HC Deb 27 June 1924 vol 175 cc879-86

Amendment made: In page 5, line 4, to leave out the words "September, nineteen hundred and twenty-four," and insert thereof the words "January, nineteen hundred and twenty-five."—[Captain Bowyer.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Captain Bowyer.]


When I addressed the House earlier this afternoon, you, Mr. Speaker, prevented me from introducing certain reasons why I opposed this Bill on general grounds, restricting me to speaking only on the particular Amendment that was then before the House. I believe I am now in order if I introduce one or two points which were regarded as not being in order on that Amendment, and the first is that, in addition to my general dislike of the Bill altogether, I particularly dislike Bills which produce statements to the effect that certain things shall be regarded as having taken place, although they have not, in fact, taken place. The action, or diction, is essentially false in itself. I refer to Clause 4, where it seems to me to be a most peculiar arrangement that it should be provided that, if an illegitimate person dies many years before his parents are married, and yet has lived long enough to leave issue behind him, that issue, though obviously horn of a person who was born and died illegitimate, are to be regarded as legitimate. That is a contradiction in terms. To legitimatise a dead person seems to me rather like the sort of legislation that went on at the time of the Houses of York and Lancaster, rather than the legislation of the present day.

The second point which I wished to bring forward was one which I am sure will appeal to the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer). In Clause 9—and I can quite understand the propriety of the view according to the hon. and gallant Member—it states that where, after the commencement of the Act, the mother of an illegitimate child dies intestate, her property goes to that child, and similarly, after the death of an illegitimate child who dies intestate, the property of that child goes to the mother. From the point of view of the hon. and gallant Member, that is quite natural, but why has he left out what seems to me an absolutely necessary corollary from his point of view? Take the case of several illegitimate children, brothers and sisters, whose mother dies intestate, and one of them acquires property and dies intestate. According to this Bill as it stands, that property will revert to the State, because, although property can go to the mother, you have not secured that the property of the illegitimate child can go to the brothers and sisters in the event of that child's intestacy. It would, I suppose, revert to the State, which, I am sure, was not the intention of the hon. and gallant Member, who has not secured the rights of the brothers and sisters when the mother is already deceased, and it seems to me that that is, from his own point of view, rather an omission from the Bill. That, from my point of view, is not so important as it is from his. In asking or the rejection of the Bill, I am only acting according to my lights. I object to the Bill thoroughly, and I object to it very much more now that the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) has been removed.


I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) has simply suggested opposing the Third Reading of the Bill rather than moving its rejection. I did not have an opportunity of replying to the discussion in regard to the Amendment that I moved, out I venture to say that the Bill, without that new Clause in, is a far more dangerous Bill than it would be if that were inserted. Further, I had put down a new Clause which, as those who were in the Committee will know, was first accepted by the promoters of the Bill, but, in the form in which I had drawn it, it was impossible to go through, and so I redrafted it, but it has not been selected for discussion by the House today, and, therefore, we are in the position that we are going to pass a Bill without that very elementary safeguard, because, as my Amendment has not been discussed and the promoters have not put forward any other in its place, you have no safe- guard against this very elementary danger that exists under the Bill as it stands. The point is this: When a man and a woman marryȔand by this Bill you are legitimating their offspring—there is power in the Bill that they should register the illegitimate children who become legitimate by the marriage. That is a perfectly right and proper provision, but it is not compulsory, and all that I was anxious to do was to secure that no Bill should pass without something in it providing that there should be some acknowledgment by the parents of the child that it is the child of that father and mother, and that, therefore, it becomes legitimated by their marriage.

If we pass the, Bill in its present form, without any such safeguard as that, we are in this position, that a man and a woman marry, and they may or may not have offspring at that time, legitimate or otherwise, as the case may be, and the mart dies. There is nothing to prevent the woman, on behalf of her own children, pressing forward their claims and fathering them upon the man who is deceased at that time. It is an endless vista of litigation that is opened up in such cases. In the case of ordinary persons, the date of the marriage is important, and there is no such difficulty arising, but here you have a couple marrying, and by the law you are to legitimise any illegitimate children that they had before that time, and it is essential that there should be some acknowledgment by the parents of those children during their lifetime. Either it should be done, as it can be done, under the Bill at the time of the marriage, or they should register the children as children whom they seek to legitimise, but, at all events, there should be some written acknowledgment by both parents that the children are their children at that time. If you do not put in that precaution, difficulties must arise in every single case, and the difficulties which would arise in the best form of these Bills, namely, one which applies only to the marriage of single people, will be twenty times greater under this Bill, because here you are allowing legitimation of children who are born when the husband and wife could not possibly be together.

Take such a case as this of a man and woman when young living together, and the man possibly provides for the woman, and marries another woman altogether, and has a family by that marriage. The wife dies, and then he marries the woman who had been his mistress before marriage, and, as the phrase goes, he makes an honest woman of her before her death. In that case he dies, and no reference is made to any children by the first intercourse. Afterwards, the children of the marriage suddenly find various claims made upon the estate by the mistress of the man, on behalf of her children. If the children come forward and swear positively that they were born at a particular time, it will raise difficult points. There is no reason why the promoters of the Bill should not put in some such paragraph as I want put in the Bill. Without such protection in the Bill, it must, from a legal point of view, lead to endless trouble, and open the door to fraud upon the death of the man. I had hoped the promoters, from what they said before, would be willing to insert something of the kind, but to pass a Bill in this form is the greatest possible mistake.

With regard to the Bill as a whole, I agree that once I was willing to support it, but without these safeguards, and in the absence of new Clauses which have been brought forward, I shall certainly vote against the Third Reading. We have heard a great deal of the sufferings of the illegitimate child. Where are you being led? Does it mean that you wish definitely to abolish the difference between legitimate and illegitimate children? Let us come out into the open one way or the other. One or two Members on the other side have been much more direct than the promoters of the Bill on this point, All this talk about the terrible position of the child who is not in any way responsible for the guilt—if that be the proper word—of his parents and in no way responsible for being brought into the world, applies equally to every illegitimate child. Is it intended to legitimatise the whole? If hon. Members say so, I shall respect their honesty, but if they do not, then they have no right to be influenced by arguments of this kind in favour of such a Bill as this. There are a very large number of illegitimate children in the country at the present time.


And they will make as good citizens as the legitimate.


Very likely; I am not in the least denying that.


Then what is the complaint against them?


There is a large number of illegitimate children, many of whom are every bit as good as the legitimate. By this Bill you are legitimatising a certain number of them, but the number that would have been legitimatised by this Bill in its most extended form would be infinitesimal compared with the illegitimate children who remain. The number of people marrying subsequently to the birth of the children would be infinitesimal, compared with the number of other illegitimate children, who are probably just as good as the others. If it is not proposed to abolish the whole difference between legitimate and illegitimate children, I would point out that the ones it is not proposed to legitimatise are just as good citizens as those whom it is proposed to legitimatise under this Bill. An extraordinary amount of harm will be done by passing legislation such as this, without putting in ordinary safeguards. The learned Attorney-General afforded me a broadside, if I wished to take advantage of it, which I do not. He gave, however, one illustration which shows the difference between the promoters of this Bill and those who are opposed to its present form. He talked about the sanctity of marriage. He said, What is the basis of the sanctity of marriage, and what is there in it? Nothing more than an affection, and what is the use of marriage where there is no affection? That is exactly the difference. It is a very pretty sentimental phrase, and this Bill is founded on that sentiment.

Let us take the point for a moment. The example has been given before of a married couple who were once very fond of each other, and, possibly, have ceased to be fond of each other. Is it for the benefit of the State, or is it not, that the marriage should be dissolved? Our view is that it is to the great disadvantage of the State, even if these people may have lost affection, to a certain extent, and may wish to have their marriage dissolved. That is the view we hold very strongly. I believe the vast majority of women hold that view. I know a very large number of unmarried women do not, but married women between 35 and 45, we will say, who know something about life, I think are pretty strongly in favour of not having what may be called a leasehold interest in marriage, but would rather have the freehold, even if the affection may have gone. From the point of view of the State, and, I think, from the point of view of the parties as well, but, certainly, from the point of view of the State, it is vital that a contract once entered into should be continued until there is some real cause for putting an end to it. I am not condoning for one moment the position of a man who marries and who has got an illegitimate child during the marriage. But the wife may or may not forgive, or may or may not condone it. If you are going to give a man and his mistress a chance of legitimatising the issue, when married, I Say that anybody who has the slightest experience of that class of case must know that the pressure brought to bear upon the wife to take divorce proceedings would be immense. If a man is anxious, then, to legitimatise son by his mistress whom he may be anxious to take his name and occupy the place where he is, particularly with a knowledge of the claims upon him in the ease of a legitimate child, there is a temptation to men to put an end to marriage. Once you have got one party anxious to put an end to marriage, even though it was one where the affection may have ceased to be so strong as earlier, then that is certainly an evil to the State, and an evil to the two parties concerned—though the latter is not so absolutely material to the State. I should hope that the Bill in this form, whatever a Bill in another form might be, constitutes a gray e danger from similar points of view to the legal points which I have given. You open the door. At the present time there is no sort of attempt to get the father and mother to see the offspring or the alleged offspring legitimatised. The thing is to acknowledge the interest of the offspring during lifetime; and unless you have some Clause of that kind you are passing a Bill which in a legal sense is a great danger. We are passing a Bill which is a great danger to the social life of England in the form in which it is being passed, and I trust that many will oppose the Third Reading.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

The House divided: Ayes, 177; Noes, 13.

Division No. 119.] AYES. [2.59 p.m.
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Raynes, W. R.
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Henderson, W. W. (Middlesex, Enfld.) Reid, D. D. (County Down)
Ammon, Charles George Hillary, A. E. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Aske, Sir Robert William Hoffman, P. C. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Astor, Viscountess Hogbin, Henry Cairns Ritson, J.
Attlee, Major Clement R. Hudson, J. H. Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)
Ayles, W. H. Jackson, R. F (Ipswich) Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Baker, Walter Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Robertson, T. A.
Barnes, A. Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor) Romeril, H. G.
Barrle, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff) John, William (Rhondda, West) Ropner, Major L.
Batey, Joseph Johnston, Thomas (Stirling) Rose, Frank H.
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish- Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Bonwick, A. Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Rudkin, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. C.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Kennedy, T. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Broad, F. A. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)
Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby) Kenyon, Barnet Sandeman, A. Stewart
Buckle, J. Kirkwood, D. Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern)
Burman, J. B. Lansbury, George Shepperson, E. W.
Burnle, Major J. (Bootle) Laverack, F. J. Sherwood, George Henry
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Law, A. Shinwell, Emanuel
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Lawrence, Susan (East Ham, North) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Leach, W. Smith, T. (Pontefract)
Charleton, H. C. Lee, F. Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Cluse, W. S. Lessing, E. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Cove, W. G. Linfield, F. C. Snell, Harry
Crittall, V. G. Livingstone, A. M. Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Loverseed, J. F. Spence, R.
Curzon, Captain Viscount Lowth, T. Spero, Dr. G. E.
Dickson, T. McCrae, Sir George Spoor, B. G.
Dukes, C. M'Entee, V. L. Stamford, T. W.
Duncan, C. Mackinder, W. Stranger, Innes Harold
Dunnlco, H. McLean, Major A. Terrington, Lady
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) March, S. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Finney, V. H. Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.) Thornton, Maxwell R.
Fletcher, Lieut.-Com. R. T. H. Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton) Thurtle, E.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Maxton, James Tinker, John Joseph
Gavan-Duffy, Thomas Middleton, G. Turner, Ben
Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R. Mills J. E. Viant, S. P.
Gilbert, James Daniel Milne, J. S. Wardlaw Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Gosling, Harry Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Warrender, Sir Victor
Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) Muir, John W. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Greene, W. P. Crawford Murray, Robert Webb, Lieut.-Col. Sir H. (Cardiff, E.)
Greenwood. A. (Nelson and Colne) Naylor, T. E. Webb, Rt. Hon, Sidney
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah C.
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) O'Grady, Captain James Westwood, J.
Grigg, Lieut.-Col. Sir Edward W. M. Oliver, George Harold Whiteley, W.
Groves, T. Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Wignall, James
Grundy, T. W. Owen, Major G. Williams, Lt.-Col. T. S. B. (Kennington)
Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.) Palmer, E. T. Williams, Maj- A. S. (Kent, Sevenoaks)
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Windsor, Walter
Hardie, George D. Perring, William George Wintringham, Margaret
Harland, A. Perry, S. F. Wise, Sir Frederic
Harney, E. A. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Woodwark, Lieut.-Colonel G. G.
Harris, John (Hackney, North) Phillipps, Vivian Wright, W.
Harris, Percy A. Plikington, R. R. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury) Pringle, W. M. R. Young, Andrew (Glasgow, Partick)
Hastings, Somerville (Reading) Purcell, A. A.
Haycock, A. W. Ramage, Captain Cecil Beresford TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Henderson, Rt. A. (Burnley) Rankin, James S. Captain Bowyer and Mr. Lamb.
Berry, Sir George Glimour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John Steel, Samuel Strang
Bourne, Robert Croft Harvey, C.M.B. (Aberd'n & Kincardne) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Narin)
Cope, Major William Hope, Rt. Hon. J. F. (Sheffield, C.) Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Forestler-Walker, L. Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Mr. Rawlinson and Mrs. Philipson
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.