Orders of the Day — Clause 10. — (Legal proceedings.)

– in the House of Commons on 6th April 1922.

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(1) The wife or husband of a person charged with an offence under the principal Act as amended by any subsequent enactment may be called as a witness either for the prosecution or defence and without the consent of the person charged.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (1).

I was hoping that there would be no necessity for moving this Amendment, from an indication given by the right hon. Gentleman in Committee that some words would be inserted in the Clause that would remove our fear that a husband and wife might be used against each other by the Government Department, and our reason for putting this Amendment down is that we may get some further indication from the right hon. Gentleman that that will not be done. It is, in our opinion, against the principle of the general common law of the land, and is a very dangerous thing to introduce. The right hon. Gentleman did tell us that in some few cases it exists to-day, but there is in the Clause no safeguard against the wife being called upon to give evidence against the husband, or vice versé. I do not want to repeat what I said in Committee, but the very mischievous principle is here introduced of creating enmity between man and wife. It does not add to domestic felicity, and it certainly introduces a very vicious principle. If the wife and husband have the slightest affection for each other, they are bound not to tell the truth, while if, on the other hand, they are vindictively inclined, then there is a row in the house immediately, and the right hon. Gentleman will be responsible for that domestic trouble. The right hon. Gentleman did promise in Committee that something should be introduced into the Clause to prevent that mischief occurring, and as it has not yet been put in I have put down this Amendment.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

I beg to second the Amendment. The House is entitled to hear the statement made by the Minister in Committee, and to get to know from him how far he is prepared to carry out the promise he has evidently given—[Interruption]—or led them to believe something was likely to come of it.

Photo of Mr Thomas Macnamara Mr Thomas Macnamara , Camberwell North West

I explained in Committee why we had this Sub-section in the Bill, in order that a wife or a husband, as the case might be, might be a competent witness in a prosecution for fraud. For instance, we have had cases, very few I am glad to say, where because we could not call one or the other we could not proceed. I will take one case only. Here is a man claiming 5s. on behalf of his wife in respect of another woman. How about that? We could not proceed unless we had the evidence of the wife. It is not a question of sex distinction. This does not involve compulsion. It is in the common form that has been put into about 15 Statutes, and it has been held in the House of Lords that it does not involve compulsion, but I will have it examined again and if there is any element whatever of compulsion—and I am sure there is not—I will have it modified.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

Our fear is that the wife or the husband will be compelled.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

According to the wording that is so.

Photo of Mr Thomas Macnamara Mr Thomas Macnamara , Camberwell North West

I will take care if this is not the form—and I am assured it is—that it is altered in another place.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.