§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Maintenance Orders Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.
I want to detain your Lordships only by saying two things: one to apologise for having put down an Amendment on Third Reading. It is a purely drafting Amendment and is in consequence of the new clause that we added to the Bill on the Report stage, by which the tense of one of the verbs has to be changed. The other point that I want to make is that I am most grateful to noble Lords, and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and my noble friend Lord Merriman, but indeed to all noble Lords who have helped at every stage of the Bill to send the Bill on to the Statute Book. It does two things. It improves the methods by which people who are entitled to payment under a maintenance order can enforce their rights; and secondly, it will prevent wasteful and expensive imprisonment to-day. On both these objects it has been greatly helped by the attention it has received in your Lordships' House. I should like once again to express my gratitude for that. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a,—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, before we part with this Bill it would perhaps be a little ungracious if I did not say a word or two in reply to the noble and learned Viscount. I feel that the Bill has gone through both Houses in the best tradition of Parliament. It is a Bill which is beneficial to a large section of the community, in that it protects wives who 1181 have claimed maintenance orders and gives them rather more security, and it deals with the vexed question of the imprisonment of husbands who have failed to make payments.
It is no secret that when the Bill was first introduced into another place it was met with a good deal of suspicion—and I think justifiable suspicion—on the part of many of my friends. The sanctity of wages has been enshrined in our economic life for a great many years. Undoubtedly, this Bill is an attack upon wages in the sense that wages can be attached for the purpose of a civil debt. Of course, already wages are not sacrosanct—there is Pay-as-you-earn and there is insurance. But those are State liabilities and no one can seriously complain. But this Bill does constitute a breach into the sanctity of wages, and it was not surprising that a number of my friends, especially those connected with the trade union world, found some difficulty and needed considerable assurances in accepting the principle. The Government have been most reasonable and forthcoming in providing those assurances, and I think to-day the Bill has met with general acceptance.
When the Bill reached this House there were, I think, two blemishes: one, that imprisonment for failure to carry out a maintenance order wiped out the debt, and many of us felt that it might be a paying proposition for people to go to prison for a short period in order to wipe out what might amount to a considerable liability. That point has been met; imprisonment does not wipe out the debt. On the other hand, by a most ingenious piece of drafting it is not possible for a person to go to prison twice for the same debt. The other blemish was that, as the law stood, once a committal order had been made for a person to go to prison in default, it was impossible to stop it, whatever conditions might subsequently have arisen. Again, that has been met most satisfactorily by the noble and learned Viscount in the amending provisions which were introduced on the Report stage.
I should like personally to thank the noble and learned Viscount for having, as always, most conscientiously carried out the undertakings he gave on the Committee stage and meeting quite satisfac- 1182 torily all the points that we raised. I am sure that the result of that is that we now have a Bill which should work quite satisfactorily, and one in which all of us can feel rather proud at having taken some part.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I beg formally to move the Amendment to which I drew attention a few moments ago.
Clause 17, page 16, line 11, leave out ("is") and insert ("has been").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.