HC Deb 25 February 1965 vol 707 cc744-7
Sir Eric Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 16, line 20, at the end to insert: (2) Where money that has been recovered, or adjudged or ordered or agreed to be paid, as mentioned in subsection (1)(a) above, or has, after payment into court, been accepted as mentioned in subsection (1)(b) above, is in court at the commencement of this Act, then if it is not subject to be dealt with under that subsection and the person entitled thereto is not under disability it shall be paid out to that person upon an application's being made in that behalf to the court. The hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) will recall that we had a discussion on this matter in Committee. I believe that it was the hon. and learned Member himself and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) who raised the matter. They inquired what the position would be under the Bill as it stood in respect of the funds at present in court to which a childless widow was entitled. On both sides of the House we are concerned to ensure that once the Bill becomes law it will not only apply to funds paid into court thereafter but will also have the effect of enabling any childless widow who at present has funds standing to her credit in court to make application to the court for them to be released to her, free of control, and that she shall as of right be entitled to such an order.

In Committee I expressed the view that the Bill as it stood would have this effect, subject only to some amendment to the existing rules of the court. Since then I understand that some doubt has been expressed about that view, and that it has been suggested that the court might hold that unless the matter is put beyond all possible doubt in the Statute it would be open to argument whether any alteration in the rules of the kind contemplated had the necessary vires. Since I do not want there to be any doubt about this I thought it better to suggest that the House should put the matter beyond all possible doubt. That is why I have moved the Amendment.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

My intervention is in no way hostile. On the contrary, it is merely to seek clarification. Hon. Members on this side of the House are obliged to the Minister for looking at this point which as he said was discussed during the Committee stage. I am sure that our objective is exactly the same as he said We are concerned to see that any childless widow should be able to get money out of court. I am sure that the Minister meant to say any childless widow who is herself over 21.

With this new subsection the general framework which we now have is that while subsection (1) applies to money recovered hereafter, subsection (2) refers specifically to money already in court. Within that framework there is a great many possible variations. As to two of the three main possibilities the position is quite clear. One is the widow who recovers for herself and is under 21; that is one of the main classes.

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

Ordered, That the Proceedings on the Administration of Justice Bill [Lords] may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. George Rogers.]

Question again proposed, That the proposed words be there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Percival

I was dealing, albeit briefly, with the three main possible variations of a situation which could arise and which these provisions are intended to cover. I was referring, first, to the case of a widow who recovers for herself and is an infant, under 21. Whatever her age it is plain that she will be under supervision under Clause 19.

The second case is that of the widow who is herself over 21 and has no children under 21. That is equally clear. Whether the amount is recovered subsequently, or whether it is already in court, it is plain that she will be able to get it out. There is a third class and it is about this third class that I seek a little information. It is the case of a widow who, although she has no children under 21, is herself under 21 and therefore an infant. It seems plain that under the new subsection she will be under supervision—I use this word compendiously—until she is 21.

I take it that that is the reason for the words "is not under disability". I believe that the word "disability" is nowhere defined in any Statute. It is probably sufficiently well recognised in the courts that it will have the effect that the widow who is under 21 who has money in court will not be able to take out money under this new subsection. That applies only to cases where the money is in court already. I assume that it is intended that a similar provision shall apply to widows under 21 who recover in the future. I should like the Minister to confirm that it is intended to apply to both cases.

It appears to me that subsection (1) would not cover such a person. It may be that such a person is covered under other provisions and is dealt with as an infant rather than as a widow. I am sure that the Minister would agree that it is desirable there should be no doubt about this. If there were any doubt, one might have the anomalous position that whereas money already in court recoverable by a widow who is under 21 could not be paid out, money recovered in the future could. I should not like there to be an anomaly of that kind, and I seek an assurance that the Minister is satisfied that if subsection (1) clearly does not cover the case I am mentioning, it is covered under other provisions of the existing law.

Sir Eric Fletcher

I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman the assurance he seeks. The provisions of the Bill will not give rise to the anomaly to which he has referred. It is quite clear from the proposed new subsection that a widow who is herself under 21 and has funds in court will not be entitled to ask for their release until she attains the age of 21, when she will have the same rights as any other widow. It is also quite clear that, as regards the future, any widow being herself an infant who becomes entitled to funds in court will, notwithstanding the provisions of the Bill, still be subject to the ordinary rules derived from the Judicature Act, and, being an infant, will be subject to the supervision and control of the court until she attains her majority.

Amendment agreed to.