HC Deb 16 May 1930 vol 238 cc2247-50

I beg to move, in page 3, line 35, to leave out from "1929" to the end of the Clause.

We cannot have these words in now, because we have passed the 1st January, 1930, and the Bill will therefore come into force on the day on which it is passed.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Duchess of ATHOLL

I should like to give hon. Members who were not present in the Committee stage a brief idea of what this Bill should do for unmarried mothers and their children in Scotland. It should make some very substantial improvements in what has too often been a hard lot. In comparing the position of unmarried mothers in Scotland with the position of similar women in England in regard to the protection which the law gives them, we find that the English law gives very much more protection to the unmarried mother than the Scottish law does. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Mr. MacRobert) has told the House that since 1872 there has been an English Act which has made it possible for aliment to be given for the child until the age of 16. That is one way in which we are trying to bring the Scottish law to the level of the English law by this Bill.

The next point is perhaps one of even greater importance, and that concerns the amount of aliment. The position in Scotland to-day is that both parents are held to be jointly liable and jointly is interpreted as equal; that means that the contribution of the father is limited by what are usually the limited means of the mother. Not more than 2s. 6d. a week used to be required from the man before the War, and not more than 4s. 6d. has been customary in the last 10 years. Though in some cases that sum of 4s. 6d. might be all that could reasonably be asked of the father, there must undoubtedly be certain other cases where he could give considerably more. The Bill proposes that the award shall be made according to the means and circumstances of both father and mother, so that in the possible case of where the mother might be in better circumstances than the father, she would be required to contribute more to the keep of the child; but, in many cases, this Bill should enable a much more just amount of alimony to be given by the man. I would just point out how different English law is in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] I do not wish to detain the House, but I think it only right that Scottish Members should be told that English law puts the main liability on the father, and though it says that the mother is not to be relieved of all liability, it lays down what the father is to give. From 1372 onwards it has been possible to charge him 5s. a week; since 1918, 10s.; and since 1923,£1 a week.

Therefore, the Scottish mother has been in a very unhappy position compared with the English mother, and I think that the most iniquitous part of the Scottish law is the provision by which the father can claim the custody of the child, and, if the mother refuses, he is relieved of further liability. Then an improvement in expediting claims will be made by Clause 3. In Ontario and other provinces of Canada, cases may be heard before birth. That is also the case in two of the Australian States. In some cases, an award of maintenance may actually be required from the father before the birth of the child. Clause 3, therefore, is a step forward, although it is modest compared with what is in operation in several of the States of the Dominions. This Bill has received the approval of legal practitioners in many parts of Scotland, and I hope that the House, by giving it a Third Reading, will do its best to carry into effect a tardy measure of justice.


This is a very dangerous Bill. I am not the least impressed by what is the law in England. England has always been indescribably harsh on women. In England, there is no such thing as an action for seduction. The woman is in no sense protected, because there can be no action for seduction under promise of marriage. In Scotland, we have had equal law as between men and women for hundreds of years. The moral standard of both sexes is the same in Scotland, but you have not got that here. That is why the Scotswoman is to a large extent protected. In Scotland, a young woman who is led astray by specious promises has a remedy at Common Law for damages. That is what the English woman does not have, and that is probably why the larger sums may be awarded for the mere support of the child.

The particular vice of this Bill is that you may have, as an hon. Gentleman said, this charge hanging over a man's head for three months. It is a very disconcerting charge, and it is enough to drive an innocent man out of his senses. It may be raised by some wicked person, and one has bad experience of these things. You can take it that in most cases where the man contests the charge there is innocence, and the real reason why the action is taken is because the paternity of the child arises from a case of incest. In nine cases out of ten, the wretched girl must find a father of some kind and has to look for one. That is a fact that anybody who has practised in that class of case knows. In most cases, where there is a contest—it is only recently in England that incest has been a crime, but it has been a crime for hundreds of years in Scotland—in most of these contested cases there is incest.


What is the justification of the hon. Member for making a terrible statement like that?


It is the case, and those who have had a good many of such cases know it. I can confirm it by the statement of a professional brother of mine in this House on the other side. That is where the defended cases come in. In some cases, we have a woman who has led a promiscuous life and who simply looks for victims among the crowd. Then under this Clause there are temptations to blackmail where you may go before the sheriff and have an investigation into the means of both parties. What a temptation that is! Why a very large proportion of cases, where moral elements are involved, are blackmail cases. I actually came across one in the courts, a divorce case, where a man shamelessly told me that he was one of a crowd who got into touch with women of bad character at watering places in England to get the names of anybody they had managed to intrigue, and then so many months afterwards the solicitors wrote that something had happened as the result of their misconduct, having investigated and found out what the means of the people were. If they did not succeed in extracting the blackmail there and then they communicated with the spouse of the party. That was a case actually going on at the Court of Sessions. These gentlemen are unknown to the promoters of the Bill, who are wholly ignorant of these dark places in human life which it is our business to come across in our professional business. Acting thoughtlessly under the belief that you are on the side of innocence, you are fabricating an engine of oppression, of wrong, of imposition, and of cruelty. You think you are acting on behalf of the innocent, but you are really playing into the hands of the wicked, and I hope that the more experienced other place, which will receive this Bill, will realise that this Bill is framed by those as innocent as dust, but by no means as wise as Solomon.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.