HC Deb 08 August 1839 vol 50 cc113-5

Lord J. Russell moved the order of the day for the bringing up of the report on the Bastardy Bill.

Lord G. Somerset

wished to call the attention of the noble Lord to one or two facts in respect to which the Poor-law Bill might be much improved. His first proposition related to women pregnant with bastard children, and likely to become chargeable to the parish. There ought to be some power in the guardians to look after the putative father before her delivery, and to insure his appearance by recognizances, instead of waiting till the parish was actually chargeable. He believed his right hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke had suggested to the noble Lord, the other night, some clause that would carry this intention into effect; he was therefore fortified by that authority. The other point was that of appeals. If the putative father was brought before the petty sessions, great inconvenience might be suffered if there was no appeal. He had no objection to the most stringent recognizance; but he wished that there should be some relief afforded to persons aggrieved by the decision of the petty sessions. Persons holding respectable situations in life—dissenting ministers, for example—sometimes had the misfortune of having this charge cast upon them, and the justices, without the assistance of learned counsel, might determine the question in a manner which would most seriously affect the character of the party. He should not press these two points by making them the subject of motion; but he wished the noble Lord would consider them.

Sir C. Grey

said, the absence of the right of appeal was a departure from the original principle of the Poor-law. In cases so peculiar, the want of an appeal added materially to the hardships suffered to be laid upon the male labouring population by this Act. There had been many cases of females fixing the charge on innocent persons.

Lord J. Russell

said, that, with regard to the first proposition of the noble Lord, it did not seem to him advisable to adopt it, although it had been fortified by the high authority of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Pembroke. The fault attributed to the old Poor-law was, that it gave too great a facility to women to obtain a relief in such cases, and operated as an encouragement to them to continue in vice. He thought the suggestion of the noble Lord would restore some of the old abuses, which it was the object of Parliament to correct. In preparing an amendment of this clause of the Poor-law Amendment Act, he had some difficulty with regard to the second proposition of the noble Lord. No doubt there were some cases in which false charges operated with great injury against the persons so charged. At the same time they should endeavour to avoid making the law worse instead of better, by giving two trials, one before the petty sessions and another before the quarter sessions. Moreover, the proof under the new law, was not precisely similar to that under the old law, when the oath of the woman was sufficient; whereas, under the new law, corroborative evidence was required to satisfy the magistrates at the petty sessions. Still there was a difficulty, and not feeling confident as to the operation of the law, he was disposed, in deference to the opinions of several Members, to adopt the opinion that it was better, on the whole, to allow an appeal to the quarter sessions, and he should not object to the introduction of a clause, on the third reading of the bill, giving that appeal. But at the same time, not satisfied that this appeal might not be made vexatious, and expensive, and a source of scandal, if such should be the consequence, he should hold himself at liberty to take away the appeal, or substitute some other measure for it.

Mr. Pryme

rejoiced to hear that the noble Lord intended to agree to this suggestion. He was aware of the indelicacy of these investigations before the Quarter-sessions; but such cases demanded more inquiry than could be given to them before the Petty-sessions.—Report agreed to.