– in the House of Commons at on 26 July 1935.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

2.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

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

This is a Bill which has been brought from the House of Lords, where it went through all stages without amendment. I hope that it may also receive unanimous approval in this House, but it will be for the convenience of the House if I state shortly what is the situation with which it deals and how the Bill proposes to deal with it. I would invite the attention of the House to two or three remarkable figures in the statistics of imprisonment. Of course, we have reduced the population of our prisons, I am glad to think, very considerably, but the matter now stands thus: There are about 53,000 cases of imprisonment in a year, and of those 53,000 cases more than one-third are due to imprisonment for failure to pay either a fine which has been imposed on conviction for some offence or some other money payment ordered by a court of summary jurisdiction. More than one-third of the cases arise in that way. Of course that is not the same thing as saying that at any given moment one-third of the people in prison are imprisoned for that reason, but still, even if you were to take the ordinary daily average, there are very substantial numbers, something like 500 people every day, who are in prison not because any court has deliberately decided after trial that they ought to go to prison, but because they were fined with an alternative of imprisonment—five shillings or a week, 30 shillings or a month, or whatever it may be—and they have not paid the fine.

That situation is one which well deserves the attention of Parliament. It would be a mistake to suppose that these figures, large as they are, mean that, generally speaking, fines which are imposed are not paid. Over 97 per cent. of the fines imposed by courts of summary jurisdiction are paid, but none the less the remaining three per cent., or something less, account for a very large number of cases. Let me analyse the figures still further. Over 11,000 people are sent to prison annually for failure to pay fines; something like 3,600 for failure to pay under wife maintenance orders, 2,400 for failure to pay under affiliation orders, and 3,000 for failure to pay rates. It is that situation which I ask the House to consider when deciding whether they will approve the principle of this Bill.

A Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Fischer Williams was set up by my predecessor to review the existing law relating to the enforcement of orders made by courts of summary jurisdiction for the payment of fines and other sums of money, and that Committee made a unanimous report which is available to hon. Members in the Vote Office. It reported in June of last year. The Bill includes a number of the recommendations made by that Committee—not all of them, because the report also included some other recommendations which undoubtedly might involve more controversy. I am not in the least pronouncing any opinion against any of those recommendations, but I think they will have to wait for another occasion. The principle which we seek to apply in this Bill is to be stated as follows: What is the real mischief of the present system? It may be put thus: Justices who are experienced and humane and considerate men and women have before them vast numbers of cases of petty offences which they think ought to be punished by fine, and they impose a fine, but even though in many cases there is time given to pay the fine, the fine is accompanied, as the law allows, with a provision that if the fine is not paid within the time allowed imprisonment on a certain scale will be imposed instead. From that moment no further consideration is given to the individual case by the Court, so that if the convicted person does not pay the fine the imprisonment which follows as an alternative is imposed almost automatically by the issue of a warrant, which does not involve an opportunity for reconsidering the merits of the case or learning from the convicted person what are the circumstances which have resulted in non-payment of the fine.

It seems to me that that is not a right system at all. These people if they go to prison in such circumstances do not go to prison because the Court has decided that imprisonment is the proper punishment, for the Court has come to the conclusion that the proper punishment is a fine. They go to prison notwithstanding that the Court thinks that they ought to be fined, simply because they have not succeeded in paying the fine, and there is no further investigation as to what the explanation of that may be. The principle of the Bill is that before an order for imprisonment is made against anyone who has been sentenced to pay a fine there must be by the magistrate an examination of the specific case, for the purpose of ascertaining and deciding what is the fair thing to do. If it is ascertained that the explanation for failure to pay the fine is a good one, then of course imprisonment ought not automatically to follow, though I do not stand here and say that in no circumstances shall a man be sent to prison because he refuses to pay a fine. If a man has been properly fined, if he is able to pay the fine and if he will not pay the fine, there is nothing for it but to send him to prison.

On the other hand, there may be cases in which owing to supervening misfortune, or owing to the inability of the person concerned to deal with the matter by instalments or the like, the fine has not been paid and it does not seem right that the law should remain in such a position that no opportunity is given for the consideration of the circumstances of the specific case. The Bill also deals with payments ordered to be made under affiliation orders, and orders to pay rates with the alternative of imprisonment. There the House will see that provision is made for an examination into the circumstances of the case before imprisonment takes place. If it is the view of the magistrate that the explanation of non-payment has nothing to do with the wilful refusal or culpable neglect of the person involved, imprisonment cannot take place.

I shall possibly save time and shorten the Debate if I ask hon. Members to go through the Bill with me while I call attention briefly to its main provisions. The chief provision as regards fines will be found in Clause 1. As hon. Members will see, that Clause does not remove all discretion from the justices, but it provides that, except for special reasons stated at the time, the court is not, at the time of adjudication, to impose on a person fined a period of imprisonment in default of payment, and that a warrant for commitment in respect of default is not to be issued unless on a subsequent occasion the competent court has made inquiries as to his means in his presence. How much that will reduce the present number of cases of imprisonment is a matter of estimate but I shall be disappointed if the reform does not produce substantial results in accordance with the plain principles of justice. I feel sure that at least a proportion of the 11,000 people who go to prison every year for non-payment of fines would not have been sent to prison if, as will be necessary under this Bill, the magistrate had had specifically before him the question of whether imprisonment was the proper course, and if the history of the reasons why the fine had not been paid was put before him for consideration.

Clauses 2 and 3 deal with minor matters of machinery. Clause 2 is to enable examination as to a defaulter's means to be conducted in his own district. I give a simple illustration. Suppose that a man who, ordinarily, resides in the North of England is fined by a court of summary jurisdiction in London for a motoring offence and is given time to pay—say, a week. If there has to be a further examination of the man to determine whether he ought to go to prison for his failure to pay the fine, it would be inconvenient to bring him back to London. Moreover the right place in which to inquire into his means and circumstances is the place where he lives. Clause 3 gives statutory effect to what is already a common practice, namely, the sending of notifications to persons who are fined of the order of the court. Many cases arise where a man is fined in his absence and in some cases he may not actually know, officially, what has happened to him. It is desirable to have it established that if a man is fined in his absence, he should have a communication sent him informing him of what has happened.

Clause 4 gives power to order the detention of a person for one night in a police station. At present a court has power to order detention for one day in the precincts of the court, but this power can only be exercised at the time of conviction, and, therefore, it would not be applicable to the case where time is allowed for the payment of a fine, as it usually is. It may be that there will not be many occasions for operating the provisions of Clause 4, but I think it will be useful for dealing with the case, it may be the exceptional case, where a small fine has been imposed and has not been paid and it is necessary to do something, though nothing very drastic, to show that offences against the law will be followed by punishment.

Clause 5 is a more important provision. It extends to adults the existing power of the courts to use, as they already do in the case of young persons under 21, the method of supervision. Unfortunately, not much use has been made of this power as yet, but it is hoped that increasing use will be made of it in the future, especially as the probation service, which I regard as one of the most useful services, becomes strengthened. The provisions of this Clause exactly correspond to the provisions in Section 1 (3) of the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914, which is the existing provision as to the use of supervision in, the case of young persons. The comment was made to me by a Member of the House, and I therefore deal with it, that Clause 5 does not say what kind of person is to exercise supervision. The obvious person to exercise the power of supervision in the ordinary case is the probation officer, but still the Departmental Committee contemplated that there might be cases where the officer of the court charged with official responsibility for supervision might enlist the help of voluntary workers.

The anxiety which was expressed to me was whether Clause 5 might be so used as to put the supervision in the hands of the employer of the individual concerned. I agree that that would be most undesirable, and I think the best way to deal with it would be to allow the Home Office to do what it is constantly doing. We are always sending round, with the explanation of a new Act of Parliament of this sort, comments and suggestions, and I shall certainly make it my business to make sure that that is not at all what is contemplated. Under the existing law applying to young persons, the Home Office does not know of a single case in which this has been done. Clause 6 deals also with the question of supervision and prohibits the committal of young persons under the age of 21 to prison for failure to pay fines unless the method of supervision has been tried or there is some special reason, which must be stated in the warrant, for not following this course. It is certain that the judgment of the House of Commons will approve of a provision of that kind. Clause 7 is a small Amendment, which I will not deal with now. So much for the fines part of the Bill.

Then I must call attention to Clauses 8 and 9, which deal with wife maintenance and affiliation orders. They give effect to the principles which I sketched out a few moments ago. In future, if this Bill becomes law, it will be necessary for magistrates, before committing a person to prison for the non-payment of moneys under orders of this kind, to make inquiry as to the defendant's means. Care has been taken to avoid placing on the plaintiff, the complaining wife or mother, the onus of proving the means of the defendant, and in very many cases the woman certainly would not be able to, do that. She must not be required to do it, but the Clause provides that, if the justices are of opinion that the failure of the defendant to pay was not due either to his wilful refusal or to his culpable neglect, he is not to be committed to prison. It appears to me to be quite right that whatever the appropriate process in such eases, it cannot assist anybody, and indeed it might do very much the opposite, if we said that gaol was the place for him. The Clause also makes other amendments in the law, which are expected to reduce the number of cases in which committals to prison may become necessary.

Lastly, Clause 10 deals with rate cases. The ordinary process is that on a summons for the payment of rates an order is made for payment, but before committal to prison an effort is made to raise the necessary money by a distress warrant. If the reply to the distress warrant is that there are not sufficient goods to produce the money, there is, as the law stands at present, an automatic warrant which will commit the defaulting person to prison. If sending people to prison will make them pay their rates, they should be sent to prison in proper cases, but, unless the situation is one in which there has been wilful refusal or culpable neglect, there should not be committal to prison. Therefore, Clause 10 provides in a similar way to Clause 8 that these conditions have to be satisfied. The justices will now be required in every case of default in the payment of rates to consider whether default is due to wilful refusal of culpable neglect, and, if they come to the conclusion that the defaulter is not to blame for his failure to pay, they will be prevented by this Clause from committing him to prison. It will be for the justices, after considering the defaulter's circumstances, to come to their own conclusion, and the Clause does not place on the rating authority any onus of proving culpability. The remaining Clauses deal with minor and consequential matters.

I submit this Bill with some confidence to the House. I think that it represents what is an overdue reform, and I hope that it may be received with general approval. I should not like to sit down without acknowledging how much is due to the public-spirited interest which has been taken in the Bill by, among others, Lord Arnold in the House of Lords, and also by Lord Snell, who was largely instrumental in setting up the original Committee. The Bill is not a party matter at all. We are all co-operating to make the law of our country as good as we can. This Bill will apply to England and Wales. The question whether in Scotland a man prefers to go to prison or pay a sum of money is one that only Scotsmen can answer.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Happily we have not sent men to prison.

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

When I introduced the Home Office Estimates the other day I made a few remarks about prisons and ventured to say that the most beneficent prison reform in our generation had been the reduction in the number of persons sent to prison. Whatever may be said for our penal methods when we are dealing with real criminals and endeavouring to suppress dangerous crime, it does appear to me high time that we should stop what is a very old-established practice which, I am convinced, has caused people in many cases almost automatically to find themselves inside a prison without proper consideration being given at the time to the question whether there was a good and sufficient explanation why they did not pay their fines.

3.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Lansbury Mr George Lansbury , Poplar Bow and Bromley

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was to have been here to say our say on this Bill for it is largely a measure for hon. Members in the legal profession to determine how it will work. In his absence, however, I will deal with the matter. The principle of the Bill is one which Lord Snell and Lord Arnold have done their best with great success to persuade my friends to accept, and we are deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and his Department for bringing the Bill forward. We think that it will do a great deal of good to people who are often simply unfortunate instead of being guilty of any particular crime. When the Poplar councillors went to prison, not for not paying their rates but for not making the rates, we came into contact during that six weeks with a number of people who were in prison with us for this type of default, and as a Justice of the Peace in London I have also had experience of people sent to prison for non-payment of rates or fines, and I have often thought that if Charles Dickens could come back he would be able to write some very painful stories in connection with imprisonment for debt even now. Whatever faults legal minds may find in the administrative methods proposed, the principle of the Bill, which is that a person who is unable to pay shall not be sent to prison, is an excellent one, and one which I hope the House will accept.

The punishment of crime is always a very difficult problem. In thinking over the cases of some highly placed persons who have been sent to prison, while I have no sympathy with them as regards what they have done I very often feel that the punishment inflicted on them did not really fit the crime. I am quite certain that the class of people to whom this Bill will apply ought not to be sent to prison, and I hope the day will come when the others, who do not belong to that class, will be treated in a rather more humane manner than many of them are treated at present. In my view offences against property are not suitably dealt with by imprisonment. Often I feel that we are a bit more careful to punish people for offences against property—and money—rather more heavily than other offences which, if they are to be punished, deserve more punishment. I make these few remarks in order to put the layman's view as held among my friends. I did not know that it was to be my job to speak on this subject this afternoon, but my hon. and learned Friend has had to go away—I do not think he is earning his living today—on some other business, and I have had to take his place. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.

3.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Colne Valley

May I, in two words, say how very much we on these benches welcome this Bill and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the very lucid explanation which he gave of it, which will, I feel sure, prove of very great value to those who have to administer its provisions in the courts of law? It would be no great exaggeration to say that this is a piece of social amelioration of the very greatest importance—an unostentatious piece of social amelioration, one might say—on which we ought all to congratulate the Government most heartily. I have no sympathy at all with those who can pay the sums which they are directed to pay under affiliation orders or similar orders and do not pay. Still less have I any sympathy with those who do not pay their rates when they are ordered to do so, except perhaps at certain periods of the year when those demands come round to myself. That is only a temporary matter. Generally speaking, those who are ordered to pay these sums ought to be made to do so. I entirely agree that a great deal of imprisonment can easily be avoided, and it will be avoided by some such machinery as that which is provided in the Bill. I have great pleasure in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman and the Government upon having found time to bring this Measure before the House.

3.26 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir ARNOLD WILSON:

I hope I shall not be considered to be ungracious if I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to be weary in well doing. The Bill does not deal, for instance, with imprisonment for debt incurred as a consequence of having obtained on credit goods; it does not deal so far as Clause 15 (b) is concerned, with maintenance orders. Such orders can only be varied by the court which made them. If an order is made in Carlisle, only Carlisle can vary or discharge it. The Bill, in fact, deals with fines and not with maintenance orders. Another serious difficulty occurs when parties are separated by considerable geographical distances. An order is in force in London and the husband or father is in Newcastle. The man cannot come to London to have his pockets searched, and, if the court put the police to the trouble of bringing him by warrant to the court, how is the London court to check the statement about his means?

The report used strong language in this matter. It says: It is clearly better that a default should be dealt with in the locality of the defender's residence, where his means and circumstances can be ascertained. An Amendment of the law is in our opinion imperative. The word "imperative" is not used loosely by Sir John Fischer Williams; yet that paragraph seems to have been ignored by the right hon. Gentleman on the grounds, I assume, that it would be controversial to include such an Amendment. The Bill has been so warmly welcomed in this House and throughout the country, as well as in another place, that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be encouraged to carry it a little further and to provide that maintenance orders can be dealt with in the same way as fines.

The Bill contains no provisions for varying orders for maintenance of affiliation for a definite and limited time. When a man proves that he is unemployed the order has to be reduced permanently, and it cannot be varied when the man secures employment afresh or when the wife finds herself in far better financial circumstances than she was when the order was made. Cases frequently arise. They arose when the dole was reduced; there was no provision for reducing the maintenance orders. When the dole was restored there was again no provision for increasing the amount that the husband or the wife had to pay. The Bill gives no power to courts to vary the amount of an order when a summons for arrears is before it. In paragraph 148 the report of the Committee strongly recommends it. The Bill does not deal with the evidence that might be given in open court by representatives of the public assistance committee or by probation officers.

On the Home Office Debate, the right hon. Gentleman said, if I remember aright, that the modification of the rules of evidence in the case of children's courts generally had been of the very greatest value in assuring that justice had been done. There is an important modification in Clause 12 providing that statements of employers as to wages may be accepted in court as primâ facie evidence. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might seriously consider extending that, and allowing statements made by officials of public assistance committees, employment exchange officials, or probation officers, which are technically hearsay, to be accepted in court as primâ facie evidence. It would, I think, greatly assist in doing justice. Some courts do it already, but these unofficial evasions of the law of evidence are undesirable until they have been authorised by Statute.

Then there is the difficult question of orders under the Guardianship of Infants Act. Paragraph 152 of the Report mentions the anomaly whereby a mother who has an order for her children under the Guardianship of Infants Act has far greater difficulty in obtaining her order than she would have had under the Married Women's Act. Surely it is possible in a Bill like this, which is entirely uncontroversial and is welcomed in all quarters of the House, to include that provision also. Clause 8 which from many points of view may be regarded as contentious, has been accepted without any comment, and I heartily welcome it. The right hon. Gentleman has represented this Bill as being half a loaf; I believe that the House would willingly give him the whole loaf, and butter as well, if he implements a few more of the Committee's recommendations, excepting, I admit, those which refer to the attachment of pensions, a question which involves considerations far wider than the Bill itself, and certainly require more consideration.

The final Clause of the Bill states that it is not to come into force until the 1st January, but the Home Secretary has not mentioned why it should be necessary that this uncontentious and admirable Bill should not come into operation for another six months. Could we not have it before, or could not some Clause be inserted saying that, if justices take action on the lines of the Bill, once it has received the Royal Assent, they at least will not be held to have transgressed the law?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

If my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to interrupt him on that point, I was careful to have inquiries made as to the date at which the Bill could be brought into operation, and I share his view that it should be brought into operation soon. It is, however, absolutely necessary that the whole scheme of the Bill, and the detailed machinery, which does not appear in the Bill itself, should not only be prepared, but should be well known throughout the country. Otherwise we should get into inextricable confusion. I am advised that the date which has been fixed is really the earliest date that in all the circumstances would be practicable. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that it should be possible in the meantime at least to prepare the way, and I propose to send a communication to the different benches and clerks to magistrates, in order that as far as possible their existing practice should be framed in view of the considerations which are causing Parliament to carry this Bill.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I accept his assurance without the smallest hesitation or doubt. A circular from the Home Office such as he suggests will unquestionably have almost as great an effect as the Act itself. He clearly indicated in his opening speech that more has to be done, and I beg him, before we pass the Bill, to give us some definite assurance that this is a mere instalment of what we may hope for from the Home Office and from his own efforts before long. A tremendous amount of consolidation and amendment of the law is required, in regard, for example, to the Summary Jurisdiction Acts and the Married Women's Acts, all of which will have an immediate effect upon the imprisonment of persons for offences against the law. A vast field of legal reform is open to the Home Office, and I hope that this is a mere instalment of what we may shortly have. If the Home Secretary could give some assurance that the remaining recommendations of Sir John Fischer Williams's Committee, all of which were unanimous and well-weighed, will be given effect to by legislation at the earliest possible moment—if not this Session, at least next Session, and, if not by amendment of this Bill, in some other manner—it would be a real encouragement to that great body of men and women outside the House who have followed the proceedings on this Bill with hope mingled with anxiety. In many ways this is the most important Bill from the point of view of the real man in the street, that we have had before us this Session.

3.35 p.m.

Photo of Miss Eleanor Rathbone Miss Eleanor Rathbone , Combined English Universities

I do not want to oppose the Bill, but I cannot let it go without a strong protest as regards not what is in it but what is not in it. I, too, welcome nearly everything that is in it, but it is a remarkable fact that, if you take the Report of the Departmental Committee on which it is based, the Bill has singled out practically every recommendation which tends to make things easier, rightly, for the debtor, other than the obstinate and contumacious debtor, and to make things easier for the State, which wishes to be saved the unnecessary expense of keeping the man in prison and wishes to make it easier to collect its debt from him. It has omitted every single recommendation which safeguards the rights and interests of the unfortunate woman who represents the creditor in a very large proportion of these cases.

The figures given by the Committee show that about 10,000 of the imprisonments for debt every year are those of men with arrears either of maintenance or affiliation orders—about 4,000 for maintenance and 6,000 for affiliation orders. It further shows that the estimated number of affiliation and maintenance orders in force at any one time is probably round about 94,000, and it calculates that no fewer than seven per cent. of maintenance orders lead to imprisonment and 5.8 per cent. of affiliation orders. There are no statistics, I believe, which show how many maintenance and affiliation orders are totally unenforced, or imperfectly enforced although they do not lead to imprisonment, but the number must be several times greater than the enforced orders which lead to imprisonment because in most well-conducted courts they do not apparently, as is the case in some, automatically order a man to prison if he fails to pay.

It is clear that it is only in a small percentage of cases that the woman takes the necessary steps which will lead to the man being sent to prison. Loyalty often survives in these hardly-treated women and, naturally, they do not want the man sent to prison because imprisonment may wipe out the arrears and, in any case, it would prevent the man having any chance of paying while in prison. Quite rightly, the Departmental Committee recognised the danger that, if it was going to make things easier for the debtor and did not at the same time safeguard the wife or the unmarried mother, it might even worsen the position of these hardly-treated women and, therefore, they put forward a number of recommendations. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last has enumerated some of them. The question is why have none of them been embodied. From what I have gathered privately from the Home Secretary, there are two reasons. One is that the Government aimed as far as possible at keeping this a non-controversial Bill, and the other one that it wished to preserve a certain unity of purpose that the Bill should deal with things that mainly concerned the question of reinforcement of the debt. I would suggest that the latter reason is, perhaps, not a very strong one, because the recommendations with regard to the safeguarding of the wife and mother in these cases were ancillary to their recommendations affecting imprisonment for debt. It is difficult to see why they could not have embodied them at the same time, or, if that were not possible, why the Government did not bring forward two Bills.

I venture to think that the stronger reason is that they wished to make their Bill non-controversial. I understand that among the recommendations of the Departmental Committee which have not been carried out one of the principal controversial subjects was the recommendation that only in cases of obstinate and contumacious refusal to pay should the court be permitted, at its discretion, to attach wages, and that was objected to by the trade unions and the Labour party. With regard to that, I have only to say that in Scotland, where the attachment of wages is permitted in these cases, the number of men sent to prison under wife maintenance or affiliation orders is almost negligible compared with orders in this country, and the Departmental Committee had expert evidence that that was due, partly it is true, to provisions for dealing with cases before being sent to prison, but also to two other features which exist in Scotland, but do not exist in this country—the right to attach wages if the man refuses to pay, and imprisonment there does not quite wipe out the debt. I think that is an indication of what we are losing in this Bill, with regard to the safeguarding of the unfortunate married woman or unmarried mother by not including the attachment of wages.

But let us assume that the Government could not tackle the trade unions and overcome their opposition, Might they then not have brought in some of the provisions not open to that objection? Let me single out one recommendation which has not been attended to, and which seems to me peculiarly strange that the Government should have omitted. The House will see that one Clause of the Bill lays it down that if the court considers it easier in the case of a fine that the fine should be collected by a court belonging to some other area if the debtor is living there, it should transfer the order to the other area. The Departmental Committee made a closely analogous recommendation with regard to the maintenance order, that, if the man was resident elsewhere, the duty of seeing that the order was carried out should be transferred to the court in the place of the man's residence. Why cannot the Government do this? It is a very modest provision. I cannot imagine it to be very controversial. I suppose it would be possible, by introducing a large number of Amendments to the Bill, to block it, but I do not believe in doing that.

It has been represented that this Bill will save many men from being sent to prison unnecessarily, but I would add my voice to the plea put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), that the Government will really consider that they owe a debt of honour to the women whose position they are doing nothing to remedy by this Bill but something possibly to worsen it, and that they will go into the whole question of the other recommendations of the Departmental Committee at the earliest possible date and introduce a measure to include those recommendations and possibly others. There are many long delayed and much needed reforms required in regard to the position of the separated wife and the unmarried mother.

May I make an appeal also to the Labour party. The record of the Labour party in this matter is not too good. When we think of the eloquence poured out in this House every time any question comes up which touches the interests of the wage-earner, we realise how little attention is directed comparatively to the interests of women who are not remunerated workers or members of trades unions, but who bring children into the world and bring them up in the service of the State. Where they happen to be unhappily married and have to secure a separation from their husbands, they are, of all classes, the most neglected. Often nothing is done to see that the order of the court is carried out. I am sure the leader of the Opposition, who in the past has shown himself the good friend of many women's causes, cannot be unsympathetic to this class, and I appeal to him and to the Labour party to do what they can to secure further legislation to fill up the gaps which this valuable Bill has left.

3.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Stepney Whitechapel and St George's

There is a point which I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider if he has not already done so. Everybody will welcome the Bill. I had occasion to raise the question in 1932, and I would refer to a set of figures which I quoted at that time. In 1930 there were 12,497 persons sent to prison in default of payment of fines, 483 young persons under 11 years of age, 2,031 sent to prison because they did not pay their local rates, and 6,778 sent to prison in default of payment of arrears on orders for maintenance and on bastardy orders. If the figures given to-day are compared with those figures, hon. Members will see that the numbers are increasing to a large extent, and that the matter is one of immediate importance. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman sends his recommendation to the justices he will see that the discretionary power already provided in the Act is properly exercised.

There are many persons being sent to prison for non-payment of rates and in default of payment on these orders who ought never to be in prison and who have no opportunity at all of retrieving their position. I hope that he will be able to see his way to get the machinery working rapidly and will be able to introduce this Measure before 1st January. I implore him, on behalf of large sections of people, to put this machinery into working order, and the Act into force as soon as possible. Unfortunately, magistrates do not realise these things. They are so accustomed to dealing with cases that they allow people to be sent to prison without realising what it really means. They send them automatically, and the poor fellows who have no opportunity of earning a livelihood find themselves behind prison walls when they ought not to be sent to prison. I am anxious for the Bill to be passed, and I wish to bring these matters to the attention of the Minister.

Photo of Mrs Ida Copeland Mrs Ida Copeland , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

I welcome the passage of this Bin and wish to congratulate the Minister and his department on the work he has done in connection with it. He said just now that he thought it would be of some use. I can assure him that it will be of the greatest possible use in one sad case in my constituency where a man has been put into prison 11 times. This prevents him obtaining work. He cannot pay under a maintenance order, and he is in consequence again put into prison. Things thus go from bad to worse. I can assure the Minister, therefore, that the work that he has done in connection with this Bill will be of great benefit.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Major G. Davies.]