§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, the measure which I venture to propose to you this afternoon is not one that is intended to bring about any vast or far-reaching social reform. It does not carry into practice any of the major proposals that our political Parties have produced for dealing with any of the great social problems, such as uúemployment and housing, which are perhaps the most vexatious and the most urgent at the present time. It is, in fact, a minor measure of social reform. But I do not believe that for that reason it is lacking in grave importance, and I suggest that it really deserves the serious attention which your Lordships' House always give to proposals that seem to it of national and social importance.
The Bill is an essentially practical measure. I think that that is a very serious recommendation. Because it is not ambitious, because it is humble, I believe that it is more likely to meet with a friendly reception from your Lordships' House. Even the provisions which it includes are in no sense an innovation or a daring attempt to create something entirely new. Your Lordships will find that they simply endeavour to apply the existing law to certain matrimonial cases that are heard at the present time in police courts. It is not an attempt to alter the English law; it is an effort to apply existing methods. Your Lordships will find, for instance, that the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, and the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act, 1926, are called upon to lend valuable provisions which can be applied in the special circumstances with which this measure deals.
357 I should like to reinforce my request to your Lordships by pointing out that since this Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House it has received an enormous volume of popular support, and that this support has not come from any one Party or any one section of the community. I venture to claim that this is essentially a popular measure and that it is equally essentially a non-Party measure. I would support that claim by referring your Lordships to the favourable editorial comments or articles that have appeared in a great number of periodicals and daily newspapers during the last few weeks. I will not weary your Lordships by quoting from these articles, but with your permission I would simply like to give the names of the papers in which they have appeared. Of the daily newspapers that have come out in support of this measure I should like to mention the Evening News, the Evening Standard, the News Chronicle, the Daily Herald, and the Morning Post. May I draw your Lordships' attention specially to this last trio? How seldom it is we hear of three newspapers representing three contending Parties joining together in one single note, mingling their voices in perfect unison. The periodicals which support this measure are quite as equally divergent in their political allegiance. There are the Spectator, the New Statesman and Nation—and what a gulf separates those two productions !—John Bull and the People.
I am not ending on that note. There is also the Justice of the Peace and Local Government Review. That at any rate is a serious enough paper. There is besides, and finally, the Law Journal. I venture to think that this array is extraordinarily imposing. Although I shall not weary your Lordships by quoting one word from any of these articles, I cannot refrain from mentioning the conclusion of a letter that appeared in The Times this morning, over the signature of two such distinguished members of the Church of England as the Dean of Hereford and the Rector of Birmingham. They say:This constructive piece of legislation deserves the interest and sympathy of all who desire to preserve the decencies of the married state, and we would urge not only that it may be given a Second Reading but that the Government may give it the facilities which will be needed if it is to become law.358 That is the opinion of two such distinguished people and the opinion that The Times newspaper has thought fit to include. But perhaps as impressive as the array of papers that have come forward in support of this measure is the fact that not one daily paper, not one periodical, not one journal of any kind has come out in opposition to it. I have received cuttings from every quarter of the Press, and I have not received one that points out that this measure is one that your Lordships ought to reject at the earliest possible opportunity.
It is certainly true that popular support, however widespread and however non-Party, is not enough to recommend a measure of this kind. We must have the support of those men who are on the spot, those men who are engaged in the ordinary work of the police courts, and who see the married couples with whom this Bill deals coming before them every day, coming before them regularly throughout the year. The magistrates are definitely in favour of the principle of the Bill. May I for one moment quote a passage from the Justice of the Peace, which is the official organ of the magistrates throughout the country? This paper says in some notes on this measure that:This Bill contains two proposals, the first dealing with a special separation court and the way it is to proceed, and the second providing a new method of action by way of conciliation. In their main lines both proposals deserve to be given careful attention.There was also a resolution passed by the Magistrates' Association at a meeting held on May 4 of this year which begins:That this Council would welcome the establishment of special courts for dealing with domestic relations with a panel of justices and a special time set apart for the hearing of such cases and with procedure for preliminary inquiries before the hearing.I do not say that the magistrates have supported the detailed proposals I bring forward in this measure. All I wish to point out is that they are in absolute agreement upon the need for urgent and drastic reform, and that they stand by the principle of this measure, which is that conciliation should be practised to the greatest possible extent before litigation is resorted to. Finally, but not least, there are the lawyers and the probation officers. The Law Journal is the 359 organ of the legal profession, and I ask your Lordships' permission to quote one passage from some notes that it has published on this measure. It says:The object of the Bill is a very laudable one, and it would in our view be au excellent thing if some such system as it proposes were to be tried. The removal of the domestic disputes between husbands and wives from the police court atmosphere would obviously be all to the good, and the success with which juvenile courts work all over the country encourages the hope that their methods"—that is exactly what the Bill contains—may be extended to matrimonial disputes.The magistrates and the lawyers are, therefore, in harmony with us on this occasion and, although I have no resolution expressing the view of the Probation Officers' Association, I am assured that the probation officers are definitely in favour of the principle behind the Bill. They desire proper machinery for the establishment of conciliation between contending parties and, although again I wish to be absolutely fair and to point out that they disagree in many respects with the methods proposed in this measure, they are in general in entire agreement on this fundamental principle.
I will dwell for a moment on the seriousness of the social evil out of which this Bill arises and with which it is intended to cope. The gravity of the situation is fairly represented by the number of matrimonial failures that pass every year through our police courts. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with figures. These, I think, are the only figures I shall quote. There are, on an average, 17,000 separation or maintenance orders granted in the police courts every year, which is over four times the number of divorces granted by the High Courts. From this it is easy to judge how grave and how serious is the threat to the great and established principle of married life, and how perilously near it is to declining among those sections of the population that resort in marital difficulties to the police court.
What are the consequences of these marital failures in human terms? In the first place, there is almost always consequent upon a separation increased poverty, perhaps degrading poverty. The parties have not enough money to support 360 two households, and the result is that when the husband goes off, and probably starts another household, there is not enough to support his real wife and whomever he is supporting at the moment, and the standard of life of both parties and of their dependants is lowered. In the second place, there is, of course, inevitably an increase in immorality and bastardy. It is obvious that most men who separate from their wives will not remain celibate during the rest of their lives. The result is that children are brought into the world with the terrible stigma of bastardy, and the high ideal of the relations between the two sexes is seriously detracted from in all such cases. There is, further, imprisonment for debt owing to failure to carry out maintenance orders. I apologise for giving this, the last figure I will quote to your Lordships. In the last year for which statistics are available there were 4,000 cases of imprisonment for debt on the ground that the party was unable to pay a maintenance order granted by the court.
We have so far only been considering the degrading and wretched effect of marital failure on the husband and wife. There is, lastly, but not least, the great problem of juvenile delinquency. I need not remind your Lordships that it is the home that provides the standard and ideal for the moral conduct of children, and it is to the home rather than to the school that they naturally look. The criminologist Professor Burt found defective family relationships in 58 per cent. of the cases of juvenile delinquency which he studied. This fact gives some idea of the terrible unhappiness and the very serious social effects of the present extent of separation and domestic failures that pass through our police courts every year. Those who support this Bill and those who are behind it, both in your Lordships' House and in the country, believe that, given proper machinery for effective conciliation between husband and wife, an enormous number of the cases which at present end in the complete break-up of the home could be removed and remedied by agreement between the two parties.
The Bill simply attempts to set up the machinery which is likely to be effective in enabling the unhappy husband and wife to come together and to settle their 361 differences by agreement, instead of going to the court and fighting them out by litigation which is bound to end in a sundering of the happy married relationship. In the opinion of those who support this measure all that is needed is the introduction of a special procedure or a special technique, fundamentally different from the procedure and the technique used at the present time in dealing with criminal cases. We believe that just as in the case of the child the procedure that is needed to be used when some criminal offence is committed should be different; from that which is used to deal with the adult criminal, so also in the case of marital differences a special procedure and a special technique should be employed. We are not asking for the establishment of separate courts, for the setting up of special buildings and the recruiting of a special staff to deal with domestic cases. We were very careful to guard against asking for what, in our opinion, would be far too much. Greatly as we admire the family courts that exist in different parts of the United States, we do not feel that Parliament is likely to support a measure which would inevitably involve an additional burden upon the taxpayer.
This Bill, because it does not endeavour to set up separate courts will not involve a single penny of additional public expense. In fact, my Lords, I would go so far as to say that if successful it will result in a reduction in the money that is now spent by the ratepayers on social services, because, by preventing the separations that occur to-day, it will also prevent the deserted wife resorting, as she so often does at present, to the public assistance authorities in order to obtain relief for herself and her dependent children. I am not putting this forward in any sense as a measure of economy. That would be very far from the thought of myself or of my colleagues on these Benches, but I would like to point out to your Lordships that not only will it involve no additional burden on the taxpayer, but, by affecting reconciliation between husbands and wives, it will save the ratepayer some of the money that he has to pay to-day in order to maintain the social services in our towns and country districts.
There is one objection which I should not be at all surprised to hear, and it is 362 not an objection on financial grounds. My friend the noble Earl opposite, who knows far more about the work of the probation officers than I do, and perhaps more than any other noble Lord in this House, will no doubt, if he speaks—though I cannot be certain he will—draw your Lordships' attention to the magnificent work done at present by the court missionaries. Some may say that it is for the probation officers to accomplish the delicate and difficult task of bringing together husbands and wives who are at loggerheads. But while no one who has seen probation officers at work can doubt the immense importance of their labours and the splendid and disinterested way in which they carry them through—I am glad of this opportunity to express publicly the view that must be held by all who have had any contact with probation officers—at the same time, owing to their weakness in numbers, it would be necessary to increase the present strength of the battalions of probation officers in the country, and of course to remunerate them in a way which would give them adequate recompense for their increased labours. That would immediately raise the acute controversy as to whether this is the moment to increase expenditure on the social "services. The measure which my noble friend Lord Snell introduced in another place seven years ago foundered on that rock.
Having discussed the general principles behind the Bill, and having asked your Lordships to support them and co-operate in producing a measure that will satisfy every shade of opinion, I will for a moment turn to the actual clauses of this Bill. The first clause is simply an attempt to define those cases in which this special procedure will be applied. Your Lordships will see that, by including all cases in which husband or wife come before the court for separation or maintenance orders, it will immediately cover the vast bulk of domestic disputes which appear before the police courts at the present time. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the supporters of this Bill have no intention of touching the subject of divorce, because the operation of the Bill is confined to police courts, which only deal with applications other than those for divorce between the parties. The only essential difference between Clause 1 and Clause 2 is that 363 whereas Clause 1 is obligatory Clause 2 leaves the matter under discussion to the option of the magistrates, who may decide whether this procedure should be applied or not.
Clauses 3 and 4 are an attempt to describe and define the actual procedure that we call domestic procedure and that we consider desirable in dealing with domestic cases. The essential points of these two clauses are that among the magistrates who investigate these cases there shall be women sitting with men, and that Stipendiary Magistrates shall work with lay colleagues. The point of the proposals is perfectly simple. In order to investigate the causes of a marital difference no expert training or legal knowledge is really required; it is a thing which any impartial and sympathetic human being can do. It is simply for that reason that we ask that the procedure shall be adopted which is already adopted in the case of young persons under sixteen, and which will be found provided for in the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. Clause 3 is one which is built up out of existing legislation, and the methods prescribed by it are precisely the same as those at present used. The idea, as I have explained, is that laymen should collaborate with trained lawyers, and besides, that women should be able to give their attention to cases in which women are concerned, because naturally they are more able to understand the peculiar difficulties of their sex. I am treating these clauses only in their broadest outline, because it is not the practice of your Lordships' House to consider details on an occasion of this kind.
Clause 4 describes the constitution of the court. Subsection (1) of Clause 4 is borrowed wholesale from subsection (2) of Section 47 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, and the object of this subsection, quite simply, is to exclude the general public from the court. When matters of the greatest intimacy have inevitably to be discussed, the presence of the general public is, I think, a great blot on our legal system. When men and women are describing the difficulties which have led to a rupture between them, it is not only embarrassing for them to have to speak in public on subjects of that kind, but of course it must dissuade a number from doing so, and 364 therefore makes reconciliation almost impossible. Subsection (2) is also borrowed from an existing Act, and it would simply apply to the police courts, the procedure which exists to-day in the Divorce Court, where the reporting of the cases investigated is limited and restricted by the Judge. That is a very fundamental element in the Bill. It is, if I may say so, a scandalous and disgraceful thing that the most intimate details of the private lives of individuals should appear in the pages of the public Press, and I venture to hope that the check which your Lordships have put upon this practice by restricting publicity in the Divorce Court may be applied with equal determination to the police courts.
If I may now ask your Lordships to pass on to subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 4, I shall touch on those portions of the Bill which have, I think, given rise to the gravest criticism, and to antagonism which, perhaps mistakenly, has taken the Bill rather than its individual proposals for its object. The reason for allowing the parties to give their evidence unsworn is simply that the moment they get into the witness box you get a legal fight between the two, and reconciliation, agreement and harmony become absolutely impossible. That is the reason for employing evidence that is not taken on oath. Subsection (5), which is equally controversial, allows in the case of matrimonial disputes a relaxation of the rigour of the English laws of evidence which, as many noble and learned Lords point out and rightly point out, are pillars of English justice. The reason for this is that it is infinitely harder, if not impossible, to extract the real story of a quarrel between husband and wife when you have constantly to be insisting on the calling of evidence, the examination of witnesses and so on, which is what the laws of evidence would enforce. But I am not a person to fly in the face of the opinion of high legal authorities, and such authorities as your Lordships' House is fortunate enough to possess, and I should be the first to withdraw both of these subsections if those who have had the greatest experience in the administration of the law do believe that they would detract from the efficiency of our legal system.
Clause 5 contains perhaps the most original proposal contained in the Bill. It aims at the provision of a special con- 365 ciliation summons, which is to be different from the ordinary police court summons because it is permissive and not obligatory. The point is this. If either husband or wife feels that difficulties in the home are beginning which, if allowed to run on, will lead to rupture and to a dissolution of the married state, or if they feel that such troubles are on the horizon, then either can go to the magistrate and say: "Will you give me an order for my wife" (or "my husband" as the case may be) "to appear in court and to explain what the difficulties are in order that we may before it is too late come to some satisfactory agreement"? This machinery for conciliation would, I believe, succeed in settling many difficulties and many disputes before they reached the climax and involved both parties in a legal combat.
Clause 6 of the Bill—and I have now almost finished—is simply a provision to make attempted reconciliation obligatory, to make it part of the law of the land, in order that every case which comes before the police court may be one in which the last effort of human ingenuity to bring the two unhappy people together has been exhausted. At present it is only optional. Although many magistrates—no doubt most magistrates—do their best to hand over cases to the probation officers in attendance at their courts, there are many cases in which magistrates are unable, perhaps even unwilling, to do so, and this clause would make it obligatory for the machinery of conciliation to be used to the utmost before the fatal legal process begins.
Thanks, my Lords, to your great indulgence, I have been allowed to put the general case for this measure, and to give some account of its special provisions. All I have to add, if I may, is one word addressed to the noble and learned Viscount who will answer on behalf of the Government. The general support for reform is so widespread, and it comes from such different quarters, that I think it is not unfair to say that the only differences which could arise between different parties and individuals are differences about the methods to be employed in order to produce amelioration of the present state of affairs. I understand that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack may propose a different method of obtaining reforms to those con- 366 tained in the measure which I have introduced. Without wishing to anticipate his remarks in any way I should like, because I thick he would wish me to do so, to ask him whether the procedure of applying the rules which he is allowed to issue and to make, and of having these put into force in the police courts, could, to any considerable extent, alter our present methods of dealing with matrimonial disputes, because, of course, if a Committee of the Home Office, for instance, after investigating the situation, were to report to him, no doubt he would put into effect whatever recommendations he considered valuable by that instrument.
My only fear, and it is a very serious fear, and one shared by all those behind this measure, is that the scope of his rules will not allow him to go far enough. May I ask him if he is able to restrict or limit the attendances at the police court during the consideration of matrimonial disputes? Because that is a cardinal feature of this Bill. Is it within his power to restrict the publicity of hearings? That is an absolutely vital factor in this Bill. May I ask him, finally, whether this is within his power, or whether legislation on this point is necessary; whether he is able to make attempted conciliation between the parties compulsory instead of optional? Them is a very important matter in the opinion of all those who support this measure, and it would not, in any sense, be an innovation, because it already exists in many countries. I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount these questions, because I feel that he would wish to know exactly what problems occur to the minds of those who support this measure, before he rises to answer. I thank your Lordships for your indulgence in listening to these long and, I fear, rather technically detailed proposals, and I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ LORD MERBIVALE had given Notice that, on the Motion for the Second Reading, he would move, That this House, while recognising that it is desirable there should be full investigation by competent authority of any available means whereby the public hearing of matrimonial disputes in courts of summary jurisdiction may be avoided, declines to 367 give a Second Reading to a Bill which subverts the established principles and methods of English administration of justice.
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I am sure all of your Lordships will have sympathised with the noble Earl in the spirit which has animated the speech that he has made in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and will appreciate the object he has in view, which is that of lessening the troubles of a numerous body of people in this country. Perhaps they are not quite so enormously large a proportion as the noble Earl fancies. I think he said that probably 17,000 orders were made under the Summary Jurisdiction Act. Has he called to mind how many millions of families there are in this country? There are nearly forty million people, and taking five to a household, numbers, if you hear them given in the way they were given by the noble Earl, are apt to be a little misleading.
§ The noble Earl has two objects in view, and I have set down a reasoned Motion in which I take into consideration those two objects. One of the noble Earl's proposals is that, as the best available way to the reconciliation of married people who have fallen out, you should adopt this procedure of his to which I will refer presently. The other matter, to which I have given some attention, is whether, in the conditions under which we live, some forty years after the Summary Jurisdiction Act was passed, and after very great changes in our social conditions, the time has not now arrived when, with all the experience that there has been during the years since the War of grappling with this question and its difficulties, it would be practicable to embody in our judicial procedure some means which would tend definitely towards the ultimate end which the noble Earl has in view—whether it would not be possible to amend our procedure?
§ In the Amendment which I have framed I have asked your Lordships to bring to the attention of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and of His Majesty's Government, the view that something could probably be done in that direction. Possibly it would be attended with difficulties. The noble Earl has formulated some of the difficulties. He 368 realises that the public administration of justice is very dear to the people of this country—that they know that the public administration penetrates much more deeply, and operates much more extensively; than in the cases of the individual parties and the particular matters which have to be decided. The noble Earl proposes to dispense in a great class of cases—cases of the most serious gravity to which he has referred—with the public administration of justice. That, of course, is a very serious matter. I intend to be as concise as I can in the observations which I must make to your Lordships, but the first question which I asked myself when I had read and re-read the noble Earl's Bill, and the question which I have asked myself over and over again since, is this: Is it proper to deprive the poorer people in the land of their right of access to His Majesty's Courts, in respect of grievances of the grave kind which are dealt with by this Bill?
§ The Bill does not set out what those matters are, but it refers to the Summary Jurisdiction Act, and the Summary Jurisdiction Act is concerned with the cases of married women, of any one of whom it is to be said that her husband has committed an aggravated assault upon her, or has been indicted and convicted for assault upon her, or has deserted her, or has been guilty of cruelty to her, or has wilfully neglected (that is, definitely and constantly neglected) to provide maintenance for her and her children. Now, the class of wrongs which I have recapitulated is a class of wrongs as to which married women in this country have had the right of access to the Courts competent to deal with them during the whole of our recorded history.
§ Before 1857 they could go to the ecclesiastical tribunal and get redress where there was a wrong suffered: wrong suffered, redress claimed and granted. In 1857 the jurisdiction was transferred under the Matrimonial Causes Act to what is commonly called the Divorce Court—definitely transferred by sections in that Act. That was found to cause a hardship among those thousands of poor people who could not make their way to one of the superior Courts, and the Summary Jurisdiction Act was passed, the Act of 1895. It is only forty years ago. I remember the whole of them, as many of our Lordships do—the preceding state 369 of things, the state of things which has gone on during that period; and for one reason or another I have had very intimate knowledge about them. Certainly during a large section of my life I have had some official supervision of the procedure in the magistrates' courts, so that I do not speak without some knowledge of the matter, and I hope that nothing I have seen has lessened, or could lessen, the sympathy which I believe I have with suffering people.
§ What does the noble Earl propose to do? As to the great body of the people of this country, married women who suffer marital wrongs of the class described can go to the High Court, as they have been entitled to do for so long, and get redress. As to the poorer people who cannot get to the High Court and for whom relief in the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895, has been provided, the noble Earl has invented an ingenious procedure which prevents them from getting there for summary redress, and imposes conditions upon their right to redress which wil1 seriously alter the situation of every married woman in this country, and especially married women among the poorer classes The noble Earl speaks with great cheerfulness and a sanguine spirit about these proposals, and he says that in various quarters they have been applauded. Well, if I knew who were the writers I should know what knowledge they had of these matters, but applause in the Press is a rather tricky matter, as those probably best know who have seen the other side of the picture. I do not grudge the noble Earl the satisfaction he derives from having what he regards as a very favourable Press.
§ The noble Earl proposes by his Bill to set up a new class of courts—courts very artificially designed. A London Police Magistrate, for instance, has exercised this jurisdiction since 1895 in succession to his colleagues, with the assistance of court missionaries, with the assistance of probation officers, with the spirit which I know has animated our Police Magistrates during all my experience of them, with the keen desire that if reconciliation was possible it should take place. The noble Earl substitutes for the Metropolitan Police Magistrates a court composed of a Police Magistrate and probably two ladies, selected I do not quite know how, and they can over-rule him. A new 370 court may be a highly desirable thing. If you have an incompetent and highly unsatisfactory tribunal by all means set about amending it; but if you have a tribunal which has gained the admiration of every competent critic, and if you replace it by such an amateur and nondescript tribunal as the noble Earl pro-proposes to set up, I am against it. And it is for that reason, and because I know the broad extent of this measure and the depth to which it will operate, that I have felt bound to set down a Motion against this proposal.
§ In the country districts there is another artificial class of tribunal set up. I will not say anything at length about it. The noble Earl says it is a tribunal such as is found under the Children and Young Persons Act. I propose to refer to the Children and Young Persons Act, very concisely and very soon; but certainly no tribunal such as is here in question seemed to me to be constituted under the Children and Young Persons Act; and far my own part if it were found there, if you could identify it, I regard the right of the married woman in this country, who is a citizen, as her husband is, as a very different thing from the legal right of the young child, whom you must put under the protection of other people. After all, although she is married she has her rights of citizenship, and it is those rights which this Bill, as I think, most seriously infringes.
Well now, that is not the most serious thing. As I think, the most serious thing is the special procedure here—procedure which is obligatory. I read the clause over and over before I could believe that anybody proposed this procedure. Clause 4 provides that the evidence of the parties or of their witnesses need not be given on oath. That is not the most material matter. "The laws of evidence shall not apply." The parties may be at the expense of having solicitors and even counsel: there is a tender regard for the legal profession here; but the, witnesses may be unsworn, the rules of evidence do not apply, and
the parties shall not be entitled to cross-examine each other or to cross-examine any witness called…
but they may ask the tribunal to put a question.
§ If the noble Earl had had twenty or thirty years experience in judicial proceedings in this country he would see what a burlesque of judicial proceedings that is. He proposes to take defenceless people and to deprive them of existing statutory rights and say: "Now we are going to give you in lieu of your statutory rights the power to go to people whom we have selected. They will not hear your evidence, and if you employ counsel someone may have to pay them, perhaps the other side, but you will not be entitled to ask any questions—the special tribunal will see to that." When I read a proposal of that kind I really wonder in what period I live, or whether this is some strange nightmare which has fallen upon me.
There are other very remarkable proposals. The noble Earl has what he calls "the conciliation summons." If two married people are living together one of them may apply for a conciliation summons which shall be heard under the domestic procedure—that is the procedure we are dealing with now—and I see what class of cases are dealt with:
Circumstances which threaten to give rise to an application for a separation or maintenance order or to a petition for divorce …
Just conceive of it. A man who thinks he is in peril of a separation order will apply for a conciliation summons under the domestic procedure; a man who knows that he is in peril of proceedings for divorce will apply for a conciliation summons under the domestic procedure, and the public will not know, but the court will come to its decision! The applicant will be heard first, and of course he will tell a plausible story, and then the other party will be heard next and may not be able to tell so plausible a story, and there will not be any cross-examination or any evidence.
§ Then I read what may happen. The court may "advise or admonish either or both of the parties" and the noble Earl's Bill provides for the presence then of representatives of the Press. You may have an ingenious applicant, a wrongdoer, bringing his wife before the conciliation board and telling his tale to them and succeeding, with reporters present, and the fact published that this woman who is deprived of her ordinary legal rights has been admonished by the 372 special board, and it would be true and she would have no redress.
§ I wondered whether this Bill could be amended so as to bring it into line with our judicial procedure. It is because I am satisfied it cannot be amended, that it is based upon those proposals on which the noble Earl declares it to be based upon those idealistic proposals which will not stand the test of experience, that I move your Lordships should not give a Second Reading to this Bill. But I do not propose to leave the matter there. I have referred to procedure. The noble Earl appealed to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack as to the procedure in these cases. Procedure in every kind of case, but especially in cases of the gravity of these, is a very difficult thing to handle, but my belief is that a competent Committee should be appointed by the Home Office, under the advice it can get, to investigate this matter and to see what is possible in order to avoid so far as may be public investigation of matters as to which the public does not gain by their investigation. I venture to propose in my Motion that His Majesty's Government shall be asked to consider that possibility and unless they are advised that it is not a possibility—and I cannot conceive that they can be—they should proceed now, while the thing is fresh, and investigate the matter.
§ As to the noble Earl's Bill, I do not know of any public demand for it. I have known something of these matters for a long time, as I have said. That there have been writers in the Press I know. I think I could identify some of the persons who have written. One man can write a good many articles in a good many newspapers if he is active enough. But there is, I think, a case for inquiry. I think there is a necessity for inquiry, and the experience I have had and the observation which I have applied to it lead me to think that it is possible in a variety of cases that the strict rule as to publicity should be relaxed. I ventured to propose a Bill in your Lordships' House some months ago by which, in its severest strictness, I thought the rule might be relaxed in certain cases. Well, that Bill has not come back from the other House. But I believe it could be done, and if His Majesty's Government will take up this matter, and if the noble and learned 373 Viscount on the Woolsack, who, I know, pays a sympathetic attention to matters of this kind, will tell us something of the kind can be done, then I am sure the noble Earl will feel we have gained by this discussion, even if the Bill is not carried beyond its present stage. I move the Amendment standing in my name
Leave out all words after ("That") insert ("this House, while recognising that it is desirable there should be full investigation by competent authority of any available means whereby the public hearing of matrimonial disputes in courts of summary jurisdiction may be avoided, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which subverts the established principles and methods of English administration of justice").(Lord Merrivale.)
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I have the greatest possible sympathy with the noble Earl who liar introduced this Bill and with the objects which lie behind it. If I may echo what has been said by the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down, I think he has done a very considerable public service by bringing the question before your Lordships' House. When I was a member of the long-drawn-out Royal Commission on Matrimonial Causes in 1912 this matter was constantly before our minds. We were very greatly impressed with two facts. One was the number of applications arising out of these particular domestic disputes which were never taken up at all. We were told, if I remember rightly, that in one place alone, the City of Leeds, there were more than 4,000 applications which were lying in the office of the clerk and had never been taken up at all. We were still more impressed with another fact—the number of reconciliations which were effected even when orders had been taken out and made. Most of our witnesses agreed that probably that was true in fifty per cent. of these cases.
It was, therefore, obvious that nothing could be more unreasonable than to describe the large number of applications for separation or maintenance orders as in any sort of way potential divorces. On the contrary, a great number of them, perhaps the majority of them, were due to matrimonial tiffs, to explosions of temper, to the sting of defeat left in the minds of one of the parties after a combat of words, and it was urgent that every step that was possible should be 374 taken to prevent disputes which had that sort of origin from resulting in the break-up of the home to the great detriment, particularly, of the children. Therefore, there is not a word that the noble Earl used in bringing forward his Bill, about the necessity of taking every possible means of effecting reconciliation in these cases, with which I do not most heartily agree. That, I think, he advocated as the fundamental principle of his Bill. With that fundamental principle I most cordially agree, and, as I have already said, with the main objects of the Bill I cannot imagine that anyone who is familiar with this aspect of our public and social life would not agree also. It is when I come to the actual procedure of the Bill which the noble Earl has introduced that my difficulties begin, and I am afraid do not end.
I am bound to say that the arguments which have been brought before your Lordships by the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken seem to me irresistible. We shall all await the advice which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack may give us, but I shall be much surprised if he does not reinforce the weight of what has just been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Merrivale. These arguments against the particular procedure recommended by this Bill seem to me to be conclusive. But there are features of the Bill, even proposals of the Bill, which seem to me to merit most careful consideration. For example, I think it is right that cases of this kind—that is to say, applications for maintenance or separation orders, bastardy cases, cases of affiliation orders —should be held at special sessions of the court or at times apart from the hearing of ordinary criminal cases. I believe it is the case that in most courts these cases are heard along with the hearing of quite trivial offences, and the patience even of the most considerate magistrates may often be exhausted, after hearing a number of these trivial cases, by the voluble tongue of some woman who is conscious of some grievance against her husband. It would be very much better if the real importance of these cases, which are not comparable to the trivial matters with which they are often associated in the courts, should be recognised and that they should be treated in a special session and at a special time.
375 I also think it would be of great value in cases of this kind that where it was at all possible there should at least be one woman associated with the magistrate in the hearing of the case. Further, I my wonder whether it is not possible to make provision that, while the court must be open and in a sense public, the general public advantage there is in a crowd of neighbours or of the ordinary public being admitted to listen to some poor woman who is obliged to reveal the most intimate details of her domestic life. I happened to hear the other day of one case where, before an ordinary public court, a poor woman had to describe, with resentment at the conduct on the part of her husband, just those delicate relations of married life with which the general public has no sort of concern. I venture very much to hope that provision may far ultimately be made for restricting to that degree the publicity with which these domestic disputes are considered.
But the matter of most importance is that it should be the duty of the court, before hearing any application in any of these cases, to instruct the probation officer of the court to make full investigation into all the causes which behind the application, and to advise the parties before they come into court. I agree with every word the noble Earl said about the evil of unnecessarily dragging cases into court. When two parties have stood arrayed against each other, one complainant and the other defendant, the position is necessarily embittered and hardened and the chances of reconciliation lessened. The whole difference might be settled if it were the duty of the court to see that before any of these cases is heard the probation officer has an opportunity of seeing the parties and endeavouring to effect some reconciliation. Further, I would say that there is the greatest possible value in giving power to the court, if it does not already possess it, to order an adjournment within some fixed period, even when the case has come into court, in order to see whether the probation officer would not be able to effect a reconciliation as in the vast number of cases, if the opportunity is given and the duty laid upon him, he is able to do.
In other words, it seems to me that what we should aim at is securing 376 mediation in every possible way, but I think the proper mediator is not the magistrate, however valuable his advice may be, but the probation officer. In may judgment the best result of this discussion would be to increase the number and extend the functions of the probation officers. It is difficult to exaggerate the value which these officers render to our social life. I think there are about 204 full-time men probation officers and about 80 women and some 540 half-time officers. I think it is important, in view of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Merrivale, said, that the police court missionaries as they used to be calle—now they are all probation officers—should be increased in number. Their numbers are not sufficient, and I do not think their duty is quite properly and fully laid down. So far as their work is concerned, it is already heavy enough, and I agree with the noble Earl that it would not be possible to give them increased duties, under our desire to make procedure in domestic cases better, without increasing their numbers.
I believe that in a Metropolitan court there are something like a thousand of these cases every year. In one big borough with which I am very familiar, Croydon, where very accurate records are kept, I think that last year no fewer than 436 cases of married women alone had to be investigated. But I do not agree with the noble Earl that there would be any reasonable objection to the comparatively small increase of public expenditure which would be involved in increasing the number of these wholly admirable probation officers, not only on account of these particular matters but of the whole field of the administration of justice in social matters. Therefore it seems to me that what is wanted is a full inquiry into this matter undertaken by some responsible authority. I would associate myself with what has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Merrivale, and I would ask whether the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack could give some assurance that the Home Office would be prepared to undertake such an inquiry as is desired—only I should not like it to be limited to the one question which appears in the form of the noble and learned Lord's Motion for rejection, that is, to investi- 377 gate possible restriction of publicity. I should like the inquiry to include investigation into the possible increased use of probation officers, because I am satisfied that that is the way in which this matter can best be approached.
I should like to support the Second Reading of the noble Earl's Bill because I have such deep sympathy with his objects, and, as he will have gathered, so much agreement even with some of his proposals. Some, of the suggestions I have made may require statutory provision. If so, I would suggest to the noble Earl and his friends that they might consider whether they could not bring in a Bill of a much more simple character which does not make the tremendous incursions into the established Common Law practice of this country which have been described by the noble and learned Lord. Other suggestions might be achieved by means of administration in the courts or possibly through the powers of the Lord Chancellor. But I cannot really vote for the Second Reading of this Bill because its object is the establishment of this particular court and the provisions attached to it. I think that is going the wrong way about the business, and that it is complicating the matter with difficult legal questions which are by no means necessarily associated with it. But I am sure that the noble Earl may feel that he has done very great public service in raising this matter before your Lordships and before the public. I hope that the discussion may result in greater care being taken in the discussion of these unhappy matrimonial disputes and, it may be, in the more effective use of the system of probation officers which I hope will be increasingly an integral part of the administration of justice in this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships more than a minute or two. I rise for the purpose of supporting almost everything that has been said by the most reverend Primate and also of expressing my agreement with the observations made by my noble and learned friend Lord Merrivale. I think, with others who have spoken, that we are greatly indebted to the noble Earl for having brought this matter before your Lordships and for having, I hope, paved the way for some further investigation and probably a better procedure than prevails at the 378 present moment. I am attracted by a number of the objects which the noble Earl has in mind. Especially am I attracted by his proposal for what is termed in the Bill a conciliation summons. What is needed is some course of procedure which would prevent the constant hearing in the courts of cases which probably could be satisfactorily settled if only some impartial person of authority and influence could intervene at the right moment. We are all aware of the conditions present and of the difficulties that arise in matrimonial matters.
Even so, I confess that I cannot be induced, and I hope your Lordships will not be induced, to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill which, if passed with the clauses proposed by the noble Earl, would have the effect really of destroying the whole system of law built up in this country through the centuries, which I do not think it is too much to say is the admiration of most if not all countries. Indeed, many attempts are made to follow the procedure which we have adopted. No one can speak with greater authority with regard to matrimonial disputes than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Merrivale, and I think I am justified in the observation that no Judge who has ever sat showed greater sympathy and understanding of the questions that came before him during his long tenure of the high office he held or showed a greater desire to deal with them in some way which would prevent the disruption of the tie which had been entered into. I must ask your Lordships not to pass lightly over the criticisms he made.
I could not help thinking as he was addressing your Lordships that it was not my view, nor I think the view of anyone who has practised in the Courts, that matrimonial courts are those in which you get the truth always told. Probably it is not too much to say that there is no court—certainly that is my experience—in which greater untruths are told more unblushingly and supported very often by evidence of a similar character. Yet your Lordships are asked to give effect to a measure which would not only do away with the laws of evidence, which would allow evidence in these cases to be given without the sanctity of the oath, but which would allow it to be given without fear of the 379 punishment which can follow upon the disclosure of a false statement made in evidence, that is, conviction for perjury. All that would disappear under this Bill.
Without travelling further into the matter I beg your Lordships not to give a Second Reading to a Bill which contains provisions of this character; but in saying that I would desire to press so far as is legitimate upon my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack the desirability, with the knowledge we now have and in view of the changes that have taken place in recent years, of instituting an inquiry. That inquiry should not be limited. It should be wide so that we may have an opportunity of introducing some system which would help to relieve the present situation, which would make it perhaps more possible to prevent disputes of this character coming into a public court, and which would certainly give the opportunity, if as the result of the inquiry it should be found right, of having discussions in private, not in the presence of witnesses, with all the advantages referred to by the most reverend Primate, which I will not repeat, but with which I most cordially agree. I do urge upon the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that in any inquiry which he is prepared on behalf of the Government to promise there should be no undue restriction, but that it should be one with all the advantages which we now have of all the experience of the law which was passed in 1857 and all the changes which have taken place in more recent times. There would be a real public benefit if we could have such a full inquiry into the procedure we now have with the advantage of all the experience we have gained.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I do not know whether I may say, in addition to what my noble friend has said, that the inquiry which I contemplate would be a very full inquiry into the whole of these matters. I do not think that the necessary scope of it has been at all over-stated in the speeches which have been made.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, previous speakers have left me, fortunately at this late hour, with very little to say. I would only like to take the opportunity of this debate to congratulate His Majesty's Government upon the news which I read in this morning's 380 newspapers that a course of training for probation officers has been initiated. I am afraid that I must differ from the noble Earl who introduced this Bill, in desiring that more and not less public money should be spent upon probation officers. Though I am very glad to learn of his concern for the public purse, I trust that I shall not be considered extravagant in urging that the services of probation officers, of which the most reverend Primate has spoken with such knowledge and so informingly, should be very greatly increased. I trust that one of the objects of the inquiry which will I hope be set up, will he an increase in the sphere of usefulness of probation officers especially before cases are brought into Court.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
My Lords, permit me to congratulate the noble Earl on his speech in moving the Second Reading of his Bill. This House always welcomes the contributions to our debates made by our younger members. Not only do we desire to hear various views upon public questions, but we are always anxious to know the opinions of those to whom, after we are gone, the destinies of our country may from time to time be entrusted. While, however, this House never turns a deaf ear to new ideals, we must also consider carefully the advice and advantage which come from knowledge and experience. With the principle of conciliation we should all of us be agreed. It would be better to persuade people to agree with their adversary while they are in the way with him. Particularly is the principle of conciliation desirable when the dispute is one which arises between husband and wife and concerns those domestic relationships which everybody in the country desires to see happy and undisturbed.
Let me first, however, sound a note of warning against placing too much reliance upon the consideration of how different conceptions of law have fared in other nations. It cannot be proved that the principle of conciliation has always been a success wherever it has been tried. It must not be forgotten that different systems suit different countries, and it may well be that a code which fits in with the traditions, associations and way of life of one nation will not fit in with the way of life of another. Our Common 381 Law is an indigenous growth, derived by a process of evolution from the customs of our people. It has followed lines of development of its own, quite unrelated to any Continental system. One man's meat is another man's poison. Far be it from me to say that Continental systems are ethically or logically wrong. It may be that our Common Law would be just as much out of place in certain countries where for generations they have proceeded upon a different theory and different practice, as the codes of other nations would be when applied to our own conditions and our own outlook.
It would be too risky to support a Bill like the present without more thought and inquiry than appear to have been brought to bear upon the proposals which are contained in it. It cuts across many of the provisions which, after generations of experience and practice, we have found to be the best to enable many of our fellow citizens to obtain their rights. It interferes with procedure which, after generations of experience and practice, we have found to work satisfactorily. The advantages of cross-examination are to be abolished, the advantages of complete legal assistance are to be done away with, the advantages of bringing a trained mind to the settlement of disputes are no longer to be relied upon. The main fault of the Bill appears to me to be that in its very laudable endeavour to prevent disputes between husband and wife taking place in a law court, it starts too late. It begins after the mischief has been done and when, in many cases, people have got into a position where the only remedy is resort to a judicial tribunal. There are many who are convinced that a better way of achieving the desires which are shared by the promoters of this Bill, and indeed by all of us, might be found by attacking the problem at an earlier date.
We have in our country a large number of probation officers, and it would be wiser in the opinion of many that use should be made of these officers in these very distressing cases between husband and wife. The good offices of probation officers have prevented hundreds and hundreds of these cases ever appearing before the magistrate. The work is done privately and without the publicity attendant upon proceedings in open court, and it would probably be far better to 382 try that remedy before embarking on the revolutionary proposals which this Bill asks your Lordships to countenance. At many courts the common practice is, before the case comes into court, to ask the probation officer to interview the parties, and experience shows that he is frequently able to bring the disputants to a better frame of mind and to guide them to a settlement. Often the parties are young people and the quarrel is due to inexperience and ignorance. In such cases and in many others it is possible for a mediator of experience to remove misunderstandings, to show how difficulties may be overcome and to bring about a permanent reconciliation. At many courts the official procedure is supplemented by the probation officer in his capacity of court missionary, but it is probable that this can only be done if the court is fortunate enough to have the services of a probation officer with the personality, the knowledge and the time to deal with these difficult problems.
The promoters of the Bill propose to meet this difficulty by providing that matrimonial disputes shall be heard by a tribunal which shall sit in private, which shall not be subject to the laws of evidence, which shall dispense with some of the legal procedure of a court, and which in dealing with alleged offences such as assaults, threats, or abusive language, shall have no power to impose any penalty on the offender. This tribunal will, however, have power after a hearing, to which the important and traditional legal safeguards do not apply, to grant or refuse a separation order or to grant or refuse a maintenance order, although, if a maintenance order is not complied with, such a court will have no power to deal adequately with the defaulter. The Bill, indeed, proposes to confer upon a court of law functions of a non-judicial, advisory and patriarchal character which are difficult to reconcile with the purposes for which a court exists. That in matrimonial disputes such functions can often be usefully exercised by some unofficial person or body of persons is admitted, but they are not functions of a court of law. The function of our courts is to come to a decision on facts put before them in accordance with the laws of evidence and after the evidence has been put to the test of cross-examination. It seems entirely wrong that, as proposed 383 in this Bill, a tribunal sitting in secret, dispensing with the laws of evidence, dispensing with sworn testimony, with power to prevent any real cross-examination, should be authorised to decide whether a claim for a separation order is substantiated or not.
As regards the paragraph (f) which deals with summonses for criminal offences—namely, assaults, threats or abusive language—the so-called court when dealing with such cases will not be a court in any sense at all, since it will have no power to enforce its decisions. The tribunal which the Bill purports to set up under the name of a court is not in fact a court of law in any accepted sense of the term. It is an informal committee functioning under an informal procedure, but having neither the effective authority of a court nor the freedom of an unofficial body. It is important that the two organisations and the two methods of dealing with a dispute should be kept separate and distinct. There may be exceptional occasions on which a particular court can properly, of its own will and motion, abandon its authority as a court and resort to methods of unofficial persuasion, but a court whose official duty is to abandon its official legal procedure and when dealing with alleged offences to use merely methods of persuasion and reasoning, is no longer a court at all.
It may be contended that the present unofficial methods of reasoning with the parties to a matrimonial dispute through the good offices of probation officer, or sometimes through the unofficial intervention of a magistrate, are liable to be ineffective because the persons taking this unofficial action are not clothed with the impressive authority of a court, and it is therefore desirable to constitute a tribunal which has the appearance of a court for the purpose of bringing pressure to bear upon unreasonable and wrongheaded disputants. This, however, is a double-edged argument. It would soon be recognised that the tribunals set up by this Bill have no real authority to enforce their decisions and consequently respect for their proceedings would quickly wane. The fact that it is styled a court, and has the ostensible appearance of a court, though having none of the real characteristics of a court, would react to the detriment of the prestige of 384 the real Courts of Law. The respect which is felt for the decisions of courts of summary jurisdiction rests on the fact that they have authority to enforce their decisions, and that those decisions are only arrived at in accordance with the traditional and recognised judicial procedure. If bodies are set up which are styled courts of law but have none of the important characteristics of courts of law, such a development might have a harmful effect on the administration of justice generally.
The prestige of a court rests largely on the formality of its procedure, its ability to compel the attendance of the parties and the power to make its decisions effective. To make the court the vehicle of a species of social service for the protection and welfare of married persons would detract from its authority. Under existing conditions when a court postpones the hearing of a summons and brings its influence to bear on the parties with a view to a settlement, it does not suffer in prestige precisely because such a course is not obligatory and all concerned know that a court will exercise its powers if compelled to do so. Under the procedure proposed in the Bill the court is compelled to act in two capacities: first, as a mediator, and, secondly, as a judge; and it can only act authoritatively when it has already failed as a mediator, so that when it enters on its final and proper task it is faced by its previous failure to persuade.
One of the main defects of the Bill is that magistrates who have acted in an informal manner when dealing with a summons for assault, threat or abusive language, or when dealing with applications for arrears under a maintenance or bastardy order, may subsequently be called upon to deal with the same case formally and authoritatively in an ordinary court of summary jurisdiction. This is clearly indefensible. A magistrate who at the first informal sitting under the domestic procedure has listened to statements which are not evidence cannot then apply his mind impartially to the evidence which is subsequently produced before the ordinary court of summary jurisdiction. Moreover, the reputation for impartiality of the latter court will obviously be prejudiced if, at the first hearing, as must necessarily happen under the procedure contem- 385 plated, the magistrate in reasoning with the parties has shown how his mind is tending.
No doubt the principle of informal procedure by a specially constituted court has already been admitted in the Children and Young Persons Act and the Juvenile Court Rules, and it may be said that the present Bill is no more than a logical development of this principle. Such an argument loses sight of the fact that the justification of the juvenile court procedure is not that the matters dealt with affect family life, but that one of the parties is a child. Its procedure is directed to safeguarding the interests of the child, and informality is allowed as the most effective means of ensuring that the child shall understand and be able to take part in the proceedings. None of these considerations applies to cases under the Bill when the dispute is between adults. The objections to the whole scheme of the Bill are so strong that it is impossible for the Government to give any countenance to its proposals. No amendment in matters of detail could make it workable.
The noble Earl has addressed certain definite questions to me. He has asked me whether it is possible for a Lord Chancellor, under rules and regulations, to restrict publicity or to keep the public from entering the courts, and also whether under the rules which the Lord Chancellor has authority to make he can ensure that there shall be compulsory conciliation. The answer to the last question is that the Lord Chancellor has no power to make any rule affecting compulsory conciliation. With regard to the other question, I would ask the noble Earl to remember that after all publicity is the soul of justice. It is injustice which thrives on secrecy. The real difficulty in these cases is where to draw the line. To have a gaping gallery listening to some unfortunate woman giving a most intimate account of a dispute between herself and her husband, is disastrous in the last degree. On the other hand, absolute secrecy is equally disastrous, and it may be that it will be found necessary some day to see whether it is possible to frame some legislation which will be a happy line between those two extremes. I do not think a Lord Chancellor has power, at any rate without further inquiry, to make any such 386 With regard to some of the ideas of the noble Lord, they can, and it is to be hoped will be, accomplished by the magistrates themselves, by assigning particular days and particular hours for the hearing of such cases, so as to prevent them being mixed up with the ordinary criminal cases of the police courts. It is not necessary, however, for the accomplishment of this desirable reform, to upset rules and practice to which English people have been accustomed for many years, and to resort to changes of procedure against which the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, with all his unique experience, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, with his experience as Lord Chief Justice of England, have given us such timely warnings. I should shrink from taking away from, a number of our fellow citizens in distress statutory rights which they at present enjoy, but the way to exercise those statutory rights is quite another matter. It must not be thought that those who are anxious to reform the law are not in sympathy with the difficulties which arise when the husband and wife of to-day are no longer able to agree with one another, and I am sure that your Lordships will probably agree that the remedy does not lie in cutting ourselves adrift from well-established principles.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is prepared to have examined the question whether particular days and hours can be assigned for the hearing of husband and wife cases, and the question whether it is possible to extend and develop the present methods adopted at many courts of subjecting applications for separation orders and applications for summonses in respect of matrimonial disputes to a preliminary informal investigation, with a view to seeing whether reconciliation is practicable in particular cases. It may be desirable that at every court some person with the time and the qualifications to investigate such cases, to interview the parties and to see whether by reasoning and persuasion their difficulties can be adjusted, should be available. Where there is a good probation officer he is probably the most suitable person to undertake the preliminary inquiries. It may also be found desirable that in special cases, where he thinks reconciliation desirable but finds his own intervention ineffective, he should 387 have the assistance of some magistrate who is prepared to help him, on the understanding that, if the case ultimately comes into court, that magistrate will not. adjudicate.
Questions of this kind, however, are not in the present state of our knowledge proper subjects for legislation imposing obligations on all courts. The making of many proper arrangements can be, and is, a matter of administration, but it is not at present necessary, or even possible, to crystallise these regulations into an Act of Parliament. The need for such work is an argument for strengthening the probation system. Considerable progress has been made in recent years in increasing the supply of good probation officers, but there is no doubt room for still further improvement in this direction. As I have said, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will examine and consider all these questions in the light of this debate, but I would ask your Lordships not to allow this Bill to go to a Second Reading.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I should like in my very brief reply first of all to thank your Lordships for the very interesting and instructive speeches to which we have been able to listen, because I feel that these alone will give great value to the measure that I have introduced, in that the whole question of the treatment of matrimonial cases in police courts will have had a thorough airing, and will have benefited from the high legal opinions and the opinions of those best qualified to speak during the course of this afternoon's debate. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has, to the great satisfaction of those who support this measure, given us an assurance that a Committee of Inquiry will be appointed to investigate certain questions that arise out of the present treatment of matrimonial cases in police courts. I am bound to say that I am frankly disappointed with the terms of reference and the scope of the inquiry that it is proposed to hold, but I have been so encouraged by the speeches that have been made asking for a Committee of Inquiry with a very large scope of reference, for the fullest investigation of the most burning problems that arise in this matter, that, after further investi- 388 gation, and after profiting from the criticisms that I have heard this afternoon, I shall certainly attempt to introduce a measure with a narrower scope, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the present Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Motion and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.