HC Deb 19 June 1972 vol 839 cc25-6
31. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Attorney-General how many prosecutions have been brought against men who have failed to pay alimony, granted by court order, to their former wives for any convenient period since 1st January, 1972; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General

Failure to pay maintenance is not a criminal offence rendering the debtor liable to prosecution. The hon. Gentleman may have in mind applications to commit to prison under the former judgment summons procedure. Figures for 1972 are not yet available. In 1971 a total of 1,683 judgment summonses were issued in the High Court and County Courts for failure to pay maintenance.

Mr. Dalyell

Does not this figure reveal the unattractive truth that the whole court machinery in this very complex matter seems to have created a condition in which many wives simply give up and do not get the money that is due to them? Is this a satisfactory state of affairs?

The Attorney-General

As yet, we have not seen the improvement which should arise under the procedures of the Attachment of Earnings Act, 1971, which came into force only in May of last year. It is generally believed that with that Act there will be better procedures by the use of that machinery rather than the previous machinery.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Is not this matter being considered by the Finer Committee? Can we have an indication of the progress being made by that Committee? When I put that question, I do not imply any criticism about any delay, because of the wide range of the problem that the Committee is trying to resolve.

The Attorney-General

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates, because it was in his time that the Finer Committee was set up, it is a vast and very extensive problem. The Committee has been working very hard under the leadership of Mr. Maurice Finer, and I hope it will not be too long before we have his report, though I cannot give any date.