§ 3. Mr. Shepherd
asked the Minister without Portfolio if he will state the procedures which must be satisfied before a person may be sent to prison for debt.
§ 5. Dame Joan Vickers
asked the Minister without Portfolio whether, in view of the fact that thousands of people are sent to prison yearly for contempt of court for not paying their debts, he will bring in legislation to enable the money to be collected by deductions from salaries or earnings.
§ Sir Eric Fletcher
Before anyone can be sent to prison for non-payment of a judgment debt the judge must be satisfied that the debtor has, or has had since the date of the judgment, the means to pay the debt and has refused or neglected to pay it. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor considers that the time has come for a full inquiry into the law and practice relating to the recovery of debts. This would include a review of the whole question of imprisonment for debt and the substitution of some other method of recovery. For this purpose, my noble Friend has therefore appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Payne. The other members of the Committee are Judge Baxter, Mr. Registrar Bryson, Mr. Robert Egerton, the hon. Member for Oldham, West, Master Jacob, Professor O. R. McGregor, the hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan), Mr. John Shufflebotham and Professor G. S. A. Wheatcroft.
1298 I am circulating the terms of reference in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Is it not the case that the debtor has to be brought to court before his ability to pay is finally determined; therefore, is it not wrong to talk about imprisonment for debt? Will the Minister bear in mind that it would be highly undesirable if the law were so changed that people who were not able to pay and had no intention of paying were further encouraged to incur debts? In many respects the law is too lax in this regard.
§ Sir E. Fletcher
I have said that it would be wrong for me to anticipate the findings of the Committee, but I am sure that these considerations will be borne in mind by the Committee.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I am very pleased to hear that reply. Does the Minister realise that about 7,000 people are in prison at the present time for contempt of court for not paying their debts? I gather that about 1½ million cases come before the courts every year and that a great many of these people are on National Assistance. Is the question of their dependants being looked into to see what happens to them?
§ Sir E. Fletcher
Every relevant aspect of the question will be looked at. As the hon. Lady said, it is a serious problem that there are about 7,000 people in prison at any one time for non-payment of debt.
Following are the terms of reference:The Committee's terms of reference are to consider whether any changes are desirable in the law and practice in the High Court and the county courts relating to the recovery of debts and the enforcement of orders for the payment of money or the delivery of goods; whether the courts should have power to postpone the operation of an order for possession of mortgaged property, and to make recommendations.