HC Deb 21 June 1834 vol 24 cc715-9

On the Motion of Lord Althorp, The House resolved itself into a Committee on the Poor-laws' Amendment Bill.

The Question was put on the first of the Clauses relative to bastardy, which had been postponed.

Mr. Miles

rose to submit the clause of which he had given notice, as a substitution for that proposed by the noble Lord. It was important the House should know in what situation it stood with regard to the law of bastardy. By the 69th, 70th, and 71st clauses, they had declared that in future the burthen of an illegitimate child should be entirely thrown on the mother, and that all responsibility should be removed from the putative father, or in other words that the woman was the seducer, and the man the seduced. He could not view such an enactment without the most serious apprehensions, the clause he proposed would therefore place some portion of' the responsibility on the head of the father. It would also remedy another very considerable evil. At present it was the system of the parish rather to consider the circumstances of the putative father, and his ability to pay the demand made upon him, than what would be a sufficient indemnity for the maintenance of the mother and child. Now, the clause which he meant to propose, with a view to the relief of the parishes, would have the effect of rendering that indemnity more adequate to the support of the child, and thereby diminish the burthen. It proceeded upon the principle, that the child should not come to the parish until it was actually chargeable. He also proposed to give the putative father the power of meeting the charge of affiliation against him by witnesses before the Magistrates, instead of being sent to prison, and being compelled to appeal against the decision of the Magistrates at the Quarter Sessions. The hon. Member moved a clause to the effect he had described.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

said, this clause was rather explanatory of the views recommended by the Commissioners. Its effect would be to throw the child upon the settlement of the mother, and thereby prevent the evils arising from unpleasant interference of different parishes, and those scenes which so frequently took place before the Magistrates. He thought it was most desirable that the parish should have no inducement to interfere until interference had become absolutely necessary. Admitting that a responsibility should rest upon the putative father of the child, it was of the greatest importance that the charge made upon him should be confined to the actual expenses incurred, so that a surplus should never remain in the hands of the parish.

Lord Althorp

had before stated, that he preferred the clause contained in the Bill. He considered that the effect of the hon. Member's Amendment would be so to punish the man by imprisonment, that he would be induced to marry the woman in order that he might escape the punishment. This would be most injurious, as it would lead to many improvident marriages. With regard to the question of whether the order of the Magistrates upon the father should be for the support of the mother and the child, or the child only, he thought it should be of such an amount as would cover the expenses of the mother from the period of her being with child till her confinement, but that afterwards the father should be called on to maintain the child only, and not the mother. With respect to a surplus remaining in the hands of the parish, he was of opinion that would seldom occur, because the parish had no right to come upon the father unless the mother was actually chargeable. It was said, the mother would leave the workhouse when she was able to work and maintain herself, and it was asked in that case what was to become of the child? But by the present Bill, the mother was bound to maintain the child. The only difficulty was, what course ought to be pursued when the mother was able to support herself, but not the child. He saw no alternative but the parish supporting both; otherwise he admitted one of the objections to this Bill—namely, that the workhouses would become to a certain extent foundling hospitals, which were a sort of institutions not very desirable to be established in this country.

Mr. Ayshford Sanford

observed, that at present the woman did not become chargeable, but only the offspring; but the words of this clause rendered the mother herself chargeable. Now, he did not wish to charge the father with the mother's maintenance; but if he were not charged, an additional burthen was thrown on the parish. He did not see how this difficulty was to be got rid of.

Mr. Robinson

regarded the clause as an Amendment to the Bill; but he still objected to all the liability being cast on the woman, while the man was allowed to go free.

Sir Thomas Freemantle

thought the inconvenience of being obliged to receive relief only in the workhouse would be sufficient to deter the woman from again coming on the parish.

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

objected altogether to the Amendment of the hon. Member. The Bastardy-laws, as they had hitherto been administered, were a great cause of immorality, and the most effectual check to it would be to discontinue the relief to the woman. As to the amount which was paid to parishes by the reputed fathers of illegitimate children, all he would say was, that the expenses of getting at the father and making him pay any thing were often more than was received from him, so that in fact the parishes gained but little in this way. He hoped the clause would be allowed to stand as it was originally.

Sir Henry Willoughby

said, that he was anxious to draw the attention of the noble Lord to an important question. The proviso enacted, that no woman shall have any claim, title, or interest to any pecuniary indemnity on account of an illegitimate child. He would not discuss the principle of the economists as acted upon in the Bill. He understood it to be the new theory, that women were to be alone liable to all the consequences of having an illegitimate child. The principle might be wise; but was the noble Lord prepared to say, that there were no exceptions to this rule? It was his opinion that, especially in towns, the great mass of women were led astray by men from age and experience most likely to practise unfairly on a young woman. Would the noble Lord or the Committee contend that in such cases the woman should have no remedy? The law giving a claim was repealed—was there to be no substitute in cases of unfair dealing when the relative ages of the parties or any clear facts would go to establish that the woman had been unjustly dealt with? The noble Lord seemed to think the higher and the lower classes were on a par. That was not the case. The rich father might obtain damages (per quod servitium amisit) from a wrong doer; but how was a poor woman or a poor father to enter a Court of Law? It would cost at least 100l. in the country to maintain such an action, and thus a woman suffering under a grievous wrong would be without a remedy. The Committee could not be justified in passing a law repealing former securities, and establishing no new ones. He limited his observations to cases of unfair dealing, and he contended the noble Lord was bound to afford such injured women an easy and effective tribunal to redress their wrongs, which no one would attempt to deny.

Lord Althorp

said, that as he saw that the opinion of the House was in favour of agreeing to this clause in its amended shape, he should offer no further opposition to it. He supported it, however, as matter of expediency, in consequence of the excitement which had been raised against it in the parishes; but he must state that, upon strict principle, he could not at all agree with its propriety.

Mr. Grote

wished it to be understood, that if the noble Lord was willing to admit the clause, he made the concession to public feeling rather than to reason or argument. He did not consider the clause as an improvement in the Bill.

The House divided—Ayes 114; Noes 39; Majority 75.

The clause proposed by Mr. Miles, with Amendments was added to the Bill.

List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Martin, J.
Astley, Sir J. Parrott, J.
Baring, W. B. Romilly, E.
Bouverie, Captain Rooper, J. B.
Buller, C. Ryle, J.
Calvert, N. Seale, Colonel
Dashwood, G. W. Shepherd, T.
Divett, E. Skipwith, Sir G.
Evans, W. Stewart, E.
Evans, G. Strickland, Sir G.
Ewart, W. Strutt, E.
Fazakerley, J. Tancred, H. W.
Fitzroy, Lord C. Throckmorton, A. G.
Folkes, Sir W. Todd, R.
Fort, J. Trelawney, Sir W.
Goring, H. D. Wedgwood, J. W.
Grote, G. Whitmore, W.
Heron, Sir R. Wilbrahim, G.
Hornby, E. G.
Lloyd, J. H. TELLERS.
Locke, W. Peter, W.
Lord Althorp

proposed a new clause to the effect that no rules or by-laws made or sanctioned by commissioners should be such as to oblige the inmates of a workhouse to attend any religions service that they did not conscientiously believe in; or to oblige the children in a workhouse to be educated in any faith that their parents did not approve of, and that the ministers of all religious persuasions should be at liberty to visit workhouses at any period of the day, at the request of any of the inmates, for the purpose of affording them religious instruction. The noble Lord said, he thought this new clause would meet all the purposes which the Amendment that the hon. Member (Mr. Langdale) had proposed was intended to accomplish. With regard to orphan children, he believed it would be admitted that it would be most desirable to educate them in the religious principles of the Established Church of the country.

Mr. Langdale

, though he considered that this clause did not go far enough, would not press his Amendment.

The Clause was agreed to.

The other postponed Clauses were agreed to or struck out.

The House resumed, and the Report was brought up and agreed to.

On the Motion of Lord Althorp, the Bill was recommitted pro formâ, that the several Clauses and Amendments might be printed, and the Report was ordered to be taken into further consideration on a future day,