New Clause. — (Amendment to Section 5 of the principal Act.)

Orders of the Day — Summary Jurisdiction (Separation and Maintenance) Bill. – in the House of Commons on 8th April 1925.

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To the provisions which may be made by an Order or Orders under Section five of the principal Act shall be added: (e) A provision that the property of the husband in the furniture (being furniture in the home in which the husband and wife have cohabited), or such part thereof as may be ordered, shall be transferred to and vested in the wife and that all the rights of the husband thereafter to such furniture or part thereof shall cease and determine."—[Mr. Pethick-Lawrence.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Leicester West

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

I shall speak briefly, in deference to the appeal of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office not to delay the passage of the Bill. The principal Act, in Section 5, gives certain optional powers to the Court and says that the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, to which any application under this Act is made, "may make an Order or Orders containing any or all of the following provisions." The Section then specifies (a), (b), (c), and (d). My proposal is to add another optional power to the Court. In Committee a new Clause of similar effect was moved, but in somewhat different language. That Clause, and that which I am proposing, had as their object that where the home is to be broken up, the Court should have the power to say that certain of the furniture shall go to the wife and certain of it to the husband. Of course, we do not suggest that the magistrate, in a kind of judgment of Solomon, can cut the furniture in half, but we do suggest that the magistrate can give directions that a certain proportion shall belong to the wife and a certain proportion to the husband, and the Court missionary, or some such person, will no doubt be deputed to carry out the arrangement in accordance with fair principles.

The reason for the proposal can be briefly stated. A woman who has got the necessary order for maintenance cannot set up a separate establishment unless she can get some furniture to put into her home. It has been suggested that there may be an order for as much as £2 for the wife and 10s. for each child, but the ordinary working man does not get anything like that: amount, and we are bound to admit that even such sums as are allotted under an order are often very intermittently paid. Therefore, it is practically impossible for the woman to buy furniture out of the very small amount which reaches her hands. That being so, the inability of the Court to award to her a portion of the furniture is a very serious handicap on her in carrying out the intentions of the Act. It is my information that many magistrates and their clerks would welcome such a provision as this. In Committee, when a similar Clause was brought forward, the Under-Secretary for the Home Department asked that it might be withdrawn so as to give him time to consider it. I understand that he has considered it, but that up to the moment he has not decided to bring forward himself an Amendment embodying any such proposal.

The difficulties suggested are these: First of all, that this is a new principle, that the Court should have power to divide the furniture between husband and wife. In answer to that I say that the whole essence of this legislation is the power of the Court to divide what is really the income, between husband and wife, and that it is no new principle to suggest that the Court should divide the actual things they have had in common. In the second place, it is said that there is a difficulty in dealing with furniture, because it is often not the actual property of husband or wife. With regard to that the Clause proposes that the power should be optional and not mandatory, and if the difficulty suggested is so great that it cannot be overcome, there is no reason to think that the Court would seek to exercise the discretion that is given to it. I understand that the Court missionaries do make these divisions at the present time, when they get agreement between the parties to do so. It may be said that the Amendment is of a one-sided character and does not apply equally to men and women. If that objection should appear to be of importance, I have no doubt that other words could be inserted in another place so as to make the balance correct. I have not dealt with this question as fully as I would have liked to do, but I will not say more because I wish to save the time of the House.

Photo of Sir Martin Conway Sir Martin Conway , Combined English Universities

In view of the shortness of the time remaining, I do not propose to do more than formally second the Motion.

Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON:

When in Standing Committee I gave the promise that has been mentioned, I did not do so in order to try to find arguments against the proposition of the Mover of this Amendment. I went back to the Horne Office, and ever since, I have been trying my best to find arguments in support of this proposal. I have failed, and I am sorry to say that we cannot accept this new Clause. The reason is that by this Amendment you are really laying down a new principle, in asking the Court to do what it thinks fair in regard to the division of property. You ask the magistrates to go entirely outside their jurisdiction and to say what they think ought to belong to the husband and what ought to belong to the wife. I am afraid that that objection is fatal to the Amendment

Photo of Mr Edward Harney Mr Edward Harney , South Shields

There are the rights of third parties.

Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON:

Quite so; there are the rights of third parties. Bills of sale, the hire purchase system and so forth make this Amendment really impracticable. I have done my best to try to meet this Amendment, but it would involve such an alteration of principle that we cannot accept it, and I hope that the hon. Member will not press it.

Photo of Mr George Barker Mr George Barker , Abertillery

I know a case where a married couple quarrelled, and because the wife got a separation order the husband brought a furniture van to the house and took the whole of the furniture away so as to intimidate his wife and leave, her and the three children practically homeless. I have been asked by my constituents to support the insertion of this Clause in the Bill. Without it terrible powers will be left in the hands of a husband if he is the sole owner of the furniture. If he has misconducted himself, and his wife finds it necessary to get some legal protection from the Court, he can attempt to intimidate her in the way I have described. The case which I have mentioned caused quite a sensation in the neighbourhood in which I live. I am very sorry that the Minister cannot see his way to accept the Amendment. It has the sympathy of the magistrates throughout the country. It seems to me very unfortunate that there should be left in the hands of any husband the power to inflict such an outrage as I have described.

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Leicester West

In deference to what has been said by the Under-Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

The following new Clause stood on the Order Paper in the name of Viscountess Astor: