Gifts Between Engaged Couples

Part of Orders of the Day — Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston 12:00 am, 10th April 1970

If the new Amendment is not carried then the position will be that which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) objected to—that a ring, being a conditional gift, would be returnable to the fiancé in every case whoever broke off the engagement, unless she were able to prove—and it is not an easy thing to prove under the circumstances—that the gift was given unconditionally. That would be the position. I think that that would be found objectionable by most hon. Members. That was the first point which I considered in presenting the Amendment.

The second point that I took into consideration—and it is a point on which everybody has concurred, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short)—is that whatever the position it should be a position which did not depend upon who broke off the engagement. I think that most hon. Members would agree with that, because otherwise this would merely revive the whole wrangle of a breach of promise case in another form. Therefore, if that goes, one must decide one way or the other.

How to decide is basically a matter of ordinary common sense and the law should be based as far as possible on common sense, and this is the object of the Amendment. Common sense says, "What does the ordinary man intend when he gives an engagement ring to an ordinary woman?" That is the point I have had to consider. Not relying upon my own hunch in the matter I consulted as many people as possible and the general view was that notwithstanding what the case of Jacobs v. Davis has said, and what the High Court has said, the intention of a man in ordinary circumstances is that the gift should be given as a gift and that there is no question of conditions.

This being their view, it seems correct that this should be embodied in the law rather than the decision of a judge which was made 50 years or more ago and that this should be the law of the land and that, deciding what is conditional or unconditional, should be based on what the ordinary person thinks when he gives such a gift.

This was the basis of the Amendment. I concede that there are certain exceptions, although I think that they are very few. I mention the family heirloom as one. I am not talking about ducal arrangements. I am talking about people in Pontypool and Birmingham who may give, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool has said, a mother's ring, or a grandmother's ring, which is valuable in the man's family and which a court may decide in those circumstances is a conditional gift from its nature. This is a matter for the court to decide in an individual case. I should have thought that based upon this there would be few arguments about the question of engagement rings. We have had this in the past and it has almost always been based on who jilted whom. Once one dismisses that from any action one can be sure that there will be few, if any, actions over engagement rings. This is decided once and for all by this Amendment, which I hope that the Government will accept it.