HC Deb 19 March 1891 vol 351 cc1508-11

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 amended, and agreed to.

Clause 2 amended, and agreed to.

Clause 3.

MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

I hope the Attorney General will accept an Amendment I have to propose in line 24. There are thousands of cases in which pauper children are brought up from an early age by Boards of Guardians and boarded out. The object of the Amendment is to restrict the power of parents to take away these children at the age of 12 and 13 from the schools in which they are learning some useful trade in order that they may make a profit out of them. We say that if the parent allows the children to be brought up at other people's expense, the Court ought not to make an order for their delivery to the parents unless they first satisfy the Court that they are fit and proper persons to have custody of the children. By adopting my Amendment we may save hundreds of thousands of children from drifting into the criminal classes, and ensure their being brought up as useful citizens. I move, therefore, in Clause 3, page 1, line 24, after the word "expense," to insert the words "or by the Guardians of the Poor Law Union."


As there must be a further stage of this Bill, I would ask the hon. Member not to press his Amendment, but simply to put it upon the Paper so that it may be considered by the Lord Chancellor, who has carefully gone into the whole question involved in the provisions of this measure. The matter can then be dealt with on the Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

*MR. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)

I have to move an Amendment the object of which is simply to interfere with the rights of those persons who, being habitual drunkards, tramps, or beggars, have abandoned their children and allowed them to be brought up by other persons. The Amendment is as follows:— Clause 3, page 1, line 28, after parent insert,' if it be proved that the parent is an habitual drunkard, a tramp, a beggar, or a frequenter of a common lodging-house, or casual ward, or.' My object is to limit the discretion which the Judges would otherwise have under this clause. I think that, owing to the variety of opinions which prevail as to how far drunkenness is a disqualification for the exercise of the parental duty, the House would do well to say distinctly that if it be proved that a parent, having already deserted his child, is an habitual "drunkard, a tramp, a beggar, or a frequenter of a common lodging-house, or casual ward, he shall not be deemed a fit person to have the custody of his children. I ask the Attorney General to insert in the Bill that parents coming within the category I have named shall be con- sidered unfit. The proposal will not in any way restrict the intention of the Bill—it is simply a definition. Should he be unable to accept the Amendment, my feeling in favour of the Bill is so exceedingly strong that I will not press it. I do hope, however, that the Attorney General will give it serious consideration.

(12.17.) SIR R. WEBSTER

I am most unwilling to fetter the discretion of the Court by adopting the form of words suggested. And our objection is that the Bill provides that a parent who has deserted his child shall not be allowed its custody again until he has satisfied the Court of his fitness. I am strongly of opinion that it would be better to leave the Bill as it stands than to insert defining words.


As the Attorney General cannot see his way to accepting my Amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

*(12.20.) MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will be able to accept the clause I have put on the Paper, because it would aid the management of industrial schools in placing out boys and freeing them from the evil influences of unworthy parents, who, having abandoned their children for many years, seek them out again for sordid reasons, with the result that the children frequently lapse again into crime.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, after Clause 4, to insert the following clause:— If a child detained in or placed out on license from a certified industrial school conducts himself well, the managers of the school may, with his own consent, apprentice the child to, or dispose of him in, any trade, calling, service, or by emigration, notwithstanding that his period of detention has not expired; and such apprenticing or disposition shall be as valid as if the managers were the parents of the child. Provided that, unless twelve months of the period of detention allotted to the child have expired, the consent of the Secretary of State shall also be required to the exercise of any power under this section."—(Mr. Howard Vincent.)

(12.22.) Question proposed, "That the Clause be read now a second time."

(12.23.) SIR R. WEBSTER

I have no objection to the clause, save that it is one which is without the matters which are to be dealt with by this Bill. To take up a matter which is not clearly germane to this Bill would open up a very serious question. I prefer not to insert the clause, because it seems to me doubtful. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary may introduce it in his Bill on the subject.


I understood from what the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that it was not his intention to introduce a Bill.


I did not say it was not my intention, but that at the Home Office we are so overwhelmed with work that it is difficult to find an opportunity of pushing forward the Bill.

*(12.27.) MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)

There is no doubt that the power asked for by this clause is very much required, because of the way in which wretched parents get hold of their children after they have left the industrial school and drag them again down to vice. If the Industrial Schools Bill is brought in I shall support this clause—that is, if it cannot be adopted now.


This clause makes very little alteration in the law, and still less in the practice. It simply provides that the child shall be disposed of by enlistment or emigration at any time instead of having to wait 18 months, whereas under the present system the same result can at any time be obtained in proper cases by discharging the child. Such discharge is subject to the consent of the Secretary of State.


Will my right hon. Friend introduce a short Bill dealing with this subject?


I do not think it would be possible to introduce a Bill dealing alone with the disposal of children.


I will not press the clause now, Sir, but will put it down on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered to-morrow at two of the clock.