HL Deb 06 May 1968 vol 291 cc1284-301

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The history of the Bill, which is very short, is that it is a Private Member's Bill which was presented in the other House by the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Quintin Hogg, the Member for St. Marylebone, on November 29, 1967. It had its Second Reading on December 8; it went to Standing Committee on January 24, 1968, and it had its Third Reading in the House on March 22. Your Lordships will find that the full title is a long one. That is because at the time the Bill was passing through another place the Jean Graham-Hall Committee had not reported, and it might have been necessary for an Amendment to be inserted. In fact, I understand that that may be done at the Committee stage in your Lordships' House.

If I may run quickly through the Bill, Clause 1 provides that the weekly payment limit of 50s., which has pertained hitherto, shall be increased to £5. The alterations to all the various sections of Acts are set out on the first page in paragraphs (a) to (e). Secondly, under subsection (2) the Secretary of State is to be entitled by order to increase the maximum of £5 to such amount as may be specified. Thirdly, payments made under such an order shall have the immunity of small maintenance payments in the income tax regulations.

Under Clause 2 the Secretary of State is entitled by order to increase the amount of £7 10s. 0d. which may be paid at present to a deserted wife. I should here like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that in dealing with the maintenance of children this Bill deals not only with the children of deserted wives, but also with the children of unmarried mothers. Under Clause 3 the Secretary of State may by Statutory Instrument also increase the amount of maintenance for the wife. Subsection (2) of that clause says that such orders shall be put before each House and must be passed by them. Under subsection (3) any order made by a magistrates' court at the present moment may be varied to bring it into line with the provisions of the new Bill, which does not extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness continues, perhaps she will be good enough to give way to me. I notice that she referred to the deserted wife under Clause 2. Should I be right in assuming that that applies to any wife who succeeds in getting an order in the magistrates' court, regardless of the ground?—it might be based on adultery, or it might be on persistent cruelty.


Yes, my Lords. I was using the word "deserted" in the wider sense. The object of this Bill is to enable the magistrates' courts to deal with the fall in the value of money over the years. May I quote from Hansard of another place to explain how very drastic this fall has been? The promoter of the Bill mentioned that in 1917 the maximum allowance was 5s., and that 5s. was one-quarter of the male wage at that time. In 1918 the allowance went up to 10s.; in 1923 it went up to £1; in 1950 it went up to £1 10s. 0d.; and in 1960 it went up to £2 10s. 0d., which was 12.7 per cent., of a male's wage. As the Member for St. Marylebone said, that shows how the children have been losing ground since 1917 when the allowance was a quarter of the male wage.

The Bill really deals with only this one point. Your Lordships will probably know that there are committees sitting at the moment. There is Mr. Justice Payne's committee on the enforcement of payments, and the Law Society are going into the whole divorce proceedings and other family affairs. There was also the Jean Graham-Hall Committee which has reported since this Bill was passed in the other House. Therefore, it was felt that it was better to deal quite simply and straightforwardly with the urgent matter of cash and to get that through, and to postpone to a later stage consideration of other matters.

Certain points were made in the other House, and I should like to go through them in order to save your Lordships' time, and so that you may feel it is unnecessary at this stage to raise them here. The matter of the difference in rights between a deserted wife, in the wider sense of the word, and an unmarried mother was discussed. The unmarried mother has no maintenance rights and no tight of appeal to a higher court. The question of collection under maintenance orders was also gone into. As we all know, a F ill was passed some time ago for the attachment of wages and that worked extremely well the first year, when £2 million was collected and taxpayers' money was saved. Unfortunately, since then various loopholes have been found in the law, and at the moment the attachment of wages is not working at all satisfactorily.

Then the matter of whether the Ministry of Social Security should undertake the collection of moneys clue under orders was discussed at some length, as also was the question of co-operation between magistrates' clerks and the Ministry of Social Security. I am sure that is a question that will have to be gone into at great length and very carefully, but preferably after all those other committees have reported. At the present moment the age limit for maintenance is 13, and that point also was discussed. But by considering every case on its merits a court can quite easily raise that age, and that is done. Another question discussed was whether anybody other than a mother might apply to the courts—it may be that the mother has died, or perhaps the child has gone to a grandmother, who Chas no right of application to the courts.

Then, of course, there is the question of the venue. There was a great deal said about the aura of criminality surrounding the present magistrates' domestic courts. All I can say, my Lords, is that I presided over one for nine years, and I cannot remember any aura of criminality hanging around the one I presided over. Domestic cases are very sad, but I think a great deal depends on how the room is set out and on how you take these cases. I do not know of any reason why there should be any feeling of criminality. I remember one particular case, because it was a happy one, which concerned an old couple who had been married for twenty years. They had started to throw pots and pans at each other, and had come to ask for a separation. After a fairly long sitting, a most satisfactory solution was reached. Tears were streaming down the man's face, and the couple went away arm in arm. she saying, "Oh, well, he is nothing but a great big baby." I do not think there was any aura of criminality about that sitting at all.

The question of a maximum figure was discussed, and also the question of how it affected income tax. As I have said, the Graham-Hall Committee had reported since the Bill went through the other place. It was drafted by the Member for Marylebone, with the help of the Home Office, with its Long Title, on the understanding that an Amendment might be put in at a later stage after the Committee had reported; and, as I think I said, we shall in Committee have an Amendment put forward from the Minister which will remove the maximum and leave the orders without limit. My own views are very sympathetic towards that point of view, and I think the Member for Marylebone would agree. In another place, the Minister said—and I hope this will appeal to anybody present who might think that we should have a wider discussion to-day: It seems to me that we shall have shortly to have a wider look at the law concerning fatherless children, and indeed I suspect that the need for major changes may well have to be faced before the whole review by the Law Commission on Family Law is complete". I am sure that that is so. This is a welcome statement, and I hope that we shall have some action on it very soon.

I was not in sympathy with the Member for Northampton, who seemed to me to consider—and I hope your Lordships will not think this frivolous—that a man should be able to renounce his responsibility rather like a bumble bee once it has polinated a flower, and have no further interest in the fruit which may result. He suggested that the whole responsibility should be laid on the shoulders of the taxpayer. I was interested to hear from a Chilean friend of mine that his country went some way towards dealing with the matter in this way some years back. The whole responsibility for illegitimate children was taken over by the State. The result was the most enormous increase in the number of illegitimate babies, and they had to revise the law and go back to making the father responsible—with very good results. Nor do I agree with the Member for South Buckinghamshire, who said that to help the illegitimate child would undermine family life. I do not think this is true at all.

I wholeheartedly support this Bill for a particular reason. I think it goes a little way towards redressing the burden regarding childbearing, which seems to me to be increasingly put on the woman. She has to take the pill, whatever the risk; she has to have the operation for abortion, whatever the consequences; and it is up to her to bring up the child, though she can earn a far lower wage than the man and it is sometimes extraordinarily difficult for her to get a job. Although, having had a court myself, I know that when these troubles arise it is very often "six of one and half-a-dozen of the other", nevertheless in these tragedies one has to remember the child. The child has two natural parents, and I think the father should share the responsibility as well as the mother. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Emmet of A mberley.)

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for explaining the Bill in its limited spheres, and for expressing her hopes for future legislation. So far as it goes, the Bill is welcome, in that it does something towards mitigating the effects on a section of the community who are entirely innocent victims of the adverse circumstances into which they have been born. Practically all those who have taken part in the discussions on this legislation so far have spoken in favour of improving the financial position of the child born out of wedlock. Always, of course, there are one or two cautious, dissentient voices seeking to establish that any recognition of the human rights of a child born out of wedlock may undermine the institution of marriage. The pamphlet, Fatherless in Law, which was produced by the Church's Board for Social Responsibility, and which has been referred to in previous debates, sets out clearly the belief that the time has come, not only for improving the financial situation of the illegitimate child but for according to him, where possible, a better family status, a proper place in the family continuum.

During the progress of this Bill so far, its inadequacy and limited scope as regards the illegitimate child have already been well discussed, especially in regard to the specific examples of the bad state of affairs with which it does not deal. For example, it has been said that not only are the amounts awarded in affiliation orders usually too low, and possibly the maximum too low, but the mother is subjected to an intolerable burden in the way she has to apply for and collect her maintenance. Consequently, most mothers do not apply. A bigger and better Bill about maintenance is not the answer. The answer is law reform, giving the child horn out of wedlock, where the father can be identified, the same rights vis-à-vis the man responsible for his procreation as the child of a broken marriage. The right to maintenance from the father should be the right of the child, enforced on his behalf where necessary by a guardian appointed for the purpose; and the collection of the maintenance should be ensured by public officials and machinery, where necessary, as a basic public responsibility. I am grateful for the way it has been suggested that this may be done. The argument for abolishing all limits to the amount of affiliation orders is not primarily anything to do with the competence of courts to deal with the financial business. It is to do with the basic human right of every child with regard to his known natural father to be supported by that father in the status of life to which the father belongs, be he labourer, technician or millionaire by inheritance.

Government spokesmen have indicated during the progress of the Bill that radical reform to help the child born illegitimately is recognised as due, but because of the shake-up in the English legal system that this would entail this reform will have to be postponed I do not think that that is good enough. This is Human Rights Year, and we should snake a special effort. The spiritual health of society is endangered by the toleration of injustice and suffering for which a partial remedy, at any rate, has been acknowledged as possible here, and already adopted in other countries as it affects the illegitimately-born child. I know enough of the Rules of this House to know that a Bill dealing with finance cannot be amended in this House, and I hope that Amendments will be put down in the other House, especially in the light of the Report of the Graham-Hall Committee. I do not know whether it is possible to add a rider. If it is I hope that we would add a rider to the effect that we hope this Bill is only a very temporary stop-gap, and will soon—the operative word is "soon"—be superseded by a major measure of reform. But I welcome this Bill.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, welcome this Bill; and since the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, has introduced it so fully, there is, perhaps, no need for me to say very much about it this afternoon. On the other hand, I think it would be a pity if no one from this side of the House—and I dare not include the right reverend Prelate among those "on this side of the House"—said something in favour of it As I understand the noble Baroness, an Amendment is likely to be moved in Committee which may well remove the present limit imposed on magistrates' courts. If that is so, then I welcome it gladly, because I think that magistrates should have unlimited power when it comes to fixing maintenance in respect of wives and children.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote from the Report of the Committee on Statutory Maintenance Limits, which says: Magistrates are experienced in handling money issues and give a good deal of time and care to the determination of these. I want to say, with great respect, that perhaps the magistracy is in a far better position to carry out this rather difficult task than any other legal section.

My Lords, if I had any comment which might appear to be adverse it is this. I think that the Bill which the noble Baroness has introduced today is not likely to have very much effect upon the present situation; for at present the number of orders made in magistrates' courts in which the maximum amount is given to the wife and the children is very small. One has to realise that a wife with three children who is entitled to maintenance can get as much as £15 a week—£7 10s. for herself and £2 10s. for each child under the age of 16. I am sure the noble Baroness—I almost said "my noble friend", for her social thinking and mine very often run along parallel lines—would agree that the rate of income for the vast majority of the men appearing before magistrates' courts is not sufficient to enable the court to make a maximum order of £7 10s. for the wife. We often make maximum orders for the children, for the simple reason that experience has shown those of us who have sat in domestic courts over many years that husbands will pay more readily for their children than for their wives. I think we must be alive to the fact that if the limit is removed it does not necessarily mean that orders in respect of wife maintenance and child maintenance will be much higher in the immediate future than they are at the present time.

I feel that this particular Bill may well be the cause of bringing a larger number of couples within the orbit of the magistrates' courts, because the husband's income will make it worth while for the wife to come to the magistrates' court. Obviously, if her husband's income today is in the region of £30 or £40 a week it is not to her advantage to bring proceedings in the magistrates' court, where at present the amount of the order that can be made is limited. So I envisage that one of the effects of this Bill will be to bring within the ambit of the magistrates' courts a group or section of the community that are not using them at present.

This is both good and bad. It is good because, if I may say so with great respect, the proceedings in magistrates' courts are cheap and quick. It is bad because, although, as I have said, the proceedings are quick, the fact remains that a good many matrimonial courts are already overburdened. I am glad to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is here because I would say, again with the greatest respect, that I hope that when this Bill becomes law, if the limit is removed, some attention will be paid to the number of sittings in matrimonial courts and to the time lag that often occurs now in magistrates' courts between the issue of the summons and the hearing of the case. It may be necessary to have more domestic courts, and I think that some of our buildings are not used to their full capacity.

I have been almost warned off the subject by what the noble Baroness, in her speech in introducing the Bill, said about the collection or enforcement of these orders; and my noble friend the Minister may well say, and rightly, that this has no bearing on the Bill to-day. But I cannot resist this opportunity of raising the matter at the present time. I hope that we shall soon hear from the Payne Committee which was set up on July 8, 1966. It is all very well for us to make provision for order amounts to be increased; but I think it is more important that we should give our minds to the whole question of their collection.

In recent months your Lordships have been concerned with various measures to save money; on occasions it has been a question of £6 million, £8 million, £10 million or £20 million; and on occasions we have pared off a little here and a little there. I wonder how many of your Lordships realise that in 1965, the last year for which figures were available, the National Assistance Board, as it was then, assisted 154,000 separated wives, mothers of illegitimate children and divorced women with legitimate children to the tune of £42,721,000.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? Quite a large sum was also collected back; so that the net figure was not, I think, £42 million.


My Lords, I think I am going to surprise the noble Baroness. The amount of money collected back was £3,024,000. So there is a net cost of £39 million. I think this is an enormous sum of money; and I believe that in future we shall have to give more attention to its collection. Of the 154,000 women assisted by the then National Assistance Board, 43,000 had court orders. But I think I am right in saying that, of the 43,000 who had court orders, 15,000 did not receive one penny from their husbands. I believe that we ought to do something about this.


My Lords, was that because the husbands could not be traced?


That may well be so; I do not know the reason. It may be that in the majority of cases the husbands could not be traced. I have never supported the old Public Assistance because, with great respect, I thought that it was quite inhuman in its approach. Some noble Lords may not agree with me, but I felt that the public assistance committee was, in many respects, quite inhuman in its approach, and I was glad to see that when the whole thing was reorganised under the National Assistance Board it became one of our best institutions. I know the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, himself did a great deal (many of us are aware of what he did) to "humanise", if he will forgive the expression, the National Assistance Board. But I should like to see somebody take responsibility for—I was going to say "chasing" but I will say tracing, the husbands concerned to see that they comply with orders made against them by the courts. I realise that this has no bearing on the present Bill, and what I wanted to say was that, as a Member sitting on this side of your Lordships' House, I support the Bill and wish it well.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley has introduced a Bill on a matter of great social and humane importance. It is characteristic of her life-long work for justice and fair play for all children, whether legitimate or not, that she should choose to introduce and pilot through your Lordships' House a Private Members' Bill which was warmly welcomed and passed in another place.

The social consciences of all thinking and generously-minded people must welcome any measure that seeks to make life even a small degree more tolerable for those unfortunate children who, through no fault or choice of their own, are denied their natural birthright, the natural birthright of any child, of a happy home in which they may grow up surrounded and cherished by the love of both parents. My noble friend has told us of the intentions of the Bill. She has explained fully the clauses that it contains, and we hope that shortly the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will be telling us of the Government's plans with regard to the recommendations of the Jean Graham-Hall Report: That the financial limit prescribed by Statute for orders which may be made in magistrates' courts for the maintenance of wives and children should In abolished". I would only add, my Lords, that we on this Bench heartily endorse the intention of the Bill, and what we hope will be the proposed Government Amendment, and wish it a swift and successful passage through this House.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to intervene in this debate for only a moment in order to make a few observations about what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for what he found it possible to say about the old National Assistance Board. I take no credit for the matters to which he referred; the credit was due entirely to the staff of the Board and particularly to the local and field staff.

It is of course the case, my Lords, that there are a very large number of husbands who are liable to contribute to the maintenance of their wives and families, but who are not doing so. There are two major reasons for this. The first is the difficulty of tracing the husband. Noble Lords would be astonished if they knew how difficult it is, even with the help of modern methods of inquiry, to trace the whereabouts of an erring husband. The second reason—and perhaps this is no less a formidable reason—is that in many cases, where the man is living with another woman, there is another family and his resources are not sufficient to maintain two families. The difference has, of course, to be met by the Supplementary Benefits Commission, as it was met in the past by the National Assistance Board.

When we take account of those two matters, the figures used by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, are not quite so surprising as they appeared at first sight. The noble Lord is quite right when he says that there are a large number of liable husbands from whom no payments can be obtained. I can assure the noble Lord that that is in no way due to any default on the part of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. They are most active in endeavouring to trace these liable husbands. But it is no part of the responsibility of the Supplementary Benefits Commission to trace these men. When the change is made in the present law of maintenance—and I agree with those who have said that it is at present very unsatisfactory—I hope that the responsibility for tracing these liable relatives will be effectively placed upon other agencies and not upon the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

There is one other observation about the Bill which I should like to make. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the provisions of Clause 2 do not apply to a husband whom a wife is liable to maintain as well as to a wife whom a husband is liable to maintain. I notice that the language of the clause has been chosen very carefully. It refers to "spouses" and to a "party to a marriage". The noble Baroness spoke of wives. I think I am right in saying that it applies to husbands with equal force.


My Lords, as I understand it, the clause applies to both wives and husbands. Under the National Security Act of some years past responsibility was placed on a wife to maintain her husband, if she had to do so.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of the Government I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, on introducing this small but very useful Bill to which the Government extend a warm welcome. I can assure my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, who told me that he might have to leave the Chamber before I replied to the debate, that there was never any danger that he would be the only one to speak from this side of the House on behalf of the Bill.

The face of the Bill may seem a little legalistic, but its true complexion is indeed benign. I welcome what my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell had to say about the work of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, as Chairman of the National Assistance Board. I was very glad to hear the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford. Despite the very great work which he did as Chairman, I was glad to hear that he did not claim the credit for, as it were, "humanising" the work of the Board. It brought back to me memories of my very dear friend the first Chairman of the Board, the late George Buchanan. I cannot imagine any person more humane than the late George Buchanan. We all know how he started that Department, and all succeeding Chairmen carried on in the same tradition.

My Lords, after the speech of the noble Baroness I need not emphasise the general sympathy of the Government with the difficulties of fatherless families. I am quite sure that none of your Lordships will find this Bill unacceptable, at least so far as it goes. It has had a somewhat curious history. It was introduced and passed in another place while the Departmental Committee was sitting under the Chairmanship of Miss Jean Graham-Hall, one of the stipendiary Metropolitan magistrates, to examine the financial limits prescribed by Statute for orders which may be made in magistrates' courts for the maintenance of wives and children, to consider the appropriate machinery for adjusting such limits to changing circumstances, and to make recommendations". The Government thought it right to reserve their final attitude until the recommendations of that Committee had been received and considered. The sponsors in another place agreed in the circumstances that it would be prudent to allow for the possibility that the Departmental Committee might recommend total abolition of the limits. Accordingly, the Long Title was so drafted as to enable the Bill to be modified for that purpose, if this were thought appropriate.

I must also mention that the Long Title as drafted precludes other Amendments which, it is obvious, some of your Lordships might wish to make in order further to ameliorate the plight of fatherless families. For some time now the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, and other interested organisations, have represented the case for several changes in the law, and it is not disputed that a number of these deserve the most careful consideration. But the Government do not think it would be right, or timely—and the sponsors agreed—that a Bill conceived for a very limited purpose should be put in peril of wide extension. It is quite clear that the problems of fatherless families, with which, in one sense, the Bill is rather marginally concerned, will call for important legislation before long. And I may say here that I share the impatience in this matter of the right reverend Pre-late the Bishop of Birmingham. He wants law reform to provide illegitimate children with the same rights as children of broken families. So do I; and so do we all, I hope. But there are some things that we have to get right first.

We hope soon to have the report of the Committee on the Enforcement of Judgment Debts, now sitting under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Payne. This has been looking at the enforcement machinery of the courts and in particular at the attachment-of-earnings procedure. I agree with my noble friend Lord WellsPestell that collection is at least as important as the removal of limits or the enlargement of the amount allowed.

Then, as your Lordships are aware, the Law Commission are in the course of a general review of family law, and in due course (and I hope that there will be no undue delay about that "due course") these and other inquiries will produce the basis for new measures. We really must wait for these important reports before considering what further action must be taken.

So much, my Lords, for the origin of the Bill. I now return to the Departmental Committee. Its Report was received in mid-March and published on April 3. The Bill has been through another place and now, on May 6, it is here in your Lordships' House. There has been no delay about this. It is just as well, when delay has been complained of, to mention how quickly this has been dealt with. The Departmental Committee's Report is a very comprehensive study of the relevant law and its working. It contains a great deal of statistical information that has never before been available. Without doubt it will be a valuable source of reference for further studies in this field. On behalf of the Government, I express warm appreciation to Miss Graham-Hall and to her Committee for the work they have done to throw new light on the many aspects of the problems of fatherless families.

The Committee's main recommendation is that the limits should be abolished. I would briefly summarise their arguments thus. Children, at any rate, should not be allowed to suffer hardship through the existence of statutory maintenance limits. The present limit for maintenance to a child is too low. Some children have special needs. Some should be cared for by their mothers; some are disabled. But a limit high enough for these cases might have to be as much as £10 a week per child and would hardly amount to a limit at all, particularly when aggregated in a large family. In most cases the men concerned simply have not the resources to pay more; and this is likely to remain a. significant part of the problem. In order to be meaningful, limits ought to operate in some desirable way at the margin of the total population involved, but they could never be made to do so without considerable elaboration. Even then, anomalies would be bound to arise because of the very wide variety of circumstances in these cases.

The Committee tried to find rational criteria for fixing new higher limits and for making adjustments on future occasions. They failed to do so. They then looked to see whether the limits served to buttress a sensible distribution of jurisdiction as between magistrates' courts and the High Court. It became apparent, however, that the two jurisdictions were not alternative and that the removal of limits was very unlikely to result in any significant change in the initiation of maintenance proceedings in magistrates' courts. Against this background the only effect of the limits that the Committee could discern was that a small number of children, and an even smaller number of women, were deprived of maintenance, which a small number of men could well afford to pay. The Committee concluded that, as there was no good reason for retaining a limit simply for the sake of doing so, abolition of all limits was the only defensible recommendation. And this was the recommendation they made.

May I respectfully agree with the view put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, which I may paraphrase as: the abolition of limits has nothing to do with the power of the courts, but will result in a child having the same standard of living as his known father. I think that summarises the right reverend Prelate's argument for the abolition of the limits.

But I think there is another reason. The Committee's Report revealed that most defendants in domestic proceedings are in the lowest income group, that less than 2 per cent. of all orders for wives are for the maximum amount, but a much larger number of orders made in respect of children are for the maximum amount, although even these amount to only 20 per cent. in three categories—affiliation, guardianship and matrimonial orders with provision for both wife and children—and to 35 per cent. in the remaining category—matrimonial orders with provision for children only. That is a very substantial percentage; and this with a maximum. Who knows what orders the magistrates would have made had there been no maximum? Another important factor is that in cases where women and children are awarded maintenance under the same order, the amount for individual children exceeds the amount ordered for the women. I think that the case is overwhelming.

My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell spoke of the increased volume of work that would fall on magistrates' courts, and asked my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to look at this point particularly, but the Graham-Hall Committee did not think this likely. They made this clear in paragraph 206 of their Report. If a man is getting £40 a week, even now the woman may have, first, the possibility of proceeding in the High Court, where there are now no limits; secondly, the man may agree to a volun- tary agreement or, thirdly, the woman may still want to get what she can within the limit.


My Lords, the noble Lord appreciates that an unmarried mother cannot proceed in the High Court for maintenance.


My Lords, I was not dealing particularly with unmarried mothers but was dealing with wives; but I agree with the point the noble Baroness made when she interrupted my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell. The third point is that the woman may still want to get what she can within the limits. But, in any event, on this particular point the Graham-Hall Committee considered the implications of abolition and felt no special qualms about the capacity of the system to handle the number of cases. I am sure that my noble and learned friend will watch that, but I thought it right to point out that the fears expressed by my noble friend were not generally shared.

My honourable friend Mr. Elystan Morgan announced last week in another place that the Government have accepted the recommendation of the Committee to abolish all limits. On behalf of the Government I would confirm that at Committee stage I shall bring forward Amendments to abolish the limits, and I hope that your Lordships will give them unanimous support. At that stage, I think it will be proper for me to say something about the question of tax on these small maintenance payments, but I hope your Lordships will agree that I need not detain your Lordships on that particular matter today. Once more I congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing this Bill, and I join with her in asking your Lordships to give it a unanimous Second Reading.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I feel singularly fortunate in having been able to present a Bill for Second Reading which has received such unanimous support from both sides of the House and from the right reverend Prelate. There is nothing more that I can add to what has been said. I very much hope, now that the Minister has assured us of his co-operation, that we shall be able to get this Bill through as quickly as possible. I omitted to say what I should like to say now; namely, that we owe the Jean Graham-Hall Committee a great debt, because in preparing this Bill, and in preparing what I had to say, I found their Report extraordinarily informative and very readable.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.