HC Deb 29 June 1964 vol 697 cc932-3
32. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he is aware that a deserted wife, who is left with a child to support and whose husband cannot be traced, is in a worse position than a wife whose marriage has been ended by divorce or annulment, in that she gets no contribution towards the support of her child from her former husband, cannot become entitled to Child's Special Allowance, and will not be able to claim widow's benefit unless she can produce evidence that the husband is dead or can be presumed to be dead, and on which it can also be decided on or about what date he died; and if he will introduce legislation to allow deserted wives to be paid Child's Special Allowance, and to provide that the husband can be presumed dead after a specified period.

Mrs. Thatcher

Widow's benefit or child's special allowance can only be paid if there is evidence that the husband is dead, or can reasonably be presumed to be dead. My right hon. Friend does not think it would be reasonable to provide in the national insurance scheme for benefits for deserted wives, but they are eligible for help from the National Assistance Board.

Mr. Johnson

Would not my hon. Friend agree that it is grossly unfair that a wife who has been deserted by her husband should be left to bring up a child as best she can, getting no help from her husband, cannot have child allowance, and, according to my hon. Friend's interpretation, can never even become a widow? Surely the least that can be done is to arrange for a specified period after which death could be presumed. How can such a woman ever prove that her husband is dead if she does not know where he is?

Mrs. Thatcher

There is provision in the courts for dealing with presumption of death, which would terminate a marriage. I understand that the difficulty in this case is that there is not sufficient evidence from which death can be presumed. Deserted wives and divorced wives are exactly in the same position in this respect. To get benefit, each would need to prove that her husband was dead. There is no difference in that respect.