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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 May 1974

Vol. 273 No. 2

Coiste Airgeadais. Committee on Finance. - Maintenance Orders Bill, 1974:Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time.".

The object of this Bill is to enable effect to be given to a proposed agreement with Britain and Northern Ireland for the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders, pending the accession of the new member states to the EEC Convention on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Judgements in Civil and Commercial Matters. That convention provides for the reciprocal recognition and enforcement throughout the EEC of civil and commercial judgments, including maintenance and affiliation orders, and for that purpose lays down rules of jurisdiction to be observed by the courts. The convention came into force between the six original member States of the EEC on 1st February, 1973. Negotiations for the accession of the new member States are at present proceeding but are not expected to be concluded before 1976.

It is intended that the agreement will follow closely the recognition and enforcement provisions of the EEC Convention and thus provide an opportunity to see how the convention will operate in practice between the State and Britain and Northern Ireland in relation to maintenance orders. For the same reason, the text of the Bill also follows these provisions of the convention, as far as practical and appropriate. For ease of reference, the Bill contains marginal references to the relevant Articles of the convention. In addition, an English translation of these Articles has been given in the appendix to the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill.

I am glad to say that the discussions on the proposed agreement are proceeding very satisfactorily. Five formal meetings have already been held at official level, and a further one is due to take place in July. In between meetings there has been a great deal of correspondence and informal discussions. I expect that the agreement will be finalised shortly after the July meeting and, if the Bill is passed by the Oireachtas before the adjournment, I anticipate that it would be possible to have the agreement signed during the recess. The actual enforcement arrangements will come into operation upon the making of a commencement order, provided for in section 2 of the Bill, and, on the British side, of an Order in Council applying their Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act, 1972, with the necessary adaptations, to orders made in the State.

At this point I should like to express my appreciation of the fresh initiative taken in this regard by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, when he wrote to me in March of last year after I became Minister. The goodwill manifested at that time by the Lord Chancellor, and indeed by those of his Cabinet colleagues who were concerned in this matter, has been continued by their successors. At official level also we have received most valuable co-operation and assistance throughout the negotiations.

The arrangements envisaged in the Bill for the recognition and enforcement of British and Northern Ireland maintenance orders in the State are briefly as follows. A request for enforcement, together with the necessary supporting documents, will be received by the Master of the High Court from the Secretary of State. It will be considered by the Master privately on the basis of the documents before him. He will then make an order for enforcement unless it appears to him from these documents, or from his own knowledge, that recognition and enforcement would be prohibited on one or other of the three grounds specified in section 9. These are that recognition and enforcement would be contrary to public policy; that, where the maintenance order was made in default of appearance, the defendant was not duly served with notice of the institution of the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to arrange for his defence or that the order is irreconcilable with a judgement given in a dispute between the same parties in the State. As regards the public policy ground, the question may arise whether some British or Northern Ireland maintenance orders made in connection with divorce proceedings can be recognised and enforced here. This will be a matter for the courts to decide, having regard to the relevant provisions of the Constitution.

Where the Master makes an enforcement order, he will inform both parties. The notice to the debtor must contain a statement of his right of appeal, the restrictions on the taking of measures of execution against his property during the time allowed for appeal and the circumstances in which recognition and enforcement are prohibited. The order will then be forwarded to the District Court for enforcement against the maintenance debtor, as if it were an order made by that court in maintenance or affiliation proceedings in the State.

Provision is made for a right of appeal by the maintenance debtor to the High Court against the Master's decision granting enforcement. The appeal must be lodged within one month of receiving notice of the Master's decision. The decision of the High Court may be appealed to the Supreme Court, but only on a point of law. Where the Master refuses to make an enforcement order, the maintenance creditor has similar rights of appeal.

I think I should emphasise the various provisions made to safeguard the debtor's rights. First of all, he will already have been served with notice of the institution of the maintenance proceedings against him in Britain or Northern Ireland. Arrangements have been agreed to have these notices transmitted by the Secretary of State to the Master of the High Court for service on defendants living here. As indicated in section 3, the form of notice varies as between Northern Ireland, England and Wales and Scotland but in each case the defendant will have an adequate opportunity to make representations to the court or give evidence. No final maintenance order can be made against him unless he has been served with the notice and given sufficient time to defend the proceedings. Where a maintenance order is made, he may appeal in the ordinary way in the jurisdiction in which the order was made. Finally, where it is sought to enforce the order against him here, he has one month after notice of the enforcement order is served on him within which to appeal against the Master's order. During this time no measures of execution may be taken against his property other than any measures that may be ordered by a court with a view to protecting the interests of the creditor. Corresponding safeguards are being provided for defendants living in Britain or Northern Ireland where the proceedings are taken here.

In relation to the enforcement of maintenance orders under the Bill by the District Court, I should like to draw attention to two innovations, both of which are designed to improve the effectiveness of the enforcement machinery. First, all maintenance payments under orders being enforced under the Bill must be made to the local district court clerk for transmission to the maintenance creditor. Secondly, the district court clerk is being empowered to apply for the enforcement of the order where the maintenance creditor so requests in writing and the debtor has defaulted.

Up to now I have been speaking of the enforcement here of orders made in Britain or Northern Ireland. As regards the enforcement of our orders there, the Bill provides for conferring jurisdiction on courts in the State to hear and determine proceedings in desertion and affiliation cases where the defendant is residing in Britain or Northern Ireland. Before a maintenance order can be made, the court must be satisfied that the defendant was served with notice of the institution of the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to defend them. The notice will be sent by the Master of the High Court to the Secretary of State for service on the defendant. Where a maintenance order is made, it will, at the request of the maintenance creditor, be transmitted by the Master to the appropriate jurisdiction for enforcement.

The Bill makes provision in relation to obtaining evidence required by our courts from a person residing in Britain or Northern Ireland in connection with maintenance or enforcement proceedings under the Bill. Provision is also made for taking evidence in the State for the purpose of maintenance or enforcement proceedings before British or Northern Ireland courts. These provisions will enable the courts concerned to have the evidence of persons who could not, or would not, travel to attend the court proceedings, but who would be prepared to give evidence at a local venue. Finally, the Bill provides, subject to various safeguards, for the admissibility in evidence of the various documents which must be submitted in connection with the recognition and enforcement of maintenance orders in the State, of evidence taken in Britain or Northern Ireland at the request of courts in the State and of statements contained in documents of a kind likely to be produced in maintenance proceedings.

I think it only right to point out that any reciprocal enforcement arrangements of the kind we are here dealing with are bound to have some practical limitations. Orders can be made and enforced only if the whereabouts of the husband or putative father are known. Furthermore, though the formalities are being kept to a minimum and though the Bill goes as far as can reasonably be expected in making it possible to admit documentary evidence on behalf of parties living in another jurisdiction, the outcome will not, in many cases, be as satisfactory as if the absent party had been present in court and subject to cross-examination. Notwithstanding such limitations, I am confident that the Bill will benefit a substantial number of deserted wives and unmarried mothers and as such will make an important contribution to alleviating some of the serious human problems of our society. I am sure it will be welcome by the various voluntary organisations who are working to such good effect in this field.

Before concluding, I should like to say that I am aware from the concern shown by my predecessor in relation to the problem with which this Bill seeks to deal, and from the views expressed by Deputies of all parties, that there will be general sympathy with its objectives. If the Bill can be dealt with by the Oireachtas before the summer recess, I would hope that the agreement could be signed and the arrangements for reciprocal enforcement brought into operation before the Dáil reassembles.

I commend the Bill to the House on this basis and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

The Minister concluded hs statement by saying that he is concerned that the House should be sympathetic towards the provisions of the proposed legislation. I should like to assure the Minister that we on this side of the House are very concerned with the urgent need for the legislation which is now before us.

The Minister states that before a maintenance order can be made the court must be satisfied that the defendant was served notice of the institution of the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to defend them. This raises a very serious element. This Bill by definition cannot be enforced unless the person in the jurisdiction concerned is located. While this is a worthy Bill in every respect and while it is one which we on this side of the House consider is urgently needed, the effectiveness of it will rest or fall on the location of the errant husband, the deserting husband, as the case may be. The Minister may have a fairly good reason for dealing at quite considerable length with the situation where a person is to be found in this country as against a situation in the other jurisdictions, in this instance, Great Britain. We are anxious that he explain why his introductory speech deals with a situation which arises in Britain. The Bill deals in eight or nine sections with cases where the enforcement orders are made in Britain and sent across here. It deals to a greater extent with the situation whereby an enforcement order is made here and sent to Britain.

The reasons for the Bill are worthy. It is important to point out that not only does it deal with maintenance orders but also with affiliation orders under the 1930 Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders) Act. The Bill before us is an effort to improve a bad situation which has existed for too long. We realise it is becoming a more obvious social problem every day, that a greater number of wives are being subjected to desertion as the years go on and consequently there is great urgency for this legislation.

This is a good Bill but the difficulty in operating it can be seen in a paragraph in the Nineteenth Interim Report of the Committee of Court Practice and Procedure, page 12, paragraph 32, which states:

The number of deserted wife allowances in payment by the Department of Social Welfare is approximately 2,900 while the total number of claims received is approximately 4,500. The majority of deserting husbands abscond mainly to Great Britain. Many disappear leaving the families in ignorance of their whereabouts.

In fact, my figures tell me that the number of deserting husbands going to Britain, as distinct from any other jurisdiction, is somewhat in the region of 95 per cent. The report goes on to state:

Inquiries to the police authorities here and in Great Britain, the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children occasionally result in tracing the deserting husband, but such cases are exceptional. Even if steps to secure his return to Ireland are successful, that does not ensure that she will secure her maintenance.

The point I want to make is that it is only occasionally that a husband is traced.

The Bill provides for reciprocal legislation and it is important that such legislation be there. I am not critical of the Minister because we see he is completing a job begun by this side of the House when we were in Government. He conceded that in his opening remarks. It has to be seen in practice how effective the Bill will be when it becomes an Act. It may act as a deterrent to absconding or deserting husbands but it is important to point to the reference in the Nineteenth Interim Report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure regarding the tracing of deserting husbands despite the number of agencies to which inquiries are made to try to identify where they are in Britain in particular. We are dealing with Britain in this instance.

The Minister refers to the work done by former Ministers in Fianna Fáil administrations previous to the present Government taking up office. The present legislation is interim legislation subject to our acceding to the EEC Convention on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters. This came into force between the original member States of the EEC in February, 1973. In the meantime, quite a lot of work has to be done before we can actually accede to it. It is proposed to make an agreement for the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders, including affiliation orders, between this country and Britain and Northern Ireland. When this Bill is passed effect will be given to this agreement, and an order in counsel will be made in Britain. It is fair to say that the EEC countries frown on bilateral agreements between countries and that is one of the reasons why we are acceding to the convention.

The Minister says when we accede to this convention in 1976, when negotiations are finalised, then our legislation will become reciprocal in all member countries within the EEC. On the matter of procedure in our jurisdiction an order is made in the reciprocating jurisdiction, which in this instance is England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and it is then sent to this country where it is recognised. The necessary documents will be attached to the request to the maintenance debtor and they are then sent to the Master of the High Court.

Another feature of the Minister's opening statement which appeals to me is that he will work towards informality. The more informal the proceedings are the better, within the rules of evidence, but we should have a flexible approach to the whole matter of the reciprocal legislation between this country and Great Britain in the first instance. After all the documents have been received from the reciprocating jurisdiction the Master of the High Court considers the matter privately after which he issues his decision to the maintenance debtor. If the maintenance debtor is dissatisfied with the Master's decision he may appeal to the High Court and he has a month in which to do this. Judgment on appeal to the High Court may be tested in the Supreme Court only on a point of law. Naturally the maintenance creditor may also appeal in the same way against a refusal of the Master of the High Court to grant her a maintenance order and she has the same legal remedies open to her as the maintenance debtor has.

The order, having been made, is then transmitted to the District Court and becomes a maintenance order in respect of which an enforceable order has been made. We believe this is the proper machinery to attach the deserting husband but, here again, there is the problem of locating the deserting husband. Perhaps the Minister has considered the possibility of locating deserting husbands through the British social security system, the various local employment exchanges or the income tax offices. That would be one way in which deserting husbands could be located.

I believe this Bill will act as a deterrent but no more. I do not wish to throw cold water on this legislation. It is good legislation, but legislation, to be effective, must be seen to work and the difficulty in relation to husbands who desert to Britain is that quite a number of them move around the country and, in some instances, they change their names or try to avoid the grip of the income tax authorities and so on. The people who try to locate these deserting husbands in Britain cannot be blamed for their inability to locate husbands who do not want to be located. At the moment there are 2,900 people in receipt of a deserted wife's allowance from the Department of Social Welfare. That will give some idea of the problem and the difficulty.

Paragraph 28 of the 19th interim report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure points out that: "if the whereabouts of the husband are unknown, or if he fails to contribute to the upkeep of his wife and family, the deserted wife may apply to the Department of Social Welfare for a deserted wife's allowance under section 22 of the Social Welfare Act, 1970. Stringent conditions are laid down for eligibility for these allowances. These include a means test, an uninterrupted six months' period of desertion and a failure of the husband to contribute to the family support. When all these conditions are satisfied, and when it is clear the husband cannot be located, the provisions of section 22 of the Social Welfare Act, 1970, come into play." It is in those circumstances that there is absolutely no point in the deserted wife seeking maintenance through the Master of the High Court as there is no point in his going through the machinery of issuing such an order through his counterpart in the United Kingdom. That authority means the person in reciprocating jurisdiction with functions corresponding to those of the Master of the High Court under section 18 (3) of the Bill.

I do not wish to be pessimistic about the operability of the Bill—quite the contrary—but one has to face the reality of its effectiveness. We do not deny it is good legislation but, in order to be better, it has to be seen to be effective. Its effectiveness will, of course, only be seen when it becomes law.

There are some points the Minister might clarify for us. On the matter of costs, section 12 provides:

No security or deposit, however described, may be required from a person seeking enforcement of a maintenance order made in a reciprocating jurisdiction solely on the ground that he is not residing in the State.

The Minister might explain that section for us.

Again, section 13 (1) (d) says: where appropriate, a document showing that the maintenance creditor is receiving legal aid in that jurisdiction.

Do the provisions of the free legal aid scheme still apply? My instinct tells me they do.

Another rather important point arises on section 9, which provides:

A maintenance order made in a reciprocating jurisdiction shall not be recognised or enforceable if, but only if—

(a) recognition or enforcement would be contrary to public policy,

Two other grounds are then set out under which a maintenance order cannot be allowed. Would the Minister elucidate on the matter of public policy and, in doing so, will he refer to the definition or interpretation section, section 3, line 25, which provides:

"maintenance order" means—

(a) an order (including an affiliation order or an order consequent thereon) which provides for the periodical payment of sums of money towards the maintenance of any person, being a person whom the person liable to make payments under the order is, in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the order was made, liable to maintain, or

Where divorce is concerned, if a husband divorces his wife and then returns to this country, will the courts recognise the entitlement of the wife to apply for a maintenance order, the maintenance order in this case being alimony? Would the courts here recognise alimony arising from an English court decision? Can Irish courts in that instance enforce the payment of alimony through the procedures provided in this Bill? This is an extremely important point.

On the attachment of a husband's salary the Bill appears to be silent. Can the appropriate authorities in the reciprocal jurisdiction attach a husband's salary? Can they go to the employer? If the Bill does not provide for that situation should it not do so? If the husband cannot be located, of course the Bill is totally ineffective and the court award to the maintenance creditor will be absolutely useless. If the husband has been located and the enforceable maintenance order is sent to the reciprocal jurisdiction and the appropriate authority there sets out to recover the amount, what happens if the husband does not pay on foot of that order? Can the authority go to the employers of the maintenance debtor and say: "I am here on foot of an enforceable maintenance order sent over by the Irish courts. Can I attach the salary of the erring husband?" It is an important point on which clarification has been sought by various groups who have been engaged in seeking legislation of this kind.

Various groups have been formed seeking legislation of the type now before the House. The voluntary organisations which the Minister mentioned include AIM, FLAC and the various denominational religious organisations, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children and so on. They are anxious to have this type of legislation introduced, including the reciprocal arrangements between ourselves and Britain in particular. It will become important when we accede to the EEC convention on jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments to consider the matter of non-nationals who will in future not find any succour here. Such conventions will widen the net, but the reality is that 95, 96 or perhaps 97 per cent of deserting husbands leave this country to gain employment in Britain. It is no use trying to gainsay that situation.

If we are members of a common community we should apply our laws in common with them. It is there that we would agree with the Minister that he should continue his talks with people in other countries who are interested in this type of legislation. We are anxious to allow this Bill a speedy passage but I am sure a number of organisations who have knowledge of the imminence of such legislation have not notice of the introduction of this Bill at this moment. They will be on notice when doubtlessly they will see the Minister's full statement tomorrow and it is important that they be able to examine the Bill section by section. Indeed, we would all urge them to do so and any representations the Opposition may get from individuals or organisations will be welcome. No doubt the Minister would also welcome such representations.

Anything we on this side can do to improve the legislation by way of amendment will be forthcoming. We may have a number of amendments for Committee Stage. The Minister told us this matter does not become urgent until some time in July and we would urge, therefore, that the Committee Stage be taken not earlier than two or three weeks' time. This will give us an opportunity to study the details of the Bill. I personally have studied the Bill in depth. However, one would need to peruse it three or four times in detail to get the meaning of terms like "reciprocal legislation", "maintenance orders", "appropriate authority", "enforcement order", "maintenance debtors", "maintenance creditors" and so on.

That is why we should be slow in passing legislation of this kind. We should give the concerned groups I have mentioned an opportunity to study the Bill in detail. Having so studied it, they could then produce their views to the Minister and the Opposition and we, having examined any proposals for amendments to the Bill and having decided they were appropriate amendments—in addition to whatever amendments we might have ourselves—we would table these for consideration by the Minister. Any amendments we might put down for Committee Stage would be for the improvement of the Bill and would in no sense be intended to delay the passage of this socially just legislation.

We hope that this will be seen as the beginning of the updating of the whole area of family law. This Bill deals with the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders, to include affiliation orders. We hope the Minister will continue to produce Bills of this nature. The type of thinking in this Bill reflects our thoughts on this side of the House. The actual ground-work was conducted by the Minister's predecessors in office. It will go some of the way at least in indicating to people outside this House that the Government are reasonably concerned about the introduction and updating of legislation relevant to the whole field of family law.

I have a number of Bills from the Minister. They include the Adoption Bill, on which we shall be assisting him so that it may have a reasonably speedy passage. However, I do not think co-operation should be given just for the sake of haste. Having conducted our Second Reading speeches and gone to Committee Stage, the Opposition, the Minister and his officials should have two or three weeks to reflect on the Bill before we progress to Report Stage and that is why we would ask the Minister to allow us this perusal of the Bill.

(Dublin Central): Like Deputy Andrews, I welcome this Bill. It is good social legislation. Deserted wives seem to be a new development in our society. The number of women applying for the deserted wife's allowance is increasing every year.

The Minister is right to bring forward this legislation. Certainly, we support it on this side of the House. But there remains to be solved the cause of the problem: why the husbands leave, which I know is not relevant to this Bill. In many cases it is brought about by the conditions in which they live and various other factors. I have met quite a number of deserted wives in my constituency and I try to trace back each case and the circumstances in which the desertion developed. One finds that perhaps they were ill-equipped to get married when they did—probably they were living with in-laws and one finds that that has been the first reason for their breaking apart. The wife lives with her mother and the husband with his people. Very often, this is the first step. Apart from this legislation, we shall have to look at the social consequences and see whether we can get to the root of the problem because, bringing in legislation alone, will not solve it. I agree it is of some help but certainly it will not eradicate this problem developing in our society. It is a social and an economic problem and in Dublin it is a problem probably caused by the housing position. On numerous occasions I have seen people living in over-crowded conditions and this brings the first break-up of a family. Eventually, the husband leaves the home each night, goes back for his meals but eventually leaves. Then there is dissension in the household and a dispute with the in-laws and then one finds the husband leaving. He will lose his job and more than likely his next destination will be England. Lack of sufficient housing accommodation is the root cause in the majority of these cases. It is a terrible experience for a woman with three or four children to find some week that her husband has deserted her and gone to England.

As has been pointed out here, at the moment we have 2,900 women in receipt of the deserted wife's allowance. The total applications amount to 4,500. Recently a woman who came to me was looking for a deserted wife's allowance. Her application was disallowed. She received a letter from the Department of Social Welfare telling her that she had not made sufficient effort. She was a woman with four children, having no knowledge of the law, having no money to carry out these proceedings. The Department of Social Welfare informed her that she had not made sufficient effort to trace her husband or to get a maintenance order against him. There are many pathetic cases like this. Indeed in my opinion there are more than 4,500 deserted wives in this country. There are many wives who when their husbands desert them, stand on their pride, fall back on their families or obtain a job and are no burden on the State. There are many deserted wives who never notify the Department of Social Welfare and I think that will continue even when this Bill goes through. But, basically, this is a social problem: to try to provide proper accommodation for families. We shall also have to start in the schools to prepare people for married life.

I welcome the Bill but I foresee a lot of difficulty in its implementation. First of all, one has to locate the deserting husband and that is an enormous problem. Anybody who has had any experience of people going to and returning from England will have good knowledge of how these people move from job to job there, especially if they are employed in the building or construction trades. These people move from job to job in England and, indeed, have other motives for so doing. When this Bill becomes law, I foresee that these people for whom it is designed will become more and more evasive. This is why I foresee a huge problem in its implementation. Certainly, we shall need the co-operation of the police both in this country and in England in trying to trace such people's whereabouts. I am not sure that we have a sufficiently large police force for that purpose although I believe that the number of cases we would be trying to trace here would not be too large in comparison with the number in England. But, if they are located in England, this will be a very difficult problem. It is quite obvious from the Bill that no final maintenance order can be made against a deserting husband unless he has been served with a notice and given sufficient time to defend the proceedings. When he is located in England he will be given sufficient time to do this and there is a certain danger here. How will it be possible to trace him? Will he be able to go to another job, where the same process of tracing him will have to be repeated?

I suggest when he is found that some kind of endorsement be placed on his tax form or social welfare form. If such a person is allowed to roam around England or wherever he may be, it will be impossible to enforce the maintenance order. When the maintenance order is obtained here, it should be submitted to some Department in England, perhaps the Revenue Commissioners, and an endorsement should be put on the person's cards. In this way it would be clear to his employers or the Department concerned that there was a maintenance order against him.

If a man is prepared to leave his wife and family without making any provision for them, he will make every effort to evade the maintenance order. Unless we ensure that the process is tightened we will waste a lot of public money in making the orders. The income the man receives in England will be the determining factor in setting out the amount of maintenance and a system must be devised so that we may know his exact earnings. We must have recourse to the Revenue Commissioners or the man's employers because it would be ludicrous to ask our courts to make maintenance orders without having the full facts regarding the man's income. It will be necessary to have some co-operation from the employer or the Revenue Commissioner in this matter. It may not always be easy for the Revenue Commissioners to help in the matter because many people move from job to job in England.

Perhaps it might be better if the man's employer would arrange to have the money sent here every month or every week. If possible, I should like to see the responsibility put on the employer to deduct the appropriate amount from the man's salary. Employers are asked to make many deductions of one kind or another, for instance in respect of PAYE and other schemes and it would not be too much to ask them to make an arrangement with regard to maintenance orders. I realise there may be some dissension between the employee and the employer on the matter but I think it is the only feasible way to get the money sent back to this country.

We know what happens when maintenance orders are granted here. The money will arrive for the first three or four weeks but after that the payments cease. The same thing will happen in this case unless we tighten the regulations, find out what the person is earning and follow up the matter with the employer. I am in complete agreement with the scheme and it will be a great pity if it fails. I have known of cases of deserted wives and any legislation we can introduce to help them will be welcomed by our party. I know we can legislate but it is an entirely different matter to implement the legislation. It is very difficult for a deserted wife to get an allowance at the moment; indeed, many women will not subject themselves to the humiliation of applying for it. We were told that 4,500 women applied for allowances but quite a number have not applied. They fall back on family resources rather than go through the humiliation of seeking this aid. We must make it as easy and as simple as possible for them and ensure that they are not involved in any legal expense. I hope that in this legislation there will be provision to ensure they are not liable for such expense.

All of us deplore the behaviour of the man who leaves his wife and children and emigrates to England or elsewhere without making provision for them. He has an obligation to his family to maintain them but it is getting more common to hear of cases of desertion. Nowadays many married people think they have no such obligations. We must ensure that a man who leaves his family without making provision for them is forced to accept his responsibilities. This Bill may help in some way; if nothing else it may be a deterrent to any husband who thinks he can leave an unfortunate wife and family without support.

As Deputy Andrews stated, any amendments we may put down will be for the purpose of improving the Bill. It is very important that some improvements be made so that the measure may be implemented. We will need close co-operation between the police forces in England and in this country. There must certainly be consultations with the Department of Social Welfare or else the Revenue Commissioners to see if these people can be traced. I welcome the Bill and wish it every success through the House.

I want to thank Deputies Andrews and Fitzpatrick for their contributions on this important Bill and to acknowledge the points they have made. They stated that the success of the Bill depends on the effectiveness of the machinery that can be devised for tracing the deserting husband or the putative father. This is a matter of administration and essentially not a matter of law. It is something to which attention will have to be given. The details of how this information will be obtained and transmitted will require some careful thought. It will not be a simple matter for two police forces to co-operate in, because it can happen that this particular area does not have any criminality attached to it. It could essentially be a private domestic matter quite unsuitable for police investigation.

This is a problem I come up against from time to time. People report to the police that a person is missing, and I get complaints that the police do not seem to take any action. There is a misunderstanding that the police have a specific legal duty or function in such a matter. They have not, for the very simple reason that a person, for good and proper legal reasons, may go off about his business, and it would be quite inappropriate to set the machinery of the State, in the form of the police, after him. This is an area that has delicate connotations which will have to be teased out.

Likewise, in regard to obtaining information from social security or Revenue sources, Deputies will readily concede that this, too, raises implications of some delicacy. Indeed, it raises the whole question of privacy. It is an area of the law which has not got much attention up to now, but which is increasingly coming under scrutiny. I think it is well settled that Revenue information must be confidential and that it would be wrong that the Revenue should be the source of information to help to deal with these problems. This is something that, as I say, will have to be given attention, but perhaps there is something in Deputy Fitzpatrick's suggestion that the order for maintenance could, in some way analogous to an endorsement of a driving licence, be recorded on the person's social insurance record.

As regards the difficulties in the way of getting information as to the whereabouts of deserting husbands or putative fathers, these will have to be examined and eased and, if possible, overcome. I agree that if this Bill is to be fully effective, the most efficient administrative machinery practicable will have to be provided. The Bill, of course, does not attempt to do this. It would be outside its scope to attempt to suggest ways and means of curing this difficulty. The Bill is a technical, legal measure to provide for the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders. It is an underlying assumption that it is going to be possible to detect the whereabouts of people against whom these orders are to be enforced.

This would be less of a problem in the case of orders being enforced within this jurisdiction because of the smaller size of our country and the more intimate nature of our society. It would, conversely be more difficult for our orders to be enforced in Britain because of the vastly bigger population and the greater degree of urbanisation there which makes it easy for people such as errant husbands to go to ground. This is, in effect, what will happen: many of them will go to ground. There is no point in denying the fact that if a husband or a putative father wants to run away and hide it can be done, but there are many cases in which the whereabouts will be known. There may even be communication between the deserting husband and his wife. The deserting husband may have gone to friends or relatives or to people who were neighbours at home. These contacts are the means by which intelligence could be gathered as to the whereabouts of deserting husbands or putative fathers. I agree that until such time as such information is readily and completely and accurately available, the full benefits of this measure cannot be experienced. However, that does not take away from the desirability, per se, of providing the machinery to follow them when they can be found, and that is what this Bill does and does for the first time.

This is a bilateral arrangement with Britain pending our accession, with Denmark, to the EEC Convention. It was not necessary to get the permission of the EEC to have this bilateral arrangement, although, of course, as a matter of courtesy they were kept informed of what was happening. In fact, there is provision in the convention itself for bilateral agreements in relation to special matters. The operation of the agreement with Britain will be a useful experience for us, and it will give us knowledge which we can use with benefit to ourselves and our partners in the EEC in the discussions on the accession by the three new members to the convention.

Deputy Andrews raised a number of queries on the text of the Bill itself. He referred to section 9 (a), this being the section prohibiting the enforcement of maintenance orders in certain cases. One of these would be if enforcement would be contrary to public policy here. This raises a large question and brings into the discussion immediately the recognition or non-recognition in this country of divorces obtained abroad.

I would be slow to guess here this evening at the type of order that might come within the terms of section 9 (a), because I think I would be trespassing on the function of the courts. Our Constitution is specific in regard to the prohibition of divorce. There has been some judicial interpretation of the constitutional provisions. I can imagine, but would offer it only as a very tentative opinion, that if parties were English citizens, married and divorced in England, and one of them took flight to this country, an order in that case made by the English court would be within the terms of this Bill and would not be contrary to public policy. I would not attempt to offer even a tentative opinion if either of the parties was an Irish citizen irrespective of where the marriage took place. These, I would feel, are questions that the courts may have to decide and it would be wrong of me to venture an opinion on them when it is clearly a matter within the judicial area. But this is generally what is meant by section 9 (a) and I am sure this is what Deputy Andrews had in mind when he raised the point of clarification.

He also raised the question of section 12. Section 12 provides that no security or deposit may be required from a person seeking enforcement— security for costs—solely on the grounds that he is not residing in this State. This is to ensure that a British maintenance creditor will not be prejudiced by a rule of our courts which enables security for costs to be required from a plaintiff solely on the ground that he is not resident within the jurisdiction. The purpose of the section is to remove any such discrimination in the case of a nonresident coming in to our jurisdiction and seeking to operate his rights under this Bill. In fact, I am advised that this is a standard provision in international agreements for the reciprocal enforcement of judgments and that it is in fact, a provision of the EEC Judgments Convention to which we hope to accede in due course. That is the reason for the provision in section 12. The rules of our superior courts Order 29, rules 3 and 4, give the courts discretion to order security for costs from foreign residents. In effect this is removed by section 12 in regard to proceedings under this Bill.

Does that mean that a person applying for an enforceable maintenance order here has to give security for costs here?

No. It means that a British citizen coming to this country to ask us to enforce an order against an Irish citizen could not be asked for security costs by our courts on grounds of non-residence.

What about an Irish citizen?

Precisely the same would apply to the Irish citizen applying to a British court. There would be complete reciprocity. The other point which Deputy Andrews raised was with regard to section 13 (1) (d), where one of the documents to be furnished to the appropriate officials—in this case the Master of the High Court in this jurisdiction—was a document showing that the maintenance creditor was receiving legal aid in the other jurisdiction. This is perhaps anticipating the advent of civil legal aid in this country. If the person seeking relief in our courts is a recipient of legal aid in her home court then it would be a fair indication to the courts here that the person was entitled to and should receive legal aid. That is why it is necessary, if legal aid be in question in the home jurisdiction, that that to be documented in the application here to give a line to the court here that the person appears to be entitled to legal aid.

Before civil legal aid becomes operative, on the subject matter of section 12, does a maintenance creditor, immediately the Bill becomes operative, have to give security for costs here? In other words, does she have to have money to go to court to obtain an enforceable maintenance order——

——until such time as civil legal aid becomes available? I do not want an impecunious wife receiving a refusal from the Master of the High Court.

As far as we are concerned, the person the Deputy speaks of would be a wife residing in the UK and she would be seeking aid through the courts here. Pending the instruction of civil legal aid she would have to seek it through her own resources.

What about the wife seeking an enforceable court order in the UK? In other words, from here. She wants to get her absconding husband.

She would be entitled to the benefit of the legal aid provisions presently existing in Britain. So, indeed, to have full reciprocation we have to match up to that provision. That is one of the things that concerned me in setting up the working party to advise me on legal aid. I would be anxious that they would report quickly so that in this area we would be as good as our neighbours.

If the wife has no money and is living in Ireland and wants to obtain a maintenance order to become enforceable in the UK is she prevented on the grounds of having no money from seeking that maintenance order?

No. She can seek her maintenance order here in the ordinary way and seek to have it enforced in the UK and the debtor in the UK cannot by virtue of the fact that she resides in another jurisdiction seek security for costs.

It is important that we make that point clear from this side.

There will be no inhibition placed in either jurisdiction by seeking security for costs.

No inhibition for want of money?

No. The other matter raised was the question of attachment of wages. Again there will be differing procedures in the two jurisdictions and our procedure, I have to confess, will be inferior because we have no law at the moment to allow the attachment of wages in the case of deserted wives. This is one of the matters dealt with in the 19th Interim Report to which Deputy Andrews referred and which I have already indicated in reply to parliamentary questions is under active examination with a view to early legislation. Thus, in the case of an order being enforced in this country at the suit of a deserted wife residing in the UK, she cannot ask the court here to go to her husband's employer and attach his wages. She has to rely on the present legal machinery for recovering that debt and that machinery at the moment is execution or attachment of the person by imprisonment if the other means of execution against his goods fails. On the other hand, if the deserted wife is an Irish resident and the husband is in England and the order is enforced in England under this reciprocal measure, she then can take advantage of the English legislation to enable wages earned in England by the husband to be attached. This is another area in which we have to catch up and I hope we will catch up fairly quickly.

They are the points that were raised in the debate. The only other point I want to make is in regard to a point that Deputy Andrews made about interested parties getting notice of this debate. They will of course read all the debate but in addition the Deputies will be glad to know that I have sent copies of the Bill and memorandum to the bodies which he actually named here and I would welcome their views. I would welcome their views, as he has indicated he would welcome their views, to assist us on Committee Stage. However, it is important to point out that their views may be concerned mainly with the basic problem raised in the debate and that is how to trace the deserting husband. The Bill is essentially a technical legal one to provide for the machinery of reciprocal enforcement if and when the deserting husband or putative father has been traced. Nevertheless, views would be welcome because the procedural difficulties of gathering information to enable the machinery to be effective are formidable and the more people who give attention to solving them the better.

There is not much more for me to say except to thank Deputies for their contributions. The Bill is obviously desirable if it is going to close a loophole which some irresponsible people availed of. We have to be grateful to the authorities on the other side for their co-operation in getting it through because essentially it is a reciprocal measure and I think it will be of more benefit to this jurisdiction than to the other because unfortunately the traffic in deserting husbands is, to all intents and purposes one way. We have to say this and have to say it with regret. It is a very useful measure to have on our Statute Book if it in any way curbs or inhibits that traffic. I am grateful for the way in which it has been received by the House.

(Dublin Central): May I ask a question? If I understood the Minister correctly he said it was not the duty of the police force to carry out the investigation as regards deserted wives. If it is not the duty of the police force, who does he intend will carry out the investigation both in England and in Ireland?

There are voluntary bodies such as the ISPCC. There will be other voluntary bodies. AIM, for example, would be one, and the ICA. There would be similar bodies in the other jurisdiction where this information could be gathered. The point I want to make is that it is not any part of the official duty of the police. I do not want to go any further than that, but information can become available and can be passed on.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take the Committee Stage?

I take Deputy Andrews's point about allowing sufficient time for consideration. He mentioned two to three weeks. I would suggest that if we left it on the basis of not earlier than two weeks and, if the views are in and minds cleared as to amendments or otherwise, we could take it then, so that the recess would not come on us unexpectedly. I would like to see it through before the recess. I would suggest not earlier than two weeks. This day fortnight.

Is this satisfactory?

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 12th June, 1974.