HC Deb 29 June 1960 vol 625 cc1448-52

Amendment made: In page 15, line 45, leave out from "the" to "order" in line 1 on page 16 and insert: powers of the court under subsection (1) of section fifty-five of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, shall be deemed to include power, whatever adjudication the court makes on the complaint, to."—[Mr. Vosper.]

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Vosper

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

The Bill has not been amended in any substantial way in this House, but it is a matter of importance which has not attracted the same attention as other Home Office Measures and I consider it important to say a few words about it. The Bill derives from the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce and found expression in a draft Bill considered and approved by the Committee under Mr. Justice Davies. That Bill sought to consolidate the existing law on matrimonial proceedings in magistrates' courts and to implement some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

The Bill has been amended in only minor respects, except in one particular: that is, that in another place the child of a family was brought within the ambit of the Bill. That is an important social change. In many ways, my right hon. and hon and learned Friends and I regretted that that change could not be made in this House. It was, however, thought wise to make that important change, Which, I am sure, meets with the approval of all hon. Members, at an early stage.

The effect of the Bill is threefold. The rights of husbands and wives to relief are brought into line for the first time, but the maximum maintenance amounts available are raised from £5 to £7 10s. in the case of a spouse and from 30s. to 50s. in the case of a child. The third great change that the Bill introduces is to give now powers to make provision in the interests of the children of the parties concerned and in special circumstances to put them into the care of local authorities. Those are the three major changes which the Bill makes and which will affect most people who have the misfortune to be involved in proceedings under it.

There will be a period of some months before the Bill can come into effect, because many of its provisions require the making of rules. When those rules are complete a public announcement will be made that the Bill is coming into effect. When that happens, it will be open to any party in receipt of a maintenance allowance to make application to the court for the increased maximum that will be available, if such people can justify an increase being made in their allowance. Therefore, the next stage is for the Government to make the rules under the Bill, to bring them into effect as soon as possible and to make an announcement to that effect at the same time.

I should like to thank once again the Committee of Mr. Justice Davies for their very thorough work on the Bill. For that reason, it has not proved more capable of amendment than might otherwise have been the case. I regret that we have not been able to accede to the three points that were put at all stages of the Bill by hon. and right hon. Members opposite and by one or two of my hon. Friends. These, however, were issues that were thoroughly discussed by the Davies Committee and we felt bound to abide by its decisions. Nevertheless. I am grateful to Members of this House, as well as of another place, who have helped to improve the Bill and ventilate the arguments which needed discussion.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Fletcher

At the commencement of his remarks, the Joint Under-Secretary rather congratulated himself on the fact that the Bill had not been substantially amended since it was introduced. While I agree with much of the right hon. Gentleman's other remarks, I cannot agree with him in that observation. We on this side consider that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends should have been more accommodating concerning the Amendments to which we attached importance and which we put forward in Committee and again today. We still feel that the right hon. Gentleman's failure to accept those Amendments has deprived him of the opportunity of making considerable improvements in the Bill.

Nevertheless, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) said on Second Reading, we on this side welcome the Bill because of the general improvements it introduces. We intend to support it on Third Reading in the same way as we supported it on Second Reading. We welcome it for a number of reasons, which I need not do more than recapitulate briefly.

First, the Bill codifies a branch of the law which was considerably in need of codification. Secondly, it introduces a number of improvements on the lines of the recommendations made by the Davies Committee. Thirdly, it introduces the principle of reciprocity and fourthly, and not least, and what will be a material consideration to the numerous couples affected by the Bill, it introduces an overdue increase in the maximum allowances that can be made under matrimonial orders. When the Bill operates, magistrates will be able in appropriate cases to make an order for as much as £7 10s. a week for a spouse and as much as £2 10s. a week for each child.

Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary can deal with one point which will interest everybody. He said that it will be necessary to introduce certain rules under the Bill before it comes into operation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can give an assurance that there will not be any undue delay in bringing the Bill into operation. Now that Parliament has decided that these changes should be made and that these increases in allowances under maintenance orders should operate, it is obviously desirable that there should be no undue delay in bringing the Bill into operation. Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm what I understand to be the Government's intention that the provisions of the Legal Aid and Advice Act should be extended to matrimonial proceedings in magistrates' courts when the Bill comes into operation?

Mr. Vosper

I gladly give the assurance that there will be no delay in bringing the Bill into effect. I am a little reluctant to give a date, because I might thereby disappoint some people. I repeat the assurance, however, that when the date is fixed and the rules are ready, a public announcement will be made, which, I hope, will have the effect of bringing to the notice of those concerned the added provisions of the Bill. Because of the technical nature of the Bill, it has not attracted the publicity which other Measures attract and there may be people who are not aware of its existence. Therefore, we will do whatever we can to bring it to the notice of the public.

I should like to look at the second point raised by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and not give a categorical assurance. Perhaps it would be better if the hon. Member were to put down a Question, to which I could give an Answer.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.