HC Deb 13 April 1934 vol 288 cc635-40

As amended (in the standing Committee), considered.

12.19 p.m.


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

Having regard to the kindly reception which this Bill has met with from every quarter of the House, I shall not be justified in taking more that a minute or two in moving this Motion. The sole object of the Bill is to remedy a defect which a recent decision of the Court of Appeal disclosed in the Adoption of Children Act, 1926, because it was discovered that an adopted child is not entitled to the benefit of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925. When I brought forward this Bill it was backed by hon. Members in every quarter of the House, and it has passed through its previous stages with the greatest speed. In Committee there were only two or three Amendments, which I myself put forward with the object of enabling the law in Northern Ireland to be made the same as in England and Scotland. In those circumstances, I commend the Bill to the kindly consideration of the House.

12.20 p.m.


I congratulate the hon. Member on bringing in this Bill. When it was first introduced, many people in the House who had a good deal of experience of workmen's compensation did not quite understand why the Measure was necessary, but when it was pointed out that a decision of the Court of Appeal had laid it down that an adopted child was not a child within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Acts they quite rightly believed that the Bill was necessary, and we on this side intend to offer no opposition to it. Not many cases will be affected, but I, personally, know a number of childless couples who have adopted children and brought them up as their own, and it would be a severe hardship if the husband happened to be killed and a child which they had brought up for a number of years were deprived of compensation. Therefore, we think the Bill is necessary.

12.21 p.m.


May I say one word to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Galbraith) upon bringing in this Measure? I do so with the greater pleasure because he is my own Parliamentary representative. I am very glad to say that he is an excellent representative, because we invariably find ourselves in the same Lobby. Perhaps he has been a little too modest in his presentation of the Bill. It is particularly appropriate that he should introduce it, because it was through his efforts in 1926 that we passed a Bill making it legally possible for children to be adopted. Now he is making it possible for those children to have the benefit of the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Acts. I congratulate him on the very smooth passage which the Bill has had so far, and I hope he will have the pleasure of seeing it on the Statute Book.

12.22 p.m.


While I would like to support the Measure with one or two observations, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not be offended if I say that although a very useful one it is nevertheless a restricted Measure. In spite of its provisions, none of the children who are commonly adopted will receive the benefits of workmen's compensation. They must be legally adopted. There are thousands of children who have been adopted for all purposes which would justify the payment of workmen's compensation, but because of ignorance of the law that adoption has not been legally approved by the courts, and those children in consequence will not receive workmen's compensation even under this Measure. In reply to the observations made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department a moment or two ago, I would like to say that that when the next Socialist Government comes into power, after the next General Election, there will be no more tinkering with workmen's compensation laws. We shall go to the root of the problem and bring in a new Bill to put workmen's compensation once and for all on a proper basis, and there will then not be any private profit-making by insurance companies out of workmen's compensation. But, in spite of my criticism of this Bill, and because I think I was entitled to reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I feel bound to congratulate the promoter on this Measure being passed into law.

12.24 p.m.


I should not have spoken but for the highly provocative speech we have just heard. When my hon. Friend the Member for West-houghton (Mr. R. Davies) gets up and flings himself about in that way, it is only right that some of us should point out that he has made prophecies of various kinds in connection with workmen's compensation, and that no one has never known an occasion when he was right. I do not think any more need be said about that. As I am on my feet, however, I should like to say one word about the position under the Bill. Apparently, if a child has been legally adopted it can get benefit from workmen's compensation, but in the case of a child which has had all the advantages of adoption, although not legally adopted, we are getting on very difficult ground. I would like to ask the representative of the Home Office whether such a child will have the benefit of the Bill? I quite see that it would wreck the whole purpose of the present Bill, but I think that it is a point that might be considered. The hon. Members who have promoted these two Bills are to be congratulated upon the speeches which they have made, and upon having accomplished a useful bit of work. It is utterly wrong that the present condition of things should continue.

The sympathy of the whole House, I think, is with the Bill in regard to the adoption of children, and I would like to draw the attention of the House to one point. There is a vast amount of reference to other legislation in this Bill occupying practically the whole of Clauses 1 (2) and 2. I suppose that that is necessary, and probably the promoters have a legal turn of mind, but it constitutes a very grave objection to a Bill, and we have a right to protest. Perhaps it might stir up the mind of the Government to bring in some Measure to simplify the position in regard to compensation, so that we might not have a score of isolated Acts of this kind referring to I do not know how many other Acts, and making this complicated and very important question more difficult than it need be. If we could have one unifying Act, the whole matter would be placed upon a simple basis. It gives me great pleasure to be able to congratulate the hon. Members on their two useful Measures, which have been worked out and got through the House of Commons by Conservative Members, with that ability which distinguishes all Members of our party.

12.29 p.m.


This Bill was originally introduced under the Ten-minute Rule, and at the time that speech was made, as the Bill was not before the House and had not been printed, the Government could not express an opinion upon this Measure. I do not intend to delay the House for more than five minutes, but I think it only right that I should give the Government's view, and that I should say exactly what we are doing in suggesting that this Bill should be placed upon the Statute Book. Prior to 1st January, 1927, adoption was unknown in English law. On that date the Adoption of Children Act, 1926, came into operation. It was introduced, as in this case, by a private Member, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Galbraith). That Act made legal adoption possible. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) has said that the next time a Socialist Government comes into office it will deal with workmen's compensation. [Interruption.] As an hon. Friend of mine remarks, they have said that before. It is a case of "Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam to-day." They do not seem to take full advantage of their opportunities in this respect when they are in a position to do so. Under the provisions of the Act of 1926, as soon as an adoption order has been made, all the powers, rights, duties and liabilities as to the custody, maintenance and education of the child pass from the natural parent and are exercised by the adopting parent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) asked whether children not legally adopted could be brought under the terms of the Bill. They cannot. If they were, they would be brought in at a very grave financial risk. One can see that there would be a very large number of adopted children at the appropriate moment when there was a question of receiving compensation. The general principle of legal adoption was accepted by Parliament in 1926, and the principle has been applied in particular instances since that date. For example, in 1929 the adopted child was brought within the provisions of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, and in 1930 the general principle was applied to Scotland for the purpose of Workmen's Compensation. In Scotland ever since 1930 an adopted child has been treated for the purpose of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, as if it were the natural child of the adopting person.

This Bill seeks to do the same for England and Wales. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, the dependants of a workman who are entitled to claim compensation are such members of his family as were wholly or in part dependent upon his earnings. In that Act, the definition of the words "member of his family", although including illegitimate children, did not include an adopted child. The definition could not have included an adopted child because adoption was not legal in 1925. Recently the court of appeal has placed the matter beyond all doubt by deciding that the adopted child was not entitled in England and Wales to compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The purpose of this Bill is to remedy that defect. Logically, there can be no reason why an adopted child in England should not be entitled to compensation in the same way as an adopted child in Scotland, nor is there any logical reason for depriving an adopted child of compensation rights while an adopted child is eligible for an orphan's pension. The Government, therefore, support this Bill and compliment the hon. Member for East Surrey upon remedying what he described in his speech under the Ten-minute Rule as another injustice to England.


And Wales.


May I add Wales in order to satisfy the hon. Member for Westhoughton? The hon. Member for East Surrey is also to be congratulated upon completing the task to which he set his hand eight years ago. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department hopes that this Bill will have a smooth passage on to the Statute Book.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.