. This provision enables the court to deal with the matter in one bit instead of having to take two bites at the cherry.

Clause 2 is intended to prevent a person from defeating the requirement of the law as to maintenance. Some husbands, or ex-husbands, have been known to give away their property rather than maintain a wife and children. The Clause will enable the court to set aside such a gift. The provision is not limited to gifts. More complicated schemes are often devised for this purpose, and the Clause applies to any such transactions. Other provisions ensure that the Clause cannot be used where it may operate harshly.

Clauses 3 and 4 are perhaps the most important. At present, if a man dies without making provision for his divorced wife she may be left entirely destitute. The court at present has no power to order payment of alimony from the estate of the deceased person, and Clause 3 gives the court this power. It is subject to suitable safeguards, and the principle of the Bill is the same as that of the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act, 1938, which has been tried and proved, and commands general assent.

Clause 7 is a technical, but useful, provision. Under Section 17 of the Married Women's Property Act, 1882, the court had no power to decide any question between husband and wife as to the title to or possession of property. For example, where a husband had money or property of his wife and parted with it the court could make no order under that Section. The Clause will now enable it to do so, and in case of need it may order the husband or wife to make a payment.

I wish that I had time to deal with these matters more fully. I can assure the House that there is nothing controversial in the Bill.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)

I regret that I must join issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) in this matter. The point of principle involved in the Bill cannot be disposed of in a minute. Clause 3 makes provision for a former wife out of the estate of a deceased former husband. That was a very controversial matter when it was considered by the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce. Paragraph 502 says. Thirteen of us are satisfied that the court can safely be relied upon to order provision to be made for a guilty spouse only if it would be reasonable to do so in the circumstances. But the views of six Members, as mentioned in paragraph 503 should be stated on the Floor of the House, so that hon. Members may have the opportunity of considering them. They say: Six of us think it wrong in principle that a husband or wife should be called upon to maintain a guilty spouse. It is a rule of the common law of England that a husband's liability to maintain his wife during the marriage ends if she commits adultery and is suspended if she has deserted him. The statutory deviations from this rule may be explained on the assumption that the legislature wished to ensure that a wife should not be left completely destitute. We doubt whether that could happen nowadays because, even if a woman cannot find employment, she may ask for national assistance. A husband may well preserve some kindly feeling towards the wife he has divorced and, if she has been left destitute, it is open to him voluntarily to make her an allowance. That is quite"——

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 16th May.