HC Deb 03 April 1925 vol 182 cc1707-54

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill legalises the practice by which a person takes the child of another into his own home and keeps it as his own. The practice has a venerable and not uninteresting history, but I can spare the House any discussion of it, because we are, on this subject, starting with a completely clean sheet. The law of England, and the social life of England, have never known the practice of adoption. That gives a peculiar practical interest to the discussion of to-day. I suppose no one will deny that modern democracy is confronted with no more urgent and pressing question than the upbringing of children for whom there is no proper parental care. It might be demanded of me that I should indicate the scope of the problem which we have to face, but it is not easy to get statistics. Let every hon. Member think for himself of the orphanages, institutions, hospitals and homes which exist. Let him after that think of the amount of quiet work which goes on in benevolent institutions or is carried on by local authorities, Government Departments and private individuals, and he will see that there is a very broad field in which this practice of adoption may operate.

Of all methods of providing for parentless children, one method in particular has, at the present moment, come into progressing favour. That is this system of adoption. I have often asked myself why that should be so, and I think that it would be very difficult to say, unless that the breakdown of a former rather rigid conception of parental authority brings home with increased poignancy to this generation the miserable state of those children who are without the happiness which a home, and a home alone, can bring; and, conversely, the War gave to this country a devastated region, that is the homes of England; and many people find in this process of adoption, at present unrecognised and unofficial, what one might almost call a sacramental ministry of reconstruction. But the worst of it is that at present it labours under a very great disadvantage by not being recognised in law. The social relations of people, and even the most intimate and tender relationships, are, of course, recognised and protected by the law—husband and wife, parent and child—but in the case of adoption there is no sort of legal protection whatever. The person who adopts a child, supposing it to have been a woman, possessing no rights over the child whom she may have adopted, to whom she may have given great care, for whom she may have even conceived profound affection, may find that a relation suddenly appears—worst of all, perhaps, some formerly neglectful parent—and claims to resume control of the child. The result is a pitiful disturbance of mind of both the adopter and the adopted. At the worst there are instances, I believe, of a peculiarly repulsive form of blackmail.

No doubt it will be pointed out later in this Debate that use brings here, as everywhere, abuse, and I do not hesitate to say that at present in many sections of the country adoption is being carried on under most unsatisfactory conditions. The unwanted child, nobody's child, is subject to no trade union restrictions, and the unscrupulous may use the process of adoption very easily to secure another pair of hands to work at a cheap price. Hon. Members in the last House of Commons will remember that on more than one occasion attention was drawn to the case of a certain girl, Doris Hawker, who was sent out of England—I think to Madras—in most unsuitable conditions, and the whole mechanism of a Government Department had to be put into operation, and an immense amount of trouble was caused, to defeat what I think everybody agreed was a most unsatisfactory condition of affairs.

Therefore, the first point which I make is this. I am not merely asking you to inaugurate a new state of things, but I am asking you to regulate a practice that has long been in operation. In this case, as has happened very often, other parts of the Anglo-Saxon community have outstripped us. In every State of Australia and New Zealand adoption in certain conditions has been the rule for some time. I may give one quotation from Mr W. G. Riddell, a member of a famous New Zealand family, and senior magistrate for Wellington: Speaking from my experience as a magistrate exercising jurisdiction in the capital city of New Zealand I can say with confidence that the system of adoption practised in New Zealand has been a success from every point of view. There no doubt about its benefits both to the infant adopted and the adopting parents, while the state gains in this way, that the burden of maintaining destitute persons is lightened and its liability to care for and educate the unfortunate child is lessened through the aid of private persons. It is agreed by all who are associated with the maintenance care and guidance of destitute children that the conditions and training found in receiving homes (i.e., foster homes licensed by the Education Department) although excellent in many ways fall short of those found in decent private family life, and the institution of adoption supplies the means by which the best results can, be obtained and all parties interested benefited: In Canada you have adoption common to all the Provinces, and a peculiarly interesting form of it has been thought out and is in practice in the province of British Colombia; and in the United States, beginning in 1851 with the progressive and enlightened State of Massachusetts, every single state of the union has now adopted it under slightly differing conditions. In England, on the other hand, matters connected with the custody of infants always formed part of a rather jealously guarded jurisdiction, the Court of Chancery. When the High Court of Chancery presents its final account to the recording angel I suppose there will be no doubt whatsoever that the vast preponderance of entries will be upon the credit side. But there will be entries upon the debit page. One has only to look at the history of that Court, and, in particular, if I may specialise the 50 or 100 years preceding the passing of the Judicature (Amendment) Acts, to find instances in the careers of the great Chancellors who presided over that Court and those associated with them—instances of what may be termed a somewhat wooden, a somewhat slow, readjustment to the conditions of the day. We have recently seen how difficult it is to choose. a motto for a public institution, but if one were to be obliged to suggest a motto for the High Court of Chancery before reform I think one might have proposed the motto "Keep off the grass." In its attitude towards Parliament it had undoubtedly a very firm conviction that Parliament should mind its P's and Q's. That is all a matter of the past, and yet traditions, and particularly honourable traditions, are like penetrating and clinging gas; they hang about the clothing.

If the House will permit me, I want to give a. short account of the Parliamentary history of this question. It is only right that I should start with a reference to more than, one Bill that has been before this House. I shall not say much about them because owing to the exigencies of Parliamentary operation and not from any demerit of their own, none have struggled home to port. But if nobody else remembers it, I indeed am conscious as I stand here of the work that has been done by people like the hon. Member for Moss Side (Mr. G. Hurst), Peterborough (Sir H. Brassey), South Shields (Mr. Harney) and by Mrs. Wintringham, beside those mentioned on the back of the Bill. If they laboured and I have entered into their labours owing to the selection of the ballot, I know that the House, which is always generous, will extend to me some measure of charity when it realises that in this matter I am a late corner and an amateur. The first item in the Parliamentary history of this matter was the appointment, on 3rd August, 1020, by the then Home Secretary (Mr. Shortt) of a Home Office Committee under the chairmanship of a very distinguished former Member of the House, Sir Alfred Hopkinson. Upon that Committee there sat my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health, Lady Norman, Mr. James Seddon, Mr. C. E. B. Russell, and Mr. F. W. Sherwood, an authority on the law of children perhaps without an equal: They sat on twenty-one occasions and they heard twenty-six witnesses. I observe from the papers that the total cost to the country was £203 17s. 9d.

Exactly a year later I find that my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health and the Noble Lady who sits for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor), whose name I am proud to have on my Bill to-day, were demanding why there had been no legislation and why the evidence collected by that Committee had never been given to the public. It is true, I think, of the works of the Creator that they provoke our reverent wonder in no way in proportion to the scale upon which they are conceived. There is just as much to inspire our awe and admiration in the Grand Canyon of Arizona as in the beetle's wing, and it is the same with the works of the Home Secretary in the late Government. For the right hon. Gentleman, the former Secretary for Home Affairs, at the very moment when, as he told us the other day, his mind was magnificently brooding upon the European situation, and upon the more than Grand Design for terminating its troubles, was devoting his attention to a microscopic investigation of the situation I have just described with a view to making recommendations carrying the matter a step further. The result of his cogitations was, oddly enough, another Home Office Committee, which was appointed under the chairmanship of a judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court, Mr. Justice Tomlin, and it contained in its composition the Noble Lady, who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, and other distinguished experts, including Mr. It. W. Baker, Mr. Gwyer, Miss Jewson, and Mr. Harris, of the Home Office, whose knowledge in this connection is probably unparalleled. This Committee was appointed on 4th April. I hope I am not indiscreet in saying that I imagine that possibly the transaction was completed three days earlier and before 12 o'clock mid-day. The members of that Committee sat for one year. They have held 22 sittings and have examined 30 witnesses and I learn from the reply to a question which I addressed to the Home Secretary a short time ago that they are about to consider the nature of their report.

It may be desirable for the House to compare the remit to the first and to the second Committee. The first was to consider whether it is desirable to make legal provision for the adoption of children in this country; and, if so, what form such provision should take. The remit to the second Committee was to examine the problem of child adoption from the point of view of possible legislation and to report on the main provisions which, in their view, should be included in any Bill on the subject. The distinction between the two remits is rather subtle. If I read the intention of the right hon. Gentleman aright, I should suggest that the second remit laid rather more stress upon the desirability of reaching specific recommendations as to legislation. I think that this was natural. Sir Alfred Hopkinson's Committee had gone into the matter with extreme care. They had had before them as witnesses, and had questioned minutely, five representatives of associated societies for the care of infants, a representative of the Salvation Army, five representatives of societies and institutions other than these, and five representatives from public health officials, not to mention the mass of memoranda which was submitted to them. Presumably they have dealt with the desirability or undesirability of adoption, but if the second Committee has confined itself to what I may call the purely legal aspect, even there Sir Alfred Hopkinson's Committee has been before them.

The main part of the Report of Sir Alfred Hopkinson's Committee dealt with proposed forms for the legal provision of adoption—the nature of the public sanction necessary, the question of appeal, the nature of the consents to be obtained before legal adoption could take place, the persons to be considered as suitable adopters, the cheek to be kept after adoption has taken place by means of some form of inspection, the question of the legal effect upon the property of the adopted child, the legal effects of adoption generally, and the possibilities of revoking adoption. I think hon members who have read the report will agree that I have indicated its general scope. I admit it is an extraordinarily difficult thing to draft legislation on a matter of this complexity The secondary effects of legislation are always far more easy to see after mature consideration than at first sight. A committee however able, under a chairman however experienced, must leave certain lacunae which it would be necessary for subsequent committees to fill up. Yet on the top of the Hopkinson Committee we have had 30 fresh witnesses examined, and, though a whole year has passed, the second committee is sitting still.

I do not for a moment say that the House is not profoundly grateful to the ladies and gentlemen concerned for thus devoting their time to this work, but I ask the House to suppose, for example that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department, and one of his wilder moments, were to set up a Committee to discuss the compulsory adoption of vegetarianism in this country, under the chairmanship of the Worshipful Master of the Butchers' Company. It might strike us with awe to hear that they were devoting their minds and their energies to the question of whether it would be possible to invent delicate machinery for the more accurate measurement of the smell of onions, and yet one might be tempted, if one believed that vegetarianism was a vital necessity of the country and that people's lives were being spoiled because vegetarianism had not been adopted, to try to put some practical Measure on the Statute Book if only with a view to drawing the criticism which the researches of this committee could supply for improving the legislation at a later stage.

If it were possible to make a complete conspectus of all the considerations which should be presented to Parliament before legislation like this is put on the Statute Book: if it were possible for the eye of man to foresee all the legal consequences of legislation when once it has been passed, then I would say, "Wait and wait and wait." But I believe that task is impossible. It could not be demanded of any committee, however distinguished and however learned, and in order to raise an issue I make three submissions to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. The first is that it is an impossible task that has been given the Tomlin Committee. The second is that, with the very best will in the world, the last Home Secretary adopted the wrong technique in approaching this question. The third is, that now a chance is given for adopting a more suitable technique, a chance which may never occur again or may not occur again for months and months. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman will take upon himself a very grave responsibility if he now blocks the avenue to a proper consideration of this question, and I believe I have the House with me in that assertion.

If it is possible to narrow the issue at all, what are the two main questions which come up for consideration? I know there are hundreds of subsidiary questions. My post-bag for the last month has convinced me there are very many, such as whether the Bill should apply to Scotland; whether the legislation should be retrospective; whether there should be a probationary period; whether adoption should be terminable, and if so by what process; what should be the ages of the adopter and the adopted, and what consents are necessary before legal adoption can be claimed and granted. These are all secondary questions. There are two points and two alone, which confront one, which stare one in the face the deeper one goes into a study of this question.

The first is: What is the desirable machinery for giving official ratification to adoption? In the year 1917 a very learned judge of the Appellate Court of the State of New York expressed obiter, in his judgment on an important case, the view that proceedings for adoption are not, on ultimate analysis, judicial proceedings at all, the position really being that you have a contract for adoption made effective by the Court, and the only judicial element in the process is that determination, which rests with the judicial officer, as to whether or not it is for the moral and temporal interest of the child that the adoption should be allowed. I think the opinion of that court would command respect in this country at any time, but it seems to me to have special significance as coming from a country where they have, appointed a judicial officer to determine whether adoption shall or shall not take place. If it has no other meaning, it surely indicates the profound truth that in so far as the State is involved in the matter of adoption at all, it is in an executive and administrative capacity rather than in a judicial capacity.

There is an extreme section of opinion which would give expression to that doubt by withdrawing the process of adoption from the Courts altogether, and putting it in the hands of an executive Department, say, some sub-section of the Ministry of Health, and, of course, that opinion joins hands to some extent with those—and they are a large and a very important body of opinion—who dread adding to the burden of the duties which we have already placed on our Judges of the High Court and of the County Court. There are, I confidently believe, overwhelming arguments against that point of view, but I will not detain the House with them, because they are more proper to the Com- mittee stage of the Bill, if it ever comes. But I should like to say that I do not think the antithesis is really a complete antithesis at all, and the experience of certain communities, for example, that of Western Australia, has found that it is wise to supplement the efforts of the Courts by a Children's Department to handle questions of this nature, and that, with all the amount of excellent work done by voluntary societies in connection with and to supplement the Judges' work, is a consideration that is naturally present to our minds. But that is not the point.

The point that I want to urge upon the House is this: that the decision is ultimately a political, that is, a Parliamentary, decision. It is really ultimately a question of just how much importance the community, through Parliament, attaches to having a system of adoption at all, and that, if that question be answered in the affirmative, if importance be attached to it, then it becomes a question of distributing the powers which it will be necessary to take for the carrying out of the mechanism of adoption. Parliament cannot judge of that until it be supplied with the relevant facts, but I would ask my hon. Friend on the Front Bench as to whether he is so certain that he can give a more complete account of those facts months or years hence than he is to-day as to be able with composure at the present moment to block the further progress of this Bill.

My second point is this, the second point round which there must exist a great deal of doubt, as to whether we are proceeding in the right direction. Here we have those hundred and one questions which come up in connection with the effect of adoption on the law of property, on the law of bequest and inheritance, and it is extremely dangerous for a non-lawyer, for a lay mind, to intrude into that sphere, but if, without impertinence in the presence of lawyers, I may put forward one or two questions or suggestions—if only in an attempt to make the discussion of this question in the House more real—my first suggestion is that what we are concerned with here is not really a mere alteration in our law. That would be a comparatively controllable process. After all, one knows what the law is, and how it has been working, and one can judge, up to a point, to what extent it will be deflected, but I suggest that here we are dealing, on a minor and localised scale, with a fusion of two systems of law, and that it is much less easy to predict what would happen. If I may use rather an ordinary metaphor, we are not throwing a bone into the stock pot, but we are flinging in delectable and volatile juices, and it is more difficult to be certain what will happen.

There is present in the mind of everybody a dread that by ill-considered legislation we may be raising up a whole storm of litigation at a later period. That is true, and a very proper consideration, but it need not lead to what I think is a non sequitur, that in proportion as we now conjecture all the conceivable circumstances that may arise, we thereby lessen the risk of litigation at a later stage. Litigation may, after all, be the price which we have to pay to make our statute book square with the facts of life. I hope the House will bear with me for one moment if I try to illustrate that from the experience of a State in which one has been able to study the effects of this law in operation. If you look at the legislation of the State of New York, you find that there are three definite dates which stand out above all the others, namely, 1873, when the first adoption law was passed; 1887, when it was amended and improved and 1924, when a large all-embracing statute brought the law up-to-date. Those are periods, the first of 14 and the second of 37 years, filled with litigation, with litigation that, if you study it in the volumes of the law reports, is immensely complicated, but, taken into account in comparison with the population of New York and the interests which are concentrated in that State, is, I submit, not so very overwhelming. And it is profoundly and progressively instructive. They started in 1873 by omitting from the rights enjoyed by the adopted children what I may somewhat loosely call the right of inheritance, and it was not until 14 years later that that right, along with many other amendments, was included. It was just 14 years, and if only they would let us have this Bill now, it would be just "comfy" time for the Tomlin Committee to consider and to make its report and to introduce modifications. In 1887 they added this right, and in 1924 they brought the thing up to date.

If you take the last seven years of the operation of the law of adoption in New York, and consider some of the cases that have been decided, I think we shall see how extraordinarily complicated the subject is, and though each decision helps us forward to a better practice, how difficult it is to foresee at the present moment all the circumstances for which we have to make provision. In that period one important case decided that the surrogate, the official charged with the adoption proceedings on behalf of the State, had no power to revoke an order of adoption. Secondly, there was a very important case in which it was decided that the consent of the parent was not necessary if he or she had lost his or her civil rights by being imprisoned. Another ease decided that the legally adopted child of an employé was not his heir at law under a particular Workmen's Compensation Act. In one important case a definition was attempted of the extent of parental abandonment which must be shown before it was not necessary to have the consent of the natural parents to the act of adoption; while in another case, after a great deal of litigation, it was decided that the supreme court, in right of its equity jurisdiction, could annul an adoption which violated equitable principles. I do hope that, in stating the variety of these decisions. I have made clear that there are 101 subtle difficulties which just escape our prophetic grasp.


Are these cases which the hon. Gentleman has been reciting New York cases?


Yes, they were all New York cases. You can use that, of course, as an argument against doing anything. You may say, "Well, let us leave well alone, and not go forward; the jungle is too thick." That is a policy of despair. If, on the other hand, we wait until we get a perfectly constructed code, that seems not to be in the past traditions of our legislation, which has always proceeded along the lines of case law. But there is the third alternative of proceeding experimentally, of going slowly but surely, and that puts us, as it seems to me, in line with nearly all the other Anglo-Saxon communities.

There is one other point, and that is the question of tactics in connection with the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, when speaking on the Summer Time Bill, has described what is the position of the Home Secretary, and he said he was no enthusiast. I do not think anyone can suggest that this Bill has at any time been killed by enthusiasm among Home Secretaries, but he has said that he wanted to get a Bill upon the Statute Book if it could be agreed. I hope that, after the Debate to-day, we shall find that, fundamentally, this Bill meets with almost unanimous support. We may differ upon this or that particular, and those differences can come up for discussion in Committee; but in the main lines for which we are striving, I believe we are all pressing for the same end, and in participating in the very full discussion, which, I hope, this Bill will get, I believe hon. Members will try to lay stress upon points that unite rather than those that dis-unite us, so as to make a more impressive appeal to the Home Secretary for support and assistance in getting this legislation passed.


I beg to second the Motion.

I should like to explain to the House that I myself have been supporting the Adoption of Children (No. 2) Bill, which is also on the Order Paper to-day, but, in so far as the principles are identical in the two Bills, short as my Parliamentary experience has been, I am not so foolish as not to support the Bill which has some chance of getting to-Committee, rather than that which will never be discussed at all. The differences between the two Bills are merely differences of machinery and detail, and, so far as the Second Reading is concerned, I hope that all hon. Members who are interested in No. 2 Bill will give their support to the Bill which is now before the House.

The position in law as to adoption in this country is very curious. Broadly speaking, I am right in saying that there is scarcely another country in the world, either a foreign country or a British Dominion, where there is not statutory recognition of the legal relation between the child and the adopted parent. So that, as it seems to me, the burden is upon those who wish to deny a legal relation between two persons, who, for all purposes except those of law, are, in fact, parent and child. It is for them to show why we should perpetuate this state of affairs in this country alone, that an adopter and a child, who have lived together as father and child, or mother and child, for years, should be subject to the risk, as they are at the present time, that the nominal parent, if I may use the phrase, who really has not done anything for years for the custody or maintenance of the child, should come along and say, "I am the parent,' and the person who has the affection of the child, has borne all the trouble of the child, and frequently taken the child with the consent of the actual physical parent, should be deprived of all his or her rights, and the child be sent back reluctantly to a person who may neglect it.

I quite agree that every precaution must be taken to see that this kind of legislation is not abused, but, surely, if that has been successfully done by legislation in practically all the Dominions and in almost every other country in the world, surely it is not beyond the capacity of this House to devise similar legislation to deal with the situation here. I think the real difficulty with regard to this Bill is that people do not realise what a serious matter it is. They think we are discussing a mere question of legal theory, whereas I am sure, most of the hon. Members on this side of the House, at any rate, will agree with me that this question of the security and rights of an adopted child who has been abandoned, or an adopted child who with the consent, possibly, of a parent, is taken for many years into another home should be paramount, rather than the rights either of the original parent or the adopting parent.

The question that has to be considered is what is best in the interests of the child, and that has been the guiding principle which we have laid down in the Guardianship Bill, and in the other Bill promoted by the Home Office. I should have thought, therefore, as the Home Office has been so benevolent and far-seeing in the matter of legislation with regard to guardianship, and with regard to separation, they would complete their good work by giving their benevolent support to this Bill, which is all part of one scheme of social reform, all three Measures looking primarily to the welfare of the child. Therefore, I am sure, those who are supporting this Bill are not primarily considering any legal claim of the adopting parent, or of the parent who has agreed that the child shall be adopted, but are looking primarily to the welfare of the child, and I see that this Bill, in Clause 3, says that when application is made under the rules of court— the Court in determining the application shall have regard solely to the interests of the child.' I say that is the real pressing problem which we have here to consider. In all our experience, in every constituency, there must be hundreds of people in a state of uncertainty because of the absence of any proper form of legal adoption. The matter has become particularly critical because of the recent War. After the War there were a large number of children left without parents to look after them. Probably the trouble has doubled itself since the War. Thousands and thousands of children, either through the work of societies concerned with this class of work or by private arrangement, were taken charge of and taken into homes, otherwise they would have been neglected and destitute. Owing to the gap in our legislation those children to this day have not got any proper legal status, and no recognised parents. That is true of all classes of society. It is true of the men in the ranks. It is true of the children of officers who were killed. You have got many children now who have been adopted as the result of the War who through any absence of proper legislation to-day have no proper legal status, Therefore, I say, the problem is a very real problem. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has pointed out to us how one Committee was appointed, carefully considered the whole matter, reported in favour of a Bill, and of the principle of making adoption legal. It is interesting to note that one of the members of that Committee was a member of the present Government—the Minister of Health. That Committee reported in 1921 after considering the whole matter. Another Committee was appointed, and a very learned judge was appointed chairman. Nobody has greater respect for that judge than I have, but I cannot help thinking that so far as the principles of the Bill were concerned that they were considered quite sufficiently by the former committee on child adoption, that of 1921. There was no reason when the report of the 1921 Committee came before the House why action should not have been taken in the matter.

12 N.

What happened? A series of dilatory tactics. Other committees were appointed and discussions arose, and to this day nothing has been done. Many of these children have been now received into homes, particularly since the War, the home of various people, but nothing has happened to this day on the lines suggested here, and the children are nobody's children from the legal point of view. I have in mind that an Amendment has been put down to the Bill by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and two other Members of his party, with one Member of my own party, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico). This shows the spirit which distinguishes this Chamber. We are prepared to be critical of the proposals of the Government when we think they are bad. On the other hand when we think they are good we agree with them, and do not of necessity oppose them merely because they come from the other side of the House. I regard it as a more fruitful manner of dealing with legislation like this which affects the poorest people in the country. Let us see what are the grounds which are being put forward for opposing this Bill. I am sure they are not grounds which the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs, will agree. The Amendment says: That this House refuses a Second Beading to a Bill which would encourage the breaking up of families and the shirking of the duties of parenthood. According to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, to allow what happens regularly, that is the passing of a child from one home to another, to be legally recognised is going to break up familiies and to promote the shirking of parental duties. I am not astonished at the hon. and gallant Member for Hull. I can understand him, for he wishes to criticise everything that comes from the other side; but I wonder that the hon. Member for Consett, who is, I think, a minister of religion and who may be presumed to know something of the canon law, should have put his name to the Amendment, and apparently to favour the suggestion that child adoption, in the way suggested here, would mean the breaking up of families.

From the earliest times adoption was practised by the ancient Romans, and, I think, by the Chinese as a means of preserving the family, and not of breaking it up. When we come to the question of the Canon law, of which I spoke, we find many of the early Fathers speaking most favourably of adoption as a means of preserving the family. So important did those early Fathers regard the continuity of the family that they said that where there were people who did not, unfortunately, have children born to them that they ought to adopt them in order to stop the family going. So that I am astonished at my hon. Friend the Member for Consett flying, so to speak, in the face of St. Augustine, Tertullian, St. Thomas and other very holy and learned men who studied this question, and, in effect, saying that they promoted doctrines which would tend to break up the family. As a matter of fact, I do think that, these people of whom I speak were concerned, above all things, as the Church to-day is concerned above all things, to promote the integrity of the family. We find that the Church law and, Canon law is always in favour of adoption, and it is rather curious that we should hear the suggestion put forward, for the first time, that adoption is likely to break up the family. I have here a lot of Latin quotations with which, however, I will not weary the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—but I shall be very glad to hear what the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull has to tell us as to when this idea first started that the legalising of adoption tended to break up our families.

Is it suggested that the people who abandon and desert their families will do so all the more because somebody else is coming under a legal obligation under this Bill? The legal observation of the first parent, the original parent to maintain the children will exist in law, and I should think really it is a most far-fetched proposition that has been put forward as a reason for opposing this Bill. So far as I know that argument was never used before the Committee or any of the inquiries which have been made, or has ever been used by anybody until it was invented by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull. Of course the real difficulty has undoubtedly been the technical legal difficulties of the effects of adoption. I think that we have in the Report which is already before us a workable scheme, and in this Bill which is before us this morning the proper lines to take is indicated; that is, that when you transfer, with the approval of the court, the authority and duty to the adopted parent you leave over difficult questions of inheritance, or right to title, assuming anybody wants to have a title or anything of that sort. We merely deal with the actual legal obligation as to custody and the giving of authority to perform a parental duty.

It may be said that this Bill is not complete. There is one serious omission, in that it does not refer to Scotland and does not exclude Scotland. It speaks of the High Court, but says nothing about the Court of Session. We can all pick little holes in the Bill, but I am sure my hon. Friend will not deal with it from that point of view, for those are things which can be put right—either Scotland can be brought in and the Court of Session included, or Scotland can be left out and the Court of Session left out. I see that the second Bill, which I am supporting, does not apply to Scotland at all, but, so far as I know, although the Scottish law is in many respects very much more like Continental law, in this matter of adoption it is the same as English law. There is no system in Scotland for adoption any more than there is in England. But that is a matter for adjustment; the main principle is in the Bill, and the proper place to find out exactly what will be the effects of adoption will be in Committee. With all respect to the learned Judge who is sitting on this matter now, even when we get his report the subject will have to be considered in Committee. This House will not abrogate its functions because other people make reports. What we are anxious to do this afternoon is to get a. Second Reading for this Bill and send it to Committee.

As I understand it, we do not wish to interfere with questions of inheritance, to interfere with questions of honorifics, or anything of that sort, but merely to deal with ordinary men and women who, generally, have unfortunately nothing to inherit either in the form of property or in the form of honorifics. Those questions do not arise; we are dealing with the much simpler point of the ordinary relations of parent and child; and I cannot believe that it will be beyond the capacity of the Home Office or of the Law Officers of the Chown, when we get into Committee, to put before the Committee a practicable proposal which will avoid technical questions of rights to titles or rights to property, and merely provide for, in the case of the adopted child, the normal relations between parent and child which you have in the case of ordinary parenthood. That is all we ask for. The hon. Member who is moving this Bill will say if I am wrong in that respect, but as I understand it all we are asking is that the ordinary relation between parent and child shall exist, under proper safeguards, with permission of the Court, between an adopted child and its parents. We want to leave aside all these questions of whether the adopted child shall be a duke, or, when you have an estate settled in tail, who shall be regarded as the heir-at-law.

We do not want to confuse the question with technical considerations, to say who shall or who shall not inherit an estate settled in tail male, or anything of that sort, but to deal with the ordinary case of people who have no settled land and no titles. Of the thousands and thousands of eases in which children have been adopted, I do not suppose one in a thousand, or even one in a million, either parent or child will be affected by questions of settled estates and titles. We are dealing with ordinary men and women, concerned simply with the ordinary problem of maintaining a child, giving it education, and so forth. One must not assume that the bulk of then, cases will be eases where parents wish to transfer the custody of their children to an adopted parent. The bulk of them will be cases where children are left without parents and where, for the rather unsympathetic and purely legal position of a guardian, we wish to substitute the more humane and natural position of a father. If we on these benches had our way no one would be forced to part with their children by economic compulsion, but there will always be cases where, as the result of death, children will live under guardianship, which, as I say, is a mere legal status, and we wish to substitute the more humane relations of mother and child.

Those are the bulk of the cases, and if people think of this Bill primarily in terms of people parting with their children to other people, I think they are making a great mistake. The Bill in addressed primarily to cases like those which arose after the War, of children left without parents, where the guardian would have either to become the parent or transfer responsibility to someone else who would take full rights of parenthood. In this House or at any rate in election meetings, we on these benches are often accused of indifference with regard to parenthood. This Bill really will be a test, I think, of the sincerity of the Government in this matter. If the Government really are anxious to give to parenthood its full opportunity, they will not hesitate to allow a second reading to this Bill. It will give to people who now are in an uncertain and unsatisfactory legal position the proper rights existing between parent and child, and so far from this tending to break up the home, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) suggests, I maintain that nothing is more calculated to build up a home in cases where you have children without parents than the proposals contained in this Bill.


I have three justifications for speaking on behalf of this Bill. In the first place, in 1923 I introduced into this House a Child Adoption Bill which forms the basis of the Bill now standing in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir M. Macnaughton), which is also on to-day's Paper. Secondly, like the Mover and Seconder of the Bill to-day, I have every reason to be exasperated with the obstructive tactics of the Home Office, which defeated the adoption Bill of two years ago and which may be employed again to hamper the Bill to-day. I hope the leaders of the Conservative party will show themselves able to withstand the wiles and the obstinacy and the tactics of the bureaucracy, and give effect to legislation on which the great mass of people in this country who are interested in social well-being and the welfare of children are absolutely united. The third justification I may claim is that I practise in the Chancery Division, which is a division of the High Court of Judicature admirably fitted to discharge the functions which this Bill proposes to repose in Courts of Law. It is suggested in the Motion for rejection of the Bill that the policy of adoption interferes with family and home life. In not one single case can this Bill interfere either with family life or with parental responsibility. The real object of the Bill, and of the movement to which this Bill gives expression, is to give to children who are denied the advantages of the normal family life with their parents a home life and a family life as near the real thing as human nature will allow. Nobody who looks upon this question can doubt that there is room for the legalisation of adoption. There are in this country thousands and thousands of boys and girls who are denied the ordinary pleasures and amenities and advantages of home life. There are a great army of illegitimate children, who have to bear through life the whole burden of the sins of their parents. There is a vast number of children who are brought up under institutional influences which can never compare with the advantages of family life, however well conducted those institutions may be. These children are deprived of any chance of careers in life, and of any love, affection and care, owing often to the callousness and neglect of their natural parents. Is it not a great thing to pass into law a Bill the object of which is to bring the homeless child to the childless home? There are an enormous number of men and women living in this country who are eminently fitted to bring up children and to give them every care and attention, and to that great class this Bill will bring advantage because it will give them the chance of bringing up children without being haunted with the fear that, the natural parents can reclaim those children at any time, however much love, care and expense have been lavished upon them by the adopting parent.

Should this Bill pass, it means giving to a large number of children a really happy home life and the chance of a successful career instead of being brought up under surroundings in which not one boy or girl in a thousand can look forward to a. prosperous or very happy life. This Bill will also bring our English laws into conformity with the legal systems of other countries. It will give recognition to a well-established practice existing amongst many societies at the present time. In my view there is nothing finer in the records of the work of societies dealing with children than the record of the Child Adoption Societies which have taken so many children out of miserable surroundings and have given them the great advantage of good homes. Some hon. Members will recollect how in the life of Stanley, the famous explorer, his success was attributed to the fact that early in life he was taken out of miserable workhouse surroundings and adopted.

The great need for legalising adoption is that in the first place it removes from the adopting parents the haunting fear of insecurity. Secondly, this Bill will provide for the first time a safeguard against the abuses which undoubtedly do attend the practice of adoption at the present time in many cases.

With great respect to the Mover of the Second Reading, and also to the promoters of this Bill, I would like, however, to point out one or two respects in which I think the Bill is far from being perfect. This Measure is limited in its terms to legalising the authority and duty of the adopting parent, but it says nothing about property, and personally I do not think that an Adoption Bill ought to ignore the question of property. If a child is transferred from the care of its parents to the care of its adopting parents, that ought to be a transfer for all purposes, and the child ought to be allowed to inherit on intestacy the property of its adopting parents, and the adopting parents ought to be allowed to inherit on intestacy the property of the adopted child. The adopted child is entirely incorporated whether from the point of view of property, spirituality or mentality in the family of the adopting parents.

I should like to give an illustration of the disadvantages of the present system. In my own constituency I came across a very poor family in which there was a large number of children, and they adopted, with the incomparable charity of the poor, a neglected child who had been left on the doorstep next door. This family brought up that infant to maturity, and lavished upon it what care and attention they could afford. Ultimately that child was killed in the War, and not having made a will in the ordinary course of things its assets would have gone to the Crown. The facts being brought before the notice of the War Office, the right of the Crown was waived; but this illustration shows the injustice, because that family had adopted the child and had a moral claim to his estate upon his intestacy.

If the House gives a Second Reading to the second Adoption Bill on the Paper, I think it would be an admirable thing to have the two Bills considered by the Committee at the same time. The provisions contained in the Second Bill are proposals which I think the Mover of this Bill would not object to have incorporated in this Bill, because they are provisions eminently suited to secure the welfare of the adopted child. It is important in considering, the welfare of the child when the Court is deciding to sanction its adoption, that the consent of all those interested in keeping the child in its natural family should be duly obtained and registered. It is also important that the character and past record of the adopting parent should be investigated by the Court.

I think it would be a mistake if the whole provisions which are to regulate the practice of adoption should be left to the Lord Chancellor, who is to make rules for this purpose under this Bill. I think it would be very much better if Parliament laid down the lines on which adoption should be sanctioned rather than leaving it to the legal authority. But as the hon. and learned Member for South Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) said those are after all minor points. The great thing is to get the principle of the Bill recognised and passed by Parliament. This is a Bill on which public opinion is I believe almost unanimous. It is a Measure which has been supported by all parties in the House for years past, and it is a Bill in favour of which one representative and powerful Committee has already reported. Further than this it is a Measure to which the great majority of the Mem- bers of this House are pledged, and the great mass of the Conservative party are entirely unanimous about it.

It seems to me a ridiculous and a sinful thing if this Bill is going to be held up again by obstructive tactics by the Ministry, or if it is to be held up sine die because a certain Committee has not yet reported. Let that Committee report as soon as possible, but do not let it delay the due consideration of this Measure in Committee. The Bill Will cost nothing to put into operation, and it means a great deal to the life of the children of this country. On those grounds I urge the representative of the Home Office to lend a favourable ear to the plea put forward to-day, and I urge the House to give this Measure a Second Reading.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading upon his admirable speech. With regard to what has been said about the No. 2 Bill I certainly hope if this Measure reaches the Committee stage that some of the admirable Clauses in the No. 2 Bill will be incorporated. Up to the present the supporters of this Bill have laid no stress whatever upon the necessity of any safeguards being inserted. The practice adopted in different countries and in the Dominions has been referred to but not one word has been said about safeguards. He spent over an hour making a most interesting speech, full of historical reminiscences, but a good deal of it was quite irrelevant and never touched the practical difficulties which anyone can see if he gives a few moments' consideration to the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the former Solicitor-General (Sir H. Slesser), was good enough to refer to me in a few sentences in his speech, and I thank him. But when he said that I am only opposing this Bill because it comes from the other side of the House, then I respectfully say to him that he has been in this House only as many months as I have been years, or he would have known that I have supported measures coming from other parties, including those coming from his own party, when I have thought that they have been deserving of support. I would also remind him that this Bill has produced a small rift in that happy family known as the Radical Group. One of the most distinguished members of that most distinguished group, the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Leith (Captain W. Benn), has his name on the back of the Bill. I do not know how it comes to be there, but I suppose he was importuned by the hon. Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor). Unfortunately, he is not here to-day. As for the comment of the hon. and learned Gentleman upon his colleague, the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico), I am sorry that he is not here, because I am sure that he would have made theological and legal mincemeat of the hon. and learned Gentleman, The hon. Member for Consett was to have seconded the rejection of the Bill, but I am sorry to say that he is in bed with a rather severe chill.

This Bill rouses my opposition for what I hope will be taken by the House to be solid reasons. The whole tendency nowadays is towards the breaking no of the family circle. Parenthood is being shirked on the one hand, and parental authority is being weakened on the other. That is the general tendency, and it is no use blinking the fact. I am sure that the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton will never suffer from that fact, but I hope that she will think of what I am saying seriously as affecting other people. This Bill, as it is drawn—I hope it will be seriously amended—practically says that, if you can satisfy a High Court or a County Court, then, if any parent—I am leaving out the question of guardians, because those are strong cases for adoption, and if the Bill were confined to orphans it would have my support—because of financial difficulty or selfishness, or perhaps of unnatural feeling for the child, can induce any other person or persons to take that child, the legal parenthood shall be transferred from the natural to the adopted parent. I think that is a very wrong principle indeed for us to support.

In some cases, you have people who are too selfish to have children themselves. Very often, when young, they will not have children for extraordinarily selfish reasons, and they leave the matter too late and cannot have children. Then, in later years, they feel a want or a gap in their lives. There is a starved feeling of parenthood that requires satisfaction. They go to poor people with large families, and they probably induce the parents to part with a child. I know of actual cases which have arisen. Then perhaps the family from which that child has been taken improves in its position in the world, becomes more comfortable, and the parents wish to regain possession of the child. Under this Bill that is impossible. There is a provision in the No. 2 Bill by which the Court can also abrogate the adoption. Take another case, the case of a man who has left his wife to go abroad on business. It would be possible, if this woman went to the bad—it sometimes happens when a woman is left alone—for her to go to the Courts and get this through without the consent of the father at all. In the No. 2 Bill that is allowed for. I am afraid that there would be a temptation to poor people in these days, when, as I say, family life is not so respected as it used to be, to dispose of children to selfish and more wealthy people who desire to adopt them.

There was a case recently of a well-known writer, who with his wife took a fancy to a young child—a girl of poor parents—and they brought child up in great luxury, he being what is known as a "best seller," and therefore enjoying a large income. Then when the parents wished to regain possession of the child, its affections had been completely alienated. Hon. Members will remember the case, and it shows up this whole question of adoption when the natural parents are living as being very objectionable indeed. The hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor-General talked of the natural parents of the child as the nominal parents. These other persons who wished to adopt it were to be the real parents, and the actual and natural parents, in his eyes looking at it from the legal point of view, became only the nominal parents. That is a step that we shall be taking if the House accepts this Bill as it stands. The hon. and learned Gentleman quoted the Chinese and ancient Roman practice in support of his advocacy of the Second Reading of the Bill. I would remind him that one of the causes of the downfall of the Roman Empire was the shirking of the duties of parenthood. It was when the Roman Empire had to rely on the Foreign Legionaries, and when corruption had weakened the Romans, that the Roman Empire fell.


I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that those who were adopted by the Roman Emperors were among the most highly successful.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

We can always get rulers. They always come to the fore when they are required; but if the great mass of the people shirk their duties, the population decreases, and then this or any other Empire will fall. All history bears out the truth of that statement. I would refer with approval to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. G. Hurst), although it was marked by some exaggerations. He spoke about children who were not adopted being brought up in institutions, and in surroundings in which they had not one chance in a thousand of success. I do not know to what he was referring, but some of the younger members of large families have been among the most successful of men, although they have been brought up in the midst of poverty. It is because they have got on by their own efforts tat they have been successful. To say, because a child is poor and therefore must be given a chance, that only wealth or opulence can give it that chance, is, I venture to say, an absolutely wrong and poisonous doctrine. It is much better to encourage parents to do their best for their children under the most difficult circumstances, and not to look to others to relieve them of their duties.

I admit that the case of the war orphan is very strong, and it would have my support, but I strongly object to legalising the handing over by parents themselves of their own children to other people, making that an irrevocable act, and giving the adoptors all the privileges of parenthood with regard to the children. I look upon this as a dangerous precedent, and as one among many tendencies which must be stopped if we are to preserve the whole structure of family life. After all, it is only a feeling of duty which enables many mothers and heads of families to struggle on and try to bring up their own children to respect them and love them in years to come. It is a duty that they owe to their children. If that feeling is weakened, we are bound to have nothing but disaster. If I wished, I could twit the late Solicitor-General with the state of affairs in Russia, where. Socialism has made the children very largely dependent on the State. Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I have visited that country since the Revolution, and know what has happened. There are many colonies of children there belonging to no one at all, and brought up by the State, and, as a matter of fact, I think they are being as well looked after as circumstances permit. I will not use that argument against the hon. and learned Gentleman; I will only hint at it. [Laughter] It is only the same principle as this, carried out in an extreme form.

If you are going to encourage wholesale adoption on the one hand, and give it the legal sanction of the State, and then follow with property rights, as mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side, I cannot see that anything but misery will result. The present system is quite adequate to deal with genuine cases of homeless children, orphans, and the children of people who through affliction are unable to look after them. The Child Adoption Society does admirable, work in that direction. If the House sanctions this Bill, I do not think, from what I have been able to find out, that it will assist any genuine cases where adoption would be desirable, but, on the other hand, it may bring about considerable evils. For that reason, I hope that the Home Office are not going to support, this Bill, but that, if we are to have an Adoption Bill, it will be the No. 2 Bill that will be starred by the Government, and not the Bill of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler).


Does the hon. and gallant Member move his Amendment?

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

No, Sir.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has withdrawn his opposition. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has not moved."] I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member has been brought to reason by the eloquence and arguments of those who are in favour of this Bill. I am afraid that Friday afternoon has proved too great a temptation to the hon. and gallant Member. He has the House almost at his mercy, but he has a deplorable case. The hon. Member for Cambridge University, who moved the Second Reading, did so with great eloquence, learning and sincerity, and I am sorry that more Members of the House did not hear him, because he put the case so splendidly. The late Solicitor-General, who seconded, put the point, as he always does, with great clarity and with that medieval learning and lore for which he is so famous. He spoke of the Ancient Fathers, but I should like to speak of modern mothers, which is much more to the point. If we thought that this Bill was going to break up the sanctity of home life, is it at all likely that the promoters of the Bill would have gone on with it? Really, with due respect to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, there is no foundation for his fears, and he shows a deplorable ignorance of the whole subject. I am dealing with his mentality, and not with his personality. I venture to say that there is no Member of this House who has read the Report of the Child Adoption Committee who would not be in his place to-day to urge the Government to pass this Bill. It is most convincing.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

indicated dissent.

Viscountess ASTOR

Has the hon. and gallant Member read it?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY



Would the Noble Lady give the composition of that Committee?

Viscountess ASTOR

Is the hon. Gentleman against this Bill?


I addressed a question to the Noble Lady.

Viscountess ASTOR

The Committee consisted of Sir Alfred Hopkinson, K.C., Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the Hon. Lady Norman, C.B.E., Mrs. C. E. B. Russell, Mr. James Seddon—a friend of the hon. Member—


He is a Radical.

Viscountess ASTOR

He was.


Apparently, the working woman mother was not in any way associated with that inquiry.

Viscountess ASTOR

I hate that assumption that a working woman mother is different from any other mother. It really is a thing that is most irritating, even to a working woman. A mother is the same in all walks of life. There really is nothing in that argument, and the inference that women who are not working women are different towards children from those who are is an insult to motherhood. I resent it enormously.


The Noble Lady might read about those Society people who spend their time petting little puppy dogs, when they might be paying a little more attention to human beings.

Viscountess ASTOR

If I told all that I knew about the hon. Member, I would give the House something to think of today. I might go into some of the company that the hon. Member has kept that would not reflect credit on him or his Party.


I really do think. Mr. Speaker, that that is going beyond the bounds of Order.


I think so, too. I must beg the Noble Lady not to enter into these personalities. It does not assist the Debate in any way.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

On a point of Order. The Noble Lady has made an innuendo against the hon. Member (Mr. Hayday), and I think we ought to have an explanation, or a complete withdrawal.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am quite willing to withdraw, but may I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker. It is really very difficult, when one is talking on a matter about which one feels strongly, and an hon. Member gets up, and says that, because there was not a working woman on the Committee, it was not representative. His reference to puppy dogs and Society was also most insulting, and that is what made me say what I did. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"]


If the Noble Lady would act on my advice, which I have frequently given to her, and would always address me, she would not entangle herself in this way.

Viscountess ASTOR

I quite agree. I wish I could accept your advice, but I suppose that no Member speaks under more constant provocation than I do.


I cannot agree that the Noble Lady is not herself sometimes provocative.

Viscountess ASTOR

I agree with that too, Sir. This Child Adoption Committee was set up in 1920, and, after inquiring into the question most thoroughly, they said that some provision of this kind was an absolute necessity. It does not deal mostly with the children of well-to-do children, not from the point of view of one class, but from the point of view of the children themselves.

The late Solicitor-General put it splendidly and movingly. The hon, and learned Gentleman the Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst), who is an authority on this and has dealt with it, he told us, for many years, also appealed to the House to pass the Bill. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite knew enough, he would realise that there are some people who never have children, and yet the maternal instinct in them is far stronger than in some who do have them. It is really one of the tragedies of life. The best work that is being done for children to-day is being done by women who have never had children. The people who are most interested in neglected children—the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children—are backing the Bill, which they regard as of urgent importance.

I am not going on, because every thing has been said about it that could be said, but I beg hon. Members opposite not to think we want in any way to break up home life or to take the responsiblity away from parents, or do anything that is going to make the life of children more difficult. It is simply to make the life of those children better and to get more people of the right sort to adopt children and to prevent adoption by the wrong sort. In every Anglo-Saxon country that has adopted this kind of Bill there has never been a question of taking it back. One hon. Member has said there has been a question of amending it, and he quoted New York. New York has a large Jewish. Polish and Italian population and they have amended their Adoption Bill, but they have never thought of changing, it. I hope the House will not be put off by the plea that we should wait for the report of that Committee. In the first place, there was no reason for it. The 1920 Report gave all the evidence that reasonable people would want. I do not know why the late Home Secretary appointed another Committee. These various Committees on the same subject make the House of Commons look rather ridiculous. If we have the evidence, and we have a majority for it, why do we not go on?

I should also like to remind the Minister that this Committee which is at present sitting has just passed what they call wider terms of reference. That means that they may go on for another year, or for ever. There is no telling when they will stop. I urge the Home Secretary to get on with something he can do. He seems to have taken on so many things that he cannot do that it would really be very helpful for him to take on something that he can do. He took on aliens and night clubs, moat ticklish and thorny questions which we should all like to see dealt with, but we all knew at the time that he was putting his head into a hornets' nest. If he will only take on this and let the Bill get through he will riot only be doing a kindness to the children of the country, but he will be living up to the promise of the Prime Minister. I hope the House will press this to a Division. This is not a perfect Bill, but it can be made better in Committee. If the Home Secretary does not want to pass it now, and you give in to him and do not vote against him, you have a great responsibility. It is almost a cruelty to let another day go by without passing the Bill. It is a thing that all parties are in favour of, with a few brilliant—I do not know why I should say "brilliant"—a few notorious exceptions. I notice that the hon. Member who was to second the rejection has disappeared. That is owing to the eloquence of the late Solicitor-General.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The hon Member who was to second the Amendment is ill in bed.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am sorry he is ill, but I am glad that, if he had to be ill, to-day is the day. May I urge the Home Secretary, and hon. Members on this side, particularly new Members, not to be carried away by the plea that you want to have the Report of the Committee. You will be letting down those who most need your help—the abandoned and neglected children. There was a case in my constituency of a war baby. It was a most piteous case of a governess who had an illegitimate child. During the Election a sailor came to me and asked me to go to a certain house and see a girl who was going to commit suicide. I found her and found it was quite true. When she knew she was going to have a baby she decided to take her life. I persuaded her that it would be all right, and said I would get her into a place where she would be looked after. We got her into a home, where the baby was horn. Then the point was to get suitable parents for it, and we succeeded in that. It. is a beautiful child and it is in as tender and loving a home as it could have, but the people live in constant dread and fear of the mother coming back and taking the child. It is really very unfair to the parents and to the child. I beg the Home Secretary and Members of our party to listen to reason and not to be put off by the plea that we should wait for tile Report of the Committee. Committees are dangerous things.


I hope the Government will not too hurriedly endorse the Hill. The last Ministry appointed a Committee to go further into the matter, and I do not think we should show anything approaching indecent haste by accepting at the moment a Bill proposed under such circumstance as is this one. It is all very well to set up machinery which will give encouragement to legalised adoption, mainly on the plea that there are children of parents whose income is insufficient to enable them to maintain them as they ought to be maintained, or that other circumstances have crept into the family life which enable the child to be bargained for as though it was some piece of produce to those who desire to adopt it. The Noble Lady says she could tell of company that I keep. That is neither here nor there as an argument in connection with this Bill. The reason I asked for the composition of that Committee of Inquiry was quite justifiable and fair comment, because if you are to have a real expression of opinion born of experience brought to hear upon the legalised adoption of children, surely the very first type of persons that you should get information from are those whose children are likely to be the subject of adoption. The Noble Lady asks, "why working women?" For the simple reason that the well-to-do woman has no incentive to appeal for the adoption of her off-spring. It is from that class of mothers most likely to be affected from whom first information and experience should be obtained. The Noble Lady must not mislead this House or the country by suggesting that a mother willingly foregoes the maternal claims of her own flesh and blood.

Viscountess ASTOR

I never attempted to put that point of view. These children mostly are not the children of parents who love their children, but cannot afford to keep them. If the hon. Member will ask the late Solicitor-General, he will find that they are mostly the children of parents who neglect them. A great many of them are illegitimate. If the hon. Member will refer to the National Council for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children he will find that they are the experts, and not the neglectful parents.


Hon. Members will see how wide we are getting from the mark, when we get philanthropically-inclined or charitably-disposed organisations looked upon as being the au fait authority as to what is right and wrong in this matter. If the wage conditions were good enough, and if mothers' pensions were instituted that would wipe away the care and the fear from the mother's mind as to the possible infliction of suffering upon her child, there would not be the need for half the present extent of the adoption of children. The Bill is not limited only to a certain class or type. It does not say that it only applies in cases where children are neglected. It says that if any mother cares to offer her child for adoption, and if any person cares to accept that adoption, then by registration to the High Courts or through the County Courts-it becomes a legal transferrence from one to the other.

I know of many mothers who have, by reason of the stress of circumstances, sought for someone to adopt their children, because they have felt that they would not be able to witness the suffer- ing imposed on their offspring by their want of resources to make proper provision. In those cases. the mother, our of love for her child and with a desire to provide the child with every possible comfort, physical and mental, has wrung her heart-strings in suffering at parting with her own flesh and blood; but she has done it because she thought it was for the good of the child, in all the circumstances. No one can tell me that in a case like that, the mother can be described as guilty of neglect. The neglect lies, not on the part of the mother, but because of the limited means at her disposal to make proper provision. If the Noble Lady were to go into the poorest industrial districts, I do not think that she would find any mother who would willingly dispose of her child, provided you give her the means of providing for the child all that the child should have.

Why should the offspring of the poorest people be bartered as a piece of merchandise to people who may or may not have a family; to people who may think the encumbrance and risk of child-birth is too much for them? Who can say that in the well-to-do-homes there is a greater amount of motherly care and lovable disposition than is displayed by a mother in poorer circumstances, especially if the poorer mother had the means at her disposal to make provision for her child? If this Bill gets a Second Reading, I shall do my best in Committee and afterwards to limit it in its scope. We on these benches are bound to stand by the work of the late Government, who set up a Committee to make further inquiry into the matter. I would prefer to withhold any definite decision until the results of that hither inquiry are made known.

The Noble Lady has admitted that this Bill has defects. Often, that argument is used by the promoters of Bills. They say: "We know the Bill has defects, but let it go to a Committee and we can remedy the defects there." That gives them the first pull. They get the Bill into Committee. Seeing that the defects of this Bill are admitted by its supporters, let us have the result of the inquiry and find out what those defects are. Do let us see that there is as little as possible of the adoption principle accepted in this country, and let us see that the mothers have greater provision given to them, so that they may take care of their offspring, before we rush head-long into any wholesale methods of legalised adoption.

1.0 P.M.

The UNDER-SECRETARY for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Godfrey Locker-Lampson)

We have had several eloquent speeches in favour of the Bill. We had a very impressive speech from the Mover of the Bill, the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler), and a very earnest appeal in favour of the Bill from the late Solicitor-General. It is only natural that those who are interested in the welfare of children should want to see a Child Adoption Bill passed into law. I always feel that the movement in favour of this legislation has been very much strengthened since the War, because during the War many parents lost a great many of their children, and, naturally, they have wanted since to adopt others. Unfortunately a great many orphans were left, and people have thought it only right to do what they could to see that these orphans were looked after by parents adopting them.

In 1920 Mr. Shortt who was then Home Secretary, appointed a Departmental Committee to consider whether it was desirable to legalise adoption, and, if so, what form the legalisation should take. The Committee re-commended legalisation. Some of the speakers to-day have forgotten that the Committee not only recommended legislation, but that any Act legalising adoption should also provide for various things. They recommended that it should provide for the judicial sanction of the County Courts—the High Court having concurrent jurisdiction—and that any such Act should lay down the various consents that had to be obtained, and the conditions to be fulfilled, before the adoption was legalised They also recommended that any such Act should provide for the rights of the parties in regard to property, and so forth. As a result of those recommendations, no fewer than six private Members' Bills were introduced. Nearly all those Bills differed. Some of them were mere skeletons of Bills, like the present Bill, and some of them varied or included in their entirety the recommendations of the Committee. That showed that there was great diversity of opinion on this subject. Then the Labour Government took office. They realised that the question was a very difficult one, and deciding that a, full investigation was necessary, a Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Tomlin was appointed. I think that the late Solicitor-General, if I may say so, does not realise that Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee was not set up by us. It was not set up by what he may regard as the "reactionary party." it was set up by the Labour Government, and presumably if the Labour Government had been in power now, and a Bill dealing with this subject had been introduced, they would have said that it would be better to wait until the Committee which had been set up had produced their recommendations.

That is only common sense. The Committee were appointed, and they have been sitting ever since. The Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) seemed to think that there had been a great deal of delay on the part of the Committee in making their recommendations. After all they have been working hard: they have had a good many sittings, and have examined about 30 witnesses. The subject with which they have to deal is extremely difficult. The Bill which we have now before us is open to the same objection as several former Bills which were brought in. I do not in the least criticise or blame the hon. Member for Cambridge University for not putting more into the Bill, because in our present state of information it is almost impossible to produce a perfect Bill. The Bill of my hon. Friend contains merely the provision legalising adoption, and leaves out the whole of the other recommendations of the Committee of 1920, and puts nothing in their place.

It seems to me that until Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee have reported and made their recommendations, it is very difficult for the Government to take the matter any further. I have been in this House for 15 years, and have never known legislation on any subject which was being discussed by a Committee at the moment. I have never known a Bill go through dealing with a subject about which a Committee was sitting before the recommendations of the Committee had been produced. This question is complicated by the fact that the people who are advocating the Bill are advocating it for different reasons. One set of people are advocating it because they want to establish the legal claim of people who have adopted children. Another set of people support the Bill because they want to safeguard the children and prevent baby-farming. But you cannot drag the question of baby-farming into a children adoption Bill.

The question of baby-farming, as pointed out by the first Committee in 1920, must be dealt with by amending Part 1 of the Children Act, 1908. Therefore last month the terms of reference were enlarged, and the Committee have been asked to look not only into the question of legalising adoption but also into the question of baby-farming. This has been clone, not in order to delay the work of the Committee, but to take a very valuable opportunity of looking into this particular question; and when the Report of Mr. Justice, Tomlin's Committee is received, the Government intend to give it the fullest and most sympathetic consideration. In view of all this, I should be very glad if the Second Reading were not pressed to-day, Naturally we are not going to oppose the Second Reading. If the House wants the Second Reading, the Government are not going to take any steps to try to prevent it, but in giving the Second Reading, we are taking a very inconvenient course. If it is given the Second Beading it will go to a Committee upstairs. What Amendments are you going to put into the Bill? We do not in the least know what the recommendations of Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee will be, and meantime you will be inserting Amendments completely in the dark.

The Bill would then come down here crammed with Amendments, and I think it extremely doubtful whether, on the Report stage, the Government would be able to give time. Suppose the Bill gets the Second Reading and goes through the Committee stage before the recommendations of Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee have appeared, I am afraid that the Government cannot pledge itself to give any facility whatever. Would it not be better first to allow the recommendations of Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee to appear, to let us see what they are, and, on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, I pledge myself then to bring in legislation dealing with this subject. We do not want to shelve this question. We are just as anxious to have the legislation of adoption as anyone else, but it does seem to me an inconvenient course to take all the trouble to give the Bill the Second Reading, to send it upstairs, to have Amendments put in when we are completely in the dark as to what the recommendations of the Committee are going to be, and to send it clown here again, when the Government will not be able to give it facilities on Report, and the whole thing will fall through.

Viscountess ASTOR

Have you any notion at all when the work of the Committee is coming to an end, because they have been sitting for a year, and there has been plenty of time?


I am glad that the Noble Lady reminded me of that. As far as the Home Secretary and I are concerned, we will do our utmost straight away to expedite the Report of the Committee. We will make representations to Mr. Justice Tomlin, and ask him to expedite the Report of the Committee, so that we may have it as soon as possible.


I understand that the terms of reference have just been widened. Will that involve still further delay?


Of course it adds to the work of the Committee, but they can get over that by sitting more frequently. It does not necessarily mean that they will take longer, so far as the period of time is concerned. I will pledge myself and the Home Secretary to do our utmost to expedite the Report of the Committee, and to consider the recommendations of that Committee, and bring in legislation on the subject.

Viscountess ASTOR

Would it not be a great help in "gingering up" the Committee to pass this Bill this afernoon?


I do not think so. I believe it would be a waste of time, because I do not see what you are going to do in Committee upstairs. You may put in Amendments which would be directly contrary to the recommendations of the Committee. In view of what I have said, I hope that the House will not pass the Second Reading to-day. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University will not press it. Naturally we shall not as a. Government oppose it, but I feel that it would be a far more convenient course, to pursue, having had this very interesting Debate, to wait until the recommendations appear, and then for the Government to introduce a Bill.


The House has listened with interest to the statement of the Under-Secretary for Home Affairs. I was glad, however, that he emphasised one point. I was very much afraid, from what he said at the beginning of hit' speech, that the Government were only going to give favourable consideration to the report of Justice Tomlin's Committee when it is issued. But I understood him to say later very definitely that when the report is issued, the Government go so far now as to pledge themselves to bring in a Bill on the basis of that report That makes the position clear. He made it clear to the House, too, that the Government would not resist the Second Reading of this Measure to-day. It does, however, place the promoters of the Bill in a quandary, because I appreciate at once that this Bill is incomplete. I would like to point out one or two flaws which impair the Measure. Whilst supporting the principles of the Bill I cannot understand why it is laid down that the age of adoption should stop at 10 years. It seems to me that whenever the Government brings in a Bill, or should tins Bill go to a Standing Committee, the pro-motors ought to have, regard to that very important fact. Take the case of a child which is neglected by its parents. Surely that child is as important at the age of 11, 12 or 13 years as it is at the age of eight or nine. I merely point out that deficiency in order that the Bill may be remedied later.

I fail to understand, too, the provisions in Clause 3. I agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst) when he suggested that no Court should have the flower to lay down rules on such a very important issue as this. I believe that the House of Commons, where the destiny of any human being is concerned, is the only tribunal to determine what rules and regulations shall govern the life of that individual. I respectfully suggest that all these provisions which would govern the Court in its decisions regarding the child should be embodied in law, so that we may understand in this House exactly what we are doing. I think the House ought to know that this Bill is one of a serf -s of measures promoted by the women's organisations. They are doing very good work, but I wish that this Bill was more explanatory, if that is the proper term to use. It seems to me that this is too short a Measure, that it is too flimsy a Bill to deal with this very important subject.

There is no doubt that the House today is torn between two ideas. There is the fear, the very genuine fear, that people will take undue advantage of the fact that they would be entitled in law to secure the life of a child and profit thereby. On the other hand, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases where men and women of goodwill, people who are charitably disposed, have adopted children at the age of one, two or three years. I know of cases of that kind where the neglectful parents, after the child has reached the age of 12 or 13, are very desirous of securing its return from its foster parents because they want to benefit by the child's wages. That is a feature that the House has to remember. There is another point I would mention. This Bill obviously would deal with all future cases. But if it is correct to lay down provisions for dealing with all future cases, surely we ought to aim too at dealing with those cases which are now affecting a large number of people in the way that I have suggested. In this Bill the welfare of the child is to be paramount. In the limited knowledge I have been able to gain of the procedure of courts of law in this country, everyone seems to declare now that the welfare of the child must be paramount. But I am told on very good authority that children who play truant, for instance, and whose cases came before the Children's Courts, are dealt with by the Court, when the children themselves are not there at all to explain, even in a childish way, their own attitude towards the charge made against them. I think the child itself ought to have a "say" in these matters. The child of eight or nine years of age surely ought to have an opportunity of stating what it thinks as to its own destiny in life. This Bill seems to throw the whole of the onus upon the Court and upon the parents. I wish that some such provision as I have suggested were included in any Bill introduced by the Government. However childish it may appear to be, I know of boys of eight or nine years of age who want to know the reason why in all these things, and they ought to be entitled to go into the Court to say what they think of the procedure to be adopted towards their future.

The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill made a statement that the Home Secretary in the Labour Government adopted a wrong technique in regard to this question. I wish the hon. Member had explained himself, because as a matter of fact the Labour Administration did more by way of promoting Measures of this character than any of its predecessors. I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman meant by that statement.


It was only a small point in my speech, and I did not wish in the least to lay stress upon it. What I meant was that I thought it was a great mistake to appoint the second Committee, which was quite unnecessary. They should have proceeded by the ordinary way of discussion in Committee and on the Floor of the House. That was my point. The hon. Member may not agree with me, but he cannot say that my suggestion was unreasonable.


I am obliged for the explanation, but I would point out that the hon. Member in his speech to-day used nearly as many arguments against this Bill as it stands as he used in its favour. Other hon. Members also have criticised the Bill. They have made statements as to additions that they would desire to make in the Bill. Those were the very reasons for the steps the Labour Government took with regard to the appointment of that Committee. As has already been pointed out, this problem was well understood up to-the beginning of the War: it was then within specific limitations. All persons connected with social work understood then exactly what ought to be done with a problem of this kind. But the War altered the whole of the situation, and that was one of the chief reasons why the Labour Government appointed another Committee to inquire further into the matter. Surely there is nothing wrong in securing more information on a subject if that is deemed necessary.

A point has been made to-day with regard to what has transpired in other countries. I am not a lawyer, and I know very little of what is happening in legal circles in continental and other countries, but I can say that I very much prefer the laws of this land to be established on the experience and the necessity of our own people rather than that we should be asked to copy any other country. I take very little heed of glowing reports in books and pamphlets as to the superior social and industrial legislation that is supposed to exist in the United States. So far as my knowledge goes, the social and industrial legislation of this country is of as high an order as that of any other country in the world and, I repeat, that we must not proceed merely on the lines that other countries have adopted where in fact the conditions are different. For example, family life in France is different from ours and the same remark applies to Belgium, Germany, and several other countries. I prefer that whatever we do should be done because of the necessity of the case in our own country, and not because of any desire to copy America—even the State of Massachusetts or the County of Virginia.

Viscountess ASTOR

I really must protest. Virginia is a State, and was England's first colony.


As the hon. Member has very kindly given way, may I take the opportunity of pointing out to him that I gave the quotations in regard to America because the States in America have proceeded by case law rather than by codification, and I quoted it as an example for us to copy in that respect because they adapted their legislation to the needs of the situation arising from time to time.


I must, of course, withdraw the assertion that Virginia is a County, because I claim that Wales is a State in itself.

Viscountess ASTOR

Wales! You could put it into a corner of Virginia.


On the point raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge University I think it would be well if I quoted a sentence from the Committee's report which has been under discussion this morning. This is the unanimous opinion of the Committee— The laws of most Continental countries on the subject are to a Large extent based on ideas with regard to the family and other social conditions which differ in important matter from those which obtain here. I agree entirely with that view. I am glad the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.- Commander Kenworthy) has withdrawn his Amendment. I think the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side was sufficient to convince any hon. Member of the title of this Bill to favourable consideration; but I was very interested in the words of the Amendment as to the breaking up of families. If the breaking up of political family relations were to be dealt with, then those who sit with the hon. and gallant Member are experts on that subject.

Reverting to the Bill, I hope the Government will allow it a Second Reading as a demonstration of the almost unanimous opinion of this House. The difficulties of bringing this Bill into conformity with the decisions of the Committee now sitting may be great, but I say unhesitatingly that it would be well if this House declared to-day in favour of legalising that which is now done voluntarily throughout the country. I am enthusiastically in favour of the principles embodied in all the Bills produced by the women's organisations, and I might add one final argument in support of this Bill which has not yet been suggested. I take some interest in the types of children dealt with by the Courts of the land; and as the hon. Gentleman opposite knows, I sit at present on a committee inquiring into the treatment of Voting offenders. I say without hesitation, on the information which comes to me, that a good proportion of the boys who find themselves in difficulties against the law and who commit offences, petty and major, are boys who either have been neglected by their parents or whose parents are dead. It is for the sake of the children and not merely of the parents or the foster-parents that I argue in favour of this Bill. Every child we can keep out of gaol or out of a Borstal institution or out of the Reformatory school represents a great step in advance. I understand that the hon. Gentleman opposite has stated definitely that the Govern meat intend to bring in a Bill, and I think the House should clearly understand that as a pledge. I know the noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is very doubtful of her own party.

Viscountess ASTOR

Not half as doubtful as I am of yours.


Yes, but I am never doubtful of my own party, and there is that difference between us. I was never doubtful of my own Government, but the noble Lady is very suspicious of hers.

Viscountess ASTOR

Oh, no!


We had the pledge that this Government will bring in a Bill based upon the recommendations of that Committee. I appreciate that point of view, but I still believe that the promoters of the Bill would be wise in pressing a Division, in order that the House may register its view on this important problem.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

It is not, as a rule, convenient for Members of the Government to speak upon private measures of this sort, and it is only with the assent of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that I presume to say a few words on the present occasion. It so happens that this Bill, exposed as it has been to one or two criticisms which I have had the advantage of hearing, is a Bill for which I was originally responsible. I am the parent and as, owing to my disqualification, I am prevented from fulfilling the duties of a parent, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler) has kindly adopted the Bill. Naturally I take an interest in its welfare, and I, too, was a little anxious when I heard the opening words of the Under-Secretary as to the future fate of this proposal. I think thy- Debate has been useful in showing that there is a genuine desire and intention to see that these proposals, or kindred proposals, become law at the earliest possible moment. The Debate has succeeded in obtaining an assurance on behalf of the Government that the report of Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee will be hastened by the Government and that, after the Report has been received, legislation will be introduced for which the Government will be responsible, legalising adoption and making such necessary provisions in connection with that legalisation as will render it effective and useful. That is an important declaration and one upon which the House may congratulate itself. It is no new experience in connection with proposals of this sort for those who bring them forward to suffer disappointments. Many such proposals have had to go through vicissitudes and I know there are some Members who would like to see this Bill proceeded with at the earliest possible moment.

Speaking for myself, I think it would have been an advantage if a Committee of this House sitting upstairs had dealt with the matter after Sir Alfred Hopkinson's Committee reported. But yet another Committee outside this House was set up. I think it is an advantage that a Committee of this House should do its own work, and I make that criticism, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman opposite, upon the step which the late Government took. The fact, however, is that a Committee is now sitting presided over by an eminent judge, who would throw light upon any question which he undertook to consider, and that is a reason why, out of respect to him, the House should refrain from immediate action. I am reluctant to say anything which would have the effect of postponing a decision for which I have worked, in a small way, for the last two or three years, but after the speech of my hon. Friend on behalf of the. Government, containing a deliberate statement of the intentions of the Government, I think the hon. Member for Cambridge would be rendering no ill-service to the cause which he has at heart if he were to adopt the course suggested by the Under-Secretary for the Home Department. By that means, he will secure in effect, if not by an actual vote, a unanimous expression of opinion on behalf of the House that it approves the statement made by the Home Office and will expect to see this Government carry out the pledge in the same spirit in which the pledge ways made.




I understood the statement to be that the Report of Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee will be hastened, and I assume from that that the legislation which will be brought in upon the basis of Mr. Justice Tomlin's Committee's Report will be proceeded with after the hastened Report has been received, and the object of hastening the Report is that legislation may be proceeded with as soon as possible. In the light of that assurance, I respectfully think that it will be convenient that the Committee upstairs should not embark upon a task which will be, I will not say difficult, but which must probably be prolonged, if by a more convenient method the same result could be obtained in the same time.


With the permission of the House, in view of what has been said, and in the light of what—and I hope my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will correct me if I am wrongfully interpreting him—is a very definite pledge that legislation will be brought in by the Government at the very earliest opportunity, I have no alternative but, to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.


I do not want to quarrel unduly with the decision arrived at by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler), but I do not think we have had any very definite pledge, and that is why I interjected a question while the Solicitor-General was speaking. The Under-Secretary for the Home Office said he would do all that he could—

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) having risen and spoken, I would point out that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler) cannot now withdraw the Bill.


Would it be in order, then, to move the adjournment of the Debate?




I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

I do so for the specific purpose of getting a better pledge from the Government than we have had. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) pointed out that the terms of reference to the Committee had been widely extended, and that unless great care was taken, the Report of that Committee would be long delayed. I understand that the Under-Secretary will do all that he can to expedite a decision, but in my own constituency I have case after case being brought to me now, in which the people who are adopting children feel a very great hardship. It is only a few weeks ago that I put to the hon. Gentleman himself the bona fide case of a working man and his wife who desired to adopt a child, and he could give me no consolation at all for these would-be foster-parents. If we are going to delay this matter unduly, I would far rather that the Bill went to a Division to-day. If the hon. Gentleman will give us a pledge that in this Parliament the Government pledges itself to introduce a Bill which will deal with the recommendations of the Tomlin Committee, that will put a different face on it.


I am very glad the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) rose to make that speech, because it gives me an opportunity of more or less emphasising what I said before. I am quite sure that it is for the convenience of this House not now to pass this Bill. I think the whole House wants to see an Adoption of Children Bill brought into law, and the Government want to see it. The Government are acting purely in the interests of such a Bill, and I am quite sure that, if this Bill were given a Second Reading to-day and went upstairs, it would prejudice the cause.

Viscountess ASTOR



Because the Government probably could not or would not give it facilities, and the question would be hung up, and then another Bill would have to 'be introduced, and I think the other Fill would be prejudiced by a former Bill having been discussed in Committee upstairs. May I once more, responding to the hon. Gentleman opposite, make this statement? The Government are prepared to do their utmost to expedite this Report. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) pointed out that the terms of reference had been enlarged. We will not only do our best to expedite the Report, but, if we can, we will persuade the Committee to issue their Re- port on the question of child adoption without waiting until they have ready a Report on the whole subject.

Viscountess ASTOR

That is better.


We will do our best, and we will also pledge ourselves, as a Government, to bring in a Bill dealing with this question in the life of the present Parliament.

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.

Debate accordingly adjourned.