Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 22 Jul 1975

Vol. 284 No. 1

Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Bill, 1975: Second Stage.

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

This is a Bill to amend the law relating to maintenance and desertion, to introduce a system of attachment of the earnings of persons who default on payments under an order for maintenance, to extend the limitations in affiliation proceedings to two years, and to amend a number of other aspects of family law.

I should like at the outset to take this opportunity to express publicly my gratitude to the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Walsh, for their report, entitled Desertion and Maintenance. The committee clearly had to work very hard to produce their report so quickly and, as Deputies will be aware and as is pointed out in the introductory part of the official explanatory memorandum, the Bill draws heavily on the report.

The interval between the publication of the report and the publication of this Bill has been the subject of some comment. I propose to return to this point later. For the moment I think it is sufficient to say that, however valuable a report may be—and the value of this particular report needs no emphasising—a report is not a Bill. Between the two there lies an extensive area of analytical work, of consultations and decision making as well as the task of legal drafting which is a highly specialised, slow and difficult process even for an experienced professional draftsman.

There is one other preliminary point I want to make. I have on several occasions expressed the confident hope and expectation that the Bill would be introduced in the present session, as in fact it has been. I did not at any time, as some commentators have alleged, undertake or imply that it would be law in the present session. I do not see it as a simple little Bill that ought to be hurried through with the minimum of debate but as one that in some respects could represent fundamental and possibly far reaching changes in our family law, changes that deserve careful and considered thought. I think that it is important that the extent of these changes which I am recommending to the House should be adverted to and discussed, so that when they are approved, as I believe they should and will be, there will be no room for doubt that this is a considered decision by Parliament, taken with a full knowledge of what is involved.

The Bill proposes a fundamental change in the law in regard to maintenance. Until now, except in cases of serious neglect, the law has not imposed a generally enforceable obligation on spouses to maintain each other and their children. An order for maintenance may be made only against a husband and against him only if he has deserted his family and wilfully neglects or refuses to maintain them. A wife, no matter what her financial circumstances may be relative to those of her husband, cannot as a general rule legally be obliged to maintain her family. Proceedings for maintenance under the Guardianship of infants Act, 1964 constitute a very limited exception to this general rule, and even in that case an order will not be enforced where spouses continue to cohabit.

The Bill proposes that in future both spouses should have a duty to maintain each other and their children, independent of any question of desertion. There is therefore, may I emphasise, a twofold change: Firstly, the discarding of desertion as a criterion and, secondly, the extension of the obligation to wives. I believe that this twofold change represents a desirable and just reform. It will place the parties of marriage in a legal position which will reflect what is commonly accepted to represent their moral responsibilities to each other and their children; moreover, it should strengthen marriages by no longer obliging wives who have been badly neglected by their husbands to leave the home in order to establish that their husbands have constructively deserted them. I hope to deal further with these points when I come to them in my analysis of the Bill, but I would like to stress at the outset that reform of family law—especially in such sensitive areas as are covered by this Bill—is a task in which there are no easy, answers or simple solutions. One's aspiration must be to try to establish a fair system of legal rules which are likely to promote a just and harmonious family relationship in the general run of cases. Perfection, in the sense that every case involving breakdown of personal relationship will be resolved in a totally satisfactory way, is, of course beyond the capacity of any legal system. There will always be the case which falls just outside the line.

A solution is not to be found in attempting to change the rules in response to every new case that arises—this indeed is the old problem of hard cases making bad law. However, one way of accommodating the very wide range of human conflict which maintenance proceedings involve is to give the court a large amount of discretion and not to tie it down by too many rigid rules. This has been done in many respects in the present Bill. Up to a point, it is undoubtedly not only a good solution but the only possible one. But it is a solution that has the defects of its virtues and it is an approach that could easily be carried too far. To give, either to a court or to any other authority, a broad discretion is not to provide a panacea for the problems presented by hard cases. Professor Katz, the noted American author on the law relating to children, writing in the context of child neglect, has warned that:

"as broadness enhances discretion, it also provides the judge with the means for making wide-ranging value judgements which may go unchecked because of the absence, in many instances, of a written opinion and the paucity of cases which are appealed. It is the non-specific statute which provides the judge with a vehicle for imposing on others his own preferences for certain child-rearing practices and his own ideas of adult behaviour and parental morality". [When Parents Fail, at page 65 (1971)].

Exactly the same problem arises in relation to disputes between one of the marriage partners and the other.

Having stressed that there are no simple solutions to this very complex area of human relationships I would like to give a brief account of the specific provisions in the Bill.

Part 1 of the Bill is concerned with the general introductory provisions. Section 2 provides that the Bill is to come into effect a month after it has been passed. Section 3 contains an important definition of a "dependent child of the family", in regard to whom an order for maintenance may be made. Generally, a child will be entitled to be maintained by his parents until he reaches the age of sixteen years. However, in two cases he will be classed as a "dependent child" even though he is over that age. The first case arises where he is attending or where, if an order for maintenance were made, he would be receiving education or instruction at a university or other educational establishment on a full time basis, and is under the age of twenty-one years. In the present law, the parents' duty to maintain their children, so far as it is enforceable at all, ends when the child reaches sixteen years. In extending the age to twenty one years where the child is being—or would be—educated on a full-time basis, I feel that we are only bringing the law into harmony with the widely-held and growing appreciation of the importance of education at all levels. I should stress that we are here dealing only with the definitions of possible claimants for maintenance. We are not providing that simply because a child falls within the definition of a "dependent child of the family" he will have an automatic right to be educated and maintained by his parents. The question of entitlement in specific cases is one which falls to be considered when dealing with section 4 of the Bill.

The second case in which a child may come within the definition of a "dependent child" although over the age of sixteen is where he is mentally or physically disabled to such an extent that it is not reasonably possible for him to maintain himself fully. Such a provision— although drafted in somewhat stricter terms—already exists in regard to affiliation proceedings, and is part of the law of a number of other countries. I think that there would be common agreement that such persons should—again subject to the individual circumstances of each case—be entitled to look to their parents for continuing support.

As Deputies will notice from looking through some of the other definitions in section 3, the terminology is somewhat unusual and perhaps unfamiliar. I would refer in particular to the terms "maintenance creditor" and "maintenance debtor" which occur frequently in the Act. These terms derive from continental law but are now part of the general currency of international maintenance Conventions. They were used, for instance, in last year's Maintenance Orders Act which established reciprocal enforcement facilities for maintenance orders between this country and Britain. In essence, a "maintenance creditor" is a person —normally, it is to be expected, the wife—who obtains the maintenance order. The "maintenance debtor", as the name implies, is the person— usually, one would expect, the husband—against whom the order is made.

I now turn to the central provisions of the Bill, which are contained in Part II. These relate to maintenance orders and matters ancillary to maintenance orders.

Coming first to section 4 of the Bill, I think that it would be a fair comment to say that it is the most important section of the Bill. It is the section which defines the legal liability of spouses to provide maintenance for their family. It specifically directs the court to consider a number of matters in deciding whether to award a maintenance order, and it delimits the cases where an order may be made.

Subsection (1) (a) of the section provides that where it appears to the court, on application to it by a spouse, that the other spouse has failed to provide such maintenance for the applicant spouse and the dependent children of the family as is proper in the circumstances, then the court may make an order for maintenance. This order will provide that the other spouse is to make to the spouse who has applied to the Court periodical payments for the support of the spouse and dependent child of such amount as the Court may specify. This whole provision is to be read subject to subsection (4) of the section. Subsection (4) directs the Court, when deciding whether or not to make a maintenance order, or how much a maintenance order should be for, to have regard to all the circumstances of the case. In particular, the court is directed to have regard to the income, earning capacity, property and financial resources of the spouses and their children and also to the financial and other responsibilities of the spouses towards each other and towards their dependent children, and to the needs of the dependent children, including the need for care and attention.

As I have already stated in my opening remarks, this provision introduces two changes in the law, both of which are of major importance.

The first change is that it would no longer be necessary to establish that a spouse has deserted the family in order to obtain an order for maintenance. The idea behind the present requirement that desertion must be established, as well as neglect to maintain the family, would appear to have been that it must be left to the husband, who was presumed to be the breadwinner, to determine the standard of living of the family as long as the family remained together and that the existence of a right to sue for maintenance in that situation would be a divisive factor in family life. One should not, I think, brush aside as being obviously nonsensical —or, alternatively, as being anti-woman—the view that litigation for maintenance is incompatible with the idea of the family remaining together as a unit. In many cases I think the two things would indeed be incompatible. But this is not really the issue. What is at issue is whether there are some cases in which an action for maintenance could be taken without break-up of the family, and the widely-held view nowadays is that there are such cases and that indeed such an action could possibly be the factor that would save a family relationship by bringing to his senses a man who was squandering his income on gambling, for example.

Moreover, there is another point. The present law is such that it can force a wife to leave the family home before she can take any action to protect her interests. Even then, she has the task of convincing the court that she had this choice forced on her—that, in fact, her husband had already "constructively" deserted her. But a wife may be unable to leave as she may have no other place to go. She should have the right, if circumstances are such as to make it necessary, to seek maintenance while insisting on continuing her right to occupy the family home even if this means a risk of worsening what presumably is already a bad relationship. In short, if the marriage is breaking down, there is no reason why it is the woman who must leave the house as a preliminary to establishing her legal rights.

There are many advocates for changing the law in this respect as has been done in the Bill. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in their report recommended that "family default"—the basis of an order for maintenance— should be defined so as to include "such ill treatment, physical or mental, or other misconduct on the part of one of the spouses as would reasonably justify the other in leaving the family home although she or he does not do so and a failure by the spouse who earns to maintain the other." The committee also recommended that "family default" should include "failure of the spouse who is responsible for the support of the family to provide a reasonable standard of living for them having regard to the means and earnings of that spouse."

Quite clearly, the Committee envisaged by these definitions of "family default" that one spouse could take proceedings against the other where they are cohabiting.

It seems equally clear that the Commission on the Status of Women in their report envisaged that a maintenance order could be made where the parties continue to live together. The commission recommended, in paragraph 446 of their report, that in the event of "any dispute coming before the Courts it should be for the Courts to decide whether reasonable arrangements have been made between the husband and wife as to the disposal of family income in respect of (a) their current standard of living and (b) provision for the domestic home, family emergencies and old age."

It is interesting to note that The Council for Social Welfare, a Committee of the Catholic Bishop's Conference, in their recent statement on Family Law Reform take a similar approach to the matter. In paragraph 3.4 of the statement, the Council states:

Spouses look naturally to one another for support and the law should underwrite their obligations to each other. At present it is not specific enough in this regard. For example, in many families much hardship is caused by the husband who fails to hand over sufficient money for house-keeping expenses: in such cases the wife should be able to seek the assistance of the law.

In other countries the issue has received considerable attention and has been the subject of widespread and, at times, fairly heated debate. It is only fair to point out that, while the trend in common law countries is to move towards the civil law position of generally recognising an enforceable obligation to maintain even where the spouses are living together, there is still some resistance to this approach.

In England, the situation appears to be that, where as an order for maintenance in the High Court may be made and enforced where the spouses are living together, cohabitation by spouses after an order made by a Magistrates' Court will make that order unenforceable. In the United States, the rule still generally prevailing, although it seems to be coming under increasing attack, is that, where the spouses are cohabiting, no order for maintenance will be made. That rule was in fact criticised over 40 years ago by at least one writer, Blanche Crozier, who wrote the following:

So long as the spouses are living together, the wife's right of support is not a right to any definite thing or to any definite amount even in proportion to the husband's means. ... To be sure, it is said that he should support her with his means, but that is no more than an ideal with which he may or may not comply.

Two other American writers— Krausopf and Thomas—writing last year, have criticised the courts' noninterventionist attitude in this regard. They comment:

How ironic it is that the courts' refusal to entertain these requests indirectly encourages a separation of the parties and a complete breakdown of the family unit.

Yet, as is so often the case where one is dealing with any aspect of family law, there is another view and one which is by no means confined to people who could be regarded as ultra-conservative. The Ontario Law Reform Commission, whose studies and reports on family law have been of great assistance, even to many countries far removed from Canada, have taken the view in their most recent Report, entitled Support Obligations and published only a couple of months ago, that in regard to maintenance, the failure by one spouse to maintain the other should not be the basis, in itself, of proceedings, and that “the court should not be made to serve as a vehicle for formal State intervention into domestic disturbances, which could far better be settled by the spouses themselves or with the aid of marital counselling.”

I have given this quotation, not because I accept it—which, as the Bill shows, I do not—but to illustrate once again that we are not dealing with issues where one can say categorically that one position is right and another wrong, but with issues where the best attainable is a solution which will still have disadvantages. However, having given this Canadian view against the solution proposed in the Bill. I feel justified in balancing it with another Canadian view, this time from the Canadian Chief Justice, Bora Laskin, who in the course of a well-known decision Murdock v. Murdock made the observation that “the better way is not the only way”.

Thus, I think we would all agree that it would be better if spouses would settle their mutual obligations without resort to court proceedings, but I think we must accept that, at the end of the day, and even in a situation where spouses have had the benefit of the best that can be got by way of marital counselling, there are likely to be situations where the husband, assuming he is the breadwinner, cannot be persuaded to meet his obligations otherwise than by court procedures. I do not think that the existence, in the background, of this legal sanction, if I may call it that, will be a divisive factor in family life. For the vast majority of married couples, I hope and believe it will simply be an irrelevance.

Of course the proposal in the Bill leaves itself open to the possible objection that it will encourage spouses to resort to litigation because of trivial disputes. Again, this is a risk that cannot be dismissed out of hand. There is always the possibility that some trivial and undeserving proceedings will be brought. However, the experience in other countries where spouses do have a right to an enforceable order during cohabitation suggests that there is no substantial danger in this. In the ordinary cases of everyday arguments about the household budget, it is not likely that the spouses, if their relationship is otherwise satisfactory, would even contemplate a resort to the law.

In the case, however, of a stubborn refusal by a spouse to give his family adequate maintenance, it seems only just that the other spouse should be enabled to protect the interests of the family—especially the children—by being entitled to take maintenance proceedings. We must concede the possibility that some trivial cases will be taken, but this is surely a worthwhile price to pay for the security the provision will afford in those cases where wives and children are at present being seriously neglected by the breadwinner of the family.

I have mentioned earlier that the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure recommended that "family default", rather than desertion, should be the basis of an order for maintenance. Their report, in paragraph 44, lists the situations in which it would be appropriate to provide for the grant of maintenance orders and in fact recommends that list as a definition of "family default". Having considered the matter fully, I believe the formula incorporated in section 4 (1) of the Bill, a formula which in effect is a shorter definition of family default, covers fully the same ground as that covered in paragraph 44. In other words, I am adopting the committee's recommendations in substance, even though not in the form suggested.

The second major change in the law which section 4 proposes is that both spouses, rather than, as at present, the husband alone, should be liable, so far as is proper, to maintain the family. Both the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure and the Commission on the Status of Women recommended this change in the law. By that I mean that they recommended it in general terms, but the particular way in which the Bill proposes that the principle should be enacted into law is another matter and one that, I think, deserves careful thought.

The basic principle that a married woman has, or at all events may have, a moral obligation in relation to the maintenance not only of her children but, where the need arises, her husband as well is one which most people accept. The problem arises when one attempts to translate that into an enforceable legal obligation. What precisely is to be the nature or level of that obligation and what is its relationship to the husband's obligation? Are we to look on the wife's obligation as in some way a secondary or subsidiary one, to be invoked or enforced by law only if and to the extent that the husband fails? If so, the law should attempt to give expression to this concept, difficult though it might be. Are we, on the other hand, to see the wife's obligation as being exactly similar to or equal to the husband's, and to be expressed in identical terms in the law? If so, there is no technical drafting problem, since one simply uses the same terminology in relation to the obligations of both spouses. This in fact is what the Bill does. But we should be clear as to the possible implications. If the wife's obligations are stated in the same terms as those of her husband, what happens if a wife's application for maintenance is met with the response: "I have no more obligation to her than she has to me. Let her find a job, just as I have to do"?

If anybody should think that this is fanciful, let me quote a leading American authority, Professor Kanowitz, who has said this:

Support obligations within the family cannot be considered in complete isolation from other legal and social phenomena. They are, for example, inextricably bound up with the matter of general employment opportunities for married women... The allocation of support obligations within the family is also profoundly influenced by the level of technological developments within any country—since it may directly affect the time required to perform, and thus the monetary value of, household tasks.

Obviously, the traditional type of family structure in this country involves the husband going out to work and the wife staying at home performing a wide range of activities in regard to the children and the home. Of the nature of things in this structure, it is generally the husband who will earn the money out of which the food and clothing are purchased. This is not, of course, to suggest for a moment that the household activities of the wife are of little significance even in the strictly financial sense—let any husband who doubts this see how much it costs to employ a housekeeper or a cook. The point is that, whilst of very great economic benefit to the family, the wife's activities in the home bring no tangible monetary income for the family. What should it mean, therefore, to impose a duty on a wife to maintain the family? Should it mean that she should be required to leave her home and take up work?

Is it possible for a statutory provision to lay down specific guidelines to the Court in this regard? As may be seen, these are very important questions which required very considerable analysis. Such analysis must also take into consideration changing views in Western countries regarding the role of married women and the increasing propensity of married women to stay in their jobs after they get married, and of course the possibility of further changes in the years ahead. One problem about drafting statutory provisions is that what may be good law for today may, in such a volatile area, very shortly be rendered unsatisfactory by shifts in social attitudes and practice.

As I have said, one possible solution would be to impose upon the wife a limited duty to maintain: for instance one limited specifically to cases based on the age or infirmity of her husband. This in fact appears to be the position in England. It is a defensible position but, for a start, it is one that still involves differentiation between the sexes and, besides, one can readily conceive of situations, even if a few in number, where such a formula would not yield a fair result.

The solution which I believe, after much consideration, to be the fairest and most practicable, is to entitle either spouse to apply to the Court for a maintenance order against the other spouse where the other spouse has not provided maintenance that is proper in the circumstances. In other words, the obligation on husband and wife is expressed in similar terms but it will be left to the Court to decide on its application. This is provided for in section 4. The Court, in determining whether the other spouse has provided proper maintenance, is required by subsection (4) of the section to have regard to all the circumstances of the case. Moreover, the Court is specifically directed to have particular regard to the income, earning capacity, property and financial resources of the spouses and children as well as to the financial and other responsibilities of the spouses towards each other and towards their children and the needs of the children including—and I would like to emphasise this—the children's need for care and attention.

Such a formula will thus require the Court to look not merely to the financial aspects of a family dispute about maintenance, but also to the non-financial aspects—the position of the children, their need for care and attention, and the responsibilities of the parents towards them. It would be a futile task to attempt to spell out in legislation these needs and responsibilities—obviously they will vary in each case depending on the individual circumstances. However, the specific reference to these non-financial aspects of family relationships, and in particular to the need of children for care and attention, is designed to ensure that a wife may perform her activities within the home with confidence that, in fulfilling such a function, she will, in the normal case, be doing something which the section envisages as discharging her obligations to the family.

It is necessary, however, to sound a note of caution here. Although the High Court and Circuit Court have under the Guardianship of Infants Act experience of maintenance applications which are based on a statutory provision which does not distinguish between husband and wife as regards their maintenance duties towards their children, it will be a new task for the District Court to make decisions in this area. I do not want to blur the significance of what is involved. A Court decision which determines what is the duty of the wife to maintain the family in an individual case involves, not just a factual assessment of the case, but at least some degree (and at times a substantial degree) of a value judgment on the part of the court as well. In the area of husband-wife relationships there are many points of view among the public—and presumably on the judicial bench—so the possibility of differing value judgments must be accepted as inherent in the proposals —and there is no way of avoiding it, other than by making rigid rules which, although they reduce judicial discretion and thus the scope for divergent views, would be liable to be inappropriate and to cause hardship in individual cases. In many legal areas and for a long time past disputes between citizens and indeed between citizens and the State had to be resolved by judicial decisions that were in effect value judgments. This is not a new legal dilemma and appellate courts have by and large satisfactorily removed citizens impaled on its horns.

One matter which is raised in general terms by section 4 of the Bill is the question of the duty to maintain children. The present law is that the deserting husband may be sued by his wife on behalf of herself and their children. The proposed provisions enable one spouse to take maintenance proceedings against the other spouse on behalf of himself or herself and children where the other spouse fails to provide proper maintenance for the family. The section, therefore, entrusts the "innocent" spouse with the task of representing the interests of the children in an action for maintenance against the defaulting spouse. I believe that this is the right approach, taking account of the general desirability of avoiding unnecessary "outside" intrusion on a family's affairs and taking account also of other legislation in being whereby children who are seriously neglected can be protected through the action of the local authority, legislation which incidentally is expected to be further strengthened in the near future. However, in certain exceptional cases, the Bill—in section 4 (1) (b)—provides that a third party may take proceedings against a parent on behalf of the children. These cases are where one parent is dead or in desertion or where the spouses have separated.

In such cases, it is not reasonable to assume that the children's interest would be protected—indeed, in the case where one spouse is dead the children would, if no third party action were permitted, be given no rights at all under the Bill. Much the same applies in cases of desertion or separation. I do, of course, recognise that there exists some slight risk that, for example, a widow bringing up her children in a perfectly reasonable and responsible way, and in the way she thinks right, may under this provision find herself hauled into court by an officious neighbour with other ideas on child-rearing. I believe that the risk is slight—the risk of frivolous proceedings is one which all citizens are exposed to—and, if it should happen, the court can be depended on to give short shrift to the complainant. I think it is an acceptable risk when set against the case, on grounds of humanity, for allowing a third party intervention to deal with a situation where the child has not a second parent to protect its interests and the surviving or remaining parent is not in fact properly caring for it.

I turn now to other aspects of section 4. Subsection (2) provides that the court is not to make a maintenance order for the support of a spouse where he or she is in desertion. This continues the common law rule. But it should be noticed, in this context, that "desertion" is defined in section 3 (1) to cover cases of "constructive" desertion, where one spouse by his or her conduct has made life so intolerable that the other spouse is justified in leaving the home.

Subsection (3) provides that, where an applicant spouse commits adultery which the other spouse condones, connives at or conduces to, then the adultery cannot be raised as a ground for refusing to make the order. If, however, the adultery has not been condoned, then the court has a discretion as to whether to refuse to make an order. This is a change from the present law whereby uncondoned adultery will always disentitle a wife to maintenance. It appears unduly harsh to condemn a spouse to a lifetime without maintenance simply on account of one act of adultery, irrespective of the circumstances which, perhaps, could include a previously long-established pattern in adultery by the other spouse.

Section 5 provides for cases where a maintenance order may be discharged or varied. It is drafted so as to protect the interests of the wife and children—and from now on I will refer to "wife" rather than "spouse" since I have explained the provision regarding the spouse's maintenance liabilities and the use of the word "wife," although strictly speaking it is inaccurate, will highlight the types of cases which will be likely to be affected by the other provisions of the Act, at all events for some time. Section 5 (3) contains a provision about condoned and uncondoned adultery in regard to discharge and variation on the same lines as the provision in section 4 in regard to the making of the maintenance order.

Section 6 enables the court to make an interim order in cases of need. It may be made without very much formality in regard to proof of a prima facie case since the aim of the section is to ensure that cases of need will be met quickly. To an extent this may be criticised as rough justice but desperate diseases require desperate remedies and the possibility of an unwarranted imposition upon a defendant under the section is likely to be minimal in contrast to the general benefit which the provision will confer on badly neglected wives and children.

I would like to place on record that in this regard the Bill does not give effect to the proposal by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure that interim orders should be directed against the local authorities who could then pursue the defaulting spouse for reimbursement. This proposal has not been accepted since it envisages that the public authorities would pay the actual amount of maintenance awarded by the court and not a standard rate of allowance. Whatever might be said in favour of such a proposal, it would inevitably mean discrimination in the distribution of public moneys between individuals based on a judgment in a private suit or, ultimately, on the wealth of the defaulting spouse. The local authorities are already able to provide assistance to families in need irrespective of any court order. A Bill placing the right to assistance (currently called home assistance) on a more secure statutory foundation is now at Committee Stage in the Dáil. Moreover, where a husband has deserted his family, the wife is entitled to an allowance from the local authorities.

Section 7 of the Bill has a twofold object. Firstly, it proposes to allow an agreement between a husband and wife relating, broadly speaking, to the financial rights and obligations of the spouses towards each other to be made a rule of court and enforceable as a judgment of the court either in the State or abroad. Secondly, it proposes that a provision in the agreement covering maintenance payments for the support of a spouse and dependent children of the family will, once the court order is made, be enforceable through the attachment of earnings procedure spelled out in Part III of the Bill.

I think that there is general agreement that, in so far as it can be achieved, the two partners in a marriage should settle their differences by agreement between themselves rather than in a court of law, where the ashes, so to speak, of their marriage will be raked over and over. The problem in regard to existing separation agreements is that they may be enforced only as contracts. Therefore, if one of the parties decides to renege on his or her promise, the injured party has to attempt to enforce the agreement as a contract, and this is particularly difficult where the defaulting party leaves the jurisdiction. It is also expensive.

Separation agreements cover a number of other matters in addition to maintenance of the spouse and dependent children, and enforceable rights may be conferred on children who are not dependent. All the rights and liabilities of the parties to the agreement and third parties who are children within the meaning of section 8 of the Married Women's Status Act, 1957, may be enforced as if the agreement were a judgment of a court. Where the agreement is made a rule of court it will, of course, continue to exist as an agreement. The reason for making it a rule of court is better to protect the rights of the spouses and the children by making them more easily and effectively enforceable. It is important to note that, before the agreement is made a rule of court, the High Court judge or the Circuit Court judge, as the case may be, must be satisfied that the agreement is a fair and reasonable one that protects the interests of the spouses and the dependent children.

Moreover, as I have already indicated, that part of the court order that relates to the maintenance of the spouse and the dependent children will be deemed to be a maintenance order for the purposes of enforcement by attachment of earnings. It will not be a maintenance order for other purposes. In other words, it may not be varied, unless the agreement specifically so provides. However, if, for example, a wife finds that what she is being allowed under the agreement is not sufficient or if her husband's financial circumstances alter for the better, there will be nothing to prevent her applying for a maintenance order in the ordinary way under section 4 of the Bill. In deciding whether to grant or refuse such an order, the court will, of course, have to take all the circumstances into account, including the fact that she is already receiving payments under the agreement as made a rule of court.

Before I leave this section, I should mention that an application to make a marital agreement a rule of court may be made by either spouse and that the application has to be made to the High Court or the Circuit Court. Under the Circuit Court (Registration of Judgments) Act, 1937, any judgment of the Circuit Court may be registered in the Central Office of the High Court in the same way as a judgment of the High Court and may also be registered as a judgment mortgage under the Judgment Mortgage (Ireland) Act, 1850. There are no similar provisions in regard to District Court judgments.

Turning now to section 8 of the Bill, this is a section designed to give practical assistance to a wife where a maintenance order is made. In the normal case it is envisaged in the section that the court will direct that the maintenance order is to be paid to the District Court Clerk for transmission to the wife. The advantage of this will be that the District Court Clerk will be able to supervise the payments by the husband under the order. By subsection (2) of section 8 he is entitled to take steps to recover arrears, by such method as he considers reasonable. This may be by way of an application for an attachment of earnings order. It could also, however, in appropriate cases, be under the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1940.

The court in certain cases will not direct that the payments should be made to the District Court Clerk. These are the cases where the wife asks for this not to be done and the court considers it proper not to do so. The whole section is without prejudice to the right of the wife to take proceedings for arrears.

One matter I should mention at this point is a recommendation of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure relating to official assistance to maintenance creditors. The recommendation is in page 16 of the report under the heading "Legal Aid Provisions" and is to the effect that a solicitor should be officially employed in Dublin to devote all his time pursuing default cases and that, outside Dublin, a corresponding service should be provided by the local State Solicitor. This recommendation is not being adopted, for the present at any rate, and for two reasons. The first is that, instead, the Bill proposes that the kind of service envisaged by the Committee should be provided by the District Court Clerk. There is practical experience of the operation of a somewhat similar kind of system in England and our information is that it has worked well. At all events, I believe that that is the right system to adopt at this point especially— and here I come to the second reason —because, as the House is aware, we have a Committee, presided over by Mr. Justice Pringle, investigating all aspects of legal aid in civil cases. I think it would be undesirable, as well as being unnecessary, to prejudge their recommendations.

I now move to Part III of the Bill which is concerned with attachment of earnings. I will not go into detail on the specific provisions, which are of a technical nature. The purpose of these provisions is to give better security to the wife, where the husband is in employment by enabling her, if he defaults on an order for maintenance, to obtain an order from the court requiring the employer to deduct a specified sum from the husband's earnings and to transmit the money to her.

It has been frequently pointed out in many countries that attachment of earnings does not yield very satisfactory results. The husband, by moving from job to job and sometimes from country to country, may be able to evade his full liabilities, at all events for some time. Moreover, of its nature, attachment of earnings can only apply to earnings and the procedure does not apply where the husband is self employed as, for instance, where he is a farmer.

Nevertheless, this is not a reason for rejecting the scheme before it has been given an opportunity to work. When considering the cases in which it will be called into operation by the courts, it must be remembered that there will also be an indeterminate number of cases which do not appear in any statistics since the very existence of the machinery has had the desired effect of encouraging the husband to pay on foot of the maintenance order.

Turning to some specific provisions in Part III, it is worth pointing out that the attachment of earnings machinery may be invoked, not only in regard to maintenance orders and rules of Court under section 8 of the Bill, but also on foot of affiliation orders, orders for maintenance under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 and alimony ordered under proceedings for a divorce a mensa et thoro. Section 15 is a provision designed to ensure that no difficulties will arise in regard to persons in the service of the State against whom a maintenance order is made. The section provides specifically how such a question is to be determined in various cases. Difficulties might otherwise be caused in determining who should be held responsible for deduction of payments.

Section 19 contains a double sanction. If the husband or his employer unreasonably fails to comply with the duties imposed by Part III and as a result the wife and children suffer loss, they may recover from the husband or employer, as the case may be, a sum representing what they have lost, or part of such sum as the court thinks proper. Moreover, certain wilful breaches by the husband or employer are made criminal offences by section 19 (2) and (3).

Part IV of the Bill contains a number of changes in a variety of areas. Section 20 provides that where a spouse gives the other a household allowance, then in the absence of any agreement to the contrary that allowance and any interest in property bought out of it will belong to the spouses jointly. To take a practical example: if a husband gives his wife £20 house-keeping money, then unless they agree otherwise, they will be joint owners of the £20. If, one week, the wife buys a kitchen clock out of the allowance, then both spouses will be joint owners of the clock. Under the present law, the husband would own the clock, since the money from which ti was bought is likely to be construed as his rather than partly his wife's.

Up to a point, this provision is based on an English provision introduced in 1964 which has been recommended for acceptance here by the Commission on the Status of Women. The English provision—section 1 of the Married Women's Property Act, 1964, reads—

If any question arises as to the right of a husband or wife to money derived from any allowance made by the husband for the expenses of the matrimonial home or for similar purposes, or to any property acquired out of such money, the money or property shall, in the absence of any agreement between them to the contrary, be treated as belonging to the husband and wife in equal shares.

This provision, however, has involved a number of problems of interpretation and has indeed been the subject of considerable criticism virtually from the time of its enactment. Partly for this reason, section 20 goes further than the English provisions, and it is hoped that all the major problems of interpretation affecting the English provision have been taken into account and resolved. The reform is a desirable if relatively limited one. It is not coercive, in that the spouses are free to agree on any kind of ownership of the household allowance or things bought out of it as they see fit. It is where they do not make any agreement that the provision will take effect.

Section 21 contains the important provision, recommended by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, that the court may, where there are reasonable grounds for believing that the safety or welfare of the other members of the family requires it, make an order excluding a spouse from the family home. The order is to last for such period as the court may specify and is to be supported by criminal sanctions. It is, of course, a drastic step to order a person—and we are speaking here normally of a man—to leave his own house. But it is a still more drastic alternative to permit a man who persistently batters his wife and children to be passively afforded facilities to continue to do so. A battered wife may, of course, invoke the criminal law, but there are frequently compelling reasons for her not to do so. The provision in section 21 should give the wife a greater degree of security and should, at least in some cases, remove the necessity for her to leave her own home, which is on occasions the only real alternative to ordering the husband out.

I turn now to the remaining provisions.

Section 23 raises the jurisdiction of the District Court in maintenance cases to £40 per week for a spouse and £10 per week for each child. These figures are high. Assuming that there are two children, the wife may take proceedings in the District Court seeking an order for £60 per week. Even in these days and even as a maximum this is a large amount, since the husband must be allowed to have money for his own maintenance and also pay tax. (Incidentally, section 23 makes all orders under the Act payable without deduction of tax.) The figures of £40 and £10 were recommended by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure.

Section 24 makes all proceedings under the Act private. This was also recommended by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. Here, once again, I think I should sound a note of caution. As the section shows, I accept the committee's recommendation and I think it is fully justified. The note of caution is directed at the problem that must arise sooner or later if we continue very far on the road towards making court proceedings private. Basically, the public interest requires that justice be seen to be done and, as part of the process, that it be administered in public. I think there is some danger of our sliding into a too ready acceptance that all sorts of proceedings should be in private. The scope for this approach is limited. I say this while being quite satisfied that what is proposed in this Bill is justified.

Section 26 makes a number of amendments in regard to affiliation proceedings. It extends (in paragraph (a) the limitation period for taking proceedings to two years from the birth of the child or longer in certain cases where the father has contributed to the maintenance or has been abroad. It raises the maximum amounts the District Court may award to £200 for apprenticeship or funeral expenses and £10 a week for the maintenance and education of the child. This is the same figure as that which the District Court can award under a maintenance order. I should stress here—because it tends to get forgotten—that the High Court has unlimited jurisdiction in maintenance and affiliation proceedings. Section 26 also confers privacy on affiliation proceedings.

One recommendation of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure which is not included in the present Bill is that relating to the protection of the family home where a maintenance order has been made. This is because the protection envisaged by the committee, which was necessarily limited by their terms of reference, related only to cases involving desertion and maintenance. I have been analysing the question of protection of the family home for some time and, on the basis of this, I recently submitted detailed proposals to the Government.

As a result, and as I have already said in a public statement, I was last week given authority by the Government to draft a Bill to give effect to these proposals. Drafting is now in progress and I hope to introduce the Bill during the coming session. There is, however, no way of anticipating what problems the drafting process will throw up. To rush out a Bill on the family home could involve a risk of grave injustice arising through some unperceived loophole and would be a highly irresponsible action on the part of a Minister or Government.

This brings me to the end of what I want to say by way of explanation of the main provisions of the Bill. I believe that the Bill provides a modern maintenance code which may be applied to all sections of our community with justice and humanity. At the same time, I am conscious of the fundamental importance of the changes which the Bill brings about and of the fact that, in passing the Bill, we shall in some respect be taking a step into the unknown. It is true, of course, that legislation can be amended but if legislation were to turn out to be seriously faulty, much damage could be done in many individual cases before remedial action could be taken. Besides, the process of amendment could itself be very difficult.

As I mentioned earlier, a great deal of discretion will be given to district justices and circuit judges throughout the country—as well, it is true, as the High Court, but the High Court has the advantage of being a centralised court, with greater opportunities for the judges to discuss their approaches to difficult problems. This may create difficulties and it is as well to face that fact frankly. There is no way of avoiding the problem of different judges or justices making different value judgments on family affairs and it is a necessary price to pay if we are to have a law that will be flexible and capable of responding to individual cases. Yet it is a price which we should be fully aware we are paying.

Before concluding, I think it right to say a few more words on a point I touched on at the beginning, that is, the criticisms that have been made of delay in the introduction of these proposals. I hope that what I have said in my comments on the Bill will go at least some way towards explaining the range of questions that arise on any Bill of this kind. The processes involved in the production of this or any similar Bill are long and complex—tedious if one cares to use that word—but, I am afraid, necessary.

They are necessary for at least two reasons. The first is that, however much the Government are assisted by reports or other recommendations— and I think I have shown how much assistance they have received in this instance—they cannot, even if they so wished, cast off any part of the responsibility which they, as a Government, must bear for the legislation they introduce. For this reason, all proposals must be fully analysed, the consequences examined, alternative ways of approach considered, observations of various Ministers sought, and the detailed results placed before the Government for their consideration and decision. In many cases these proposals involve extensions of or interpretations of recommendations made by a committee or commission. In other cases they may be additional proposals or, of course, alternatives. But, when all that work has been done, there is still the slow and difficult task of drafting to be done. This is the second of the two reasons I have mentioned why progress is inevitably slow.

I feel sure that when a Bill such as this appears, many people could look through it without giving a thought to the highly-skilled professionalism that goes into its production. But, even given the specialised skills of a professional draftsman, a draft Bill, unless it is of the simplest kind, almost always has to go through several drafts before it reaches the stage where it is sufficiently precise and accurate to be acceptable to the draftsman himself or ready to be presented for approval by the Government.

Moreover, the process of drafting and of examination of a draft invariably throws up several new questions for decision—questions that were not even adverted to earlier. The Bill now before the House is, in fact, the sixth draft. It might be alleged against me that “qui s'excuse s'accuse”, but I make these points not to excuse delay but to aver that there has been no delay.

This Bill has very significant legal and social implications for our society but after full and careful examination of these implications, I am satisfied they are for the benefit of our society and I commend this Bill to the House.

There will be no opposition to this Bill from Fianna Fáil. On the contrary the Bill is welcome because it incorporates many of the recommendations our party have been stressing over the past couple of years. That does not mean that there is an absence of criticism of the provisions of the Bill. In many ways it goes no further than to make piecemeal provision for many of the pressing problems in the area of family law reform. It would appear that the Minister has approached the whole question by adding a few pounds here and there to former statutory allowances and that he has shrunk from facing the more basic problems which are the cause of such widespread concern.

Repeatedly over the past few years our party have pressed for the introduction of new and updated family courts removed from the courtroom atmosphere of the Four Courts building. We have pressed for the introduction of free legal aid for civil cases, more particularly in the case of matrimonial matters. We have urged the need for conciliation services and informal hearings at which parties to matrimonial disputes may attempt to resolve their differences without the necessity for wigs and gowns and solemn rules of evidence. Unfortunately this Bill shows no signs of giving recognition to the need for these new structures and institutions and must be regarded, therefore, as disappointing.

It would be regrettable if the Government's whole approach in this field were just to throw out a few scraps here and there under pressure from reform groups of one sort or another in an effort to appease and mollify them without tackling the more basic issues involved. It has been said in certain quarters that the Bill is sexist in nature and that it is female rather than male oriented. It would be wrong to have legislation which would produce a situation where one sex was to be set off against the other.

In changing social conditions our party's view is that the mutuality of responsibility in the modern marriage must be stressed and must be clearly reflected in legislation. Many people reading this Bill may feel they are witnessing a further example of male persecution, although this is not a view to which I subscribe. Nevertheless it would be unfortunate if that impression were created. The Bill could usefully have incorporated some provisions which would allay such fears.

The reality of the legislation is that in 99.9 per cent of all cases this is a form of redress which will be availed of by wives only. No one has ever seriously urged the creation of a deserted husband's allowance. However, it is true to say that, in some ways the law having been directed as it was in one direction for many generations, may now swing too far in the reverse direction. For this reason the Bill could usefully have incorporated in it a provision whereby a deserted husband would no longer be liable for his wife's debts where she has deserted the family home. At present he may still have a liability in law for debts contracted by her after leaving the family home, unless he makes a public statement to the contrary.

There will be no opposition from our party to this Bill. However, it is open to criticism in several important respects. Section 4, subsection (3) states:

(3) Where the applicant spouse has committed adultery, then—

(a) if the other spouse has condoned or connived at, or by wilful neglect or misconduct conduced to, the adultery, the adultery shall not be a ground on which the Court may refuse to make a maintenance order for the support of the applicant spouse.

This provision formed no part of the 19th Interim Report on Court Practice and Procedure. Some explanation should be forthcoming for the introduction of such a provision. If the Government take the view, as my party does, that the family, based on marriage, is to remain the bedrock of society should what would undermine this situation be incorporated in such legislation? This provision seems to make possible a situation where a husband, initially in default, is required to pay maintenance and continue to do so notwithstanding subsequent acts of adultery or adulterous affair with a third party who, in all probability, may be affording some measure of support to the applicant's spouse.

While in no way opposing the provisions for maintenance and support of dependent children of the family, notwithstanding adultery on the part of either spouse, it seems to be a different matter to suggest that adultery is a factor of no significance to be taken into account in such cases although some measure of discretion may be left to the court in the matter.

Further clarification of the provision contained in section 20 is also necessary. As presently drafted it seems that this provision could mean almost anything. It seems to indicate the introduction of the concept of community of property within marriage which has been welcomed in many quarters and which the Fianna Fáil Party group has been giving attention to. However, if this is the intention we should be made aware of it.

The working of the section seems too narrow, and seems to limit the community of property to household expenses and property or interest in property acquired out of such allowances, which seem rather vague and unsatisfactory. Section 12 of the Married Women's Status Act presently provides a form of redress for married women to claim a share in the matrimonial home where they have contributed to the purchase price or contributed to its furnishings and maintenance. In England recently the view was taken, in the absence of separate financial provisions being made by the wife, that by her work as a housewife and mother she does attain a share in the family home and in its contents. These decisions would seem to show an awareness and determination by the courts there to develop the community of property concept further. I should like the Government, and the Minister, to make his intentions clear on this topic as it is a matter of considerable significance and considerable litigation in the courts.

I would be interested to hear from the Minister the reason why the recommendations of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in relation to immediate relief by means of an interim order payable by the local authority has not been included in this Bill.

I dealt with that point and the three preceding points the Deputy has raised in my speech.

If the Minister did I would excuse him, but the length of his brief and the speed at which he read it did not make it easy for a Member to assimilate all it contained.

Section 6 provides it, and the Deputy has had that for a week.

On the question of illegitimate children and the provision in section 26 I wonder whether the Bill represents the furthest limit of the Government's commitment in the case of illegitimate children, or is further reform proposed? Many have stressed the need for the removing of the stigma of illegitimacy from innocent children, of doing away completely, as happened in New Zealand, with the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children. I realise that difficult problems arise in considering this matter, but there is no excuse for failing to undertake the challenge these problems offer. The need for genetic test to establish paternity and the reform of the laws of evidence in these cases has also been urged in many quarters. Nothing appears in this Bill in relation to these and allied problems.

The Bill seems to represent a simple reaction by the Minister to pressure in a most negative way. It is piecemeal in character and has failed to seize the imaginative opportunities now open to introduce and to bring forward new structures to deal with problems of family law reform and, in particular, the setting up of a modern deinstitutionalised family court system properly funded by free legal aid in appropriate cases. I hope to have the opportunity between now and Committee Stage to consider some amendments to the Bill.

I welcome this Bill which breaks new ground in many areas and provides for some of the reforms which women's organisations and groups concerned with family law have been pressing for. The main aims of the Bill are to amend the law relating to family maintenance; to introduce a system of attachment of the earnings of defaulting spouse of maintenance debtors; to amend certain aspects of the law relating to affiliation proceedings; to enable the courts to order violent spouse from the family home, and the creation of joint ownership of savings from the household budget. The Bill is based on the recommendations of the Report of the Commission on the Status of Women and on the 19th Interim Report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure.

It is a step towards the fulfilment of this Government's programme of social reform, and it has been hastened by the persistent, articulate and understandable demands of women's organisations in recent times. The Report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure was published on 12th February, 1974, and the Report of the Commission on the Status of Women in December, 1972. While this measure is welcomed by all women it is, nevertheless, an area in which we cannot afford to be complacent. The speed of progress does not permit of complacency. Even after the passage of this Bill the whole area of women's rights will leave much to be desired.

For some time we have been seeking a measure of this kind. As the Minister pointed out legislation on any subject can be difficult but knowing the depth of discrimination and the injustices that exist against women in our society, injustices which had the force of all the laws passed for perhaps hundreds of years, any measure of this nature would require consideration in depth and also a considerable amount of backroom work before being presented to the House. In this context the Bill is before us at an appropriate time. We are approaching the end of one of the busiest sessions the Dáil has ever experienced, but we will now have the opportunity of studying the small print of the Bill during the Recess. I appreciate the part the Minister has played in bringing the Bill before us at this time. No doubt those organisations concerned with women's rights will study the Bill and will suggest recommendations to the Minister before the next stage of the Bill is reached.

I welcome in particular the proposed amendment of the existing law which renders the failure of either spouse to provide for the reasonable maintenance of the family the basis of an order for maintenance. This provision is in accordance with both the reports to which I have referred. The other Acts in this area were the 1886 Act which was amended by the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1940, and the Courts Act of 1971. The House will agree that down through the years our legislators did not concern themselves unduly with the question of women's rights, but the pace is quickening and I trust that this trend will continue in the immediate future. In all the Acts to which I have referred reference was to a married woman who was deserted by her husband. This gave no redress to the woman who had to leave home because of violence or some other reason or to the woman who had to endure such conditions within the home because there was no place else for her to go. The courts got round this difficulty by evolving the concept of constructive desertion, but there are yet wives and children living in conditions of deprivation because they are afraid or perhaps, ashamed, to seek redress.

The Report of the Commission on the Status of Women describes the situation of the partners in marriage down through the years. They say at paragraph 444 of the Report:

There is a presumption in law that where a husband and wife are living together, the wife has authority to contract on his behalf in all matters concerning the supply of necessaries for the husband, herself and the household. The goods and services so contracted for must be suitable in kind, sufficient in quantity and necessary in fact according to the conditions in which the husband chooses his wife and family shall live. In deciding what are necessaries of life, the criterion is not primarily the husband's means but the standard at which he decides his family shall live. Where the husband supplies the wife with necessaries or with the money to buy them he has the power to cancel the authority of his wife to contract on his behalf or to pledge his credit.

The Commission say at paragraph 445:

It has been represented to us that the position outlined in paragraph 444 can, and sometimes does, give rise to considerable hardship on the wife and that she is far from being placed on an equal footing with her husband. While her husband is alive the work she does in the home does not give her any real economic status within the home whereas the work performed by the husband outside the home puts him in the position of forcing his wife, if he so chooses, to live at the very lowest economic level. The day's work of a housewife looking after children at home is fully committed to the purposes of the family and the Constitution recognises this. The day's work of the husband in earning an income is on the other hand, in the eyes of the law, committed to the purposes of the family only to the limited extent outlined above. He has the right to profit fully from his wife's work at home. She, in the eyes of the law, can claim from the profits of his work only necessaries plus such further addition to the family's standard of living as he—not she— may decide.

The report goes on to say at paragraph 446 that:

How husbands and wives manage their family affairs is normally a matter for themselves alone.

This is not argued by anybody. This paragraph continues:

But the law has to make assumptions about what is to happen when things go wrong and the case comes into court. We consider that the Common Law position as outlined in paragraph 444 can discriminate against wives. With a view to improving this position, we recommend that in future the legal obligations to support the family should rest on both husband and wife according to their means and capacity. In the event of any dispute coming before the courts it shall be for the courts to decide whether reasonable arrangements have been made between the husband and wife as to the disposal of the family income in respect of (a) their current standard of living and (b) provision for the domestic home, family emergencies and old age.

The Minister has accepted that recommendation on the basis on which it was founded. This point was made also by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. We are happy that the dignity of the wife within the home has been recognised and that she has been placed on an equal footing with her husband by reason of this measure to an extent which has not existed up to now. Previous legislation tended to provide for a wife on the departure or the death of her husband but not to provide for her during the husband's lifetime.

I welcome, too, the provision for the making of interim maintenance orders in cases of pressing need and I trust that, in the first instance, the procedure for the granting of these orders will be straightforward and would be capable of being effected with the minimum delay. This point is of vital importance and I am glad to note that it will be for the District Court Clerk to enforce these maintenance orders.

In this context I take this opportunity of paying tribute to the AIM organisation and, in particular, to Mrs. Nuala Fennell for their almost single-handed effort in providing refuge centres for women who are forced to leave their homes because of violence. In the absence of interim maintenance orders the problem was that even in the lead-up to legal action, if such were available, a spouse would have been afraid to take the initial steps towards redress because of fear of the repercussions of any such action being worse than what she had endured already. Those who provided shelter centres for such women played a vital role in this area. Perhaps there is still a need for them. The Minister may tell us what is to be the time-limit with regard to the making of an interim maintenance order. In extreme situations we cannot allow time to lapse.

In his full and comprehensive brief the Minister referred to the limits of the jurisdiction of this Bill. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure recommended 17 months ago the same amounts as the Minister now recommends, that is, a limit of £40 for a wife and £10 for each child. I agree with the Minister that that is a lot of money, but he does not appear to have made provision to have that changed by Ministerial Order. I would regard that as a desirable inclusion in the Bill, because what might appear to be a lot of money today, particularly in these times of rampant inflation, in very few years time may not be such a considerable amount of money at all. We must bear in mind the principle that each spouse must provide for the other in accordance with their means and circumstances rather than in accordance with the standards they arbitrarily decide the spouse or dependents ought to adhere to.

I come now to the question of attachment of earnings which is a long-sought, very necessary innovation and certainly to be welcomed. Where an employer is in existence it will operate in the form of a direction to him in respect of a maintenance debtor to deduct the specified amount at source. It will operate only where a defaulting spouse has failed in his or her duty, without excuse, under the relevant antecedent order. Up to now the only solution was to be found if the defaulting spouse could be got or imprisoned, which was not a very satisfactory remedy so far as the dependent family was concerned. It was likely to lead to loss of employment, jeopardise the chances of employment in the future and leave the dependent family worse off in the long run. These attachment earnings will not constitute a solution in all cases, which the Minister has readily admitted. Indeed one might make the case that while it is a welcome innovation there is the example to be found in Great Britain where it has been shown that approximately 25 per cent of cases only brought before the courts could be advanced further because of switching from jobs and so on. This might not present such a problem here, although one could envisage its presenting quite a considerable one. We have a large number of deserted spouses and children of deserted spouses whose cases would not be met by the provision of attachment of earnings orders. The Minister has not accepted the recommendation of the 19th Interim Report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure which maintains that the State should assume responsibility in providing for the non-maintained family. The Minister's brief explains why this has not been done. He maintains that public moneys could not be spent to a greater degree on those of better means; that there ought to be an equation in the amounts of public moneys spent on all cases.

On the other hand we anxiously await the coming into operation of the Social Welfare Bill because we are aware that quite a number of deserted wives and families will still be dependent for assistance on that Bill; that maintenance orders will not be enforceable in quite a number of cases.

There are other provisions also in relation to the attachment of earnings which may require some tightening, such as, for example, the penalty for non-compliance by employers, particularly bearing in mind an Irish spouse— because we are very slow to split on one another—with collusion between employer and employee with regard to earnings; where a spouse could conceal overtime or other fringe benefits. There is also, of course, the problem of the defaulting spouse who is self-employed and for which there does not seem to have been any provision made in the Bill. In that respect there is also the question of maintenance debtors who are recipients of social welfare benefit. That is a point that has been made to me frequently, sometimes from most unusual sources, from people who have not perhaps addressed themselves to the whole problem but who feel that, with regard to social welfare benefits, there ought to be provision for the payment of at least the dependant's portion to the wife, particularly in cases such as those for whom this Bill is designed to cater. There has been no provision made which would enable the wife, in such cases, to be paid directly the dependant's portion of the social welfare benefit. If I am correct in this, I should ask the Minister to insert a clause to that effect in this Bill.

Part IV, Section 20 of the Bill relates to the savings on household expenses. That is common justice and the least for which we could settle. The former provisions in regard to savings in the household budget were cruel in the extreme to the dependent spouse. I am very glad that the Minister has corrected that injustice in this Bill.

Section 21 deals with the barring of a violent spouse from the home. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure highlighted the need for this, on the grounds of physical or mental cruelty or other misconduct prejudicial to the welfare of the other spouse or the children. This is a very welcome development and one to which one must have recourse in the extreme cases to which we are referring. We have known of cases where spouses— in my experience, always wives—have been terrified of taking any action, or have found themselves totally unable, whether for want of courage, finance or something else, to cope with the situation in which they found themselves. One found also that any short-term solution—because of the nature of the problem of the defaulting spouse —was not sufficient, and that total barring of the offending spouse from the family home was necessary in such extreme cases. The Minister has, quite rightly, included such cases in this Bill.

The Minister has referred to his reservations about the reference of petty cases to the courts. I do not think he need worry on that score. I do not think that militance displayed by women, particularly those who have been the subject of abuses we seek to redress in this Bill, are likely to present a threat for a very long time to come. Indeed that would be my answer also to Deputy G. Collins who was worried about male persecution. There is a lot of ground to be covered, and neither this Bill nor others which I hope will follow, aiming at giving women basic civil rights, will get us to the stage where we have to worry about male persecution or the need for a charter on rights for males in society. This has gone on for several hundreds of years and it would take a considerable volume of legislation, even with the new thinking we are experiencing at present, to redress the situation.

If I may come back to the question of the barring of violent spouses from the family home, I wonder why the Minister has decided to limit the period to three months and why, in all cases, he has sought to make another order necessary after three months. I agree with him that nobody wants to discourage reconciliation or do anything that would drive a deeper wedge between the parties concerned, but there will be cases where three months will not be sufficient and where the need for a new order every three months will impose hardship on the creditor. Perhaps it would be possible to have it more open-ended and leave it to the courts to decide in each case.

The Minister has dealt quite adequately with subsection (2) of section 24. We all welcome his decision that these proceedings should be in private, that there should be no public display of family differences or disputes and that, so far as possible, all of the proceedings should be in chambers.

The Minister and Deputy Collins referred to the illegitimate children affiliation orders. It appears that there are some forms of discrimination in this Bill against illegitimate children. It may be that the Minister has another measure in mind but my criticism of this Bill is that no provision has been made for the introduction of blood testing and there is no right conferred on the illegitimate child with regard to succeeding to his father's estate. I realise that another measure dealing with this subject is needed but I also realise that the present distinctions are highlighted by the references to them in this Bill.

Under the law the obligation of the putative father to maintain his illegitimate child ceases at 16 years, except where the child is mentally or physically disabled. Under the 1930 Act the father is obliged to pay apprenticeship fees and funeral expenses—these are not required nowadays.

In the present Bill the Minister is proposing that the dependant of a legitimate union will be entitled to be maintained while the child is in full-time education, up to university level. No such provision is made for the illegitimate child and this perpetuates a discrimination against such children.

The Minister referred to the importance of education. This is the most important factor in giving young people a basic start in life and here we should not allow discrimination to continue between legitimate and illegitimate children. I would ask the Minister to reconsider this matter. If this is not the appropriate Bill in which to deal with these matters, I would ask him to consider the problem and to bring further legislation before the House to redress the imbalance against the illegitimate child.

This is a Bill of rights and remedies for those people in dire need in our society, people who are in total dependence. This measure will rectify a number of wrongs but without a system of free legal aid it will not be truly operative. The ideal situation would be one where free legal aid and advice would be available. Advice should be available in every city and town and it should be provided on a discreet, informative basis. If this were available many of the cases that come before the courts or which cause hardship and distress could be avoided. It is vital that the means be available to ease tension before it develops too far. At the moment such advice is not available and I am sure the Minister will consider this aspect in future legislation.

The question of free legal aid is extremely important. I am aware that a committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Pringle are considering this matter in connection with civil cases and the Minister referred to this. The terms of reference of the committee were "to consider whether it would be desirable and possible to develop as a matter of urgency a system of legal advice centres and legal aid in certain categories of cases which the committee considered merited immediate consideration."

There are no more pressing cases for immediate consideration than the cases this Bill is designed to deal with. We will be dealing with people, many of whom will be totally defenceless, with no material wealth, and who cannot afford to seek any form of legal redress unless it is available totally free. I realise that a report of this magnitude will take some time but I would urge on the Minister the need to stress to the committee the urgency of bringing in an interim report to cover the specific question of legal aid in regard to family law. If this were done it would help many people.

This legislation is not the panacea for the ills in our society. It is not the ultimate answer for those who are living in family conditions that are far from ideal but it is a big step in the right direction. If I am tuned into the mood of the people, particularly to the mood of the women's organisations, if I am right in my estimation of the will of the Government to introduce social legislation, the rate at which we will consider such matters will not be once every 30, 40 or 50 years as has been the case hitherto. Bills of this kind will be introduced regularly into this House codifying family law and bringing it up to date, as well as measures aimed at giving women their rightful place in society. The mood is right and the demand is there. If the Government wish they can ensure justice for people generally, for both spouses in a marriage and particularly for women in Irish society.

Our spokesman, Deputy Collins, reminded me that we should pay tribute to the many groups that were involved in making representations not only to the Minister and the Government but to our own party. We should also acknowledge the many meetings attended by groups such as AIM, CARE, ADAPT and also the Catholic Bishops' Social Welfare Conference. All these groups played some part in getting this legislation before the House. The Bill is limited. I am sure the Minister would be first to agree that it does not go as far as he would like but at least it is some progress.

I can appreciate that the Minister must have had many difficulties in drafting legislation like this, particularly where he is so dependent on judges to administer and interpret fairly the meaning behind the Bill. The Minister has referred to this aspect. On many occasions I have referred to the need for special courts to handle marriage cases. I have done this both inside and outside the House at every opportunity possible. All such cases should be heard in camera. The Minister has said they will be given privacy. I endorse that. I would like to see special courts in which we would have judges specialising in marriage problems. It is very important that cases are heard quickly and that no backlog is allowed to build up causing people to wait a long time for their cases to be heard. Interim measures are not satisfactory although sometimes they are necessary. I would like to see a situation in which there would be a real family court in which these things could be thrashed out, not in the formality of a courtroom with wigs and gowns but in an informal atmosphere.

I should like to ask the Minister whether a man can sue for maintenance. A wife may be in a very lucrative executive position. She may rise rapidly on the executive ladder and leave her husband behind. She may then tend to look down on him and she may strike up a liaison with somebody who is more within the circle of people in which she moves. The husband may even then become unemployed and the children may be neglected. The wife may have an income in excess of £5,000. Many women earn this amount and more. What we are all concerned about are the children. This legislation should be to protect first and foremost the children.

The Minister said that where both parents are neglecting the children a third party may report this. I would welcome this. A group of children from, say, the age of ten to the age of 18 months, may be left in a house on their own while the parents go off drinking. This should be made an offence. I know this is a frequent occurance in many houses in Dublin. Occasionally we read in our newspapers that a fire has taken place and that youngsters have been burned to death or maimed for life because the parents happen to be out. This is something the Minister should look at because it is very much a part of family law. Deputy Haughey has told me that a man may sue his wife for maintenance under this Bill and I am glad to hear that.

We have had a lot of publicity on this subject recently. We have heard people expressing all sorts of views— some extreme, others not. I think many of the organisations who are concerned for a change in the law would recognise that many of the comments they get are from people who have genuine chips on their shoulders, who have suffered under the law as it exists and tend to go to the extreme. However, I believe the recommendations that have been put before the Minister have been most important.

I should like to bring to the Minister's attention an article in the Cork Examiner of July 21st. It is entitled “Undermining Male Dominance”. I quote:

Let us hope that the Oireachtas debate on this Bill will be a rational one, for there are some provisions in it that could be improved upon. It sets out maximum maintenance allowances of £40 per week for a wife and £10 for a child. These are generous but there are countless examples in our legislation of how unwise it is in such inflationary days to fix maxima.

This scale would enable a wife with four children to have £80 a week stopped from her husband's wages. That could leave him a choice between going back to her or starving; an interesting variation on the shotgun marriage and no formula for wedded bliss. Much more satisfactory would be the provision that wife and children were entitled to a fixed percentage of a man's net income.

That is an astute observation. I understand from Deputy Collins that it is our intention to table an amendment to that effect. I hope the Minister will see his way to accept it.

There would be difficulties of the jurisdiction of the court. The High Court has unlimited jurisdiction and can deal with the problems raised by that Article.

Perhaps this is something we could examine to see whether we could get around it because there are many things in the Bill which will, no doubt, be challenged by legal authorities from time to time. A person could apply to the High Court if it is not within the jurisdiction of the District Court. It seems more reasonable that a percentage of the income should be paid over. Where a man is in receipt of pay-related benefit or the dole and his payments are based on the number of children he has I assume there is a catch in this and that he cannot collect it solely for his own use. I would ask the Minister to confirm that that is the case.

Because of the length of the Minister's speech and the time we had to study it it is difficult to make any other suggestions in relation to it. I should like to stress the need for the judges to undergo some sort of training course. I should like District Court justices in particular to be brought together for a seminar or something to bring them up to date but I would prefer to see specialists dealing with this in what I would call an out-of-court atmosphere.

I believe wholeheartedly that the vast majority of marriages in this country are happy. While listening to the injustices that occur in a large number of marriages which are broadcast on the radio day after day, one wonders if there are any happy marriages. I have no doubt that the majority of marriages are happy. I do not think this legislation will interfere in any way with secure and happy marriages, or that women will suddenly recognise, "I am in a situation I never realised I was in before. I can take the ‘hubby' to court and get him to give me not my housekeeping money but my salary". I do not think that situation is going to arise. I welcome this legislation.

I am glad of an opportunity to speak on this very fine Bill, which is very technical. I do not intend to go into the technical aspect of it. I will leave that to the legal luminaries of the House. This Bill has a number of social implications. We were all hoping and seeking that this was social legislation. Speakers said this was a sexist Bill, that it was swinging over to the side of the female. This is ridiculous. This Bill quite clearly lays out that both sides can sue. There is no problem there. I would say that it does not go far enough on one side. Woman is a very vulnerable person in our society, particularly the housewife who stays at home looking after the children and devoting her life to rearing a family. If her husband is a bully or abusive, she is in a very vulnerable situation. Legislation to protect the married woman should be brought in. This is a start to making women equal in our society. For too long they were regarded as being there to rear the family and had very little right beyond that.

I welcome the Bill because I am old-fashioned enough to think that the woman who stays at home and looks after the family, is making a tremendous contribution in our society. We are always talking about the family unit, and the home is the bedrock of our society. We paid lip service to it but never gave any consideration to the woman who works literally 16 hours a day for her family. While this Bill clearly indicates that both sides can sue, the purpose and the motive behind it is to ensure that the woman can and will have a course open to her to get money to rear her family. Speakers mentioned that the courts were very informal. We would all agree on that. I would also like to see, before the court situation, a greater emphasis on marriage counselling and advice centres for that purpose. In other words, there are many cases where women run into trouble with their husbands—battered wives particularly—and they do not know where to turn. They are demoralised. They are up against it in every way. The thought of courts and the law is above them at that stage. They should be able to go to a marriage counsellor to discuss their problems and get the necessary advice and guidance on how to approach them. These people are naturally psychologically upset. How any of these badly beaten and unfortunate housewives retain their sanity is a mystery. That is why we must operate this Bill in a humane way. It is not enough to put something in the statute books and say that everything is nice; she has recourse to this, that or the other. It must be made easy, properly explained and advertised at all levels to ensure that people whose marriages are breaking down and where the children are suffering as a result of lack of finance know where and to whom they can go for help.

It has been said that this Bill was not going far enough in many ways. In my view it is going quite a distance. Ordering a person out of their own home is a very significant step forward and I support it. If somebody wants to wreck the family home the only thing to do is put him outside the door and not let him back. This is a drastic step, and indicates the Minister's sincerity and determination to do something about the problems in our society.

We heard some talk about illegitimate children. It is a particularly sore point with me that there should be any such thing as a "legitimate" or "illegitimate" child in this day and age. Why an innocent party has to be branded the day it is born is beyond my comprehension. I admit there may be legal problems here. Who comes first, the individual or the legalities of any matter? To differentiate between children at any age is immoral. That is a problem we will have to tackle eventually. When children come into the world they are equal. There should not be any discrimination. I have always felt very strongly about this.

How long will it take to get an attachment order? When people are in trouble and the husband moves off, or is not handing up any money, we will have to devise a system which we can operate quickly and effectively. Could the State bear the cost of this, until it is sorted out, on a regular basis? Then they can surcharge a person against whom an attachment order was being made out. There is always this waiting period. There is a Bill being introduced which will take the stigma out of home assistance. It will be a supplementary welfare benefit and that will represent a big step in the right direction as far as I am concerned.

When orders are made, I am not too happy. If men can hop from job to job, how can you get at them? Laws incapable of implementation are not good laws. We all want to ensure that this law works and that the wife and children get their money every week. Together with an order of attachment there could be some sort of endorsement on social welfare cards so that if men move from job to job the endorsement will follow. An argument against that would be that those who do not stamp cards would be able to evade that situation. We will have to exercise our minds in this regard. I accept that, no matter what Bill we introduce, people will find ways around its provisions. I am concerned that job hopping should be minimised as far as possible. If some endorsement can be put on insurance cards, or on references, or on whatever other documents they might carry from job to job that would ensure the employer would be aware of the attachment order and the necessary deductions made. When a man moves from one job to another the PAYE people catch up with him. There is no reason why an attachment order should not catch up with a man also. That is something we must concern ourselves with otherwise this legislation will not be very meaningful and the person hopping from job to job will be just laughing at us.

Somebody mentioned the attachment of social welfare earnings. That is obviously something that can be done, and done quite easily, since it is the State that makes the payment here. It is important that the allowances go automatically to the wife and children. I suppose these should go as a matter of right irrespective of what the situation is. Certainly where there are problems they should be paid to the wife and children. As I said earlier, I am happy with this Bill. It is a rather technical Bill and I do not profess to understand all the technicalities. I realise it has to be of a technical nature. It should not be, and hopefully will not be, another harvest for the legal people to garner; technical Bills very often lead to some people making a great deal of money at the expense of others. This is something that must be avoided at all costs.

I support the Bill. I am under no illusions. This Bill is introduced to protect the wife in particular. There may be the odd man who will have to sue, but I think that will be the exception. I am concerned about the woman who is doing a first-class job but is the unwitting victim of our male chauvinist society, and some of the comments here this evening clearly indicate that that element still exists which seeks always to protect the male. The male is well able to protect himself. He has been doing it for centuries. It is high time the situation was redressed. I see this Bill as a partial redress. Women have a fundamental right to protection against irresponsible husbands, brutes who have no concern for their wives and their families. This will give women new hope. Fortunately, we have basically reasonably happy family units but, because of the pressures that are daily around us, there are now greater problems occurring and marriages tend to be under greater stress than ever before. This is another reason why this Bill is timely and necessary.

I compliment the Minister. He had people criticising him for not bringing this Bill in earlier. Realising what a complex piece of legislation it is one can well understand why it took time and study. I hope this Bill is but the first step in a code of legislation for the protection of women. If we find defects in this Bill we can correct them. If it does not measure up to what we want we will not hesitate to come back and make the changes necessary to ensure the Bill works in the direction in which this party is working, namely, towards a just society.

This Bill is, of course, welcome. I have no doubt that, in this House and outside it, it will be widely welcomed for what it does. It certainly is an important and significant step forward. It must also be recognised that it will necessarily give rise to fairly widespread disappointment. Undoubtedly it introduces a limited number of useful and welcome reforms and it is, perhaps, not unnatural that in our discussion of the Bill we should look principally at those reforms and improvements. However, we must also take a fairly broad view of the Bill and its proposals. Let us not just confine ourselves to welcoming the improvements and reforms with a sense of relief. Offhand, I can think of at least ten homes in my own constituency where these proposals, once they become law, will have an immediate welcome beneficial impact. I know in a number of homes in my constituency I was glad to be able to tell the persons concerned that this Bill was being brought before the Dáil. We must recognise that what is proposed here will undoubtedly have very useful and beneficial results in a number of cases.

In the 19th Interim Report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, which was issued in February, 1974, the nature and extent of this problem of desertion and maintenance was outlined fairly clearly, or rather the need for maintenance as a result of desertion. Perhaps the best thing I could do at this stage is to quote from the committee's report. In the introduction they say:

Because of the magnitude and nature of the task, and because of the urgency of the problem of desertion the committee decided to make the desertion of wives and children and the attachment of wages the subject matter of this our Nineteenth Interim Report.

That is a very important statement by the committee, indicating how seriously they regard this social evil both in its urgency and in the extent to which it prevails. The report goes on to say:

Desertion is not a new social problem. However, in recent years its existence as a growing social evil has come to be recognised, as has the need to do something to alleviate the hardship it causes. Statistics of any kind relating to the subject are difficult to come by. In the first three years of operation of the Department of Social Welfare's "Deserted Wife's Allowances", approximately 4,500 claims were submitted. This figure may well represent only the worst cases. Many of the bodies working in this field which submitted memoranda to this committee have expressed the belief that desertion is on the increase in Ireland. We have no reason to doubt this.

The committee were quite satisfied that there was a widespread and urgent social problem, that it was increasing, and that there was a vital need to do something about it.

The Minister has already paid tribute to that committee for the work they have done in this and other fields and I am very glad to be able to join in that commendation. Their report in this regard has been supported by a number of other dedicated voluntary organisations working in this field. They have all, clearly and insistently, brought out the message that something needed to be done urgently. Any Deputy who attends to his constituency matters is also conscious of the importance and urgency of the problem and of the need for action in regard to it.

It is important that we should have time to examine this legislation in some detail. The Minister, to some extent, was on the defensive about the delay in bringing forward this legislation. Deputies on all sides of the House have been pressing for this legislation. Nevertheless, now that it has come before the House, there is nothing to be lost by our taking some time over Committee Stage and going very carefully into the procedures and mechanisms which the Minister has incorporated in the Bill and bringing our combined experience and knowledge of these affairs to bear on them to see if we can improve them.

One point which immediately strikes me is the reliance on the District Court clerk as a very important mechanism in the process. The Minister's argument in favour of that reliance on the District Court clerk was not very trenchant, to say the least of it. The Minister seemed to be saying: "Well it has worked fairly well in Britain and we do not see any reason why we should not try it here and experiment with it until such time as we find out whether it is effective." When we come to Committee Stage that is one aspect of this legislation which we should look at very carefully: this reliance on the District Court clerk as a vehicle for making payments in certain circumstances.

Another aspect of the legislation which will command attention is the Minister's rejection of the recommendation by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure that the local authority be brought into the situation, and that pending the full execution of the court orders on the defendant spouse, the local authority make payments to the needy spouse and children and that the obligation be placed on the local authority to recoup that expenditure from the maintenance debtor, as he is referred to in the legislation. When we get to the details of the Bill, these are aspects which we will need to examine very closely. Also, we will need to examine the whole attachment procedures.

I agree with the other Deputies who adverted to an aspect of this situation which is of vital importance, that is, the difficulty of catching up with the absconding spouse. This is a very real difficulty. I am not sure that in the proposals the Minister has brought before us this difficulty is dealt with adequately. In many cases, this is, perhaps, the most important aspect of the desertion and maintenance problem, the need to ensure and the difficulty of ensuring that the absconding spouse can be made amenable to the orders of the court. That situation has different aspects. The aspect most commonly adverted to is the case where the spouse who has a duty to maintain the other spouse and the children, decamps to a foreign country and difficulty is experienced in finding out, first of all, where he is and, secondly, in making the orders effective.

Another aspect of the problem is the absconding spouse who remains here but goes from job to job. This makes it difficult to have him made amenable to the orders.

The main criticism of this Bill must be that it does not represent anything like the new departure that is called for in the present situation and that so many dedicated and devoted persons working in this field claim is necessary and have demanded. It is legitimate to say that this Bill merely reforms the existing procedures. It improves them but relies on the same old procedures we have always had.

The reforms which are being made are important and significant. They represent an improvement in the situation, but the Bill still leaves the matter of desertion and maintenance in the courts and leaves it the subject matter of legal action taken in the courts. Admittedly, it effects improvements in that situation but it does not depart in the fundamental way people think it should depart, from that existing situation. This course of leaving the matter in the existing legal procedures has serious disadvantages.

First of all, the new system as propounded now by the Minister in this Bill retains that intimidating, oppressive atmosphere of the courts. If any of the persons with which the Bill concerns itself wish to assert their rights they will still be able to do so only by means of initiating legal proceedings. Undoubtedly, the Bill now provides that these legal proceedings will be in camera and will be confidential. To that extent, the situation will be improved, but we must recognise that to a large section of our community the courts represent exotic territory, intimidating foreign territory, to which they are reluctant to have access at any time either on a voluntary or involuntary basis. That is the first important criticism on this Bill.

That brings me to my major criticism of the Bill and the Minister's proposals. This criticism is of sufficient significance to render the Minister's entire proposals of doubtful value. I do not say that in the spirit of carping criticism but in a serious way. The fact that the proposals in the Bill do not make provision for legal aid is a serious and fundamental discrepancy in the entire system the Minister proposes. To a large section of the community, the courts are an intimidating area, something to which people are reluctant to have resort. In any event, they are certainly reluctant to have resort to them because of the expense involved. The Minister's proposals make no improvement in the situation in that regard. I would have thought an essential element in these proposals would have been the provision of free legal aid for the parties to enable them to go to the courts to exercise their rights when that was necessary. Without the inclusion of proposals for legal aid to enable the spouse or the children to assert their rights, the proposal of the Minister is rendered very inadequate indeed.

This is a matter which was clearly and definitely adverted to by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in the 19th Interim Report. The Committee, under the heading "Legal Aid Provisions", said:

The number of cases of desertion in the Dublin Metropolitan Area is sufficient to justify the whole-time attention of an official solicitor. It is recommended that such solicitor be attached to the Office of the General Solicitor for Minors and Wards of Court, Public Record Office, Dublin, and devote all his time to preparing and pursuing only default cases in both the District Court and the High Court. His services should be made available to all litigants qualifying under a free legal aid scheme, and all social welfare and social services advice centres should refer such cases to him in the first instance.

In all areas outside the Dublin Metropolitan Area, a similar service should be provided by the local State Solicitor.

The committee were keenly aware of the reality of this situation. It is no good conferring these rights on spouses and children if at the same time we do not provide them with the means of giving effect to their rights. In many cases people who would have perfectly valid legitimate cause to go before the courts and secure orders as provided in this legislation will be prevented from doing so because of the costs involved.

The Minister should be fully aware of this situation. Most of us, in our capacity as Deputies, are aware of it. In addition, the situation has been highlighted for us by the two reports of the free legal aid centres which were brought out some time ago. I cannot see how the proposals of the Minister can be effective, can achieve what he and the House want to achieve if there is no provision for free legal aid for the parties involved.

The next major defect I see in the proposals, though my criticism in this regard must be tempered in the light of further discussion which we will have on the Bill, is that I am not satisfied with what the Minister said in his introductory speech about the question of bringing the absconding spouse to book and making sure that the court orders are effective. I am not satisfied that these are adequately dealt with. I recognise that an important step forward has been taken in proposing that wages, used in its broadest sense, can be attached. I still think that even with that new provision there is a large area where it will be difficult to ensure that the maintenance creditor can effectively execute the rights.

A very important aspect of this whole area is the question of the family home but the proposals of the Minister do not deal at all with this question. I understand from a quick perusal of the Minister's introductory speech that further legislation is on the way to deal with this matter. If that is so it will be very welcome and will be eagerly awaited, because we cannot bring about any satisfactory solution to this problem of desertion and maintenance until we have legislation dealing with the family property and in particular with the family home. I should have hoped that the provisions dealing with the family home would have been included in this Bill but, as they are not, all we can do is urge on the Minister the importance of providing for this sort of situation and urge him to come to the Oireachtas as quickly as possible with this legislation.

I should like also to ask why the recommendations of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure have not been adopted in this regard even to the limited extent to which the Committee dealt with the question of the family home. The Committee outlined some of the difficulties which obtained. One difficulty which arises in many cases is the fact that the family home is in the legal ownership of one spouse. Very often there is a mortgage on the property and a spouse deserts and leaves the other spouse and the children to fend for themselves. The remaining spouse is faced with a dilemma. In order to keep a roof over the heads of the family that spouse has to try and hold on to the family home. In order to do that he or she has to meet the mortgage repayments. By doing so they are benefiting the absconding spouse, because the spouse who deserts still has the family home in his or her name and every time a repayment is made by the remaining spouse it goes to the benefit of the spouse who has decamped. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure adverted to that situation and recommended that in any order which a court might make that situation be taken into account and full account be taken of any such payments made by the remaining spouse. So far as I can see the Minister's proposals do not deal with that situation at all. I do not know whether it is the Minister's intention to leave that matter over for the next piece of legislation, but I would have thought it would have been desirable to put into the provisions of this Bill a specific section indicating that the court would take into account, in any award, repayments made in the sort of situation which I have described.

Another aspect of this matter and one which is, perhaps, by far the most common case, is that of where the family home is a rented dwelling. The home is rented either from the local authority or from a private landlord. I do not think the Committee dealt with the case of the private landlord, but somewhat the same consideration would apply in the case of the local authority. The committee recommended that the court could direct the local authority to transfer the tenancy into the name of the remaining spouse. That is a very important and relevant suggestion and one which would have a bearing on many cases. Again, as far as I can see, the Minister did not in his proposals adopt that suggestion. I would like to know why not and if there are any particular difficulties involved. It seems to me that it is of equal importance to any awards of maintenance that some adequate provision be made in the case of the matrimonial home.

There are two other major criticisms which I would make of the Minister's proposals. First, in regard to the limits placed on the awards the courts may make—£40 in the case of a spouse and £10 in the case of children. I want to dispute the principle here. It seemed to me that the committee favoured in principle the concept of a proportion of the income of the spouse who is liable for maintenance. They would have preferred that the approach would be that the dependent spouse and the dependent children would be entitled to a proportion of the other spouse's income in relation to his overall financial situation but that because of some constitutional difficulties they were prepared pro tem to accept a limit of £40 in the District Court. I presume that they feared that if there was any greater discretion given to the District Court it might result in some constitutional difficulty. Underlying their recommendations was an implication that they would prefer an approach related to a proportion of the spouse's income. I would strongly support that.

It would not be realistic to lay down in this Bill a fixed percentage of the spouse's income. That would be unrealistic and perhaps unworkable. Rather a proportion of the income would be the right approach. The court should have the right to decide, having regard to all the social and financial circumstances of the case, an appropriate percentage of the spouse's income which should be devoted to the maintenance of the other spouse and the dependent children. Certainly I would prefer that approach and I think most other people would also.

The Minister need not have any worries about adopting such an approach. There is a clear headline there in the case of the Succession Act. I remember at the time we were preparing the Succession Bill, which subsequently became the Succession Act, that naturally we looked at the systems in operation in other jurisdictions. At that time—I do not know what is the present situation—in Britain, the widow was entitled to go to the courts for maintenance only. In the Succession Bill we brought before the Oireachtas, we departed from that principle which prevailed in Great Britain. We settled for a fixed percentage of the estate for the widow and a fixed percentage for the children in the different circumstances prevailing even though, at that time, in Great Britain, the principle was that a widow where she had been disinherited by a spouse could only go to the courts on a maintenance basis. We ignored that and provided in the Succession Bill that the widow and children were entitled to fixed, pre-determined percentages of the estate.

I suggest to the Minister that he has a precedent there to follow, if he wishes. He need not be deterred from the concept of a proportion of the spouse's income which will be allocated to maintenance because he is departing from precedent. The precedent is quite clearly set out already in the Succession Act.

I have indicated already the lines along which my next major criticism of the Minister's proposals will be made. I have deplored the fact that the Minister's whole approach is to leave matters with the courts and compel anybody seeking a remedy for desertion, or seeking maintenance, to initiate legal proceedings to establish their rights in this regard. A proposal of that sort by the Minister ten years ago would have been welcomed and hailed as a very important step forward.

If I had had an opportunity ten years ago I might have done that.

Judging by the Minister's rate of progress in relation to family law reform, it will be ten years hence before he will have reached such a proposal.

That is my point. The Minister still has a long way to go before he comes anywhere near the Guardianship of Infants Acts and the Succession Act. If he had done this ten years ago, or if I had had the opportunity of doing it ten years ago, it would have been hailed as an important step forward at that time. But thinking has moved on since then. Now the greater body of concerned opinion in this area would favour some system of a family council outside of the courts. We should aim at the sort of situation which obtains in other areas—a dual system—a system under which those who are better equipped to do so, from the educational, financial and other points of view, can and should be able to go to the courts to establish their rights in the area of maintenance. For those who cannot, who have not the means or the inclination to do so, and who are intimidated by the whole court procedures, there should have been a separate institution to deal with their cases. That is the way modern opinion is moving in this field. That is the next major criticism of the Minister's proposals I make. He is leaving it all to the courts, and that has serious limitations as a system.

Most people who have given this matter a lot of thought, and who have experience of working in these fields, would opt now for some sort of organisation or institution, perhaps attached to the Department of Social Welfare, or even the local authority —though I would not be inclined to bring local authorities into this at all —to which the ordinary person could have access to have the matter dealt with as a normal routine administrative affair. That service should be provided by the State for all families in the country and, as prevails in other areas, any person who was equipped to do so would be entitled to pursue their ordinary common law remedies through the courts. That is the approach I should like to see the Minister adopting. Perhaps he hopes that he will ultimately adopt that approach and that he is simply bringing in this legislation as an interim measure, in the same way as the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure brought in their Report on Desertion and Maintenance as an interim one. The Minister has followed their report and recommendations fairly closely. I hope that, in that regard, he is also introducing these proposals as an interim measure to deal with an urgent situation. I hope the Minister, or perhaps the new Commission set up some months ago with such a great flourish of trumpets, will pursue a far more fundamental approach to this whole area of desertion and maintenance.

I want to commend the Minister on a number of things. To a certain extent he has been courageous, he he has taken risks. In his opening remarks he admits that but he thinks those risks are justified. One of the matters which the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure recommended, and which the Minister has followed and included in the Bill, is the provision that where the situation demands it a spouse can be excluded from the family home.

We all recognise that is something which is new, which represents a departure and which has certain risks inherent in it. Nevertheless the Minister has agreed with the committee, and I agree with both the Minister and the committee that it is something which needed to be done. Even if there are risks involved in it, it is still something which is necessary in certain circumstances. The number of cases in which it would be necessary are limited but they are vitally important because they cause tremendous human suffering, misery, hardship and degradation.

The Minister places a great deal of responsibility in these proposals on the judiciary. A great deal is left to the common sense, judgment and discretion of our judges. In the context of this legislation, that is perhaps the only thing the Minister could do. It points, again, the necessity to exercise very great care in the selection of the judiciary. I am not making any party political debating points here. The matter is too important for that. The more responsibilities we place on the judiciary in a discretionary capacity, the more onerous the duty on the Government of the day to select those members of that judiciary wisely. A district justice today is called upon to exercise many more important functions than he was 20 years ago. This is going to add another important dimension to the district justice's work. It means that he will be called upon to exercise qualities of tact, discretion, judgment and maturity, which all indicates that we need to be very careful in the appointment of all our judges and, in particular, our district judges.

It also suggests—and this is something which is frequently the cause of discussion—the need for the appointment of assistants to the judges. In continental judicial practice different types of experts and assessors sit with judges in certain types of cases. When he was placing these new responsibilities, particularly on district justices, by virtue of this legislation, I do not know if the Minister considered giving them some assistance. Did he consider having social workers or experts of one sort or another at the disposal of the judges, apart from the question of sitting with them? The additional weight of responsibility which we are putting on the district justice is one important aspect of these proposals. Indeed, it would be true to say that unless we have a District Court bench which can rise to the responsibilities placed upon them by legislation the system just will not work. It certainly will not work very swiftly.

The family is the fundamental social institution in our community. Having regard to that fact, it is extraordinary how scanty and inadequate is the entire body of statute law governing the family. It is true to say that there is far more law governing the relationship of landlord and tenant than there is governing the relationship of husband and wife in the development of an organised society. In the progress of that society towards enlightenment, the only really effective instrument is the law. There are good laws and bad laws and even the most perfect laws fall short of perfection. There is one valid test to which any law can be constantly subjected, and rightly so, and that is whether it is abreast of enlightened opinion. Lecky said: "Legislation is only really successful when it is in harmony with the spirit of the age." Now we can only ensure that our laws fulfil their basic social purpose if they are changed and adapted to the varying complexities of modern life and to the changing ideas on social needs and behaviour.

Those are the considerations which we should keep in our minds when considering this piece of legislation. It is a very important piece of legislation. It deals with the very important aspect of community life, the relationships inside the family. We have to try to ensure that this piece of legislation deals with an increasing modern social problem.

I welcome the proposals in so far as they go. I criticise them in that they do not go far enough. I hope they are only the forerunner of something much more important and much more comprehensive. This modern Irish Parliament of ours has not fully discharged its responsibilities in the field of family law. The Guardianship of Infants Act and the Succession Act represented major advances in this field but we still need a comprehensive code of family law governing all aspects of family life related to the circumstances, problems, the social needs and situations of today. We should accept that as an urgent and important objective by all parties in this House. I hope the Minister would agree that that should be an objective of ours—a comprehensive code of family law governing all aspects of family life and bringing together all the different bits and pieces which, at the moment, have an impact on family law—and that he would regard this piece of legislation as nothing more than an interim measure.

I am not a lawyer nor am I an expert like the Minister, Deputy Haughey or Deputy Mrs. Desmond. But there are other reasons why I feel I should intervene on this Bill. I have followed this debate with tremendous interest since it has started. I have listened to some most constructive comments from both sides of the House. Today to some extent my faith in the efficacy of the Irish Parliament has been restored, a faith which has taken something of a bashing in recent weeks. I also had the pleasure of listening to two of the finest speeches I have ever heard since I came into the House— one from the Minister and the other from Deputy Haughey. The only thing I would say at this point to Deputy Haughey is that he should not underestimate the honourable manner in which the Minister admitted the complexity of this legislation and the courage with which he is taking some steps in this Bill. I hope none of us here will do anything to impede the rapid passage of this legislation in its present or in an amended form. It is well drafted in an extremely complex context.

Also today—if I may intrude a personal note—something has been done to restore my confidence in the Minister for Justice. If I may be flippant, I sometimes wondered what had become of the liberal whom I so enthusiastically supported in 1970 in Longford-Westmeath. I thought perhaps he had died or something like that. Today I discovered he had been resurrected because I thought his speech was absolutely brilliant. There are some areas in which the Minister and myself will never agree; but it gives me great pleasure, in view of the disagreements we have had in the past, to say how much I admire him for the outstanding introductory speech he made on this Bill. Indeed this Bill stands out, if I may paraphrase Shakespeare, like a good deed in a naughty session. It is about the first constructive piece of legislation that has come before this House in this session.

If I may just for a moment turn uncharacteristically bitter, it is perhaps a reflection on this House that, when such an important piece of human and social legislation affecting so many unfortunate people is brought before the House, when the House has the opportunity to hear such brilliant speeches as those we have heard from the Minister, Deputy Haughey and Deputy Mrs. Desmond, the House is empty. There has not been a quorum here since 4 o'clock. If we were discussing the appointment of the Assistant Director-General of RTE the place would be packed and we would all be screaming. But when we come to a serious piece of human legislation, the House is empty.

It is a reflection on our standards. It is also a reflection on our attitude to women, because let us not endlessly use this lovely, menial term "spouse". Let us face the fact that this Bill is primarily concerned with the protection of women, in particular working-class women. It has often seemed funny to me that in a House of this size, in which there are only four women Deputies with an average age, I suppose, of around 50, we should be engaged passing complex legislation affecting the lives of 52 per cent of the population about whom we know very little.

If I may just briefly chase a private hobbyhorse of mine, I only wish the Minister grasps the nettle of divorce. It has always seemed strange to me that the fundamental and actual right of divorce should be denied in a State alleged to be a pluralist community, seeking to unite itself with the predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland. However, my views on divorce and contraception are well known, and this is neither the time nor the place to pursue them any further. I only place them on the record again.

I am glad that the Minister, as I understand it, seems to have got away from the concept of uncondoned adultery. It always seemed to me, as an non-lawyer, absolutely ridiculous that a marriage can be terminated by one act of adultery committed under the influence of drink or emotional stress whereas the utter and complete breakdown of a marriage because of the mutual hatred of two people for each other, the mutual realisation that they made a mistake 20 years ago, cannot be, as I understand the law, adduced as proof that this marriage can be terminated. But one act of drunken adultery can terminate a marriage. Yet the moral and psychological breakdown in a marriage cannot.

Here again I enter the field of the lawyer. My good friend, Mr. Leo Apse, the English Labour MP, has succeeded in getting through the House of Commons a measure which I, as a Catholic, fully agree with, under which the fact that two spouses have ceased to live together for two years is proof that a marriage has broken down and is sufficient grounds for a divorce. This is an excellent measure and it is one which I think could be emulated in this country. I know I shall receive hoards of anonymous letters after this.

Deputy Haughey said one thing which is perfectly correct and which was also said by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. It is that the statistics of the incidence of deserted wives in Ireland are totally false. This is a far greater problem, particularly in the kind of constituency for which Deputy Haughey and myself sit in Dublin, than appears statistically. Far too many husbands practise what Senator Noel Browne calls "Irish divorce", that is to say, they purchase a single ticket to England. This raises a problem which Deputy Haughey has already faced, the problem of the enforcement of attachment orders. I do not know how this is going to be done—I would like the Minister to comment on it—particularly when the deserting husband usually goes to England under an assumed name. I do not know how he is to be discovered or his maintenance dues extracted from him. Is it possible for us to introduce some reciprocal arrangements with that pagan country across the water which shelters so many deserting Irish husbands?

I speak not as a lawyer but from mundane experience which any Deputy sitting for a city constituency can corroborate. The cycle which I have found so common in my constituency is as follows. A young pair marry, very often in their early twenties. They live in the front room of a council house. They have a child. They apply for rehousing. They are told in the Corporation "One child. Ha, ha. Don't make me laugh." They have a second child. They are again told they cannot have a house. They have a third child. The wife becomes anaemic. The husband becomes alcoholic and ultimately terminates the problem by practising Irish divorce, that is to say, desertion.

In many ways the greatest victims in all this, as Deputy Briscoe says, are not the husband and wife themselves but the children. Deputy Briscoe spoke of children being burned to death while their parents were out drinking. While I would not think that was a very common statistic, a very common statistic is one where children experience untold psychological damage by having to witness constant fighting between the parents with alcoholism in one or the other. This is ignored by us because we do not have the treatment, the expertise, the social workers to handle the problem of alcoholism and broken marriages.

I often feel that many Irish working class marriages are held together simply by lack of money. Deputy Haughey touched on this point in his magnificent speech. Sometimes I feel that divorce a mensa et thora, as it is called, or separation are the preserve of the wealthy. God forbid, if I wanted to divorce or separate from my wife in the morning in Ireland it would be the easiest matter in the world for me to arrange quietly a judicial deed with her nice solicitor and pay for the whole thing.

On one point I disagree with Deputy Haughey. I am not worried about the problems of people like myself who have mortgages, because those people are usually well able to sustain the problems of shattered marriages. But I agree profoundly with him in his point about transfers of tenancies and on his point about the institution of free legal aid in these cases. The number of cases I have encountered in my six years as a Deputy where the husband who deserted his wife was the legal tenant of a corporation house—perhaps he condescendingly returns at nine-monthly intervals, making it impossible for the legal tenancy to be transferred to his wife—are quite extraordinary and terribly distressing. It would be unfair to the House to place on record the sheer slowness of some of the cases of this kind that have come before me, cases where I have just felt incompetent as a Deputy to do anything to aid the women concerned, left on her own in a house of which she is not the legal tenant to support by one means or another the children her husband had begotten by her.

Think of the humiliation of her position. Think of the humiliation of the present position of a deserted wife who would summon up enough courage to apply for a deserted wife's allowance. Deputy Haughey is right again here. Ordinary people are frightened of the courts. They also have intense personal pride which does not make them want to wash their dirty linen in public. In particular I want to ask this question of the Minister. I wish he were here to answer it. A particular humiliation of the existing law on deserted wives is that in order to qualify for an allowance a wife has to prove that she has made every effort to find her husband and that she has not denied her husband his conjugal rights. This I regard as humiliation beyond description and case after case has come before me. I hope sections 21 and 24 of this Bill will abolish the situation by which an errant husband can come back and reassert his rights against the will of his wife after disappearing to God knows where— Liverpool, Manchester, London— for months at a time. I hope this will prevent it.

I am glad also that this Bill takes a more kindly and forthcoming attitude towards illegitimacy. Somebody once said there is no such thing as an illegitimate child only an illegitimate father. It is a cliché, but it is true. To penalise the child either financially or in status in its environment because of a sin—if that is the appropriate word to use in a pluralist society—or an error of judgement or something committed by two adults seems to me ridiculous.

The Bill is also progressive in the view it takes of the concept of marriage. It outlines the appalling vulnerability of the woman in marriage. From the moment a young woman marries at 20 in our society—a society which, as Deputy Haughey correctly pointed out, lacks marriage counsellors, lacks socially trained workers and psychiatric workers, perhaps knowing very little of what faces her in 30 years of marriage, she becomes in law to all intents and purposes a chattel of her husband. I defy any lawyer to contradict me on that. Unless she goes through the most appallingly complex and expensive rigmarole her rights vis-à-vis her husband are virtually nil.

I agree with Deputy Haughey that some sort of charter should be devised, something imaginative, by which the married woman's rights, respect and dignity are fully understood. I am not cheaply seeking female votes. I feel very strongly on this matter. At present the law is almost totally orientated towards the male. With due respect to my friends on both sides of the House, I would say let us all do our utmost to get this Bill through the House quickly. Above all, let us not make this Bill a lawyers' holiday in which we go down line by line trying to correct the small print in anticipation of the briefs to come.

In my view our attitudes to marriage, to divorce, to contraception, to alcoholism and to many other of the prevailing social evils of the kind of constituency for which I sit are mediaeval. As Deputy Haughey correctly pointed out, they are attitudes which are not in keeping with the times and are attitudes which I, nearing my 40th birthday, find it very hard to explain to people of 18 or 20.

I should like to see this Bill more progressive than it is. I agree with Deputy Haughey. But it is at least a step in the right direction. It was introduced with humanity and openness by the Minister for Justice. Let us therefore get it through as quickly as possible, amend it where necessary on Committee Stage, but let us approach this vital human matter in a non-partisan manner.

The expression of concern by Deputy Thornley on the matter of non-contention has been met in a very reasonable way by the Opposition in their contributions. We have had the contribution from the spokesman on Justice, on behalf of the Opposition, Deputy Collins, followed by Deputy Briscoe, and an excellent and extremely well-researched speech by Deputy Haughey. These three speeches show our intention to make a reasonable and non-contentious contribution on this legislation.

As to the matter of haste in the passing of the Bill, I know Deputy Thornley would temper his remarks by suggesting that, at all times, before engaging in hasty legislation the Bill should be examined in detail on Committee Stage. It would appear now that it is the Minister's intention not to have the Bill passed until the Dáil reconvenes in the Michealmas term. It is then we will have an opportunity of expressing our point of view on the matter of amendment on Committee Stage. It is proper that we should deal with the Bill, not hastily, but expeditiously and in a manner which will give everyone an opportunity of scrutinising the Second Reading speeches, picking out the most important points and relating them to whatever amendments we would consider practicable on Committee Stage. I assure Deputy Thornley and others the Opposition will not engage in politics, not that there is anything wrong with politics or politicians; we are professional politicians and there is no obligation on us to apologise for being such. What Deputy Thornley has in mind is taking the debate out of the area of party politics as such and discussing it in the area of non-partisan politics.

There is an old legal chestnut which states that "Man and wife are one and man is the one." The individual who created that particular chestnut must have lived in the middle of the 18th century. If he were alive today he would not contemplate the attitudes of the seventies. He was, of course, speaking of his experiences of the 18th-19th centuries. To go further back in history, we have the statement by Justinian in Institutiones. He was probably one of the greatest lawgivers the world has ever known. He begins his famous Institutiones with the words: “Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to give every man his due.” If he were alive today he would add “and every woman”. These are examples of the thinking which contributed to the formulations of laws which, to say the very least of it, were male-orientated.

Deputy Haughey made a very relevant observation when he stated we have more law on landlords and tenants than we have on family law reform. That arose, of course, out of a situation where the Establishment at the time considered a man's property was his physical property and his wife, in conformity with that concept, was also part of his property. I pay tribute to the anonymous author of the legal chestnut and to Justinian who were speaking from their own experience at a time when wives were effectively considered as chattels. That is the reason why, up to the recent past, we have had more emphasis on the law of landlord and tenant than on the family. That is not to imply that the law on landlord and tenant is not necessary. It is but we are now living in a time when there is a feeling for family law reform. As Deputy Thornley and others have stated, what we want now is a family code and a family charter.

It was only in the recent past that organisations have called for family law reform. We must be clear about that. There was only a recent awareness of our obligations in this particular sphere. We are not all blameless, quite the contrary. The organisations to which I should like to pay tribute, apart from the many individuals who have expressed a point of view on this subject, would include the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the AIM organisation, Action, Information, Motivation, the CARE organisation, the campaign for the care of deprived children, the National Youth Council, ADAPT, FLAC, the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, the Kennedy Report and the Commission on the Status of Women. These are all people who, in only the last ten years, have contributed to the debate on the need for a comprehensive family code. Some of these organisations, with the greatest respect to them, have done a wonderful job and their points of view are being articulated to some extent in the legislation which the Minister has laid before the Dáil. I use the words "to some extent" deliberately because the Bill deals with only a certain number of very important matters. The Opposition see this legislation only as a beginning. We would hope that this is the Minister's view also. We have been critical of a number of the proposals, but the criticism is of a constructive kind. It is not intended to be destructive, quite the contrary.

The bona fides of the Opposition in the context of Part III concerning the attachment of earning are patent. Opposition Deputies have made many speeches in the past two-and-a-half years in which they stressed the urgent need to have this type of legislation brought forward, in addition to other legislation which I shall discuss in the context of what we are now debating. No later than three or four weeks' ago, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Cluskey, introduced the Social Welfare (Supplementary Allowances) Bill. The reason, better known to the Government but well known to the Opposition, why this Bill was not forthcoming was because the Government did not allot sufficient time for the legislation which is so urgently required. The Social Welfare (Supplementary Allowances) Bill reached its Second Stage. Apparently, the Committee Stage has now been abandoned until the new Dáil term.

On section 17 of the Social Welfare (Supplementary Allowances) Bill, if I may be humble for a moment, I in my own crude fashion drew up an amendment which in principle is exactly the same as what is envisaged under Part III of this Bill, the attachment of earnings. The Minister informed us that the draftsman had to reconsider this Bill six times before he produced what we are now discussing. I only drafted my amendment to section 17 once. My proposed amendment read: In page 8, line 36, to add "or the court may by additional order direct that the amount of the contribution be deducted from such person's income and paid to the health board".

The reason I raise this matter is that it shows that the Opposition were articulating the matter of attachment outside the House and at the first opportunity, they proposed an amendment which is exactly similar in principle, not in draftsmanship, to that enshrined in Part III of the Minister's Bill. That amendment was drafted four weeks' ago. We had no knowledge of the Minister's Bill until less than a week ago when the public voice became so pressing that he had finally to produce this Bill so that he could say he had fulfilled his promise to introduce this legislation before the end of this session.

During the course of his contribution, Deputy Haughey stated, if I may paraphrase him, that the family is the bedrock of the society in which we live. This is enshrined and highlighted in our Constitution. What this Bill is basically about is where the bedrock begins to move and the stone begins to crumble, and the pressures become too great on the partners to a marriage and the marriage begins to break up. In those circumstances, it is proper that there should be, as a last resort, an entitlement for one or other of the partners to resort to the law if the situation has been arrived at where they cannot solve their problems by mutual agreement.

None of the Deputies who contributed to this debate engaged in moralising. They stated their own experiences and views. We are here as legislators, and not as moralists. The Bill provides for the attachment of salaries of Members of the Oireachtas. Who can say who's turn it will be next? The tone of the debate has been that we were not engaging in moral judgments and it is all the better for that.

The Bill does not provide one penny under the heading of free legal aid. The Minister will agree that if the Bill does not make such provision then it is defective to that extent. On the matter of the family home the Minister again treats us to his usual homily about his intention to bring in legislation. In the context of making provision for the family home as between one or other of the spouses the answer to the problem may be the French experience where there is a pre-marriage contract. There is a community of property set up in the first instance. I am not speaking in an authoritative party sense on this matter. To me the French experience is appealing. It may not appeal to other Members of the House, but it is something that should be considered. The French experience is that the parties to a marriage draw up a pre-marriage contract setting out the ownership of various items within the marriage home and the ownership of the home itself and bringing all these into the contract and signing it in their joint names before they go through the ceremony of marriage. It is a reasonable proposal. There may be objections to it in the Irish experience and if there are I would like to hear them.

When one gets married, one assumes it is all happiness and love. It is difficult before you actually get married, during this wonderfully euphoric emotional personal relationship which exists pre-marriage, to sign a coldly calculated marriage contract. One never assumes—to date it has not been my experience but it has been the experience of others less fortunate than I—that a marriage will break up. In those circumstances, in this love and happiness situation, people might find it rather harrowing to have to draw up such a premarital contract. However, it is a matter that might be thought of in future legislation.

We regard this legislation as a beginning. Much remains to be done. For instance, the legal marriage age is 12 years of age for the female and 14 years for the male. This is an extraordinary situation. People should not enter into any form of marriage contract, be they Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Flat Earther, until they are 16 years of age. Again, I am engaging in a form of moral judgment which I have been critical of in the first instance. I believe the girl should be 16 years of age and the man, at a minimum, 18 years of age, particularly in the context of present day pressures. I accept there are very few marriages where the bride is 12 years of age and the bridegroom is 14 years of age. The minimum age of the bride should be 16 and the bridegroom 18. That is a personal opinion; it may or may not be accepted.

We have offered many points of view on the Children's Act, 1908— again absent in this legislation—such as the setting up of family law tribunals and deinstitutionalising of the various procedures which courts demand. The courts are formal and we believe where there is a breakdown in marriage in the first instance there should be a family law tribunal where the parties, before engaging in serious and lengthy litigation which only adds to the trauma of their tragedy, could have their problem assessed. The persons engaged on the bench of the family law tribunal might be sociologists or people engaged in the rescuing of marriages. What is wrong with that before going into the area of litigation to have the couple separated?

On the matter of the type of legislation, we would like to see in the future a distinction between illegitimacy and legitimacy. For instance, if a woman has a child before marriage, keeps the child, subsequently marries a man who is not the father of the child and they have their own children thereafter and the man is willing to take that child into the family, is there any reason why that illegitimate child should not have equal rights with his legitimate brothers and sisters.

It seems extraordinary that in a situation like that one can draw this line between illegitimacy and legitimacy. Why should that child not have the same rights of succession as his legitimate brothers and sisters? It seems totally unreasonable that we should draw this distinction between legitimacy and illegitimacy in that context and in any context.

Deputy Thornley put the matter in a nutshell when he asked what had a child, the product of an illicit love affair, got to do with that situation. Why should the "sin"—if I may respectfully place the word sin in inverted commas on the basis of my pre-submission sanction to myself not to engage in moralising—of that couple be visited on the child? Why should that child be condemned forever with the tag "illegitimate" or "bastard". That is what we are doing. The Minister for Justice, when he comes to preparing future legislation might consider abandoning the distinction between legitimacy and illegitimacy. If we are talking about human rights and equal opportunities surely the person we should be equally concerned with is the yet unborn child who, through no wish of his own, is the product of a love affair which does not conform with the norms of society, namely that the birth of that child should take place in the context of a duly solemnised marriage. It is totally irrational to give that child a title which will discriminate against it for the rest of its life.

There is more to be said on the context of the Bill itself. The Minister, in fairness to him, acknowledges that the Bill is effectively a lift from the 19th Interim Report by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure and, indeed, from the Commission on the Status of Women. It was not my intention to give praise where it is due but it is well to remind those who would doubt the sincerity of this side of the House in the context of the type of reform we are asking for that the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure was set up by a Fianna Fáil Government. The Commission on the Status of Women was also set up by a Fianna Fáil Government. That is not to suggest that the people who constituted those committees were strong supporters of the then Government.

At that time we felt that the people who made up the committee were the best to do the job which we considered should be done. It is a tribute to those who instituted these committees that the Minister for Justice acknowledges the work done by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. He paid tribute to their 19th Interim Report entitled "Desertion and Maintenance" which was produced in February, 1974. He also paid tribute to the recommendations made by the Commission on the Status of Women. He engages in a little piece of proud "sunbustery" when he states that in specific instances the provisions of the Bill differ from what was recommended by these reports. Three cheers for the Minister. With respect to the Minister, very little in the Bill differs from what was recommended in the reports I have mentioned.

It is good to see that the Minister acknowledges these two reports and it is well to quote from a number of the matters which we thought the Minister might have dealt with in this Bill. We have already discussed the matter of the community of property, the family home, and the joint ownership of that family home and the possibility of legislating, unless the parties can reach agreement in the first instance, that when a home is purchased it be purchased in the joint names of the husband and wife. That seems reasonable. We have knowledge of cases where the family home was sold over the head of the other spouse. Having regard to the law at the moment the other spouse, by definition, was the wife. I know of such cases and I am sure other Deputies know of similar ones where, having sold the house over the head of the wife and having undertaken to leave the wife in the house for one more week—a grace in favour of the husband who has sold the house without her prior knowledge—that in one instance the telephone within that week, the grace-in-favour week, was ripped out of the wall so that the wife was left incommunicado as far as telecommunications were concerned. That is the type of case that concerns us on this side of the House—where the domicile is sold over the head of the wife.

The Bill is admitted to be a Bill to provide for cases basically involving women. It is fair to say that the bulk of the spouses in this society at the moment who are bringing money into the matrimonial home is the male of the species and that, effectively, the provisions in the Bill relate to the protection of the female of our species.

One matter which we might be concerned with is the evidence given by District Justice Delap to the committee examining the matter of desertion and maintenance. I refer to paragraph 26 of the Report which reads:

Other details emerging from Justice Delap's evidence are as follows: most of the parties in these cases were in the weekly wage-earning category.

He is talking about desertion.

The actual earnings of the husband were rarely volunteered; many wives were quite unaware of their husband's actual earnings and frequently received an inadequate share of those earnings; in cases of violence done to the wife or children, the lack of jurisdiction to exclude the wife from the family home often prevented the effective solution of the case; in many cases a less formal setting that the ordinary District Court might be more satisfactory.

In that short paragraph there are many matters which we could discuss at considerable length on this piece of legislation. It is pleasing to note that the Minister has provided, for the situation where the wife has been beaten or the children have been battered, that under certain circumstances the spouse engaging in that form of physical violence against his wife or children can be excluded from the family home. This is an important development. I pay tribute to the Minister for taking his courage in his hands in this respect.

In relation to the family home we read at paragraph 46 of the Report that:

If the court finds on the evidence offered that a spouse has reasonable grounds for believing that the safety or welfare of the family requires it, the court should have power to make an order prohibiting the defaulting spouse from entering or attempting to enter the family home "until further order" and from in any way molesting, annoying or putting in fear the family or any member of it.

The last paragraph of the preceding paragraph, which is a lengthy one, reads that:

The protection of the family home should be ensured, in so far as possible, when the defaulting spouse is the legal owner. The registration of the Order as a lis pendens should be permitted effectively to prevent any attempt of sale. Thereafter, the sale of the home should be made possible only by leave of the court. Where appropriate, the court award of maintenance would take into account the necessary payment of mortgage instalments or rent. If the home is rented from the corporation or a local authority, that authority may be ordered by the court to transfer the tenancy into the joint names of the spouses for the period set out in the order.

It is very difficult to understand, in the light of the recommendation of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in their 19th Interim Report, why the Minister did not include that in this Bill. I appreciate that the Minister states at the end of his speech that he is considering in some future legislation the inclusion of some form of legislation in the context of the family home. He introduces an element of community property which I find difficult to comprehend. He is shying away from the family home situation. The Minister told us in his brief that section 20 provides:

that where a spouse gives the other a household allowance, then in the absence of any agreement to the contrary that allowance and any interest in property bought out of it will belong to the spouses jointly.

He takes a practical example. It is an extraordinary example but I take it as being offered in a serious manner and we will accept it in a serious manner. The example is as follows:

if a husband gives his wife £20 housekeeping money, then unless they agree otherwise, they will be joint owners of the £20. If, in one week, the wife buys a kitchen clock out of the allowance, then both spouses will be the joint owners of the clock. Under the present law, the husband would own the clock, since the money from which it was bought is likely to be construed as his rather than partly his wife's.

With great respect for that example the logic of it and the extension of it as an example is that if the couple part, is the clock split in half or does the clock go to the wife or to the husband? Is the contract drawn up whereby the clock is given to the husband and a chair or something else is given to the wife? However, it introduces the essence of this principle of community property. The Minister is only scratching the surface in this respect. We would hope that he would show the same courage as undoubtedly he showed in the context of precluding the erring spouse from the family home where there is distress or mental anguish. The Minister stated that he was uncertain about the outcome of this piece of legislation in that section of the Bill. We must wait and see how it evolves. If it evolves as we would hope there would be no need to amend it.

The Bill is welcomed by the Opposition, but we consider that it does not go far enough. We should like to assure the Minister that any legislation of this nature which comes before the House will get a fair, reasonable and rational response from the Opposition. In addition to the many organisations to which I have paid tribute for their contributions to this debate and the general call for family law reform, it is only fair to add the contributions various politicians have made in past years on the same matter. In the final analysis it is the politicians who produce the goodies in the context of what we seek, that is an improvement in family law generally. Nevertheless they are a very important element in any debate about a family code; they are as entitled, as others, to project their points of view. Those organisations that have contributed to the debate welcome the involvement of politicians who are as concerned as them in such a debate.

It remains for me to urge the Minister, when introducing another Bill, as he promises in the not-too-distant future, to beware of piecemeal legislation in relation to family law reform. We do not have to remind the Minister that there are some 60 Acts under the heading of social welfare; there are hundreds of regulations under the same Acts in the context of the Department of Social Welfare. We do not want a situation like that to occur in the area of family law reform. What we want is an acceptable, easily understood and easily applied code of law. We do not want the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Bill of 1975 and the Family Law (Right or Entitlement to Matrimonial Home) Bill of 1977. We want a Bill in which all these elements are contained and which can be justly seen as a family law charter.

This Bill is indeed a welcome step in the tidying-up of the tattered legislation which existed heretofore in relation to the family, spouses and discipline. It is welcome both inside and outside of this House and it has been anxiously awaited. There are important and significant steps forward and welcome reforms contained in this legislation.

Taking a broad view of this Bill one could say that the proposals and reforms, and the fact that they are extremely welcome, are, in a minor way, balanced by the defects and omissions. Some omissions are quite apparent, some defects rather dangerous. But there are some excellent reforms and new proposals based on the many commissions and organisations' submissions concerned primarily with legislation of this kind.

It is unfortunate that this legislation, in many cases, will constitute the first step towards the breaking up of the family, which is the unit of the State, and is constitutionally recognised as such. Indeed, when one has to resort to the courts in a family matter, it is a very drastic step for either spouse to have to take.

One can appreciate the limitations to which the Minister must be subjected. But the free availability of the courts for the effective dissolution of a marriage of a family, and for the practical orphaning of children, the facility of this type of legislation is far too great. There should be some other way in which the Minister can approach matters of family acrimony, be it financial, physical or mental. There is no need for lengthy proceedings, investigations, the lengthy washing of dirty linen in front of third parties that pertains to legislation of this kind.

If one wanted to be malicious this Bill could be described as a bonanza for the legal profession. It is a discriminatory Bill in so far as it provides only for those who can afford court proceedings. There is no tolerance here. There is seldom tolerance displayed in this House when legislation relating to court proceedings is introduced. There is no tolerance shown to those who cannot afford to pay. Indeed, in reading through this Bill, one can have sympathy with those who say there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor in this country. This Bill is the one for wealthy people——

Hear, hear, that is correct; who can afford it.

——who can afford to pay the legal luminaries who are only too willing to drive the wedge between husband and wife, to take the father or the mother away from the family. Indeed the Bill goes even further. In section 5, subsection (2) we see, for the first time condoned in this country, adultery, with or without the consent of one or other spouse. Adultery is now written into legislation, produced in this House as being a fact so small that it will not enter into the full requirements of a spouse to pay maintenance. I am amazed at this section. It is either condoning prostitution on behalf of the mother by the father or condoning promiscuity by the wife in regard to the husband. I would not support that section of legislation. It is disgraceful to think that legislation can be brought in here whereby a male or female provider maintains the family and the spouse, and whether or not the spouse is involved in adultery, maintains the home, the physical building—and this legislation will deal with wealthy people only— the gardener could be cohabiting with the spouse or the maid could be cohabiting with the male spouse. That part of the legislation is bad.

In his introductory speech the Minister implies that this could be a step forward and he says: "It appears unduly harsh to condemn a spouse to a lifetime without maintenance simply on account of one act of adultery, irrespective of the circumstances which, perhaps, could include a previously long-established pattern in adultery by the other spouse." Have we now got to the stage where two wrongs make a right? Is that what we are doing here? That is bad legislation. What we need here is legislation where we can have a charter for the family, where we can prevent the intimidation, the embarrassment, the aspect of court proceedings that can have a very severe effect on the relationship between a man and his wife. I would urge the Minister to investigate the possibility to the best of his ability in regard to the setting up of a charter for the family with prime consideration being given to the children. This legislation is introduced to give the best deal for the offspring of a family and a family charter should be based on a similar concept.

Whatever happened the section of the marriage vow "in sickness and in health"? How many people become fed up in marriage because of a minor illness and a minor degree of depression? How many people become intolerable to live with because of strains and stresses in business? Is this Bill going to be the outlet, the easy way out? Is it going to be the last straw that will break many marriages in this country? I feel sure that the section in this legislation that I have referred to— and I am dubious and suspicious of it—could be a precursor to divorce legislation. There are many more trails and strains in marriages in Ireland, the low average income, the large number of children per family, than there are in other marriages in societies that the Minister has attempted to compare here—the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Comparison is not always as accurate as it may seem to be in the first instance. The average number of children per family in each one of those countries is two. The average here is five children.

For any legislation to be equitable throughout our society there must be some form of assistance in legal aid. I would like to see the Minister introducing it because far too often legislation like this can be used by one spouse to blackmail the other. I am speaking as a Deputy for an area where, thank God, not much of this goes on. We are not a very wealthy area but we are a very happy area. If a husband is going to be threatened by court proceedings that may cost him £1,000, most certainly he will go along and do as the Minister has advised and settle something outside the court—perhaps far more than he should have settled inside the court. These are facts. We should not be attempting to legislate for a mythology of averages. Contrary to what the Minister suggested in his introductory speech, we should be legislating, in so far as we can, for the grey area, for those who need help, for those who do not want to become victims of law, as this legislation in some parts can do. Very often wives can blackmail their husbands or husbands can attempt to blackmail their wives in regard to custody of children and maintenance orders. If the wife is sick, in hospital or undergoing treatment the husband could attempt to use this legislation. This should be looked upon as a last step.

In regard to this Bill and its practical implications, it is unbelievable that a wide spectrum of judges can be called upon to judge cases of this nature. The most sensitive, the most important types of cases that can exist in our country primarily affect children. My understanding of it is that any judge from the District Court, from the Circuit Court and from the High Court can be called upon to give judgement on these cases.

I would respectfully suggest to the Minister that a panel of judges be set up who would have some qualifications for dealing with family affairs, not a variable hit-and-run choice, depending on what type of roster is available. I would also like to see what was suggested in one of the reports, the establishment of a full-time solicitor—a man who would have the proper training in family legislation—to deal and process these cases coming before the courts. There is need for this legislation because previous legislation was totally inadequate.

I would like to quote from the Minister's speech. It is the most lucid part of a brilliant speech and it is one of the best speeches I have heard here. The Minister stated:

Perfection, in the sense that every case involving breakdown of personal relationships will be resolved in a totally satisfactory way is, of course, beyond the capacity of any legal system.

Nor should we, in our legal system, and in our legislation attempt to put legislation through which will render more available the break-up of a marriage. That is, in effect, what we can be speaking about here, were it not for certain sections which the Minister has included whereby spouses may cohabit following a maintenance order. That is an excellent section which the Minister has included and indeed it shows the humanitarian outlook that the Minister has in regard to this problem. I would ask the Minister to take a much closer look at section 5, subsection 3. I do not think that is progressive legislation in that section.

I would like to have the breakdown of figures when the Minister is replying. I should like to know the number of families that have been affected heretofore, the number of families that have sought legal action in the courts, the number of females and the number of males who have sought action. The male is not the only culprit in cases like this, sometimes it can be the female. Unfortunately this appears to be an increasing factor.

I would also like to know from the Minister the approximate cost of a District Court action, a Circuit Court action or a High Court action. It is interesting to note that quite recently some members of the legal profession who made a trip to London and registered before the courts, were called to the Bar in London, which could be related to this type of legislation where the spouse may be referring to the previous Maintenance Act that the Minister brought in. I would like my doubts about that section of the legislation clarified by the Minister. I would also like explained the section relating to the self-employed and the way in which the Minister is satisfied that the percentage of earnings can be fixed.

I want to mention certain aspects of life that can precipitate a family arriving to court. These are certain medical aspects. Alcohol, one could say, is the most prevalent, but alcohol does not on its own cause marriage breakdowns. It can unmask many forms of mental illness. It can be a symptom in itself of stress and strain outside of the home. Indeed it can precipitate impotency and premature senility. This legislation does not protect people who are sick, people who are under medication, who are taking sedatives or anti-depressant tablets, people who are addicted to or takers of drugs such as marijuana which can lessen a person's initiative and can precipitate disharmony in a family circle and promote promiscuity and increased freedom of sexual activity. I would like to see a provision to ensure that before the ultimate step of effectively divorcing a married couple was taken at least the judge was satisfied that both the parties in front of him were fully compos mentis. Very often in cases of brain tumour or cerebral arterio sclerotic episode a personality change can take place and before any one knows it the wife can be in court and the husband ends up bankrupt because of the high legal fees involved. Too often this is the case where men lose thousands and thousands of pounds in court actions and afterwards the wife is found to be suffering from either an organic or a functional illness. I would like the Minister to consider the attachment to the court of medical advisers and a property adviser who could assess the earning capacity of a spouse.

The legislation is detailed. It is notable for the steps the Minister has taken in attempting to clear up the quagmire of legislation that existed heretofore in this regard. It is also notable to my mind, for some omission, such as I have mentioned. It is notable for its very progressive step in condoning adultery for the first time in the history of the State.

I would like to see far greater emphasis placed upon the children and not so much on the satiety, both physical and financial, of the spouses. Marriages and families today are far more vulnerable to outside influences than they have been in the past. Legislation of this kind, necessary as it is, is unfortunate. If the Minister could supply me with some statistics I would be very grateful. I would like to know if possible the number of applications made for maintenance orders which were followed by divorce proceedings. Will this be the precursor or the thin edge of the wedge in splitting up marriages? I would also like the Minister to give, in so far as he can, consideration to a triumvirate type of representation from the Departments of Social Welfare, Health and Justice whereby a broader spectrum of people could be involved in an advisory capacity to the family. We cannot and we never have and I do not think we will in the future give sufficient attention and consideration to the family circle.

In complimenting the Minister on his very brilliant speech I will in conclusion say that I hope the concepts he has in this Bill find their way into the practice of law. Some members of the legal profession, can unfortunately be avaricious and some of them can ask the income and potential earnings of the plaintiff or the accused prior to going into court. I hope the Minister is satisfied that those for whom this legislation is intended will be able to avail of it and that we do not in any way precipitate the step that will further divide our society into a state whereby legislation will be available only to those who have money and can afford it. In this regard, the Minister should give serious consideration to legal aid so far as possible.

There is always the danger in discussing legislation of this kind that a Member of the Dáil would engage in a certain amount of platitudes. When reading the Bill, one wonders why this legislation was not introduced many years ago. I welcome the Bill so far as it goes.

The Fianna Fáil Government in 1972 set up a Commission on the Status of Women which has, in part, helped in the drafting of this Bill. Currently, our organisation is discussing a research document issued recently on woman's role in the future. However, this document is very broad in its social implications and will receive more attention in future.

Many of us engaged in practical politics become aware, inevitably, of the many cases of wives and children —in some cases husbands and children—who are treated in a very selfish way by the spouse. First, the principal remedy—not the only remedy—for that situation lies in education, family training and an understanding of what is right and fair, and above all, giving good example. Children usually reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their parents and their environment. As the children of today will be the parents of the future, it is only in the environmental and educational areas that it will be possible to influence the future.

I stress that point because we should not allow ourselves, at any stage, to be misled into thinking that the State can create perfection through punitive law or penalty. The principle the State should follow is to ensure that justice and equality will be available to all. In many of the tragic cases we come across, these fundamental rights are not available.

It is time that the confusing anomaly of regulations regarding the deserted wife were cleared and this Bill goes some way towards achieving that purpose. In practical experience, one is aware of how unjustly many women are treated by a deserting husband who knows how to use the tax loopholes. It is also right that some parents going through a difficult period in their life and who may be a danger—not only physical, but as a result of a temporary mental disorder—to their children, can be excluded from the home for a specified period in order to protect the welfare of the children.

It is of considerable importance— and this is provided in the Bill—that proceedings of this nature take place in the utmost privacy. Marriages, from time to time, can run into difficulties but very often these problems can be sorted out. Therefore it is vital that proceedings of this kind should be conducted in such a way that there will be no unnecessary publicity, particularly for the children.

As Deputy Byrne mentioned, one of the important aspects is not only the provision of legal aid at a very reasonable cost or free but aid of an advisory nature. The majority of people needing help of this kind are among the less endowed, environmentally and educationally, members of the community. They will not know how to go about solving their problems.

The Minister has referred to the district courts. It is very important that people who deal with cases of this kind which are brought to court should be especially experienced in this area. They should be qualified to promote the human element and, to quote the Minister's words, "promote a just and harmonious relationship." It is not easy, in legislation, to deal with human problems. This is because problems are human, but law is a dry and arid factor. Most of these problems arise from selfishness of one kind or another; perhaps a wrong environment on the part of one parent or the other, and people in this situation really need a great deal of help.

I would hope that what we are talking about in this area are the hard cases, cases that would really come to court, examples such as the Minister gave us of partner default where the husband and wife are living together but one or other is totally selfish. Either one could be a gambler, or an alcoholic, forgetting his or her responsibilities. In such cases the provision now set out that the court may be called upon by one or other of the spouses to determine whether the arrangements being carried out by the other spouse, usually the husband, are reasonable for the bringing up of the children and fair to the wife or husband, as the case may be.

I would hope the existence of this kind of legislation would help to bring about a position where its very existence would make it unnecessary. Fewer and fewer cases would be brought because of one or other partner being in a position to bring a case to court or go to a solicitor who could use the existence of the Act to make an unreasonable husband or wife come to his or her senses. I believe the sooner legislation of this kind is on the statute book the better. There is nothing as salutory in the case of unreasonable people as the existence of a deterrent. The main aim should be to encourage people to behave sensibly rather than have the Act used in a punitive way.

The Minister referred to sums of up to £60 per week under a court order. We are becoming accustomed to a change in the situation in relation to money, but it is important that the incidence of tax should be taken into consideration. The possibility is that the mention of figures like this might encourage people to seek court orders. It would take quite a high level of earnings on the part of any person to pay out that amount of money at present, whatever about five years' time when inflation has crept steadily upwards; £60 a week tax paid, is a considerable amount of money at this stage.

A careful eye should be kept on simplifying the procedures and regulations regarding desertion, care and maintenance of children and spouse. Very often the kind of person most likely to be involved belongs to that category least likely to know what their rights are. In my experience, many young married women before they reach the point of dealing with this sort of situation have suffered embarrassment, humiliation and, in many cases, deprivation because of a lack of knowledge, because the regulations have been too difficult to understand or too easily evaded. One comes across cases in connection with social welfare where a deserted wife applies for relief and finds that because her husband came back six months later for one day she is disqualified. She may not have provided the information necessary either herself or through a solicitor to enable the authorities to trace the husband. It is unfortunate in cases of this kind that the person most concerned is the least experienced and suffers most.

I hope that some of the injustices many of us have experienced will be remedied under this Bill. It is making a late appearance and it will not be law until the end of this year. The sooner it is law the better and, the sooner more legislation of this kind is introduced the more it will be welcomed by all Members.

This is one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the House since I became a Member. A Bill entitled a Family Law Bill will have a salutory effect on society. It is aimed to get after a deserting spouse. Every Member knows that, in nine cases out of ten, a deserted spouse is a deserted wife. She is the deserted mother of a family. Irish people tend to have a great regard for a mother. There are oceans of sentimentality poured out on motherhood. The mother of a family is celebrated in song and ballad and story. Sentimentality is not enough and sentimentality in regard to the people this Bill is aimed to assist is no good at all.

In regard to the position of deserted wives no Bill in this or any other Parliament could present to us a code to assist in every individual case. This Bill sets up a framework in which a judge or district justice can apply certain principles. In doing so he will have to rely heavily on his own discretion. He will have to rely heavily on his own conscience. He will have to make value judgments. In the end, if he applies himself and does his best in a particular case, I have no doubt that the welfare of deserted wives will at last be seen to be getting proper attention.

Desertion is a growing phenomenon in Ireland and it is not just confined to the city. It is also becoming common in the country. The reason for desertion is not just a question of incompatibility between husband and wife. Many of our social habits have helped to create this phenomenon. If we take the traditional setting, a mother's place was in the home. She went about her household chores all day. She sewed and darned and said the family prayers at night. In many homes in the country the husband was not there at all. He was out in the pub. Similarly on a Sunday, on a day when, ideally speaking, the family should spend most of their time together, after Mass the traditional Irish mother set about cooking dinner; she then went about her household chores while her husband went to a football match, and he probably did not return home until after closing time in the pub.

Drink, gambling and many other social activities, when immoderately indulged in, have been contributing factors to this growing phenomenon in Ireland. Granted, social attitudes have been changing in the recent past at least. I dislike the phrase "women's liberation" intensely but yet I admire what it stands for. I do not know who is responsible for these advances but they are coming; they are there. I still cannot help thinking that woman's place, and particularly the lot of the mother in the home—by that I mean in the average Irish home —is inferior to that of her male counterpart.

There is one theme running through this Bill which emphasises the strength of the family unit. It is primarily designed to hold the family together. I was surprised to hear some Deputies saying things to the contrary and having doubts about that. I just glanced through the Bill but I see in section 4 that it is no longer obligatory on an injured party to prove desertion by the spouse in order to get a maintenance order. This is fine. It is a step in the right direction. Heaven only knows the number of wives and mothers of families who suffer at home quietly, whose children are suffering from malnutrition, who, on many occasions, may be on the brink of starvation while after he has finished his working day the husband goes drinking or gambling and squanders the family money.

Heretofore a wife would not dream of looking for a separation because of the social stigma attached to such a step. This Bill helps her to hold the family together. She can go to court and by a court decree she can get a proper arrangement made for the management of the family budget. That is a very salutory step and those who disagree with it or see any disadvantage in it are not addressing themselves properly to the intentions of this Bill. There are many other good things in the Bill hitherto unknown in our legislation. I see that a university student who is under 21 years can be classified as a dependent child. That to my mind is also good. It is good for the child, it is good for education, and it is good for the country.

The inclusion of a mentally handicapped person is another welcome provision. Talking about mentally and physically handicapped people and deprived people in general, I should like to pay tribute to CARE, to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, to FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centre, and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. All these organisations and societies do tremendous work which hardly any of us in this House could ever dream could be done. They have affected us here and they have helped to push this legislation on to the Table of this House. All their intentions and all the practical suggestions they may have offered may not be included in the Bill.

Many Opposition Deputies seemed to dwell at length on the absence of free legal advice or free legal aid in civil cases. All of these things cannot be encompassed in one short Bill. If we were to wait for everything, there would be even more delay. From the Minister's speech I learned that there is a thorough investigation going on into the practical steps necessary to be taken to have free legal aid in civil cases. These people, the deserted spouse, whether the husband or wife, will benefit from such a measure and I look forward to its being introduced in this House next year.

Section 20 of this Bill which will probably become known as the battered wives section will have the effect of excluding a spouse from the family home. That means many of the old traditions will be reversed. The husband always maintained that he was the absolute owner of the family homestead. An unfortunate wife who is hard pressed can now go to court and have her husband excluded from the family home for a limited period if she can prove that it will be for the benefit of herself and her children. These are practical steps and they will pay dividends in the end.

As I said at the outset, no legislation, no Constitution, no code of law could provide us with a system whereby we could settle family disputes, particularly the bitter and tragic family disputes that go on in many homes. This Bill encompasses many practical steps towards a fair and just settlement of these disputes. I welcome the Bill and I commend the Minister for the spirit in which he introduced it.

Like other Deputies I welcome the Bill which looks well on paper. I will not criticise it destructively, but I should like to put some points to the Minister which strike me forcibly. Will the provisions of this Bill be available to everybody; will they be available to the lower income group who have no money? If there is a dispute in a poor family and the husband is beating up the wife and children and the wife has no money, is there any way she can avail of these provisions? I am worried that this Bill is an ideal way for the affluent society who might be having a good time—there is not much about adultery in it because I suppose it does not count very much —to avail of. It is not there for the people who, as Deputy Brugha said, most need it. I do not mean to say that it is the people in the lower income group who beat up their wives because wives can be beaten up by all classes. If a case occurs in a poor area where there is no money and either one spouse or the other wants to avail of the provisions of this Bill, what is it going to cost that unfortunate poor person to bring this privately to the court? This is not spelled out in the Bill. On the face of it it seems that one would have to have a substantial amount of money before one could avail of these provisions. It seems to be a Bill for the affluent society.

Deputy Andrews mentioned that there was discrimination between the children born in wedlock and those born outside of wedlock. It is a crying shame that a child born outside of wedlock through no fault of his own, should be discriminated against. If the mother of that child got married later and the husband was prepared to accept her child into the family I do not see why there should be any difference between that child and an adopted child. There is an awful stigma attached to the illegitimate child, and that is wrong.

It strikes me that this Bill is a way for the legal people to make a lot of money out of the rich. I do not see any provision in it for the poor. The Minister should see to it that every person in the State, irrespective of whether they have wealth or not, if they need the help of this Bill can avail of it. I am worried that this Bill will not do that.

A number of Members have spoken of the hardships endured by people because husbands spend all their money and do not look after the children or wives who do likewise. Deputy Toal raised a good point in this regard.

A man who owns his own house and marries can be told under this Bill to get out of his own house if he is the spouse causing the trouble. Does that mean further changes in the general law of the State? At one time a husband could throw his wife out but under this Bill she can throw her husband out. On paper the Bill looks good but who can avail of it? I am not concerned with those who live a high life and spend a lot of money because if they want to get rid of a wife they can do so privately under this Bill.

The Minister mentioned, and rightly so, that there was a certain amount of danger about the privacy of these hearings because, being private there might be a tendency to go ahead and not settle the differences outside court. People in a temper, or in the heat of the moment, might decide to go to court because the hearing would be in private but if those people knew the issue would be made public they might settle their differences. It is the last straw to bring it to the courts. When the court decision is announced that marriage has no hope of continuing normally from that on the two people could never come together again.

There should be a councellor available for these people to consult before they go to court. They could obtain advice from this person and all the differences might be settled outside court. The courts should be there and it is a right which should be available to everybody but the courts might be used too frequently and people would not get together, negotiate and forget about the rows. They might rush into this and consult a lawyer. Lawyers are decent people and they may tell the people involved to go home and try and settle their differences. The courts will be in private without any publicity and I am afraid on that account people might rush into things. The Minister was wary on that point and I would be also.

I agree with the principle of the Bill and everybody should agree with it. But I would ask the Minister to spell it out because anybody who takes up the paper tomorrow and reads this will ask how much it would cost an ordinary individual to bring proceedings no matter how she was battered or beaten. High court judges are mentioned here. We all know what circuit court costs. We all know what district courts cost, but where, in the name of goodness, would the type of individual about whom I am talking and about whom I am concerned, find the money for the cost of a High Court action? This is the one point that I wanted to make, and I do not intend to hold up the House on it but it has not been spelt out anywhere. There is no talk of legal aid. There is no talk of the cost. I would ask the Minister, when replying, to give us some indication of what the cost of proceedings would be.

The general principle of the Bill is welcomed by all sides of the House but if it is to be a Bill for the well-to-do section of the community only it will be worthless.

These are the only few words I have to say on it but I am very concerned that the question of cost has not been mentioned.

I appreciate the general welcome that has been given to the Bill. I appreciate the indications from the Opposition that the Bill is acceptable and will not be opposed. I am also thankful to various Deputies who contributed to the Bill. Their remarks are helpful.

To some extent I must, regretfully, exclude the spokesman for the Opposition from that because his criticisms of the Bill were made in advance of my speech. He had decided what his criticisms were to be. I had to intervene at one stage during his speech to indicate that the matter he was alleging was not correct as I had indicated in my speech. His reply to me was that I had delivered my speech too quickly. I regret that he should have taken that line, that he ignored what I had to say because I went to some considerable trouble to spell out in detail and to indicate in detail to the House the legal and social changes which this Bill would make in our society, changes which I think are quite radical and fundamental.

I was concerned to expose them clearly for the House and to indicate to the House the adverse changes that they might bring as well as the positive benefits that I am satisfied that they will bring. Perhaps I might say disadvantages rather than adverse changes. It is hopeful that the details I spelled out will be taken up, followed and teased out further by all parties in the House.

The Opposition spokesman dismissed the Bill by saying that it was a minor measure, that it only scatters a few pounds here and there. He proceeded to deal with one or two of the sections. He talked in particular of the provision in section 4 where, for the first time in our legal system, there is a provision that uncondoned adultery may be disregarded by the court in deciding to award maintenance. Deputy Collins presented this as a provision that would strike at the root of family life in this country. Of course, it is nothing of the sort and, again, I was careful to point out in my opening speech that there could be circumstances in which it would be unduly harsh to condemn a spouse to a lifetime without maintenance simply on account of one act of adultery, irrespective of the circumstances which, perhaps, could include a previously long-established pattern in adultery by the other spouse. Again, this is a careful innovation and I pointed out the reasons for it. These were totally ignored and there was a blanket condemnation of the provision without dealing with the arguments for and against. There was a call by Deputy Collins for family courts. He said these would have a lack of solemnity, that there would be no solemn rules of evidence. He would regard this as an advisable departure.

Several other Deputies who spoke criticised the Bill for its lack of any indication that family courts are contemplated, for its failure to provide for them to deal with family matters. No Deputy went as far as Deputy Collins to seek to exclude solemn rules of evidence, and rightly so, because in matters of this nature where spouses are in contention and where serious matters affecting their families and their own future are at issue, it is very important that the rules of evidence, which have been devised so as to ensure that accuracy and truth will be presented to the tribunal hearing the case, would apply equally in those disputes as in any other matter coming for adjudication between citizens.

There was some criticism of the Bill by Deputies on the grounds that it did not go far enough, that its proposals were not far-reaching enough, that they did not represent, as Deputy Haughey said, a radical departure. Again, the whole area of family law is a big area. It encompasses the law relating to marriage, the question of domicile, the question of annulments, the law relating to separations, this question of family courts, the whole question of the law and children, the position regarding the matrimonial home and all that is involved there, the rights of the spouses to ownership of the matrimonial home and the chattels of the marriage and the position of mortgages in relation to the matrimonial home. Also, the question of adoption, another aspect of family law which has already been dealt with by this Government. The law of succession might have to be looked at again particularly with regard to the rights of illigitimate children to succeed to their father's property, to the rights of illigitimate children in the whole corpus of our legislation. These are all matters of family law which require updating, reforming and amending legislation. Many of them are under examination at the moment.

Deputies will realise when they hear the list of subjects that come under this omnibus term "family law" that it encompasses a very wide field indeed. If I were to postpone legislation until such time as I could have a comprehensive Bill dealing with all these matters it would be a very long time before such legislation could be prepared. So, I took a positive decision to proceed piecemeal—and I use the word knowing that it may be misinterpreted—with reform in this area. This Bill is actually the third that I have introduced since I took office. First, there was the Adoption Act. It was a matter of some concern for a long time that our adoption laws needed reforming.

I am glad to say that that reform was introduced last year and the Act is operating successfully. The second piece of reform in this area of the family law was the negotiation of an agreement with the UK Government for the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders. That agreement was successfully negotiated last year signed by the two Governments and the legislation to bring it into effect has been passed by the Oireachtas. Incidentally, Deputy Thornley wanted to know was there any procedure for reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders in the event of a husband decamping to the United Kingdom. I am glad to tell him there is and that it is one of the pieces of social reform we have introduced so far.

The position with regard to spouses going to other jurisdictions is not as satisfactory. If they go to some of the countries of the EEC hopefully a convention on mutual enforcement of judgments will be agreed and implemented by the countries of the Common Market. That would enable reciprocal enforcement of judgments to take place throughout Europe. That convention has not yet been fully negotiated but the most important area, from our point of view is of, course, Britain. We have an interim arrangement with the Government of the United Kingdom to deal with reciprocal enforcement between our two countries.

I have also indicated in the area of protection of the matrimonial home the Government have approved in principle reforms to meet the need in this area. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, the Walsh Committee, which was adverted to by some Deputies, Deputy Haughey amongst others, recommended movement along lines to protect the matrimonial home. I felt that this Bill was not a suitable vehicle for that provision because, if it were to be included, it would have delayed this Bill and, as Deputies know, there has been quite an amount of concern and agitation because the Bill was not presented to this House sooner. Therefore, I decided that that legislation should be separate.

The Government have approved in principle certain proposals to protect the rights of spouses to a matrimonial home. They also take into account the position of mortgagees and the wife's right to take over mortgage payments. I am hopeful that legislation will be available in the coming session. Another reason why I did not include it in this Bill, apart from the question of complicating this measure, was the fact that the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure referred to this problem in the context of desertion and maintenance whereas I feel that the protection of the matrimonial home raises wider issues in a wider family context. There are many instances where there is neither desertion nor any need for maintenance through the courts, but where nevertheless protection of the matrimonial home is desirable and prudent. Consequently, it opens wider horizons than those revealed in this legislation.

There are also the law of succession and the rights of illegitimates, their rights to inherit and their legal status generally, the law relating to children, the law relating to domicile, the law relating to marriage. These are all important areas of family law which are under examination and which will be legislated for in due course as part of a continuing programme of reform in this area.

There were a number of major trends in the debate. I was glad to see there was general support for the new provision defining the cases in which a court could move to order maintenance. There did not seem to be any disagreement whatever about the fact that the present narrow ground of desertion has been abolished and that failure to maintain, broadly speaking, will be the criterion henceforth.

There was also general support for the principle of attachment of earnings. In this connection some Deputies raised the question of how real this is in terms of enforcing attachment orders. Of course, there are great practical difficulties. If the husband— again I speak in terms of wife and husband rather than spouses because, as I indicated in my opening speech, the reality of the situation in our society is that it will be nearly always the wife taking an action against her husband—is in steady employment and is prepared to remain there, attachment of earnings can be a very valuable provision. If he is the type who wants to go to ground, so to speak, who hops from job to job, there is no doubt that the attachment of his earnings will present considerable administrative difficulties What they might be, in practice, we shall have to wait to see until the system has been in operation and we can see the difficulties that arise.

Again—and I made this point when speaking on the debate on the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders Bill—if an errant husband goes to England and determinedly decides to lose himself in that vast urban society, the chances are he will do so successfully. No law in the world can change that position. What this Bill will do is make it possible, in a large number of cases, to attach the earnings of the neglectful spouse. That will be a great step forward. Hopefully, through time, it will be possible to build administrative procedures that will enable the courts to keep track of maintenance debtors and follow them from place to place. Ideally, of course, there should be some system of identification for all citizens which would involve some mark or note that the particular citizen was subject to an attachment or maintenance order. Again that would involve great interference with the liberty of the individual. It is not something that would be acceptable to all citizens. So the problems of enforcement are quite real. These points were adverted to by Deputies Desmond, Haughey, Thornley and O'Brien.

Deputy O'Brien wondered if social welfare cards could have a note on them that there was an attachment order against that person. This is something that can be considered when the Bill is in operation, the attachment provisions are being operated and we can see how they work out in practice. It is important also that we faceup to the fact that the mere placing of this legislation on the statute book, providing for maintenance orders and providing for attachment of earnings to enforce those maintenance orders does not guarantee that, in every case, it will be possible to have the full amount of that order paid to the spouse. If a husband is determined to evade his responsibilities and disappear, no law of the land can prevent him from so doing.

With that reservation, there was general acceptance for the provision for attachment of earnings. It is a new concept in our law and one that has been sought generally. I am glad to be introducing it now. It makes more appropriate the reciprocal arrangements we have with the United Kingdom, because, when we introduced our Bill we were in the rather invidious position that we did not have attachment of earnings here, so that a judgment debtor in this country was in a more favourable position. But his unfortunate wife in the United Kingdom was in a less favourable position than the wife here whose husband had deserted to the United Kingdom where attachment of earnings has been in operation for some time.

The other main change in the Bill is the new situation of spouses in relation to each other, the situation of equality where, for the first time, when this Bill becomes law a wife can have an obligation to support her husband. As I indicated in my opening speech this obligation is something that will be decided on by the courts. The Bill sets out clear lines for the courts to consider how this obligation should be enforced. This is a new departure. It has not been adverted to by Deputies to any great degree and I take it that it is an acceptable departure in this day and age, that in the light of the changing format of our society and the different role of women nowdays it is a change that is acceptable and in line with current thinking.

Deputy Collins took the view, I do not know how he arrived at it, that the Bill might be seen to be sexist, in favour of women and discriminatory against men. I am puzzled as to how he took that view; it must be on a superficial reading of the Bill because it certainly did not arise from anything I said. I do not think he listened to what I said. He said that the Bill might be considered to be, and I quote, "a further example of male persecution." I cannot see anything in the Bill to suggest that we are hounding unfortunate males. I think the Bill is in ease of unfortunate wives and unfortunate spouses who have been neglected by the other spouse. The Bill, for the first time, recognises the principle that a wife may have an obligation, consonant with her other obligations as wife and mother, to contribute to the support of the household. I think it is an exaggeration to suggest that she is thereby put in a position superior to her husband. What we sought for her, and what I think is generally accepted by the House, is that there is equality between the spouses in regard to this matter.

I have already indicated that there has been some criticism of the change proposed in regard to the adultery provisions. This criticism came from Deputies Collins and Byrne. When they get an opportunity, if they read what I said in regard to this they will see that the change is quite small, that it is one that will be hard to condemn because it is a humane change and one that has been overdue. Certainly it does not open any gates to promiscuity, it does not in any way attack the fundamental sanctity of the family life nor does it in any way provide temptation for adultery to become rampant. To suggest that would be a gross exaggeration and unfair to Irish society.

There was very strong support from a number of speakers for the idea of a family tribunal but nobody defined what in essence was meant. People were apprehensive that the courts might not have the necessary expertise to deal with sensitive questions of family disputes and that a finer instrument than our present courts is needed. The words "family court" were used but nobody defined what it was. Deputy Collins spoke of it and so did Deputy Haughey although Deputy Haughey referred to a "family council." Reference was made to assessors sitting with the courts. That is not a new idea. Assessors sit with courts principally in admiralty cases, and sometimes in building cases judges will seek the help of technical assessors where there is a lot of very technical evidence to be sifted.

It is a matter for argument and for debate as to what type of tribunal would be best suited to deal with matters coming under this general omnibus title of "family law." At what level should it be inserted into our court system? Should it be higher than the District Court, should it be Circuit Court level or higher again? Should there be a panel of judges, comprising this court, to be itinerant in the sense that they will move around the country and sit periodically at different venues, or should there be a permanent judge in different areas of the country charged with responsibility in this area? These are all matters that will have to be teased out and considered in some detail before we decide that family courts are going to be a positive step forward and that they are needed. I think myself there is a lot to be argued for in their favour but it is a debate that needs to be taken a stage further before we can make any commitment.

In the meantime I am quite satisfied to leave the adjudication of the type of cases of family disputes that will arise under this Bill to our existing courts. As I indicated in my opening speech, doing this will necessarily involve the making of value judgements by the judges hearing these cases. Having regard to the level of common sense that, in my personal experience, and from my knowledge of other people who have a lot to do with the courts, prevails on the District Court and Circuit Court benches, I am satisfied that the judgments which may involve value judgments that are going to be passed in these areas will be reflective of majority opinion in our society. This is what the courts should do. I am perfectly happy to leave the adjudication of these cases to the good sense, humanity and the charity of our District Court bench.

There has been some apprehension that the fact that these cases will be heard in our present courts will inhibit people from seeking redress. Deputy Haughey talked about the exotic courts, that there was a rather intimidating and terrifying feel about them to the ordinary man-in-the-street. Again I think this is not so; it is an exaggeration. People are not afraid of our courts in that sense. There was talk of the intimidating procedures and the formal dress of wigs and gowns. Most of these proceedings will be in the District Court where there is no such dress and the atmosphere, far from being oppressive will be informal because these courts will be held in private. Very often they will be held in the judge's room and the general procedure will be quite informal. I have no doubt that there will be no question of anybody being intimidated or frightened by an excessive amount of formality. Even if they are not held in the judge's room, the fact that the court is cleared immediately reduces the tension and relaxes the atmosphere. There is nobody there but the parties involved. They have the knowledge that the proceedings are in private and that they are not going to appear in the local paper as headlines the following weekend.

This is an immense burden to be lifted from litigants in this area. The terror that people have of our courts does not come from fear of the court procedure themselves, from the courtroom, the lawyers or the judiciary. It comes from the fear of exposure in their local paper. When that fear is removed, as it is removed by the section which provides that these proceedings are held in private, then I think these proceedings will not frighten anybody and that there will be ready access to the courts. I am quite happy at this stage, pending further examination of the concept of family tribunals, to leave jurisdiction to our present courts in the matter proposed by this Bill.

When all the other areas of family law come to be legislated for—succession, separation, domicile and legislation for annulments—then it may be necessary to have a specialised type of tribunal to deal with them. At the moment I am satisfied as things stand to rely on our present courts. I do not think there is anything about them that will intimidate anybody or will make them unattractive to people who have to have recourse to them or redress in this area. Tied up with that point was the call for legal aid. Many Deputies, including Deputy Haughey and Deputy E. Desmond, mentioned this point.

Deputy Callanan expressed concern, following on Deputy Byrne's point, that this Bill would provide one law for the rich, and one for the poor. There is no foundation for that fear. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest this. With respect to Deputy Byrne, his proposition was ridiculous. No person need be deprived of their rights under this Bill for want of legal aid, because the procedures will be simple. The district court office will be available to an affected spouse who wants to commence proceedings, by way of a summons, and district court clerks, traditionally, have helped individual citizens to issue summons.

Again, I have no doubt that any person who wishes to consult a solicitor on a matter of family breakdown will find ready assistance from the solicitors' profession without any prior commitment to financial obligations. The proceedings will be informal and inexpensive—summary proceedings in the district court. They are the sort of proceedings with which solicitors are dealing all the time. It is not a question of an elaborate procedure being involved here.

If the proceedings are being taken in the High Court, the parties have obviously the means to go there, so the question of costs being an inhibiting factor will not arise. The vast majority of cases will be heard in the district courts. If the affected spouse does not want to go to a solicitor, through not knowing anybody or worrying about the financial aspects involved, that spouse can go to the district court office and the summons will be issued there and the hearings will take place in private. Because of their informal and family nature, the lack of an advocate will not be prejudicial to either party at those hearings. I am speaking from experience when I say that I have confidence that if an affected spouse requires legal help it will be forthcoming.

The costs involved in a matter of this kind are not a significant feature in the average solicitor's income and will not inhibit him in taking these proceedings. Again, too, the court can always award costs to the maintenance creditor against the maintenance debtor, presumably to the wife against the husband; if she engages legal help, it will be paid ultimately as part of the court order. Deputy Callanan need have no fear that any person will be deprived of his or her rights because of the absence of legal aid.

Deputy Haughey spoke of Acts which were, I think, passed during his term as Minister for Justice. One of these was the Guardianship of Infants Act. He also mentioned the Succession Act. I think it was introduced during his term of office but was probably processed to conslusion by his successor—I am only speaking from recollection. Those Acts were passed at a time when there was no legal aid. Nevertheless, they have enabled relief to be obtained by parties under them. Perhaps more could have been obtained if legal aid were available.

In any event, there is light at the end of this particular tunnel because, since the Walsh Committee reported on desertion and maintenance in its 19th Interim Report, I have set up the Pringle Committee to investigate and advise me on a system of legal aid in civil cases. So while we do not have legal aid at the moment I am hopeful that, within a reasonably short time and within the capacity of the Exchequer to bear it, we will have a system of legal aid which will put beyond any doubt the question of people availing of the remedies provided by this Bill.

Deputy E. Desmond wished to know if there was any possibility of an interim report being prepared by the Pringle Committee. There is such a possibility. I do not know whether the committee will make an interim report, or whether they will report finally in the near future. Their terms of reference entitle and enable them to make an interim report, if they so wish.

I know too, from the large number of submissions over a wide ranging area that have been made to us, that it would be seized of the problems in the area of family law. One of the submissions came from the Free Legal Advice Centre. These people are very much in tune with the needs for legal aid in this area of family law.

There was some dissatisfaction expressed, particularly by Deputy E. Desmond and Deputy Andrews, that there was nothing in this Bill to deal with the rights of the illegitimate child. As I indicated, it was not intended that this Bill would be the answer to all the problems in the area of family law. I indicated also that it is part of a continuing reforming process, some of which has already begun but more has to come. One of the areas in which reform has yet to be made is in regard to the illegitimate child, his rights to support, to inherit and his general legal status.

Another point raised was the question of making interim orders. The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure suggested that these be made by the local authority. The Government decided not to accept this recommendation. I indicated in my opening speech the reasons we decided not to do so. Those reasons are cogent and weighty but that is not to say that the need for which the recommendation was made is not recognised in the Bill. It is recognised in the Bill, because the court has been given power to make interim orders. These can be made very quickly, and in the absence of the husband. Therefore the real and immediate need can be dealt with by the court pending the full hearing of the case and the adjudication of the respective positions of the parties. Any payments made on foot of an interim order can then be taken into account. It could happen—this is a risk we must take—that the interim orders will be made to a spouse who afterwards, might be found to be an unworthy spouse. This is a small risk which we must take if we are to deal with the problem which the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure saw as a real problem—the need of a dependent spouse and children over the period pending the hearing of the case; a time when their need might be real and great hardship might be caused in the absence of such an interim provision. This is how we have dealt with the problem in the Bill and, in my opinion, it has been dealt with in a sensible way.

Deputy Briscoe spoke mainly on the question of special courts to deal with marital problems. He spoke about training of justices and the holding of seminars to exchange views. This is a good idea and already exists. In our district court there is provision for regular meetings. I have no doubt that these meetings are used to exchange views on problems which justices come across in the courts throughout the country. In this way, a certain consistency of approach can be achieved. As I said in my opening speech, this is not a problem with regard to the High Court because it is centralised and the judges are in constant communication with each other.

Deputy Briscoe also raised the question of having the courts award a certain percentage of the husband's salary by way of maintenance rather than doing what the Bill does, speak of actual monetary amounts. Deputy Haughey also raised this point and suggested that a certain proportion should be ordered by the courts to be paid rather than £X per week. He drew an analogy with the Succession Act under which the widow is given a right to a percentage of the estate. I do not think it is a good analogy because in the case of succession we are dealing with the corpus of the estate, which is a fixed capital amount, whereas in the case of maintenance orders we are dealing with a weekly income and to order a percentage or proportion of it would not be satisfactory.

We can achieve the same result by providing in the District Court a maximum of £40 for the spouse and £10 for each dependent child. These sums have been mentioned by some speakers. Deputy Brugha said that, in the light of present inflation which, hopefully, is under control——

I mentioned £60 not £40.

£60 altogether. The amount I mentioned was £40 for a wife and two children at £10 each. That is £60.

I am not opposed to it.

Some Deputies thought it might be a bit on the small side.

Pre- or post-tax?

Pre-tax. It is a realistic figure and the ceiling is sufficiently high to give the courts a considerable amount of discretion. The advantage of the percentage or proportion recommended by Deputy Briscoe and Deputy Haughey can be obtained by the court ordering monetary sums within that ceiling which, in effect, will be a percentage or proportion of the salary earned. It is a constitutional point that the district court is a creature of statute and can have only whatever jurisdiction is given to it by statute from time to time. It was suggested that I might take power to vary by order the amount to be awarded by the district court. This would not be constitutional. The amount of money is varied by Act of Parliament, and this is something that is reviewed from time to time.

Deputy E. Desmond wanted to know why the exclusion order made under section 21—this is another fundamental change being made by the Bill—lasted for only three months. It is a serious thing to make an order excluding a man from his own home and, because it is, the order should have a definite time limit on it. As a result of this proposal, the old adage that a man's home is his castle no longer counts; a man will no longer have complete and undisputed dominion in the home. It has now been removed legislatively. This is a fundamental change, and one that has been welcomed on both sides of the House. It is a very radical but common-sense change and, because it is a radical change, it is only right that there should be a time limit on it. That is not to say that, at the end of the three months, the husband who has been misbehaving himself can return to the family home. He can return provided normality has been restored and the circumstances which caused the exclusion have disappeared. In any event the order can be renewed.

Deputy Haughey said that the Bill is useless since, on account of the absence of legal aid, the whole exercise is rendered nugatory. I demonstrated that that is not so in practice and pointed out that his own Succession Act has worked for many years quite successfully despite a total absence of legal aid. There is at least light at the end of that particular tunnel now. It would be very desirable if the same light were here now. We would have a more streamlined system to assist deserving spouses. We have to take our system as it stands, and the fact that legal aid is not available would be a poor argument for postponing this measure any longer. No deserving cases will be deprived of their rights under the Bill because of the absence of legal aid.

Deputy Haughey also mentioned the Walsh Committee's recommendations concerning the family home position, that had not been included. The wife has her payments of mortgage instalments recognised and there should be a provision to transfer the tenancy. As I have already said, there is a Bill in course of preparation to deal with a wife's rights in the matrimonial home. That will take into account the question of mortgage instalments. Even as matters stand at the moment, if a wife pays mortgage instalments she will get an equitable interest in the property by virtue of section 12 of the Married Women's Status Act, 1957. Regarding local authority tenancies, these tenancies are not quite tenancies at will but they are at the disposal of the local authorities and, in deserving cases, tenancies can be transferred.

With regard to Deputy Desmond's point of the three months' time limit on exclusion orders, I am reminded that that applies only when made by the District Court. If made by the Circuit Court, or by the High Court, they can be made without limitation.

The question of the matrimonial home and the right of the wife to take over morgage repayments is something that will mesh in eventually with this Bill. This Bill provides for maintenance, adequate and consistent with the circumstances of the parties. If the family liabilities embrace the need to make mortgage repayments, these will be taken into account by the court in deciding the level of maintenance. This will also mesh in with the provision in the forthcoming legislation giving the wife the right to take over mortgage repayments.

Deputy Andrews raised the point as to why there was not an interim provision on the lines of the Walsh Committee's recommendation in regard to the protection of the family home. The fact that exclusion is provided for here and that other legislation is on the way is the answer to that particular point.

Deputy Andrews also raised a point about the practical application of section 20. This again introduces a change of quite a fundamental character. It provides that the household allowance and anything bought with it shall be the joint property of spouses. In my opening statement I gave an example; if the household money went to purchase a clock that clock would be the joint property of the partners. I do not know if the Deputy was being facetious, but he wanted to know would the clock be divided between them on separation and said that would be ridiculous. Deputy Andrews should know that would not be the situation, that their title to that property would not be as tenants in common, but that they would be joint tenants, that they would have an undivided moiety in the property and, in the event of the property having to be divided, it would be sold and the proceeds divided. That would be the position. In England the common ownership makes the parties tenants in common. This is a less satisfactory position.

One of the incidents of joint tenancy is automatic succession on the death of the joint tenant. This, of course, would remove any question of the need to have it partitioned. If there was an informal split-up one would have to rely on the common sense of the parties to decide on who would take the kitchen clock. If we had to get down to that amount of detail in legislation of this kind we would have an impossible task.

That seems to cover all the points raised in the debate. In conclusion I want again to thank Deputies for their interest in the subject. I am glad to note that the fundamental changes, the widening of the basis on which maintenance may be paid, the change we are now making in the status of the wife with regard to the obligation to maintain the family home, the exclusion in some cases of the husband from his own house, the provision whereby earnings are to be attached, and the provision whereby household allowances and goods purchased by them will become the joint property of the spouses, appear to be accepted by the House and that the matters which worry the House are matters which are not in this Bill and not intended to be in it, matters of family courts and other areas of family law. Any disappointments that were expressed were not generally expressed at what is in the Bill. There seems to be general acceptance of the provisions in the Bill, and general acceptance of the fact that, while they are far-reaching, fundamental and radical, they are nevertheless acceptable.

I indicated in my opening the areas in which we will have to be attentive to these aspects. I invited Deputies to follow up the warning signs, if I may call them such, that I gave. I take it that the fact that the House, by and large, accepted these things without serious discussion, is an indication that they are welcome and that there are no worries about them. There is time between now and Committee Stage for Deputies to consider the matter in greater detail. Some Deputies indicated that they are looking forward to Committee Stage for a teasing out of the Bill section by section and possibly the putting down of amendments. I thank the House for accepting this Bill in principle.

Question put and agreed to.

It is suggested that the Bill might go to a special committee during the recess.

We will consider that suggestion. At the moment perhaps the Chair would fix the next Stage.

Until the Chair is aware of whether the Bill is going to a committee or coming before the whole House we cannot fix the next Stage.

Leave it to the Whips and we will arrange it between us. If we do not agree on a special committee we will decide on the earliest possible date after the recess.

Perhaps we could deal with it before the recess.

We will give the Minister a decision this week.

Perhaps we could order the Committee Stage for next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 29th July, 1975.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23rd July, 1975.