HC Deb 09 December 1938 vol 342 cc1555-8

Order for Second Reading read.

which the Solicitor-General has given might have carried more weight if he had been able to come to us and say, with the authority of the Government, what the magnitude of the problem is, but he has given no information. My hon. Friend asked how many of these properties were involved in the principle of the Bill, but the Solicitor-General said he was unable to give us the figures. Therefore, what the House is being asked to do is to give carte blanche to a Bill which is all principle. Unless I can hear something more specific as to the range of its operations and what we are committed to, I shall be inclined to ask the House not to accept the Second Reading.

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

The House divided: Ayes, 55; Noes, 46.

Division No. 14.] AYES. [3.5 p. m.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Bossom, A. C. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Russell, Sir Alexander
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Holmes, J. S. Samuel, M. R. A.
Bull, B. B. Horsbrugh, Florence Sandeman, Sir N. S.
Cary, R. A. Hewitt, Dr. A. B. Smith, Sir Louis (Hallam)
Castlereagh, Viscount Hunloke, H. P. Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester) Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Chorlton, A. E. L. Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Leighton, Major B. E. P. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Courthops, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Tate, Mavis C.
Craven-Ellis, W. Maitland, A. Touche, G. C.
Crooke, Sir J. Smedley Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Wakefield, W. W.
Denville, Alfred Marsden, Commander A. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Duncan, J. A. L. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Watt, Major G. S. Harvie
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Wise, A. R.
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Mitchell, H. (Brantford and Chiswiek)
Fremantle, Sir F. E. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Gluckstein, L. H. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Colonel Clarke and Major
Grant-Ferris, R. Nicholson, G. (Farnham) General Sir Alfred Knox.
Gridley, Sir A. B. O'Connor, Sir Terence J.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Green, W. H. (Deptford) Sanders, W. S.
Adams, D. (Consett) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Shinwell, E.
Adamson, W. M. Groves, T. E. Silverman, S. S.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Simpson, F. B.
Batey, J. Henderson, J. (Ardwisk) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Lathan, G. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Benson, G. Lawson, J. J. Thurtle, E.
Bevan, A. McEntee, V. La T. Viant, S. P.
Charleton, H. C. Marshall, F. Walkden, A. G.
Chater, D. Mathers, G. Watkins, F. C.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. Montague, F. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Noel-Baker, P. J. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Ede, J. C. Parker, J. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Poole, C. C.
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Ridley, G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Mr. Ellis Smith and Mr. Tinker.

3.13 p.m.

Mr. Erskine Hill

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

This Bill, which is a short one, deals with a point which is of some importance in the law of Scotland, and is put forward in order to remedy what, I think, the House will agree is at present an anachronism. As the law stands at present, the court can deal with a question of the decision of the custody of children in Scotland only while the child is in pupillaris. That means that the court can deal with the custody of a female child only if she is under the age of 12 years and with that of a male child only while he is under the age of 14 years. The Bill proposes the age of 16 years for both male and female children.

The age of 16 is chosen under the law of England and, I think, of most civilised countries. There are obvious advantages in the courts having power to control and direct the custody of children up to the age of 16 years. It does not require much imagination to realise the situation that arises when a female child, probably a sensitive child, has to decide for herself at the age of 12 years with which parent she would rather be. I have known many cases of the greatest possible hardship, where, indeed, the health of the child has been gravely affected. These cases happen most particularly where the parents of the child are living close together, and where the opportunity of getting at the child is more easy. I speak from memory, but I think the great majority of divorce cases in Scotland are cases where poor persons have applied for the benefit of the Poors Roll, and where there is not much money in the case. It is for those cases in particular that I desire the benefits of this Bill, because, when the poorer parties to a divorce case are living close together, as they often are, there are much greater facilities for the parents getting at the child in question. It was by a case of that sort that the lacuna in the law of Scotland was first brought to my notice. I feel that it may make all the difference to the child if his or her future is secured and settled and made certain by the court, rather than that the child should be in this very difficult dilemma. I feel certain that this Measure will have the sympathy of the House. I think it is a pity that such a Bill was not passed many years ago, and I ask the House now to give it its most sympathetic consideration.

3.18 p.m.

Mr. Mathers

I beg to second the Motion.

It is rather an unfamiliar thing for me to deal with a Bill that has primarily a legal object, and in this case I think I shall follow the wishes of the House by being very brief. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) on having succeeded, although he is a lawyer, in dealing not so much with the legal aspects of the Bill as with its more human aspects. I have heard of this problem for many years. I have always heard of it from the side that has been put to us by the hon. and learned Member, and I have never heard any argument against the raising of the age to 16 in Scotland, thereby bringing the law of Scotland into line with that of England. I think that if the House will give this Bill a Second Reading, and allow it to have the very careful consideration which it will receive from a Scottish Committee, the House will be doing a good service to children placed in this position in Scotland.

3.19 p.m.

Mr. James Stuart (Lord of the Treasury)

I wish to apologise for the fact that my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is unable to be here to-day. He has asked me to act for him. He is, I am sorry to say, indisposed, and the Law Officers are both in Scotland on business, as is also my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State. The Mover of the Bill has stated that its object is to empower the Scottish courts to make orders as to the custody of children under the age of 16.

At present there appears to be some doubt as to the powers to deal with the custody of children above the age of pupillarity under the present law, and I am authorised by my right hon. Friend to say that the proposals in this Bill appear to constitute a desirable form, and that they have the sympathy of the Government.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.