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Orders of the Day — Separation and Maintenance Orders Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 26th May 1922.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Sir Robert Newman Sir Robert Newman , Exeter

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I must crave the indulgence of the House, because, although I cannot claim to address it for the first time, I am fully persuaded that I shall be quite unable to do justice to the Bill the Second Reading of which I now have the pleasure of proposing. At the same time, I hope I shall hear in mind the old saying that "Brevity is the soul of wit," and if I cannot display much wit, I can at least manifest some brevity. I should like first of all to say that this Bill has nothing whatever to do with divorce. I mention this fact because there are a certain number of people who imagine that any legislation that deals with separation or any orders of that description must have something to do with divorce. As a matter of fact, this Bill has nothing whatever to do with divorce from the beginning right through to the end, and I think I may quote, in, support of that fact, that among the many women's societies which support this Bill there is included the Catholic Women's Suffrage Society, which, I need hardly say, being a Roman Catholic Society, is not at all likely to support a Bill which in their opinion would be likely to pave the way to easier divorce. Of course, I know that there will be some who will bring forward the old argument that there may be nothing about divorce in this Bill, but that this Bill may lead to divorce. That is always the argument of the old reactionary school. Every reform that has ever been brought forward, from the days of Noah to the present day, has always been opposed by a certain number of people, not on its merits, but because they feared it would lead to something further in the future. I believe I am right in saying that that argument was brought forward against Mr. Wilberforce over a hundred years ago, when he endeavoured to abolish slavery.

With the permission of the House, I will merely refer to two or three of the main features of this Bill, and I hope, by so doing, I may give other members an opportunity of addressing the House if they wish to do so. I may say at once that this Bill is really an attempt to deal with the very poorest women of this community. I do not think it will affect the richer class in any degree whatever, because I believe they can get anything in this Bill without going to the Law Courts at all. The greater number of these separations they can effect by means of their family solicitors and in other ways than in court, but it is not so with the very poor classes, who have not their family solicitors and who have to resort, whether they like it or not, to the protection of the court. I should like to point out to the House that in one rather important matter this Bill does propose to alter the law as it stands at the present moment. Under the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895, it makes it necessary, before a woman can apply for any relief such as a maintenance order or a separation order, that she should leave her husband. Of course, the object is pretty obvious. It is probably with a view of trying to ensure that these applications shall be of abon[...] fide nature, but whatever that may be in theory, in practice I believe it is proved to be quite otherwise. As a matter of fact, as the law stands at present, that proviso acts very hardly upon the good mother, whereas, on the other hand, it is not effective as far as the more indifferent mother is concerned. The good mother is naturally disinclined to leave her children and to break up her home, whereas, on the other hand, the more indifferent mother does not mind perhaps taking that action, and therefore, from that point of view, I think it undesirable that it should be necessary for a woman to have to leave her house before she actually takes proceedings.

That is not all, however. There is another difficulty in the way. I have heard it said on several occasions, when there has been perhaps some cruelty on the part of the husband, and it has been put to the wife that it was necessary for her to leave home before she could take proceedings, that the answer often is, "Where am I to go if I do leave home?" or, "But the house is mine," and matters of that sort. These things make it extremely difficult for a woman to leave her husband. I would also point out the fact, which I think we ought to bear in mind, that this Bill does not say what the magistrate shall do, but gives the magistrate a discretionary power, so that he might, if he thought fit, grant a summons and also proceed to grant an order, though technically the woman had not left her home. Perhaps, as a pound of fact is better than a ton of theory, the House will allow me to quote one case. There are probably many others, but I will quote just one that occurred less than three years ago within a few miles of where this House is sitting. An ex-service man had been treating his wife badly, and she decided to take action against him and apply for a separation order. She left him for that purpose and got a magistrate to grant her a summons. Before the summons came on she heard that her young child was ill. She said, "I must go back to see the child," and she went back. A day or so afterwards the case came before the magistrate, and the fact came out that she had returned home. By the law as it stands now, the magistrate was unable to give her any relief, and the case was dismissed. She returned to her husband, and in less than a week afterwards the man was standing in the dock before a magistrate charged with the wilful murder of his wife, whose throat, I believe, he had cut, and in due course he was hanged. That case would never have ended in that tragic manner, I venture to say, if the magistrate had had the discretionary power of granting the relief to the woman which she sought without actually having to prove that she had left her home.

Now I will take the other side of the picture. Supposing a woman did not want to go the length of getting a separation order, but wanted to try and impress upon her husband his duty towards her. There are cases of the poorest members of society living in very small houses, in a very cramped situation. A woman may possibly wish to have a husband who is not, I will not say vicious: he does not really want to be actually cruel to her, but he is rather indifferent. If she could take proceedings against him, and it could come before the magistrate —and I am not speaking of theory, but I have heard it on very good authority that there are many such cases—the magistrate could use his in- fluence to bring about a settlement. I think anybody who has had experience of stipendiary magistrates and other magistrates of our country will realise that they are doing their utmost in these cases, and very often they are the means of inspiring in the man a sense of his duty, and cases are patched up which, if the home had been broken up, would have been impossible.

Clause 3 proposes to extend the discretionary power of the magistrate. As the law stands at present, a woman is placed in a distinctly unfair position compared with a man. Let me give a case which might very easily occur, and, I believe, has occurred on more than one occasion. A man is a bad husband, not only cruel, but immoral. The wife obtains a separation order, and they separate. He goes off and lives with another woman publicly and freely. The wife herself may make one false step. I am not going for a moment to defend any women or any man who makes that false step, but, still, I say that woman may make a false step. What happens? The husband, who may be living in adultery with a woman, and may have been guilty of cruelty to his wife and even to his children, has only to go to the magistrate and say, "I hear that my wife has made a false step." Once he proves that, the magistrate, under the law as it stands, has no discretionary power whatever, and he is compelled to annul the separation order. What is the result? The order having been annulled, the husband again becomes the legal custodian and guardian of the children and, as the law stands, he may take the children from her, and even take them to the house where he is living with another woman. I am not suggesting there may not be means by which that may be prevented by some other process of law, but I am thinking at the present moment of those women who are not placed in the convenient way that some people are, who have more money at their disposal, and, therefore, can deal with these legal questions more effectually than an unfortunate woman who hardly knows how to make both ends meet. All that this Bill proposes is to give the magistrate the discretionary power of saying that he will vary the order, or annul it, or let it stand. In these cases discretionary power given to the magistrate is not only fair, but it is one with which they are capable of dealing, and in most cases, at any rate, forming a right and proper judgment.

May I refer to another possibility, and one which has, I believe, on more than one occasion occurred. An unscrupulous husband having had a separation order made against him, has before now been known to persuade the wife to let him come back for a day or two, with the idea of his turning over a new leaf, but really with the object of being again able to desert her, and then plead the fact that, as she had received him back, the maintenance order therefore lapsed. That, to my mind, it again a circumstance in which, at any rate, the magistrate should have a discretionary power as to whether he should vary the order, annul it or let it stand. Another Clause to which I should like the House to turn their attention is Clause 5, Sub-section (1), which proposes that, in the event of a man going to prison for non-compliance with an order, that fact does not necessarily wipe out the debt. I do not think imprisonment ought necessarily to allow a man to escape his financial liabilities towards his wife and family. Sub-section (4) of Clause 5 allows written evidence of the employer to be brought forward asprima facie evidence of the man's wages. That is not really an innovation, because, under the Children's Act, 1908, a similar provision, I believe, exists. I think the House will realise that it is an important matter in these maintenance orders, because it is sometimes extremely difficult for a woman actually to prove the means her husband possesses without the evidence of the employer. She may be in Liverpool, and her husband working in London. Of course, it is not always easy in such a case for a woman to gain sufficient evidence to prove the capability of the husband to contribute towards her maintenance. Therefore, I think it is very desirable that the written evidence of the employer should be accepted asprima facie evidence. At any rate, it is then up to a man to prove that the statement of the employer is not accurate. Of course, it may be argued by people who take a very strict view of the law, that she might call the employer to give evidence, but we know that that is not always an easy or a desirable thing to do.

There is only one other matter, I think, about which I need trespass upon the time of the House. It is proposed by the Bill to allow venereal disease to be treated as a ground for separation. I am not a lawyer, and I would not venture to say whether that does not even now constitute cruelty in regard to which an order can be made; but I think the House will agree that, whether that be the law of the land or not, it is certainly an eminently reasonable provision. The House will also see that there are certain provisions made for enforcing payment. I will not detain the House by dealing with these details. I may say, in conclusion, that of course there may be, and probably are, some parts of this Bill which might be improved. I need hardly say that I, and others who are promoting this Bill, would naturally take into consideration any suggestion that might be made in any quarter of the House or from the Government, in any way by which they think this Bill might be strengthened. I must apologise for having trespassed so long on the attention of the House, but I was anxious to place before hon. Members two or three of the principal points of the Bill. Being a layman, I hope they will take my explanation of the law as kindly as possible, because it is not easy for a layman to have to explain technicalities, especially one like myself, who may almost considered to be addressing the House for the first time I so seldom trespass upon the attention of the House.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Wintringham Mrs Margaret Wintringham , Louth Borough

I beg to second the Motion.

We all agree that it is a great misfortune that there is a necessity for introducing Bills of this kind. It is very regrettable that these Orders have to be granted. Nevertheless it is very, very necessary so long as the world is as it is and human nature what it is. If this Bill becomes an Act it will promote legislation which will in many cases benefit the men, women, and children of the country. The present law represents great inequality as between the rich and the poor. At present a rich couple can pay a solicitor to draw up a mutual agreement for separation; if a poor couple wish to separate they have to attend at the police court and be subjected to much publicity as to their domestic affairs, which have to be gone into very carefully, and perhaps sordid conditions under which that couple have been living possibly explained, the whole thing much to the detriment of the children.

This Bill suggests legislation which affects three classes of the community. Like the hon. Baronet, I do not feel that I am addressing hon. Members from the viewpoint of the law, but perhaps I may speak a little on the human aspect. The three sections of the community that the Bill affects are husbands, wives and children. I think some hon. Members present here will agree that the reform proposed in relation to each of the three will be acceptable and good legislation. Possibly some will think that only two of these sections need legislation, but I am quite sure everybody will agree that, at any rate the husband, will be glad of legislation. The present law as it stands says that the man can only secure separation from his wife or apply for separation from his wife if she is an habitual drunkard. But it is by no means only the drunken woman who makes her husband's home miserable or unendurable. The woman who neglects her home, illtreats her children, and mismanages generally the domestic affairs is a very serious handicap to a husband. The care of the home and the children is by law the wife's share in reasonable maintenance of the home. The only course left to the husband if his wife is neglectful or illtreats the children is desertion, and then he has no certainty of getting a formal separation. If the woman happens to be vicious and she applies for a separation order because he has deserted her he is no better off, and if he deserts her then he has the agony of feeling that he leaves his children with a woman who will probably be neglectful of them and illtreat them.

This Bill provides a great deal of protection for the husband. It allows him to obtain an order for separation on equal terms to his wife. The grounds upon which he can make this application are: if his wife deserts him, if she behaves cruelly to him or the children, that is if she damages his limbs or attempts to take his life, and also if the wife is afflicted with venereal disease, if she also neglects his home or children, and if she is an habitual drunkard. The man has much more protection by these added grounds in making his application.

As regards the wife under the present law she is also handicapped by many things. The present grounds upon which she can apply for an order are: if her husband deserts her, if he treats her with persistent cruelty, and if he does not provide reasonable maintenance for her; if he commits an aggravated assault upon her, and if he is an habitual drunkard. But perhaps the greatest injustice of all is the point referred to by the hon. Baronet, the Member for Exeter (Sir R. Newman). Before a wife can apply for an order for separation she must first leave her husband. Over and over again I have heard solicitors say that when women have come to them in great trouble and asked how they can get separation orders from their husbands, they have had to very regretfully say—as one of them put it to me—"I can do nothing for you until you actually leave your husband, and your children."

That acts very hardly on the woman for often she has no other home or good friends, and it means in a great many cases that she has to leave the children to, it may be, a brutal father. Then there is a shortage of housing at present, and altogether the case may be unfortunate because it is not very easy for a woman to obtain a house or live with any of her friends, and if the ease happens to fail she does not obtain her order, and she can then be accused of having voluntarily deserted her husband.

Again, under the present law, one act of adultery on her part prevents the order being given, while a man may commit adultery as often as be likes, and can keep as many women as he likes so long as he can maintain them. The Court can revoke this order for maintenance if the woman does commit one act of adultery, so that the children have to suffer because their mother has committed this one offence. This is very unfair on the children. Again, at present, if the husband leaves no address the woman has great difficulty in getting at him for maintenance. She can get a summons, but this is quite ineffective as a rule, and only means that she can take refuge in the workhouse and ask the guardians to issue a warrant for the arrest of the man, and obtain an order for maintenance against him.

Another thing, the law is unfair as between a rich woman and a poor woman. At present as the law stands—whether one agrees with it or not—a woman can pledge her husband's credit, and a rich woman can by that means, as they say, "get back on her husband." The poor man as a rule has no credit to pledge and the woman cannot in that way procure any redress. There are often cases where money slips away in a most unexpected manner. The man does not mean to be extravagant, but he is perhaps good-natured, and possibly rather more generous than he ought to be, and at the end of the week, or the beginning of it, when his wife should have her housekeeping allowance he gives her only a very small proportion of his earnings. Well, now the wife must apply both for a separation and a maintenance order together. She cannot apply only for maintenance, that is for part of his income to keep herself and her children. It is vitally important to enforce this payment because at the present time, following a general examination, it is proved that over 50 per cent. of the maintenance orders lapse after the first few weeks. The hon. Baronet has said that imprisonment wipes out the debt under the present law. Many men unfortunately find it is more convenient to go to prison than to pay these maintenance orders. There was a case the other day in one of the courts where 17 years' maintenance arrears were wiped out by one single month's imprisonment. Under the new Bill the wife can apply for an order on the same grounds as usual,i.e., for desertion, persistent cruelty, lack of reasonable maintenance, aggravated assault, or if he is an habitual drunkard, but with the addition of making the word "cruelty" a little wider, because in future under this Bill it will be cruelty if lie is cruel to the children as well. It is recognised as being cruelty if the cruelty is being inflicted in regard to the children, if not to the parent. Then there is the question of the man suffering from venereal disease, and that comes also under the head of cruelty.

The second alteration in the Bill is that the wife need not leave home before implying for a separation order. This is one of the most important features of the Bill. It means that there need not necessarily be any breaking up of the family, and it is often a very big step for a woman to take to leave her children in the hands of probably an unkind and in- different husband. Then the maintenance can always be applied for without necessarily having a separation and this means that the family need not necessarily be split up. As a rule the English workingman is a very law-abiding citizen, and if he knows that he is expected to maintain his wife and children, this will very often prevent a great deal of misery.

The maintenance order need not be revoked for one act of adultery. The magistrate has power to vary the order and the result will be that the children will not suffer. If the mother has sinned, the father must be responsible for the maintenance of the children. Any change in the address of the man is to be kept by the court and this is a great protection to the woman, because the court has the power of arresting the man and this prevents the necessity of the woman entering the workhouse before the warrant is issued. A written statement of earnings may be asked for from the employer and this will include all property, pensions and income from other sources. In the Bill of 1895 the maximum maintenance was fixed at £2 and it could never exceed that amount. The present Bill allows an order to be made according to the means of the man. A maximum of £2 is obviously unfair, because what could be done with £2 in 1895 cannot be done with it now on account of the increase in the cost of living, which is having a very serious effect on the homes of these women. As to arrears of maintenance, they will not be wiped out by imprisonment. If a man prefers to go to prison he can do so, but when he comes out he has to make up the arrears under the Maintenance Order. Just the same rule affects the woman.

To summarise the advantages afforded by this Bill, in the first place, homes will not be broken up; secondly, the wife will be able to trace her husband; thirdly, the wife and children will be kept according to the means of the father; and fourthly, the wife receives maintenance during her husband's imprisonment. As regards the children under the present law, the children of a separated couple are very often underfed, and the mother hesitates at taking the big step of leaving home. In 50 per cent. of these cases the orders are not enforced, and the result is that the woman has to earn the livelihood and the children have to go short be- cause she cannot earn sufficient. If under the present law the woman commits one act of adultery the order is revoked and the sins of the mother are visited on the children, and the moral effect is very bad indeed. Another point is that at present the husband must leave his wife before applying for a separation. The father may object to leaving his children in the hands of a brutal or neglectful mother, and he goes on very often when he would like to get a separation from his wife because he does not like to leave the children in such hands.

Under the new Bill cruelty to the husband or the wife includes cruelty to children. It includes venereal disease, and this in time is bound to become a method of reducing the number of children born with this wretched inheritance. It provides maintenance without separation, which means that the children will often be spared the unhappiness of a divided family life. Objection to this Bill has been raised on account of the effect it would have on the reform of the Divorce Laws. I think it would hasten, not retard, that reform. There is a large section in the country who would never wish to avail themselves of divorce because of religious principles, and this Bill does allow them to have a partially happy life. The assumption that the number of separations would be increased is quite unfounded; in fact, the reverse would be the case, because maintenance without leaving home would help to keep couples together.

In conclusion, I wish to say that there is a genuine necessity for the Bill. It relieves a real hardship which is not, perhaps, obvious to those citizens who are happily married. There is a real need to protect the husband from a negligent wife, and it also protects the wife who hesitates to leave home. It affords protection to the children who are unfortunate, and it makes provision for them in the case of a brutal father and a neglectful mother, and makes for a much better chance for them in their home life.

Photo of Mr George Bowyer Mr George Bowyer , Buckingham

I believe that this Bill is going to do more to bring happiness into the homes of these men and women than any Bill which this House has considered for a very long time. If any hon. Member is thinking of objecting to this Measure, I would ask him to re- member that the Bill does not deal with those people who are in more affluent circumstances, and who, when matrimonial difficulties occur in their married life, invariably consult a solicitor.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

That does not always bring happiness.

Photo of Mr George Bowyer Mr George Bowyer , Buckingham

That is so, but my point is that it deals with people who are in the habit of going before the stipendiary magistrate as being the only authority who can protect them when the conditions of their home life become unbearable. Broadly speaking, the Bill recommends itself to the House on the following grounds. In the first place, it is a consolidation Bill, and from the point of view of legislation that is always good. If hon. Members will turn to the Schedule, they will see that three Acts are repealed altogether: The Married Women (Maintenance in Case of Desertion) Act, 1896, the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895, and the Married Women (Maintenance) Act, 1920. In addition, certain sections of two further Acts are repealed. I submit that it is a good thing in any branch of the law to get that law in one consolidated Bill. In the second place—and this is most important —I believe that those stipendiary magistrates, who really come up against the difficulties of the law as it exists at present, are behind the Bill and would welcome it not only because it would simplify their task in dealing with the numerous cases that come before them, but because they are convinced that it would mean so much more happiness for the applicants. If hon. Members will stop for a moment to think of the psychology of the men and women who live in the poorest parts of our big cities and towns, they will remember that it is characteristic of that psychology that a man and a woman in the poorest circumstances will treat the law and the magistrate who dispenses it with a feeling of respect and with a desire to obey the law that is almost remarkable. Let us look at the other side of the picture. If the man or woman who is filled with this instinct of the law-abiding citizen comes before the Court and is turned away under circumstances which render the law unjust and inequitable, then surely this House should see to it that in future these law-abiding citizens can go to the Courts with the same chance of getting the same equity and justice as people who are rich and who can go to solicitors and other Courts and obtain it.

I want to put one point of view from the man's outlook on this question, and one point of view of the woman. Does the House realise, and does any hon. Member who is preparing to speak against this Bill realise, that under present conditions a man very often is forced to commit a matrimonial offence before he can obtain an Order from the Court.. If he has a wife who renders his home impossible or who is cruel to his children, he has to desert that wife and force her to bring a summons for desertion against him before he can obtain an Order from the Court. If this Bill does not contain the right remedy, the House of Commons, in my submission, ought to alter the actual details of the Bill in Committee, because it must consider the situation of that man and enable him to obtain an order for maintenance or separation upon grounds at least as equitable as those which are open to the woman. Both the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Bill have dealt at some length with the woman's point of view, but I want to make this point. As the law stands at present, and if the House be not prepared to alter the law, then a woman is placed in the most unenviable dilemma. She has either to desert her home for the time being and leave her children in the hands of the man from whom she desires to be separated or in respect of whom she wishes to obtain a maintenance order, or she has to forgo the chance of getting that separation or maintenance order. The last speaker, if I may say so, very admirably put the point that the law is all in favour of the woman of ill-repute and all against the woman who loves her home and children and who in these circumstances refuses and must refuse in most eases to apply for a maintenance or separation order.

There is one point which arises on Clause 1 about which I would like to say a word. This Bill is quite different from the legislation which has hitherto been passed upon the matter. Hon. Members will see from Sub-Section (1,d) that a married woman may apply to the Court on the ground that the man has com- mitted a violent assault upon her. The law, as it stands, does not say a "violent assault," but an "aggravated assault," and that word "aggravated" puts the stipendiary magistrate in a very difficult position, because it has a special legal meaning. It has been held to mean an assault of such a grave nature that a penalty of two months' imprisonment has to be imposed. Very often, the assault is not so aggravated as to come up to that definition of it. Therefore, in order to protect the woman from a series of small assaults and to protect her position generally, the Bill substitutes the word "violent" for the word "aggravated." Hon. Members who were in one of the Committee Rooms last week will remember how one stipendiary magistrate emphasised the enormous importance which he attached to this substitution of the word "violent" for the word "aggravated." Again, in Sub-section (1,c), hon. Members will notice that the word "cruelty" is used without any qualifying adjective. At present the words are persistent cruelty. The object of the Bill is to give a wider discretion to the court and not to limit the powers of the magistrate by qualifying adjectives before such words as "cruelty" and "assault."

I want to say a word about those hon. Members who may raise the objection that the Bill is going to increase separation. Under this Bill, for the first time, it will be possible in all cases to go before the court for a maintenance order alone. It stands to reason that if a man or woman can get a maintenance order the application for separation again and again will not arise. My last word is as regards the opposition to the Bill outside. As far as I can see it has been twofold. The "Church Times" has had an article against it on the ground that it interferes with ecclesiastical authority over matrimonial affairs. I can put my answer to that in one sentence. Let the Church Council take this one test: Is there or is there not a very great absence of charity in the present working of the law, and, if this Bill be filled with greater charity, is it not unthinkable that they should be against it? The second class of opposition outside this House is considerably more remarkable. It is an opposition expressed by the Divorce Law Reform Union. That organisation, in its journal, bases its opposition to the Bill on the ground that it affords no alleviation such as ought to be granted, in that it falls short of the reforms in the divorce law which they themselves are advocating. That ground of opposition has only to be stated in order to bring to the minds of hon. Members its utter inadequacy. Because you cannot get a whole loaf, are you never to be content with a half loaf? I submit that what we are considering to-day is a totally different problem. This is a problem which seeks to bring justice and equity to those people who live in poor circumstances, and who have no means of availing themselves of the law which is at the disposal of those who can afford to pay. I hope the House will, if possible with unanimity, give this Bill a Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

There is no doubt, I think, that the promoters of this Bill are filled with good intentions, but we know to where the path which is paved with good intentions leads. Let me for a moment take a commonsense view of this matter. Unfortunately, this world is composed of a very considerable number of foolish people as well as of a considerable number of wicked people—of all ranks. You are not going to make these foolish people wise or these wicked people better by taking them into a police court, and endeavouring to set them by the ears after they come out of the court. The hon. Baronet who introduced this Bill (Sir R. Newman) said first that all reforms had been opposed. But is this a reform? I do not think it is. I think it is a retrograde step and the very reverse of a reform, and, therefore, to my mind the hon. Baronet's argument does not hold good. Further he told us it was a law intended for the poorer classes. But why should the poorer classes be subjected to a law to which the richer classes are not subjected? Of all legislation in this House I dislike it is legislation intended either for the rich or for the poor.

Photo of Mr George Bowyer Mr George Bowyer , Buckingham

May I point out to the right hon. Baronet—I apologise for interrupting him—that if any rich person choose to avail himself of this Bill, should it become law, he will be able to do so. If he prefer to go to a court of summary jurisdiction, instead of employing a solicitor and counsel, he will be at perfect liberty to do so.

12 N.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I commenced my remarks by stating that this world consisted of a number of foolish people and of a number of wicked people. I am quite prepared to admit that I ought to include myself among the foolish people if I were not aware of what the hon. and gallant Member has just said. I repeat that the hon. Baronet who brought in the Bill said it was intended for the poorer classes. It is nothing of the sort. There is nothing to limit its application either to poor men or to rich men. It can be applied to anyone. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member is married or not, but if he is and if he happens to live in the Northern Division of Wiltshire it is quite possible his wife might summon him before me on the ground that he is wilfully not giving her a sufficient sum for maintenance. I may find out what his income is, and, having done so, I may say to his wife: "I quite agree. I think you ought to have at least £1,000 a year." I may make an order on the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he shall pay to his wife £1,000 a year. According to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that is going to make for happiness in his home, for he has told us that this Bill is one which is going to do more than any other Bill to introduce happiness into the home. Is there likely to be happiness between the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his wife when I have decided that he should pay her £1,000 a year?

Photo of Mr George Bowyer Mr George Bowyer , Buckingham

I do not wish to speak disrespectfully of the right hon. Baronet, but if he had had seven years experience as a barrister and had been appointed a stipendiary magistrate, and I had to go before him and he made an order under the circumstances he has suggested, I should be able to reply that I should go back to my wife and try to do better in the future.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I am afraid the hon. and gallant Gentleman belongs to neither of the classes to which I referred just now. He is one of those superior persons who having found out he has committed an error is prepared to acknowledge it and endeavour to do better in the future. Therefore he is not to be compared with the ordinary individual to whom this Bill is going to apply. He is on a pedestal by himself. He should be compared with the angels above rather than with the people below sitting round me. I have had something like 25 years' experience as a magistrate although I am not a stipendiary magistrate and am not learned in the law. I do not quite know what the law in Scotland is on this subject but if it is proposed by means of this Bill to extend happiness to homes in England why is it not proposed also to extend happiness to homes in Scotland? Why should Scotland particularly be excluded from this Bill?

Photo of Mr Joseph Johnstone Mr Joseph Johnstone , Renfrewshire Eastern

We are better off in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I do not know what that has to do with it. My own belief is that no Scotsman would allow anyone to interfere with him to the extent of saying how much money he shall spend. The hon. Member who seconded the Bill—and this perhaps falls in with the argument I have been using—asked "Suppose at the end of the week the husband is too generous"—that does not apply to Scotsmen—"and spends his money recklessly and has put by nothing for a rainy day?" Then the stipendiary magistrate or the ordinary justice of the peace can intervene and say, "No, in our opinion it is not necessary to put anything by for a rainy day; we are going to order you to give more than you consider necessary to your wife." There again, is that likely to conduce to happiness in the home, or to conduce to thrift, which, after all, is one of the greatest necessities of the present day? I admit that on the whole I think the women are inclined to be more thrifty than the men, but it is not so in every case. Very often it happens that you have a thrifty husband and an extravagant wife, and this is all playing into the hands of the extravagant wife.

The hon. Baronet who introduced the Bill said—I took down his words as well as I could; I am not sure if I have got them exactly, but he will correct me if I am wrong—as I understood him, he said that, if a woman wanted to inspire her husband with his duty, this Bill would enable her to do so. It is a very extraordinary way of inspiring a man with his duty to haul him into the police court. This is the first time I have heard that a police court was such a very nice and pleasant place that you should take people there to inspire them with their duty. That is rather at variance with the almost universal approval in this House of the Act which provides that, in the case of a child under the age of, I think, fourteen, the contamination of the police court is so great that that child must not be brought into it even to hear another case, but must be taken into another room for his case to be dealt with separately. Indeed, I am not at all sure that it has not been suggested that it should be even outside and away from the buildings of the police court, in order to avoid contamination. Which is right? I am rather inclined to think that the people who speak of the contamination of the police court are in the right, and I am not at all sure that it is not a good thing, because I think there are still in this country—although there is so much tendency to Bolshevism that perhaps it will not remain the case—I think there are still a good number of people who believe it to be a disgrace to be taken into the police court. I think it is a very good thing that they do.

Photo of Sir Robert Newman Sir Robert Newman , Exeter

I am afraid I have given the right hon. Baronet a wrong impression. What I said was that in the event of a husband being, not absolutely vicious, but merely a careless individual, then, through the fear of the law if you like, the knowledge that he might be brought before a magistrate—and magistrates in most cases are desirous of trying to reconcile the two parties—might often cause him to turn over a new leaf, whereas, as the law stands at present, the wife cannot do that unless she breaks up the home. It is to avoid that drastic necessity for breaking up the home that I suggest that these cases should be met by going before a magistrate.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

It is very easy to argue on an isolated case. The hon. Baronet takes the case of a man who is not vicious, but careless, and then he says that this man, having been taken into the police court, will awake to the performance of his duties, and will turn over a new leaf and become another man. Will he? He is not vicious to begin with, but merely careless, and, I suppose we must add, stupid as well. Suppose that a man, who is really good-intentioned but is careless, is taken by his wife into the police court—and the hon. Baronet, as I understand, admits that there is a feeling against the police court—is that really going to make him inclined to be more agreeable to his wife? Is he not much more likely to say to her, "You have taken me to the police court, and have exposed what you admit is not vice, but merely carelessness, to all our neighbours; and, as I go through the streets of the town, people will say, Hullo, there's Joe, his wife has just had him in the police court.'" Is that going to conduce to happiness? I daresay I have had more experience of the world than either of the three hon. Members who have spoken, and I do think that my view of human nature is more correct than theirs. Then this Bill proposes to repeal the whole of the Act of 1886. That Act merely says that if a woman commits adultery she cannot obtain a maintenance allowance from her husband. This Bill says that if she can prove that her husband has wilfully neglected to provide maintenance for the applicant or her infant children, she can then get the magistrates to give her an allowance.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I was dealing with the fact that if she has committed adultery, she may apply to a court of summary jurisdiction for a summons on the ground that her husband has wilfully neglected to provide maintenance for herself and her infant children. We will suppose that a woman applies to a bench of magistrates or to a stipendiary for a summons on this ground. The magistrate has to grant that summons. When the summons is heard, she proves to the satisfaction of the magistrates that the sum allowed to her by her husband is not sufficient, or at any rate the magistrates think it is not, and then they have to grant an order.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

Yes, that is quite true, but surely, when this comes before a magistrate, the Act will be put before him by the Clerk, and he sees that he may do so-and-so. Is it not a thousand to one that the magistrate will consider it to be his duty to carry out the Act? Otherwise, what is the good of the Act? Of course magistrates will consider that they should carry out the Act. Suppose that someone says, "This woman has committed adultery." Then I should not be surprised if there was a solicitor in the case. My hon. and gallant Friend seemed to think that all ills would be cured if you were able to employ a solicitor. I do not believe in that. I know solicitors appear in police court cases very often, and especially in country courts. If anyone says a woman has committed adultery, the solicitor appearing for her will point out that the whole of the Act is repealed, including the Clause which says maintenance cannot be granted. No magistrate will refuse to grant a separation order on the ground of adultery when the Act which deals with adultery has been specifically repealed. I do not attach any importance to the word "may." I do not think it has any effect.

I turn to the case of the evidence, and I shall be obliged if the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. A. Shaw) will correct me if I am wrong. Sub-section (4) of Clause 5 says: In any proceedings under this Act a written statement purporting to be signed by the employer. As I read that, the woman may produce a letter which is signed by a man who she says is her husband's employer, which makes a certain statement. Surely no court as at present constituted will take that as evidence. There must be some evidence that the letter really was written and signed by the person in question. It leaves the door open to all kinds of fraud, and it is worse for a poor man or woman than for a rich one, because how can a poor man or woman appeal and point out that the letter on which the magistrates founded their decision was never really signed by the employer? It means more proceedings in fact, in nine cases out of 10—I am not sure it does not include. Government Bills too—Bills introduced by private Members lead to increased litigation.

Photo of Mr George Bowyer Mr George Bowyer , Buckingham

This very provision has been the law for 14 years. The words are identical with Section 124 of the Children Act.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I said I was not learned in the law, and it is possible I was mistaken, and I asked my hon. and learned Friend below me to put me right if I was wrong. He did not do so, so I supposed I was right. I remember the late Sir Charles Duke saying "It is no use quoting one bad precedent in order to establish another." It rather enforces my contention that all these Acts lead to litigation, and if there is a foolish Clause of that sort in the Children Act there is no reason why we should re-enact it. The hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham) thought the Bill would compel a wife to look after the house and also compel the husband not to neglect the children. There is no necessity for this Bill to do that. Over and over again I have adjudicated in eases brought before the Court where I sit where women have neglected to maintain their children, and husbands have done the same, and in some cases we send them to prison. We did not want this Bill to do that. They are cases brought by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and sometimes by school board teachers.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Wintringham Mrs Margaret Wintringham , Louth Borough

Would it not be better for the father to take the responsibility to look after the children than send him to prison?

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I did not quite catch that. I am getting a little deaf with advancing years. The fact remains that if a man or woman really neglect his or her children, there is a remedy at present under the law. Then the hon. Member went on to say that very often when a magistrate had granted an allowance of some kind, the defendant refused to pay and the only course was to commit him to prison. That is true, but this Bill will be open to the same objection. If a man will not pay, you can distrain on his goods. If he has no goods, you can only send him to prison, and I am certain, knowing the character of English men and women, that the result of this Bill will be to make them very angry with each other. A woman is nearly as bad as a man in this way. They will say "We are not going to do this. Harry or Mary, whichever the name is, has chosen to do this and I wilt see her somewhere before I do anything for her." That is the sort of spirit which will be engendered by the Bill. I think I have shown that a woman or a man who chooses to neglect her children can be punished under the existing law.

We come to the Clause which deals with venereal disease. At the present, as far as I know, either party communicating the disease to the other can be punished, and quite rightly, but I do not quite see how you are going to effect this. It is very difficult to find out whether the disease has been communicated. All men are subject to certain weaknesses which they ought not to be subject to. It is no use ignoring facts. We will presume that a man commits adultery and contracts disease. He is one of those men the hon. Member has alluded to. He is not vicious, but only careless. He informs his wife that this has happened, and she, perhaps in a moment of anger with him, goes to a police court and brings all this out. Is that likely to conduce to happiness? This Bill is founded on good intentions, and good intentions generally mean bad legislation.

The definition of "habitual drunkard" will be very difficult to interpret. It says: The expression 'habitual drunkard' means a person who habitually takes or uses any intoxicant, and while under the influence or in consequence of the effects thereof is at times dangerous or the cause of terror to himself. How can any magistrate ascertain whether a man who has had too much to drink is a cause of terror to himself? I can well understand how he could be a terror or a nuisance to somebody else.

Photo of Mr Joseph Johnstone Mr Joseph Johnstone , Renfrewshire Eastern

He may be subject to delirium tremens.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

Oh. He may "see rats." There would have to be evidence of that. I do not think it is going to conduce to happiness in the home to prove that a man is a cause of terror to himself. I have dealt with the points which seem to me to make this Bill absolutely unworkable. I hope the House will be very careful before they accept these sentimental ideas which are so prevalent today, especially amongst societies. This Bill is the outcome, I suppose, of a certain society which has set itself to regenerate the world. These societies are generally all wrong, and they generally conduce to much more misery than at present exists. I do hope that we shall be content with having done as much mischief as we have during the present year by passing private Bills, and that we shall not pass this Bill. I do not think it is worth while moving that the Bill he read a second time upon this day six months, because we can always vote against the Main Question, which I shall certainly do if I can find any section of the House who are willing to support me.

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

After the half-humorous manner in which the right hon. Baronet has criticised the Bill, the House may feel convinced that there is need for the Bill to become law. Humour, even in a halfhearted way, is not always fair criticism of a Bill. To exaggerate, as the right hon. Baronet has done, all the possibilities that may arise if this Bill becomes law does not prove that the Bill is bad or even that it is good. The right hon. Baronet's general style of debate in trying to be humorous at the expense of the promoters of the Bill itself, does not convince, but very often leaves one desirous of examining the measure more closely. I support the Bill because it removes certain inequalities and brings about a condition of equality as between husband and wife. I have gathered some knowledge from having acted as a magistrate for nearly twenty years, and as one who has followed the course of events closely and has seen something of the difficulties of the law as it exists to-day I support the Bill. For many years, in common with others, I have felt that there was room for improvement and alteration in many respects.

There are some things in the Bill that may cause alarm or suspicion, but there is no reason why we should not proceed with the Bill because one or two points in it do not meet with approval. On the Second Reading we have to deal with the Bill as a whole, and when it goes to Committee we shall have opportunities of dealing with various points of weakness or disagreement. There is one point upon which I am not whole-heartedly a supporter of the Bill, and that is the Clause with regard to the woman committing an act of adultery. That is a very serious Clause, but it does not destroy the value of the Bill. That Clause will have to be very fully examined before it becomes law. I am a firm believer in equality as between man and wife, and if adultery is to be an offence on the part of the wife to the extent of depriving her of certain rights, it should equally be an offence on the part of the man. Notwithstanding the attempt of the right hon. Baronet to minimise the offence of a man committing adultery, I am a firm believer in the view that if it is an offence on the one side, it should be an offence on the other, and both parties should be treated alike.

The Clause which gives the woman the right to claim maintenance without having to leave her home is very important. I have many times sat on the bench as a magistrate, and we have asked the woman: "Did you leave your home?" She has replied, "No." Then we have asked her: "Why did not you leave the home?" She would reply, "Where could I go? I could not go on to the streets. I had no place to go to, and I had to put up with the brutality or go out into a cold bitter winter's night." The case would be proved up to the hilt, but the fact was there that the woman was still at home, and she had no claim. For other offences a man can be prosecuted, but I am dealing now with a claim for separation, and the necessity imposed upon a woman of having to leave the horns before she can claim. On the question of imprisonment and wiping out the debt, I have often felt that that is a mistake in the law as it stands to-day. We have seen a poor woman brought from the workhouse in charge of the relieving officer and we have seen the husband in the dock. I have seen cases where the police have- had to search all over the country to find the man, and have incurred considerable expense in bringing him to the court, and an order has been made. He has to pay in so many days or go to prison for a month. He goes to prison for a month and wipes out his debt. The country is put to the extra cost of sending police to look for him and paying his train fare and keeping him in prison, and the woman has to go back to the workhouse. It is true that the debt begins again when the man enters prison, but the bulk of it is wiped out, and nobody is benefited by what happens.

Perhaps it will not improve the position if the debt remains. If you come in contact with a man who is determined not to pay, it does not matter whether the debt is £1 or £100. It means that you have to commit and re-commit him and keep him in prison continuously. Still, I think that the law can be altered to some extent so as to make it impossible for a man to clear out and be free of the burden of his debt. It should follow him wherever he goes. There are three parties concerned—the husband, the wife, and the children. The party that concerns me most is the children. All the faults do not rest with the male sex. If there is equality of claim under the Bill we must recognise that there is an equality of offence in the sexes. I can remember the case of a man being brought up and ordered to pay, with the option of a month in prison. He looked at the wife in the box and said, "I will take the month," and I was bound to admire his choice. That, like some of the arguments of the right hon. Baronet, is a somewhat exaggerated case, but, nevertheless, it is true. We have got to deal with these things exactly as they are. The man or the woman may have committed an offence, but the children are innocent, and whatever provision is made for punishing the offending party, the main thing in the whole business is to provide for the defence and protection of the children.

We have to be careful in dealing with questions of this kind, because we are often troubled with frivolous cases of young married people seeking separation orders. I have heard many cases in which a good, sound thrashing for both of them would do far more good, before they settle down and realised what life really means. The wife is jealous of her husband because he has gone to a dancing class, or the husband is jealous of the wife because she went to a picture show. They have a squabble and the one summons the other. Very often the wife summons the husband for desertion, and they occupy the time of the court. These are trifling things and irritating things that occupy the time of magistrates in courts. They should never be encouraged. These people should be taught the lesson that they took each other for better or worse, and they have got to stand the consequences and to live their life as they ought to. It has been said to-day that this is a Bill to benefit the poor. I do not look at it from that standpoint. I look at it strictly in the sense that it gives facilities for adjusting the mistakes that very often happen among the working classes.

But I do not want to convey the idea that there is more wrong done among the working classes than among the middle or wealthy classes. I say from my knowledge and observation that when I remember the poverty and the slumdom and the misery in which the majority of the poorer people have to live, the devotion with which men and women stand by each other and also the struggle to maintain their little home and benefit the children, admiration is excited, and it is one of the things which make us glad that we are Britishers because there is real heroism, real self-sacrifice and devotion in sticking together through troubles, poverty and misery and doing the best they can for the children, and that applies to the general mass of the working classes of this country. Of course there are exceptions among them the same as among the other sections of the community. We are not all born with an angelic temperament like the right hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). It might be exaggerated, but it is true nevertheless, that we have the exalted opinion based upon the arguments of the right hon. Baronet. We sometimes feel like saying nasty things, but we say kind things. But we have got to deal with people in the mass, and with things as they come along, and I support the Bill because there are features in it which should be supported. There is the removal of inequality. There is given to the husband the chance of dealing with the faults of the wife as well as to the wife the chance of dealing with the faults of the husband. Taking the whole Bill I give it my hearty support though I reserve to myself the right to criticise one or two clauses and perhaps have them amended on the Committee stage.

Photo of Mr William Lindsay Mr William Lindsay , Belfast Cromac

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer) said that Sub-section (4) of Clause 5 of this Bill was taken verbatim from the Children Act, 1908. I have looked at that Act and I find one material difference between it and the Clause in the Bill which we are now discussing. That is the word "purporting," which is not in the Children Act. The section of the Bill we are now considering reads: In any proceedings under this Act a written statement, purporting to be signed by the employer or by any responsible person in his employ, shall beprimâ facie evidence that the wages therein stated as having been paid to any person, have in fact been so paid. I suggest that even if there were a provision of this kind in the Children Act it is a most objectionable thing to put into an Act of Parliament. I can understand the drafters of Bill insisting that the employer, or some responsible person employed by the employer, should make a statutory declaration that the wages paid were the wages received by the man, because that would bring the person making such a declaration into a position of responsibility. I do not think the House should give a Second reading to a Bill with a loose section of this kind. I do not propose to vote against the Second reading, but a protest should be made against loose legislation of this kind being passed. If the Bill receives a Second reading I hope the promoters will see that a better form of words is adopted. In Clause 2 I notice that the word "may" is introduced in the first sentence. The House knows that the word "may" has been held by the courts at various times to be mandatory. Let me mention an experience I had yesterday. In the Standing Committee upstairs on the Royal Irish Constabulary Bill this particular point was raised by myself, and I was told by the Chief Secretary that the word "may" was mandatory and not permissive. The Chief Secretary is a counsel learned in the law, and one must respect the opinion which he expresses. I suggest that the word "may" here should be taken as obligatory and not merely permissive, and we should consider whether the form of word should be altered.

Photo of Captain Charles Loseby Captain Charles Loseby , Bradford East

I am not sure whether there is anything precisely similar elsewhere to Sub-section (4) of Clause 5 of this Bill, to which the last speaker referred: but there is no doubt that there have been many cases of evidence being allowed under circumstances almost identical. My hon. Friend will recollect the case of the bankers' books. Previous to the passage of the Bankers' Books (Evidence) Act it was necessary that the particular book should be produced in court. My hon. Friend will recollect that for the purpose of convenience, just as this Clause is introduced for the convenience, an official in charge of the books, who himself had taken the particular extract, might produce the extract in Court under a certificate that it was a proper extract from the book.

Photo of Mr William Lindsay Mr William Lindsay , Belfast Cromac

In the case mentioned I imagine that if the official had taken from the books wrong information, he would have been committed for perjury. This Bill says that a statement may be put before the court without any witness.

Photo of Captain Charles Loseby Captain Charles Loseby , Bradford East

I agree that that is a point which should be examined in Committee. I cannot think that it is a serious defect in the Bill. Under this Clause a written statement purporting to be signed by the employer, or by any responsible person in his employ, shall beprimâ facie evidence. Of course, it cannot be more thanprimâ facie evidence of the earnings of a man. It is open to the man to get up and to say that his wages were nothing of the kind. In that event I am sure the particular extract would not be worth the paper upon which it was written. It is a point to be examined in Committee whether the method of producing this particular evidence is satisfactory or not. Let me deal with one or two ponits made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). The right hon. Gentleman has constituted to himself a kind of official opposition to almost all private Bills. If he will allow me most respectfully to say so, I think most hon. Members realise that the position the right hon. Baronet takes up is that there should be something to be said for thestatus quo, for a state of affairs that has continued over a long period of time. The right hon. Baronet always insists that a Bill shall be most carefully scrutinised before he will give his consent to a Second Reading. I do not know anyone more skilful in opposing a Bill than the right hon. Baronet. The value of his opposition is that it enables the House to see a Bill scrutinised by an expert. There are cases when the effect of opposition must be to strengthen the Bill.

This Bill has been scrutinised and has have criticised. I am sure the effect on the minds of members to-day must be that if the right hon. Baronet cannot criticise the Bill more effectively and more destructively than he has succeeded in doing, there must really be something to be said for the Second Reading. The right hon. Baronet referred to paragraph (b) of Clause 1, which relates to the case where a man has wilfully neglected to provide reasonable maintenance for the applicant or her infant children. He ridiculed the idea that that should be any ground for a separation order. We all know that in fact the wilful and malicious refusal by a husband to provide maintenance for his wife and children is actually at the moment allowed in evidence in separation cases. It is almost invariably given as additional evidence of cruelty, and the only effect of this clause is to regularise that procedure. It might be a form of the most vicious cruelty deliberately to attempt to starve a wife, and it is obvious that this particular form of cruelty should be regularised. The other point made by the right hon. Baronet and the final point with which I shall deal is that this particular Bill has gone out of its way to enable the wife to get her maintenance allowance. Sub-section (5) of Clause 5 is a most highly important provision: Where a person for the time being required to make payments under a maintenance order, has any property or receives any pension or income (other than wages) the court may order in the event of the failure of any such person to make this payment that such part as the court think fit of any such pension or income or other property be attached and paid to the officer of the court on behalf of the persons specified in the order. That is a vital Clause and however open to objection it may be on other grounds, I am sure the right hon. Baronet will bear it mind that the Courts always view with considerable suspicion these garnishee orders, and they will only be given after the closest examination, and I think in that way every protection is afforded in this respect.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

May I point out that the hon. Baronet who moved the Second Reading said this Bill was intended for the poorer classes.

Photo of Sir Robert Newman Sir Robert Newman , Exeter

I did not quite say that. If the right hon. Baronet will allow me to explain, what I endeavoured to point out was that this was a Bill, of which as an Act of Parliament, anybody could take advantage, but that it was more especially meant to help claimants from the poorer classes, because richer people had other means at their disposal.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

This is a Bill which is very likely to raise difficulties. There are a great number of people who have, neither got. pensions nor property, and that a difficulty will confront magistrates in connection with a man who may be working at one period, say, at Battersea, and who then goes up to Scotland—who moves about according to where he can get work.

Photo of Captain Charles Loseby Captain Charles Loseby , Bradford East

This Bill does not do everything. It only purports to do something, and at any rate the promoters of the Bill may say this, that whether it is quite clear or not on all points, it is a great advance, and if it is a great advance, that is something. The Bill has received most careful scrutiny, and it has the support of practically all the women societies throughout the country, as well as of the right hon. Baronet's own party and of every party. The women's societies have scrutinised and examined these matters as affecting women, and the status of women in the life of our country, and in so doing have been of very great service. This has been a most carefully scrutinised measure in that respect, and I think very few Members will be found to vote against the Bill going upstairs.

1.0 P.M.

Photo of Mr Charles White Mr Charles White , Derbyshire Western

The case for the Bill has been so fully, so ably, and so temperately put by the hon. Baronet, the Member for Exeter (Sir R. Newman), and the hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham), as well as by other speakers, that I do not propose to detain the House at length. I did not think there would be anybody to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but I had temporarily forgotten the right hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London, who, of course, always makes it his business on Friday afternoons to oppose every private Bill brought forward with the possible exception of the Dogs Protection Bill and the Trade Disputes Act (Repeal) Bill. He made a very amusing speech, and introduced the note of comedy. We do not complain of that, but the cases which this Bill is designed to meet are unfortunately not comedies; they are cases of the deepest tragedy. They are cases such as that quoted by the hon. Baronet who moved the Second Reading. That was the case of a woman who, if she had been a bad mother, would not have troubled to go back to her children, but because she was a good mother and went back to them, the magistrate had to inform her she could not have a separation order, and all he could say to the husband and wife was that they should go back together and try to make the best of it. In two days that woman was dead—murdered—and the man was hanged shortly afterwards. Those two lives might have been saved had this Bill been in operation.

Something has been said outside on the question of the relation of this Bill to divorce. There are a large number of people in the country—and I am not sure I am not one of them—who do not wish to see a vastly increased number of divorces. I think we have enough already. We hope this Bill will not increase divorces but will have the opposite effect. Instead of being a divorce Bill, it gives people a chance of once more coming together again and perhaps making happy homes and happy lives. I was very glad to hear that the Church of which the bon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) is a member, the Catholic Church, as a whole, supports the principle of the Bill, that the Anglican High Church—with the exception of 'one organ, the "Church Times," but the great bulk of the English High Church party—support the Bill. These are the bodies chiefly opposed to any further facilities being granted in connection with the English divorce law. I think that the Bill, in this respect will do good rather than harm. I thought I heard a laugh from the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London when my hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford (Captain Loseby) said it was supported by all the women's societies in the country. It is of course mainly a women's Bill and meant mainly to benefit women, but he will have noticed that in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 there is a paragraph which gives for the first time some sort of assistance to men in these cases, though I understood the right hon. Baronet to say the matters referred to were delicate matters to deal with and very difficult to prove and that the provision might do more harm than good. In all however there is an advance in that respect. Personally I consider that while some points in connection with it may be arguable, it is on the whole a wise provision, not only for the happiness and the health of the parties concerned, but I may say even more for the health and well- being of the nation as a whole, for anything we can do to check the spread of venereal disease should be done.

With regard to the point raised by an hon. Member on Clause 5, Sub-section (4), I admit that the wording of that Sub-section requires revision in Committee. The reason why it was put in at all was that if it had been a matter of the employer being always summoned to the court to give evidence as to the wages of his employé, there was a risk of an employer saying, "I cannot give up the whole of my day in coming to the court," or, "I do not want to be bothered with this matter," or, "I will get a workman who does not have such a troublesome wife;" therefore, to avoid a risk of that sort, this question of a written certificate was brought in. We want to avoid, if possible, that difficulty of an employer being actually summoned to the court. I hope the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, and I am sure that with careful revision in Committee it will prove to be, not only a useful and workable Bill, but one which will be of untold benefit to a very great number of people in this country.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS:

I have listened to this most interesting and instructive debate, and I am afraid I was slightly shocked by one or two remarks that fell from the right hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). I do not propose to follow him into his arguments against the Bill, but I had always understood that according to him, private legislation—any legislation, but private legislation in particular—was bad. He had some slight argument with the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Capt. Bowyer), on the subject of the Children Act, and he said that if a particular Clause in that Bill was bad he would amend it. But surely that is departing from the principle which he holds so well, that all legislation is bad. I take another point from him. If legislation of any sort is bad, surely the Trade Disputes Act (Repeal) Bill is bad. I am not certain as to the position which he took up with regard to that particular Bill.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

That Bill repeals legislation, therefore it is good.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS:

Then why not bring in one Bill to repeal the whole legislation of this country which would be complete Bolshevism? However, I have no real desire to enter into a controversy with the right hon. Baronet, because my object in rising is to support a Bill which I believe to be a genuine endeavour to place the two sexes on an equality in these matters. I have another reason, and that is that I do really appreciate the work and' trouble which the hon. Baronet the Member for Exeter (Sir R. Newman) has put, not only into his speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, but in many other directions in this connection. I, as a West country Member, believe in standing by my fellow West country Members if I possibly can, and rise particularly to support the hon. Baronet in his action to-day. The next point I wish to make is that, as far as I understand this Bill—it is rather a long one—the most important and effectual provision in it is that contained in Clause 2, where for a man or for a woman to get an order they no longer have to cease to cohabit with each other. It seems in the interests particularly of the children if you can, by any possible means, prevent a real break between the parties, and if you can get a case settled, so that the wife, or the father for that matter, may continue to be in the home with the children. If you can do that, you will have done something, and we shall not have wasted our time on this Friday afternoon. I am not so much interested in either the man or the woman. It, seems to me that in legislation of this kind we ought to concentrate, as the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) said, on the future of the children.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS:

I was endeavouring to emphasise a point which had been made earlier in the Debate, and the main reason I have for supporting the Bill is that it is essential, not only to bring in equality between the sexes, but more so, if it is possible, to endeavour to put the position of the children in a, sounder position than it is at the present time. Before sitting down, there are two points of criticism which I would like to make in regard to the Bill. I do not make them in any other than a friendly spirit, but I think, as far as Sub-section (4) of Clause 5 is concerned, which enables you to get a certificate from an employer, that is a point which obviously in many cases will be of advantage. It is obviously of advantage if you can save trouble, time, and cost to individuals in these cases, but at the same time, when the Bill comes into Committee, we shall have to be particularly careful that it does not set up too much interference or the possibility of a magistrate or others going to employers or other people and making trouble in that respect. I believe I can remember hearing cases by Members of the Labour party in the past bringing up this particular point in another connection, where they have objected to a man or a wife being able to get a certificate from the employer. It is a very difficult point, and I would say to those who have charge of the Bill that it is a point into which they will have to go very carefully before the Bill passes into law. As far as Clause 8 is concerned, I do not pretend to go into the principles of it. It is very complicated and requires legal explanation, but I think we might at any rate be told by the Government exactly where they stand in regard to that Clause, and ask them to give us a very full legal interpretation thereof. The last point I wish to make is as far as Clause 11 is concerned. I fully appreciate that Ireland should be left out of the Bill, but why Scotland. I do not know if there be any Scotsmen here. There are occasionally Scotsmen in this House, but I should like to hear the whole position so far as Scotland is concerned, because I would not like it to be said that we in England have better legislation than they have. I think Scotland should be given every chance to benefit in the good things which, I believe, are in this Bill, which, I hope, this House will consent to make into an Act.

Photo of Mr John Baird Mr John Baird , Rugby

The promoters of this Measure do not claim that this is a perfect Bill, and I think everyone will agree that there are many points which will require examination in Committee. But with the general object of the Bill the overwhelming majority of Members who are in the House are certainly in sympathy. Although I cannot speak officially on the point, my hon. and gallant Friend opposite may take it I think that one reason why this Bill does not apply to Scotland is possibly because the Act of 1895, which it repeals, does not apply to Scotland. There may be other reasons.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS:

Can this point be cleared up before the Committee stage, so that we may then be absolutely certain?

Photo of Mr John Baird Mr John Baird , Rugby

I will take note of my hon. and gallant Friend's desire. Of course, the Government are not responsible in any sort of way.

Photo of Mr William Lindsay Mr William Lindsay , Belfast Cromac

Does the Act of 1895 apply to Ireland?

Photo of Mr John Baird Mr John Baird , Rugby

No, Sir; it neither applies to Scotland nor to Ireland. We are bound to face the fact that this Bill undoubtedly authorises a considerable interference, and a fresh interference, by the Judiciary in the private affairs of individuals, and before consenting to such interference I think Members in every part of the House, having regard to their responsibilities to their constituents, must be extremely careful in seeing, not only that that interference is justifiable, but that it is desirable, and that it is exercised to the smallest possible extent. Those are the ideas which, I think, will have to guide Members when the Bill goes to a Standing Committee. The Government will, at any rate, offer no opposition to that course. The Bill repeals the Section in the Act of 1895 which obliges a woman to leave her house before she can get a separation order. There is absolute unanimity as to the glaring injustice of that provision, but it may be said the object could be achieved without embarking upon so comprehensive and ambitious a Measure. Supporters of the Bill have frankly admitted the far-reaching nature of some of the other provisions of the Bill, but it would be wasting the time of the House to co through them now, as they can be fully examined in Committee.

Perhaps I might indicate one or two provisions of the Bill in particular which seem to require special attention. For instance, there is the power which, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, is conferred upon a court of summary jurisdiction to compel a man to pay £1,000 a year to his wife. I think it is a serious consideration whether a court of that character ought not to be limited in the amount it can order to be paid. It is surely a consideration whether we dare agree to such wide powers being conferred on such a tribunal, and whether, in cases above a certain limit, which could easily be fixed in Committee, it is not desirable that appeal should lie to a higher tribunal. There is also, of course, the question of venereal disease. Hon. Members will readily imagine that the difficulties which surround that are very great, but that, again, is a matter which can be left to the Committee. Subject to the view that the Bill comprises so many fresh extensions of interference with the liberty of the subject by the Courts—for that is what it really amounts to, desirable though it may be in the interests of justice—everybody will agree that even more than usual care will have to be given to the consideration of this Bill if, as I hope, it goes to a Committee upstairs.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.