HC Deb 16 February 1863 vol 169 cc344-8

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Tenth Section of recited Act repealed).


said, the clause as it stood might have the effect of putting an end to all appeals now pending, and suggested the addition of some words to amend this.


asked the hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland why he did not propose to assimilate the law in this matter to that of England. In this country the jurisdiction was given to the petty sessions, and was not confined, as this Bill proposed it should be in Ireland, to the quarter sessions. He (Mr. Maguire) could not understand why this should be so.


said, that the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill of last year proposed to give jurisdiction to the petty sessions, but the House would not entertain the proposal. The noble Lord the Member for Mayo (Lord John Browne), during the passage of the Bill through Committee introduced a clause—Boards of Guardians to recover from the putative Father the cost of Maintenance of an Illegitimate Child up to the age of Fourteen, by Process before the Barrister at Quarter Sessions. The House entirely adopted that principle, and by a majority of 111 to 11. The Government, therefore, had no option but to adopt the principle of that clause. Great inconvenience might arise if the guardians, in seeking to recover money for the maintenance of women and their illegitimate children, should have to go before the magistrates in petty sessions, because those magistrates were almost always members of the boards of guardians, and therefore would be judges in their own cause. In consequence of this point being raised on Friday, he had written to one of the Law Officers of the Crown, Mr. Serjeant Sullivan, on the subject, and he replied that it would be infinitely preferable to intrust this business to the Bar rister at Quarter Sessions, and that to give it to the petty sessions would be liable to great objection.


said, it was natural that a Law Officer of the Crown should prefer the jurisdiction of the quarter sessions. This was just a portion of that system of centralization which was growing up, which was taking the Irish county business out of the hands of the county gentlemen. He did not see that there could be any grievance in leaving this jurisdiction to the magistrates in petty sessions. Surely the right hon. Baronet did not pretend that the magistrates would suffer themselves to be biassed in the judgments by their connection with the board of guardians. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would see his way to adopt the general opinion of the Irish Members unconnected with Government, and allow these cases to be decided by the petty sessions.


pointed out that in those cases where the magistrates were members of the board of guardians they could not sit in the adjudication of these cases. He did not say that a magistrate in this position was morally disqualified; but he said without hesitation that he was legally disqualified, because the law prohibited any man from sitting on a case in which he was a party.


said, he believed that justice would be best secured by the clause in its present shape.


said, he looked upon it as most objectionable. If evidence were adduced that the woman spoke falsely, it would be very unfair to put the man whom she accused to the expense of a trial before the barrister.


said, that he was one of the eleven Members who originally voted against the clause. He was of opinion that the greater the publicity the greater the check to immorality. For that reason it was better that the case should be brought before the quarter rather than the petty sessions.


thought the jurisdiction should be in the barristers at quarter sessions, and that the magistrates at petty sessions should be restricted merely to the administration of the formal oath that would be required in order to institute proceedings.


was of opinion that the magistrates should be kept out of the business altogether, otherwise the clause would be entirely inoperative.


said, he hoped the right hon. Baronet would persevere with the Bill as it stood.


said, he thought the better way would be to leave the matter entirely to the Chairman of quarter sessions. The magistrates who took part in the petty sessions were almost invariably most active in the board-room of the workhouse; and therefore, when on the bench, it was not right that they should adjudicate on matters which they had already discussed as guardians of the poor.


felt some surprise at having heard so many hon. Members express the opinion that the best tribunal for trying these cases in the first instance was the Assistant Barrister. On the contrary, a very strong opinion prevailed in Ireland that the host tribunal in the first instance would be the petty sessions of the place where the mother resided. He considered that unless a power was given to the magistrates at petty sessions to summon the woman before them to be examined on oath whether a certain individual was the father of her illegitimate child, the Act would to some extent be inoperative.


expressed his hope that before the Bill passed it would be restored to the shape in which it appeared last Session, in respect to the tribunal before which the cases to which it referred would be tried. What he desired was that the English law, which left such cases to be heard at petty sessions, should be adopted for Ireland.

After a short discussion, Clause agreed to, with Amendments.

Clause 2 (Board of Guardians may recover Cost of Maintenance of Illegitimate Child).


said, he under-stood from his right hon. Friend who had charge of the Bill that he proposed this change of the law in consequence of a wish expressed to that effect last Session and the year before by Irish Members. This clause would to a great extent bring back the law of Ireland to the state in which the law of England was before 1844. Before that year the law of England empowered overseers to proceed against the putative father of an illegitimate child for the purpose of recovering from him the cost of its maintenance. The result was, that altercations constantly took place between boards of guardians and the puta- tive fathers of illegitimate children, and marriages frequently took place with the mothers of such children in consequence of the pressure applied by the parish officers. To remove the evils generated by that state of the law, the Government of the day, through Sir James Graham as Home Secretary, proposed an alteration by which all power of proceeding against. a putative father on behalf of the parish was taken away, and any proceeding on their part in such matters was absolutely interdicted, and a remedy was given to the mother of an illegitimate child to proceed against the putative father for contribution towards its maintenance; but if the mother of the child became chargeable to the parish, the parish had no remedy. He was not aware that any complaint had been made of that alteration in the English law. On the contrary, he believed the boards of guardians in this country unanimously attested that the change was beneficial, and had removed the scandals and inconveniences created by the previous state of the law. He would suggest to the Irish Members that instead of adopting for Ireland the law as it existed in England before 1844, they should adopt the law as it now existed.


said, the right hon. Gentleman misapprehended the object of this Bill, which was simply to remove some technical difficulties in the working of the Act of last Session. The question referred to by the right hon. Gentleman was discussed by the House last year, and it was resolved by a majority of ten to one that the power of suing should be given not to the mother, but to the board of guardians. He (Mr. Butt) was disposed to abide by that determination. The hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. M'Mahon) had said that the board of guardians could not compel the mother to inform against the father, but the Assistant Barrister had the power of summoning her as a witness. It was true that she might refuse to make an affidavit, but in that case the board of guardians had a remedy—namely, that of depriving her of parochial relief.


said, he should be sorry to see the existing English law introduced into Ireland.


declared, that the clause, if passed, would be the source of great immorality.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (Petty Sessions Clerk shall furnish to Board of Guardians, or putative Father, Copy of Information; such Copy to be received in Evidence).

Clause agreed to.

Clause 4 (Civil Bill to be heard by Chairman of Quarter Sessions).


moved to add the following words: — When any person shall once be adjudged to be the father of an illegitimate child, it shall not he necessary to swear informations or prove his paternity a second time when the guardians shall have to proceed against him to recover the costs of maintaining the same child.


said, that the Bill would involve great expense if proceedings were to be taken from week to week, or from month to month. In England, when an order was once made, it was a continuing order.


said, that on the Report he would bring up a clause to meet the last objection, and also to effect the object of the proposed addition.

Amendment withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clauses and Preamble agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.