§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
§ Moved, That the House do resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Lucas.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
*LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH moved to insert the following new clause—
. Subsection (3) of section one hundred and forty-five, which relates to the liability of a soldier to maintain his wife and children, shall be repealed, except so far as it deals with the invalidity of processes served on soldiers who are under orders for service beyond the seas.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Amendment which I have to submit to your Lordships is one which I think can be very shortly explained. Under the existing law the private soldier has a singular privilege in the case of proceedings instituted against him in the ordinary 641 magisterial Courts for the purpose of enforcing payment for the maintenance of his wife or child. The privilege consists in this, that the wife cannot bring her husband before the Bench until she has forwarded to the commanding officer conduct money sufficient to enable the soldier to attend the hearing of the case and return to his quarters. Similarly, conduct money is required in what is no doubt, the more frequent case, where a single woman claims that a soldier is the father of her child and wishes to obtain through the Court an allowance for the maintenance of the child. This is a privilege entirely confined to the soldier; if a similar proceeding were instituted by the wife of an artisan or by a single woman against an agricultural labourer, the artisan or agricultural labourer would have to appear in the ordinary fashion to answer the complaint. The soldier has another peculiar privilege. It is that the amount which can be recovered from him under a magistrate's order is strictly limited. Why that should be I do not know. I should have thought that the discretion of the magistrate could be allowed to be exercised in such a case in the same way as in an ordinary claim. But I do not now wish to refer to that particular privilege.
§ The provision in subsection (3) of Section 145, to which I have referred, obviously places a serious difficulty in the way of the prosecution of claims. It is designed, no doubt, to prevent claims being easily brought, but I do not see why such a special privilege should be given to the soldier above every other class. I have known cases brought before me where the woman has had to provide as much as £2, and unless that sum was forthcoming she could do nothing. It is obvious that women in the position of those to whom this subsection refers have not the money necessary to make a claim. In fact, recourse has been had to assistance in order to set going the ordinary procedure of justice. The Society for the Protection of Women and Children has been frequently called upon for assistance in this direction, and were it not for the charity afforded by such an organisation the initial proceeding in the course of justice would be defeated. Moreover, unless special directions are given the money is not ordered to be returned, and in cases in which this Society has advanced money to women who have 642 established their claims and obtained maintenance orders no order has been made for refund. This singular immunity often works to prevent justice being sought and therefore to prevent justice being obtained.
§ I am afraid that my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for War is not ready to assent to my Amendment. The Amendment safeguards every necessity for military service and could be strengthened if thought desirable. But I am afraid the Government are altogether opposed to its acceptance, and I shall listen with some curiosity to know what excuse can be advanced, except, perhaps, the ordinary one that on the whole not much injustice has been done, that the thing has worked well, and that it is a troublesome matter to alter a regulation which is of some antiquity. I have had to make excuses of that kind in past years, but I have always felt rather ashamed of them as being unfit to be submitted to any tribunal, and I sympathise with my noble friend if that is the kind of excuse he has to make to-day. It does not amount to any reason whatever why this privilege should be maintained—a privilege which, as I have said, prevents justice being obtained and makes the claim to an ordinary right dependent upon charity. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.
§ Amendment moved—
After Clause 4 insert the following new clause—
. Subsection (3) of section one hundred and forty-five, which relates to the liability of a soldier to maintain his wife and children, shall be repealed, except so far as it deals with the invalidity of processes served on soldiers who are under orders for service beyond the seas.—(Lord Courtney of Penwith.)
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, the Amendment which my noble friend has moved would affect the two cases where the wife is suing the soldier for maintenance and also where the soldier is being sued as the putative father of an illegitimate child. As a matter of fact, the cases that arise under this section of the Act are practically confined to the latter category. There is a subsection which enables the wife of a soldier to appeal to the Army Council, or, as a matter of practice, to write to the commanding officer and state her case, and the Army Council then has power to order the soldier to maintain his wife and children; so that for the purpose of the discussion of 643 this particular point it is practically confined to those cases where the soldier is being sued as being the putative father of an illegitimate child.
These cases as a rule arise after a regiment has changed its station, the claims being brought against soldiers of the regiment that has left. It has been our experience in the past that the soldier requires some sort of safeguard against claims of this sort. It is often considered that a soldier is fair game for any charge of this kind, and it has been found, as a matter of fact, that the procedure in this section does act in the way of safeguarding the soldier. The soldier is placed in an unfortunate position if he finds himself summoned to a Court at the other end of the country. Soldiers have very little pocket money, and the particular man might have no funds to enable him to travel, and there is always the possibility that simply because he has not got the money necessary to go and defend himself the case may go against him by default. Therefore the primary object of requiring this payment to be made is to enable the soldier to appear and to defend himself if necessary.
My noble friend said that it is not usual for this money to be refunded. As a matter of fact it is, I think, the universal rule that if the case goes against the soldier he has, besides being compelled to maintain the infant, to refund the money which was paid in the first instance by the woman. It may be said that the present procedure is one-sided. On the other hand, there are certain safeguards from the woman's point of view in the case of the soldier which do not exist in the case of the ordinary civilian. She has far less difficulty in serving the process because it is served on the man's commanding officer in the first instance; and, secondly, if the Court decide that he shall have to maintain the child the money is recoverable through his commanding officer in the same way. So that in both directions there is a substantial safeguard from the woman's point of view.
I am afraid we are not prepared to accept my noble friend's Amendment, at any rate without a good deal of further consideration. So far as we have known, the thing has worked very fairly. We have had no complaints of any sort or kind against this procedure for the last eighteen 644 years. In 1892 the question was raised by a magistrate's clerk, but since then we have heard nothing more about it. While we are perfectly prepared to consider any individual case of hardship that may arise we do attach some importance to giving the soldier some fair and legitimate safeguard. But if my noble friend likes to bring before us the experience of the society to which he referred we would be very glad to consider it, not this year but before the Army (Annual) Bill is brought in next year. I am afraid I cannot hold out anything more than that to my noble friend.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I cannot say that I expected my noble friend to accede to my Amendment at once. Therefore I am not very much disappointed at the official answer he has given, and I thank him for the assurance that he will consider any information brought before him with a view to a future amendment of the law. The noble Lord was, I think, under a misapprehension as to this money being refunded in all cases when the claims were established. Two cases were stated to me this morning where the society to which I have referred had advanced the necessary money but no order was made except the orders for weekly payments by the men against whom the claims had been so established. Therefore the out-of-pocket expenses never came back.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
I imagine so. It might be, of course, that repayment was not made because the society and not the women advanced the money. But information on this point shall certainly be forwarded to the War Office, and I hope that next year it will be unnecessary for me to move a similar Amendment owing to its having been introduced before the next Army (Annual) Bill is submitted to Parliament. I shall not withdraw my Amendment, but I will not put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment: Then Standing Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.