As the difficulties encountered by women through the non-payment of maintenance awarded by the courts are within the terms of reference of the Finer Committee, it would not be right to anticipate its conclusions. My right hon. Friend hopes to receive its report within the next few weeks, and consideration of its recommendations will begin straight away.
As, on the initiative of the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) and I went in the spring to see Morris Finer, the chairman of the committee, I know some of the difficulties. Unless immediate action is taken, cannot this problem be extracted from the rest of Finer, as the woman who has not been given all her alimony, and her lawyer, are at a hopeless disadvantage?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the trouble he has taken in discussing this matter with Mr. Finer, but he will recognise that this is part of a much wider problem. Under the existing arrangements we try to ensure that women at most risk, namely, those who are entitled to supplementary benefit, receive a regular income, whether or not their maintenance is actually paid.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is tragic that this report has been so long delayed, in view of its extreme importance? Will he give the House an assurance, first, that publication will be expedited and, secondly, that action upon the report will be expedited?
I assure my hon. Friend that the report should be received by my right hon. Friend very shortly and that it will be published as quickly as possible. To be fair to the committee, which was set up at the end of 1969, it had very wide terms of reference and a good deal of research was required, because much of the information it needed to formulate its report was not available.