§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11. 10 a.m.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think hon. Members in all parts of the House are aware that the provisions of the Bill are founded on the recommendations of a Departmental Committee that was set up by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was Home Secretary, in order to study the difficulties and the methods pursued in connection with child adoption, particularly when those adoptions were arranged by associations or groups of people. As I was chairman of that Departmental Committee, I should like to express my deep gratitude to all my colleagues for their untiring efforts, their interest and their help and support of their chairman, who fully realised how inexperienced she was for such a responsible post.
The Committee was set up because certain facts had been brought to the notice of the Home Office and anxieties were expressed by members of a deputation received by the Home Secretary in October, 1935. That deputation consisted of members of societies interested in the welfare of children and unmarried mothers, and of all those who were interested in carrying on the work of adoption societies. The facts they put before the Home Secretary and the anxieties they expressed were realised by him, and they substantiated the facts already in the possession of the Home Office. Hon. Members will be aware of the two Acts which have been passed dealing with child adoption—the Child Adoption Act which was passed in England in 1926, and in Scotland in 193o. By these Acts we hoped that what were called adoptions, where someone took charge of the child of someone else without any legal procedure—de facto adoptions is how we referred to them-would as the result of those Acts have those adoptions legalised by the courts and that the adopters would take all the full parental duties and rights of the natural parents. As a result, the number of adoptions was greatly increased. Last year 2356 the courts in England issued 5,000 adoption orders and in Scotland the courts made 800 orders.
One gap which remains is a serious one, in that we do not know the number of children who are placed with people for adoption because the adopters have not gone to the courts for an order for adoption. Therefore, no investigation through the courts or by any responsible person may have taken place into the conditions of the homes to which the children have gone. There is another gap concerning what I might call the third party, or almost the middle man, who from time to time arranges these adoptions. In the Adoption Act it was laid down that no money may be given or received by the two parties to the adoption, the parent or guardian of the child and the adopter, without sanction of the court; but there is nothing which deals with the money that may pass to the third party who has arranged the adoption. That is a very serious omission. The Bill deals with what we consider to be abuses, or neglect in some cases, on the part of those who are arranging adoptions.
I want to emphasise at the beginning of the Debate that I am convinced, and it is so stated in the Report, that there are many very good adoptions which have been arranged by adoption societies. Up and down the country there are hundreds and thousands of children in good homes, getting that of which they might have been deprived by the circumstances of their birth, namely, real home life, education and good upbringing. Therefore, nothing can lead us to think that these children have not been benefited by the scheme of adoption. There are many adoption societies which are doing excellent work. There is a great difficulty in these cases. A mother wants to get her child into a good home, or, unfortunately, there are cases where it is simply a desire to get rid of what she regards as a burden. How is she by herself to get her child into a good home? Adoption societies have done excellent work in bringing these children to people who are anxious to adopt children and to know the happiness which a child can bring into the home. I want the good work to go on, but I am also anxious that where the work is not so well done by people who are not actuated simply by motive of helping the child there shall be 2357 some supervision. I want the abuses which have grown up stopped so that children who are adopted shall go into good homes.
The first thing which struck me and the Committee when we considered this question was the fact that anyone can set up an adoption society and call it anything they like. The hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) has put into my mind the idea that we could set up an adoption society and call it the "Parliamentary Adoption Society." They can advertise and get funds if people think they are worthy, and it might be done from the best of motives, or as I fear is done in some cases, as a money-making concern. I know of one case where an adoption society took the title of the "Church of England Adoption Society." It had no official connection at all with the Church of England. I feel that these societies should be registered in some way, just as employment agencies and nursing homes are controlled.
The first three clauses of the Bill deal with the question of registration. It will be an offence for any body of persons to arrange for the adoption of children unless it is registered. Clauses 2 and 3 lay clown the conditions of registration and the method of appeal if the registration is refused or cancelled. In Clause 4 there are definite regulations which will be laid down by the Home Secretary in regard to the work done by an adoption society. I want to lay stress on these schemes for adoption. The Committee went into the subject very carefully and we rather featured, if I may say so, what we consider should be model rules or regulations for an adoption society. I am not going to stress the point that the people responsible for taking a child are responsible for the whole life of that child. I am not stressing this responsibility as it is fully recognised by us here, but it is vital that there shall be no carelessness, no neglect, and that the paramount consideration must be the welfare of the child. I think my best plan will be to point out the various regulations and give the House the reasons why we think they are absolutely necessary. In Clause 4 we suggest that when a child is adopted by a society a memorandum should be given to the mother, as we say:in the prescribed form explaining, in ordinary language,2358 Some of my legal friends have been rather surprised at this phrase, but I want to stress the fact that this is a human problem. The mother is, perhaps, distressed when she takes her child to an adoption society. She has been told by a friend or has seen an advertisement that children are taken. I wonder in how many cases the woman really understands what it means and what her rights and duties are? I know that in some cases the adoption society explain very carefully, but we must realise the state of mind of the woman. She might want to get the matter arranged secretly and quickly; she is worried. There are cases in which children of one week old have been taken to a society for adoption, and children of two and three days old. Indeed, in some cases the woman has been to the society before the birth of her child and registered it for adoption. The mother agrees to the adoption, but we must remember that in many cases she is very worried and does not know what she is doing. I want every women to have in her hands a statement of her rights and duties concerning her child in simple language that she can understand. As the law stands, the mother has a right to her child until an order of the court has been made giving the legal right to another person. She has a right to be informed when such an order is made, and if she does not consent the child is still hers.
What is happening? In many cases the woman thinks that as she has filled up a form—it may be a blank form—of an adoption society, she has given up her child for good and all, and can never get it back. I know of a pathetic case where a woman went to a society with her baby to be adopted, and within a few hours thought differently about the matter. She went home and told her parents, and her mother told her to fetch it back. She went back and was told, "No, you consented to give up your child for adoption, and you signed the form." If only that woman had been told, or had been able to get some advice, she might have acted differently. She never saw her child again, as she thought she had given it up legally. I know cases where the woman has not understood her rights. There is no legal right to take a child from its mother until an order of the court has been made, and I claim that the woman has a right to 2359 know when the order of the court is made.
I know there are cases of women who take their children to an adoption society and then disappear; they give no address to the society. In some cases the society tries to get in touch with the mother in order to obtain her consent to the adoption of the child by the society. It is the duty of every adoption society to keep in touch with the mother and make her realise her duties and responsibilities. In paragraph (b) of Clause 4 (1) it is laid down that three persons shall be appointed by the adoption society to consider each case of adoption. Some people may think this is unnecessary, but from what I have learned it is most undesirable that these decisions should be left to one official of the society. Everyone may make mistakes and at a time when everyone has a great deal to do. I am certain that it would be a great safeguard if, instead of handing over the duty of investigating and examination of a case to one official, a Case committee of every society consisting of at least three persons went into the matter and heard all the evidence that could be produced.
Paragraph (c) deals with the inquiries that ought to be made if adoption is to be successful, and expresses the necessity for obtaining a certificate concerning the child's health. Several people have told me that they cannot see the necessity for doing what most of the best adoption societies insist on doing, that is, having a certificate as to the child's health. I have pointed out that the first reason is that very often these babies are put into a hostel with other babies. I have pointed out that if the adopters do not satisfy themselves as to the state of the child's health, they may take an unhealthy child, and that will in the end react on the child. If the adopters are disappointed, or if a bitter feeling that they have been cheated grows up in their minds, I cannot think that that is the foundation for a happy and affectionate home for the child.
Most of the best adoption societies insist on there being a doctor's certificate, and several societies insist on there being a Wassermann test on the child or on the mother; but other societies, unfortunately, do not insist on this. One society has stated that certainly in one case out of 10 2360 no health certificate is insisted on. I have in my possession a so-called health certificate, a printed form containing various questions and the replies. That certificate was signed by the mother. I know of a case in which it was stated on paper that the child was healthy and of healthy parentage. I investigated that case personally, and found that the mother was mentally deficient, had a crippling affection of her legs, and was paralysed in one arm. Hon. Members may have read in the Report what the Committee says on the subject of medical certificates. On page 15 of the Report, it is stated:This society's representatives did not deny that they had in some cases taken at a single interview the babies of girls who after their confinement in public assistance hospitals had obtained a half-day's leave of absence with a view to getting rid of their children, and that the society had not communicated with the authorities of the hospitals. Two of these girls had been suffering from venereal diesase, and in case it was subsequently found that the children were also infected.The responsible official of that society did not take the trouble of telephoning to make the slightest inquiry. Such children may be received into a hostel with other children and may be sent out for adoption as healthy children. Therefore, I hope the House will agree that if these societies are registered, this regulation should be insisted on. A Case committee would have to interview the adopters personally, and there would also have to be a visit to the home by one of the committee, or by the committee's representative. Hon. Members may have read in the Report about the tragedies that have occurred on account of insufficient care being exercised. I know that the societies may say that their rule has been as I want it to be, but that in cases it has been relaxed, on account of the urgency. But if there is to be registration of adoption societies, and if, as a consequence, they are to be given some prestige—a hall-mark—in the eyes of the public, there must be stringent regulations. I think that in every case where there is to be an adoption, those who are going to adopt the child should be interviewed.
Not long ago I saw a woman who brought back an adopted child because she did not like the child. On looking at the woman, I know that nothing would have induced me ever to give her a child. 2361 I asked her why she brought the child back, and how old was he. He was a little boy just under two years old and she gave as her reason for bringing him back—"I do not like him; he is bad-tempered." I hope that that woman will never have a chance of having any other child. Hon. Members may have read in the Report some of the cases which have resulted because of a lack of investigation. The Report gives one case where a child was placed with adopters without either an interview or a home visit, and was handed over to the adoptive mother at a railway station. The husband had been described as a man who was earning good wages and two references had been taken up, but there had been no personal interview and no inspection of the home. What was the result? It was found that the man was taking the child round with him while he hawked vegetables stolen from allotments. Other cases are reported by the Committee. For instance:Two children were placed with a man who is said to have been well known in his neighbourhood as a heavy drinker. His wife, who was an elderly woman, and who understated her age in the form of application, was described to us as being quite unsuitable to have the care of children. The case came to light in 1933 when the man was charged with theft.In another case:A girl of 3½ was adopted by a blind man and his wife. The man was aged 50 and was in receipt of a pension of 10s. a week, which he augmented by hawking and by letting off rooms in the house. The woman died in 1934. The girl, now in her 15th year, continued to sleep in the same room as her adopted father. In December, 1934, one of the sub-tenants in the house, a street musician, was convicted of attempted carnal knowledge of the girl.I know that mistakes may occur, however good the regulations may be, but in some of these cases, there is no excuse. I know that where homes have proved to be unsuitable, the children have been taken away, but the societies have sent other children to these homes. For instance, the Report gives the following case:A girl of three, who had been adopted by a labourer and his wife, was found to be ill-treated. The adoption society removed her and its Secretary admitted in evidence that she should never have been placed with the adopters. Yet the same society had previously placed three other children in this home, all of which had been taken back by the society.2362 I think these cases show that the regulations must be stringently kept. As hon. Members will no doubt have seen, one of the members of the Committee disagreed with one of the Committee's recommendations, and attached a note to the Report. He was not in favour of registration of adoption societies because he feared that it would give them a hall-mark which would attract more people to hand over children, thinking that the children would be properly cared for; and he feared that no regulations could be made strict enough to ensure that they were properly carried out. I considered that matter very carefully, and the majority of the Committee agreed with me that if the regulations are set down very carefully, we shall be able to stop such cases, by ensuring that the public knows what is happening, and by ensuring that a registered adoption society goes out of business if such things as I have quoted go on. I think that with a register we shall be able to deal with the matter much better.
Clause 5 deals with the inspection of books, reports and accounts. The people who are doing this work deal with a great number of children. Last year, arrangements were made for 1,200 children through the Courts by the adoption societies. The societies have a great many children passing through their hands, but there are many cases of de facto adoptions, cases where there is no legal adoption. One big society informed the Committee that only 30 per cent. of their cases ever went through the courts for legal adoption, and were what are known as de facto adoptions. The number of these cases is not known; they come under no regulations, and there is no protection for the children. I think the societies should keep strict records of the children they take, when they take them and where they place them. They should also keep strict accounts.
Here I come to the most difficult part of this subject, namely, the question of finance. These adoption societies are charitable bodies, and at the present moment they are getting considerable support from the public. That money, to a great extent, is being well spent. Their finances are also supported by payments from the mothers and sometimes from the 2363 putative fathers, and from those who have received children for adoption. I wish to say straight away that I see no objection to that, if a society carrying on the good work of introducing to each other and bringing together those who wish to have children adopted and those who wish to adopt children. There is no reason in such cases why those people should not, when they are able, pay the necessary expenses. The idea, I fear, is growing up that in the case of an illegitimate child there need be no expense; that it is simply a case of taking it to an adoption society and that neither the father nor the mother will be caused any trouble or expense. I think that is all wrong.
I know of cases in which it has been arranged, before a child has been born, that it is to be adopted. The girl goes into a nursing home, some money is paid down to the nursing home for the doctor and for attention to her in her confinement, and it is arranged that the child when born will be adopted. The girl never sees her baby. The arrangements are made with the home. I think we ought to guard carefully the question of what money passes in connection with such cases. Then there are societies who say that they take from the mother a sum of money for the maintenance of the child, and if that arrangement is carried out properly, I see no objection to it. A woman may take her child to an adoption society. The society will have that child probably in a hostel and the society if properly conducted will make careful inquiries and find a good home for the child. In a case of that kind, it is only right that the society should receive the expense of maintaining the child while it is under their care. But cases have come to my notice showing the danger which is involved in this respect. A girl takes a child to an adoption society and she is asked to pay so much a week for its maintenance. She agrees, and she continues to pay. Then, perhaps, her payments fall into arrears, and she then gets a letter threatening her with legal proceedings. I have seen a letter to a girl informing her that she has not sent sufficient money, and that if she does not do so the society intend to put the matter in the hands of solicitors. The official who sent out that letter must have known perfectly well that the society had no legal 2364 right whatever. They could not take the case to the courts. It was simply blackmail.
There are other cases in which girls have gone on paying maintenance while the society has not been at one penny of expense in respect of the child. Some time ago a girl paid 10s. a week for 18 weeks to a society and it transpired that the child had actually been in the office of the society only for about three hours and that they had not had one penny of expense. There is no check in these matters. I have seen receipts for maintenance in cases where no money has been paid out by the society for maintenance. There are several cases which have caused us grave anxiety and in which large sums have passed. I know of one case in which a girl gave her child to an adoption society and said that she would be willing to pay for it. The society said that the cost of securing the adoption of the child would be £60 because, they said, they kept in touch with the child until it had reached the age of 16. I would point out that if the child was legally adopted, they would have no right to keep in touch with it once it had been adopted. It then had nothing to do with the adoption society because the legal rights in the child passed to the adoptive parents. In this case the girl was subsequently told that she had to pay a sum of £21 16s. 6d. on account of arrears. The child was adopted and a year after adoption the girl was asked to pay the sum I have already mentioned in addition to £60 on account of adoption expenses, or a sum of £81 16s. 6d. in all. By the time the matter came to the notice of the people who could advise and help the mother, she had paid £63 and was still receiving pressing letters.
In other cases sums up to £40 have been paid. But there is one case of which I feel I ought to tell the House, and I only hope that it is unique. A mother placed her child with an adoption society in August, 1931. The child died in November, 1931. The mother was not informed, but even during the following year, 1932, she was receiving pressing applications for money for the child's maintenance. In 1933 she was still receiving these letters and she wrote to the society saying that she wanted the child back. By this time she had consulted friends who said they would take 2365 the child. She received a letter from the society in June, 1933, in which they said:If we were needing a home for her we should certainly be happy to consider your offer.No home was needed for the child, however, because she had died two years previously. This was afterwards discovered by various means, and it turned out that the mother had been receiving an allowance for the child from the putative father, and the putative father had been receiving unemployment benefit in respect of the child. He was handing that over to the mother, and the mother was paying it to the society, though the child had died three months after the society received it. The difficulty in many of these cases is that the mothers of these children do not want to be brought into the public view. They are afraid to tell people. When you take up their cases they implore you, "Do not tell. I do not want to go into court. I would rather leave the matter as it is." Because of their fear I ask the House to protect them.
Hon. Members who read the Report will see that there are other peculiarities in connection with the finance of these societies. There is the strange case which we deal with on page 26. In this case it seems to me that the public is not getting the best benefit from the money which they are contributing. Here is a society which is receiving subscriptions and donations from the public for doing the work of adoption. We consider that the society has not sufficient staff with which to carry on that work properly. There is a chairman and one paid secretary. What are the facts about this association? The chairman said he had devoted many years to building up an endowment fund the object of which, when it had reached a capital value of £100,000, was to provide a regular income adequate for carrying on the society's work. The main source from which that fund is derived appears to be a scheme of what are called "returnable donations" though I am told that that practice has now ceased. The practice of returnable donations was that charitable people were asked to give loans without interest, but the capital was not to be repaid unless the donor asked for its return. It would seem that very few people asked for their money back, and when they died it became the property 2366 of the trust fund. The capital was used in various ways—investments, purchase of tithe rent charges, supporting certain inventions, purchases of property, loans, and so forth. The chairman said that no interest was charged on loans but that a donation was usually received.
This particular society has a constitution. There is to be a president, a vice-president, a council and a committee which is to meet at least monthly, a chairman, an honorary treasurer, a finance sub-committee, and three trustees. The rules provide for an annual meeting and everything on the surface seems all right. What are the facts? Most of the rules, on the chairman's own admission, have been neglected. He described the society as a one-man show. The only officers who have been appointed are the chairman and a paid secretary. No treasurer has been formally appointed but the chairman acts as treasurer. There are two trustees and he is one of them. The other is a corporation of which he is the sole director. The committee meet at infrequent intervals and few of the members who are said to be busy and elderly people attend except by proxy, and the proxies are vested in the chairman. There is no finance committee and in two successive years there has been no annual meeting. In 1935 the accounts were prepared and audited for the first time in five years. Public money is being subscribed to that society, and that is how it is being used. There has been no annual meeting, the chairman explains that he considers this fund his own responsibility, there is no guarantee that he will not use it as he likes, there is no safeguard against the mixing of the society's funds with the personal funds of the chairman. In other words, there is a constitution, there is money, there are these safeguards on paper, and every one of the regulations is ignored. I need hardly say much more, I think, as to the finance of some of these associations, and my desire is that these things should be put right.
I now come to the subject of Clause 6. We think it is absolutely necessary that adoption societies in arranging for an adoption should put the child at first with the would-be adopter on probation. The good societies do. Some of them arrange for six months' probation, others think that two or three months are sufficient. 2367 We have suggested three months. During that time it would be found out by the adoption society whether or not the home was really suitable and by the adopters if they thought it was going to be a success to have a child in their house. I think we are all agreed that even when the best arrangements have been made, it is well not to take the step of legally adopting a child until, as it were, the novelty has worn off. I have known of cases where people have thought they were anxious to have a child by adoption, but where, after trial, it has not been found a success. I know the case of a friend of my own, whose baby died, and she was very anxious to adopt a child. The husband agreed, a child was brought into their home, and this woman, perhaps because of what she had gone through, seemed to devote all her interest and all her affection to the child, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Jealousies in the household began, and there were difficulties between the husband and wife. That woman told me that at the end of two months she had made up her mind that neither was it going to be a happy home for the child nor was there going to be happiness for anybody else in the house, so she very sensibly took the child back to the adoption society and tried in every way she could to find for it a right sort of home.
I think it is necessary that the adoption society should be able to take a child back, as in that case. Also the adoption society should have to take the child back at the end of three months, unless an order has been applied for. If we can get that done, I think, we shall diminish the number of the de facto adoptions. The adoption society must see that the order is applied for. It should be made an offence on each side, either for not taking a child back or for not returning it. I have a case here where a child was adopted by a man and a woman. She was a little girl of nine, and one of our societies which look after the welfare of children found that this child was being terribly neglected and grossly ill-treated. The society which helps these people reports that the man said he had taken the girl from a particular adoption society, and at the end of three months they found the girl unsatisfactory and asked the adoption society to take her 2368 back, but the society wrote to them saying they hoped they would give the child a further trial, as their funds at present were very low.
We must insist that adoption societies take back a child if the home is found to be unsatisfactory, if an order is not applied for, or if an order is refused. The extraordinary anomaly at present is that if adopters apply to the court for legal adoption but the home is found unsuitable and the order is refused, the child stays in the home, and there is no power to take it away. Unless you can prove that there is gross neglect, you cannot take back the child. In this Clause we say that the society has to take the child away from the unsuitable home, or if the order is not applied for, or if the order is refused.
So much for adoption societies as such, but there are still individuals or groups of individuals arranging adoptions. Some are very well done. We have some people who are interested in getting to know of these cases and who do their best to get good homes for the children, but those hon. Members who have read the report will have seen that there are some very distressing cases of people who simply make a business of playing the middleman, of buying and selling children. I know of a case where a child was handed over immediately after birth to a midwife, and advertised. It was then handed over to an American variety artist and his wife, and after a time taken out of this country. Disaster came later to this couple, and the child at last returned to this country, at the age of eight, having lived a life that I can hardly bear to think of, in regard to how it would affect her in years to come. There are cases where sums of money pass, where we see in the newspapers advertisements, nauseous advertisements such as:I am a baby boy; I have no mummy and daddy. Please give me a home at Christmas.I know of such advertisements, and that is what is being done. An individual—I can hardly call her a woman—put such an advertisement in a paper, she then saw how many answers she got from people wanting to adopt children, and she then went round to get the babies in order to supply the demand. These cases, I believe, are few, and there are many cases which are of enormous benefit to children, 2369 but let us stop the bad cases. We suggest, under Clause 7, for these children put out for adoption practically the same procedure as under the Public Health Act, 1936, for children taken over for reward. As hon. Members are aware, if anybody takes a child for reward, they must inform the local authorities of the proposal and there has to be notification. I feel that I ought to apologise for the length of this Clause, but I think hon. Members will agree that it is better to put it in full than to have legislation by reference on such an important matter. We suggest that the person arranging the adoption should notify the local authority seven days before the child goes to the adopting parents, and that the parents should also have to notify that they are adopting the child. We hope that in that way, we shall get a check on these cases. The welfare worker will then visit the home for three years or until the child has been legally adopted, and I hope very much that the welfare worker will press for legal adoption wherever the home is suitable.
Clauses 9 and 10 deal with topics that I have already mentioned, payments and advertisements. There is one great difficulty in Clause 9, and I hope hon. Members will help me in Committee to try and devise some satisfactory machinery. I have explained the difficulties about payments, how girls have been blackmailed and money has been taken for maintenance that has not been paid for maintenance, but I think we ought to be able to devise some scheme by which, where the work is being done properly and the child is put in a hostel and money is being paid for its maintenance, those who have brought the child should be able, where they can afford it, to pay for its maintenance, and ought to do so. I have not yet been able to devise machinery that will make that watertight, but I hope that in Committee we may think of some Amendment so that we shall know that the mothers of the children pay while the adoption society is being caused the expense of maintenance, but that they do not pay while the adoption society has got the child out, perhaps on probation with a would-be adopter, but is caused no expense. Clause 10 will make it an offence for any private person to advertise for a child or for advertisements for children to be inserted. We have already made it illegal to advertise such cases with only a box number as address, but 2370 want to see it made illegal for private individuals to advertise for a child or advertise a child for adoption.
Now we come to a difficult Clause, in Clause 11, which deals with sending children abroad, but first I should say that there are certain outstanding cases that have caused us much anxiety. I have had in my hand something which I can call no less than a price list, a list of children with descriptions and with prices, as much as £500, £600, and other large sums. In our report we speak of a case where £550 was asked for and £150 was paid. I have often wondered—and I am not yet free from anxiety—if such schemes are being worked from a financial point of view, what happens to the children who are taken by these individuals for whom a large price is asked if that price is not forthcoming. What happens to the children for whom no price is paid? What happens when, instead of being a financial asset to the individual, the child becomes a financial liability? I fear, and I have reason to fear, that then the children are placed in unsuitable homes, perhaps with a sum of money, or are sent abroad. Investigation is not then thorough or possible, and we may never know what happens to them. What we do know is that there are British children now abroad who have grown up with no idea that they were British, and have gone to homes about the conditions of which even officials in foreign countries have complained. The large majority of these children have gone to Holland, and the Dutch papers contain advertisements of British children to be adopted. I have had in my hand a picture from a Dutch paper of a certain number of British children who were without homes and were seeking adoption. Dr. Sark, of the Dutch Home Office, was good enough to give evidence before our Committee. He explained that the difficulty was that there was no adoption scheme in Holland, because the Dutch authorities were not in favour of it. He explained how some of the British children were in homes where they ought not to be and how difficult it was to prevent it.
I believe that this is a grave matter. Children can go abroad, and there is no legal obligation on the people to whom they go to look after them. They can desert them or turn them off, and children have been sent home to this country in 2371 those circumstances. They come here not knowing a word of English and without a friend in this country. There have been cases of children having been deported before they were naturalised. I feel strongly that no British child should be given away to people of any other country whatever. We should be responsible for British children. They should not be placed in foreign lands and naturalised before they have had a chance to decide to what nation they should belong. We propose that regulations should be made that children can be sent to British residents abroad and to people in the Dominions and Colonies. Nearly all our Dominions have adoption laws, so that the children can be legally adopted. The Bill lays down that if children are sent to British residents abroad, in the Dominions or other countries a licence should be obtained from the chief magistrate at Bow Street in the same way that it has to be obtained if children are going abroad for entertainment purposes. That will provide a proper check. I am told, however, that the machinery in Clause II may not be complete, and in the Cornmittee stage I hope that hon. Members will help me to make it watertight. I should like to see that no British child is adopted in this country or anywhere else except by British people. I know the dangers of children being sent away. I have had to deal with the case of a mother who told me she had gone to a society which had taken her child and that she wanted the child back. I told her she had the right to have it as the child had not been legally adopted. She went back to the society and they told her that the child had gone abroad; that it had passed between one or two people and was not in the home to which they sent it, and that they did not know where it was.
By Clause 14 this Bill is extended to Scotland. Our inquiry did not cover Scotland. Legal adoptions in Scotland last year numbered about 800. There is only one adoption society, and it is working in Edinburgh under the Welfare Society and the Council of Social Service. It is worked very carefully, and it had 68 adoptions last year. We do not know how many de facto adoptions there are and how many children have been placed in adoption homes over which there is no 2372 inspection. The Bill is made to apply to Scotland, because I fear that if by these regulations we put out of business some of the types of people to whom I have referred, they may remove over the Border and carry on their work there. A small Amendment to the principal Act in 1926 is suggested in Clause 8. It has been suggested by those who are dealing with these cases in the courts. No applicant for an adopted child who is not 25 years of age or 21 years older than the child can receive an order from the court, but the court may waive that restriction if the applicant is the mother of the child. The practice of people adopting their illegitimate children is greatly on the increase, for it enables the child to have more chances if there is an adoption certificate. Certain things were left out of the proviso in the principal Act, and I am now suggesting that it shall be for the court to make an ordernotwithstanding that the applicant is less than 25 years of age.in addition to what is in the principal Actnotwithstanding that the applicant is less than 21 years older than the child.The second part of the Amendment in Clause 8 deals with something hon. Members will agree ought to be done. There are many cases of a married couple who are willing to adopt the illegitimate child of one of them. At present the ages of both of them must be over 25, but the court can waive that provision in the case of the mother. We have cases where a couple want to adopt a child, but the order can be made out only to the wife as the mother of the child. There are certain difficulties in connection with that. One of them is that for pension rights or benefits of any sort the child cannot rank as the child of the husband. It is laid down in this proviso, therefore, that if either the man or the wife is the father or the mother of the child the adoption order can be made out to both. I believe that adoption has given children a wonderful chance, and that more children can be found good homes if only we can eliminate those who are carrying on adoption work in the way I have described. I feel strongly that in this Bill we are making an attempt to give the children who start life with a terrible handicap what I, at any rate, think is the greatest benefit in the world-affection, a happy home, and a good upbringing. Because I believe this 2373 Bill may help to extend the number of these happy homes, and to help these unfortunate children, I commend it to the House.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Makins
I beg to second the Motion.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Lady the senior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) on the able and eloquent way in which she introduced this Bill. As chairman of the Departmental Committee which, I think we must all agree, produced a most admirable report, she was brought into close touch with everything to do with the adoption of children. She has explained all the provisions of the Bill so clearly that I do not think there is very much more for me to say in regard to the Bill itself. It helps to fill in some gaps which have been found in previous Acts, and I look upon it as an admirable illustration of the best type of a private Members' Bill. It has been backed from all quarters of the House, and I presume that it will go through as an uncontroversial Measure, that it will pass its Second Reading to-day without any opposition, and that it will have a smooth and easy passage in Committee. As the hon. Lady has said, there are one or two points on which it may have to be amended in Committee but, taking the Bill as a whole, I do not think we can find any fault with it.
I am supporting this Bill on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and when I say that last year we intervened on behalf of no fewer than 120,955 children in England, Wales and Ireland, excluding Scotland, I believe it will be agreed that we have a good deal of experience in the matter of the welfare of children. We think that past Acts dealing with the adoption of children need a good deal of strengthening, in order that many abuses which have been found to exist may be regulated. It is a curious fact that in this country we are far more solicitous, as a rule, in regard to animals than we are in regard to children, and we find that the public is far more generous to all the animal societies than it is to ours. About two years ago there were two broadcast appeals in the same week. One was on behalf of an animal society, and over £18,000 was subscribed to it in response to that appeal. The other one was for an infants' hospital and brought 2374 in £183. A paper asked at the time, "How many children is a dog worth?" and simple arithmetic shows that on that basis a dog is worth about 102 children. We talk about dumb animals, but I can assure the House from my own experience that there is nothing so dumb as a child that is neglected and ill treated. A happy childhood forms a happy nature, which endures through life. An unhappy childhood is never forgotten—we hear grown up people say what an unhappy childhood they had—and is apt to warp the nature of the child and turn it when it grows up into a crabbed and disgruntled person.
It is essential that any dangers there may be in connection with the adoption of children should be eliminated. As the hon. Lady has said, it is extraordinary to find how child adoption has increased. In 1927 2,967 children were adopted legally, and in 1936 the number had risen to no less than 5,185, and the more child adoption increases the more important such a Bill as this becomes. As the hon. Lady said, there is not objection to a great many of these adoption societies and agencies, but she has pointed out the great abuses which may occur and which this Bill is designed to prevent. We must see that all adoption societies are absolutely above suspicion. All the good ones are wholly in favour of the Bill, they and the municipal authorities who have carried through a great many adoptions, notably the London County Council, who have carried through their work in this connection in the most satisfactory way. I hope that the Bill will find no objectors in the House and, as I said before, that it will have an easy passage and will soon become law.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers
I think the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir E. Makins) is quite justified in his estimate that there will be no opposition to this Bill in the House to-day. I certainly welcome it as one who has had a little to do with the legalising of the adoption of children. At the outset I want to say that I am grateful to the hon. Lady the senior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) for bringing in this Bill. I think she is entitled to be congratulated upon her very good fortune in having opportunities of being a legislator. It is a far cry from methyl-lated spirits to the adoption of children, 2375 but she had the good fortune to get her methylated spirits Bill for Scotland passed into law, and with that record behind her we find her launching out to deal with another very important subject. I know of the interest which the hon. Lady has had for many years in this question of child adoption. Long before I was in the House, and before she came here, we were in contact in the constituency which for a time I had the honour to misrepresent in this House. I say "misrepresent" because during the time that I was Member for West Edinburgh I was the awful example of the minority Member. I had got something like 16,000 votes, and there had been 25,000 votes cast against me, but fortunately for me and for the party which I represent those 25,000 votes were divided between the two other candidates; and so although the 16,000 votes had put me at the head of a list of three they did not put me in a position to claim truly that I represented that constituency.
Before I became the Member for that constituency the hon. Lady was working in that constituency as well, not, as today, working with me in cordial co-operation but working then in very cordial competition. I have known from that time of her interest in this question of child adoption. After I became Member for that constituency I found very early the need to deal with the case of a child, a girl, who had been adopted by a married couple. The husband in that home died and the widow was left with the child, with no maintenance from public funds and no orphan allowance for the child. It became necessary on that ground for me to set out on the big task of legalising the adoption of children in Scotland. That task fell to me because when the English Act of 1926 was passed nothing was done to bring Scotland into line. So that it was not until 1930 that legalised adoption became possible in Scotland. The Bill which I introduced became the Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act of 1930, but it might well have borne another title; it might well have borne the name of the child who caused me to go through the process of bringing forward that Bill and getting it through both Houses of Parliament. It sounds humorous, but it is perfectly true, that in dealing with that Bill I was involved more in foot work than in head work. I mean by that, that the 2376 actual task of preparing the Bill and doing what was necessary in respect of it was less than the burden of seeing so many people, doing all the lobbying and the running about that was necessary in order to get support for the Bill in this House and in another place. But I was glad to have had an opportunity of bringing Scotland into line in that regard.
Although the Committee, whose very valuable Report, I am sure, is in the hands of most Members to-day, did not deal precisely with the Scottish position, I would thank the hon. Lady for having included Scotland within the provisions of this Bill. That was quite justifiable, and in my judgment it was very necessary that both countries should be brought into line in order that there may not be any escape from the provisions of this Bill by simply crossing the Border. It may be said that in Scotland, particularly in respect of legalised adoption, there is perhaps more care taken than is necessary to secure adoptions on this side of the Border. I know that since I sponsored the 1930 Act I have often lamented the fact that the cost of carrying through legal adoptions in Scotland is so heavy; and yet when I have heard of some of the very rapid and easy methods which are taken to secure an adoption in England, I am not so sure that I need very seriously regret the fact that there is more expense involved in Scotland than in England. The position is this: In England, through a juvenile court, it is possible for the legal adoption of a child to be carried through at a cost as low as 2s. whereas in Scotland it is necessary to go to considerably greater expense. I would like to explain the position to the House, and indeed I would like to put it on record, that the normal outlays in Scotland are as follows. I have here an account in respect of the adoption of the child to whom I have already referred.
That makes a total of £3.3.0. for carrying through the adoption of a child. It will be observed that no charge was 2377 made for the lawyer who acted for the parents. Indeed it is not really necessary that a lawyer should be employed, because the forms, while they are rather involved, are capable of being understood by any individual of ordinary intelligence, and assistance is always given in the most kindly way by the officials of the Sheriff Court where the forms are to be lodged. So that there is a vast difference between the cost in Scotland and the cost in England. That is due to the fact that the Scottish Act provided that the conditions and provisions with regard to adoption would be prescribed by an Act of Sederunt passed by their Lordships the Judges of the Court of Session in Scotland. That procedure was laid down. It has been adhered to and it has resulted in very great care being taken as to the homes into which children are to be taken. The curator ad litem, or guardian in law for the time being, is charged with the duty of seeing to the interest of the child. He is not the agent of either side in the adoption; he is the agent of the Court. He therefore makes sure that the interests of the child are consulted, that its wishes indeed are consulted, and that the home to which the child is taken is a home that is worthy to receive it.
£ s. d. Printed forms of petitions and other papers 0 5 0 Dues paid to Sheriff Clerk on lodging petition 0 10 0 Solicitor's fees for Solicitor acting as Curator ad litem 2 2 0 Charge of Register House for extract from the Adoption Registers 0 3 1 Postages and Incidentals 0 2 11
When I make reference to the child the House ought to bear in mind that so far as adoption is concerned a child is "any person not more than 21 years of age who has not been married," When thinking of the adoption of children we naturally have in our mind small children, babies indeed, and that idea is heightened when we read the English Act of 1926, because there, in accordance with English practice, the description of a child is "infant," and then when we turn to the Interpretation Clause of that Act we find that an infant is "any person who is not more than 21 years of age and who has not been married." It sounds rather strange to Scottish ears to hear someone as old as 20 years of age being described as an infant. Is it that in England there is a delayed development which justifies that description? We can be described all our lives as children, so there should be nothing to cause us to think of great juniority when we are described as "children," but "infant," to me, carries another meaning.
I would now like to call attention to some of the points in respect of which the Bill may be amended. It has struck 2378 me that the previous Act of 1926 and the Act of 1930 for Scotland, provided very carefully that the child to be adopted shall be either an English or a Scottish child and just as carefully that those who adopted the children must be resident or domiciled in either Scotland or England. Let me remark, in passing, that we have not been able through the agency of the Bill to bridge the division between the two countries and that we are still carrying on with the stipulation "Scotland" and "England." Provision has not been made that those who adopt the children shall be British subjects. I hope as did the hon. Lady that the omission may be remedied in Committee. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will be able, when giving us light and leading on the Bill, to say whether it would be possible to alter the Bill so as to stipulate that adopters shall be British subjects. I can see the possibility in Clause 6, line 6, for example, after the word "adopter" of putting in the words "being a British subject." The same might be done in Clause 7, in line 9.
I agree with what was said by the hon. Lady with regard to the possibility of children being taken out of this country by people who are not British and put under laws which are not British laws. Such laws might not impose the obligation which is laid upon British subjects in respect of adopted children. Such considerations are well worthy of very careful examination and I hope that we shall be able, when we come to the Committee stage, to secure a provision that adoption shall be allowed to be carried through only by those who are British subjects. I am very glad of the proposal to amend Section 2 (1) of the principal Acts by the addition of the proviso, as is fully shown in the Schedule to the Bill. It is particularly desirable that the alteration should be carried into effect. I am sure that we all realise the handicap upon a woman who, before she was married, had a child by someone other than her husband. When her husband has consented to have the child brought into the joint home, what a bar it would be if the joint adoption by the two of them, acting properly as the legal parents of the child, were not permitted to be carried through.
I do not want to go into details of abuses that have taken place. The hon. Lady has given sufficient information of 2379 the very serious position in which children can be put by being handled in a way that is unworthy of adoption societies or of individuals. The Bill should be of very great human interest to this House, and I am certain that it will not be objected to to-day. It is an excellent Bill and we may have the opportunity in the Committee of making it still more excellent.
We may look forward with confidence to very great happiness coming to the children to whom the Bill applies and to their having a happier time in the future than has even been possible to guarantee to them in the past. Many happy adoptions have taken place. In providing for legalised adoption we make a great step forward in securing the happiness and confidence of those who carry through adoptions. In making this further step we are ensuring the happiness of the young people concerned and are doing something of which this House might well be proud.
§ 12.32 p.m.
I believe that many people in this country are awaiting with anxiety to hear that the Bill has received a Second Reading. There may be hon. Members who had doubts about the need of the Bill, but I am sure those doubts were removed when hon. Members listened to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). Ignorance and apathy are often at the bottom of the wrong that happens in the world, and it is difficult for us to understand that there are people who want to adopt children for reasons other than the obvious ones that they love children, desire to have the new generation growing up with the older generation, long to give some small person a really happy time and a chance in life, and wish to make that life useful and to bring up the children as normal and useful citizens. Another reason may be that they have one child and want another to be a companion to it. Those are some of the reasons which are in the minds of most people when they hear of children being adopted, and it is often ignorance on their part that they do not know that the problem has the other side about which we have heard so much today. There are the bad reasons, that 2380 people are gaining financially or otherwise at the expense of the unfortunate children. Those who have read the Departmental Report must have thought at moments that they were reading from the pages of Dickens rather than from a report issued only this year.
How can the lives of these little people be safeguarded? How can we be sure that those who adopt them are fit and proper to do so? We know that there are many societies which have done most excellent work and have taken every possible precaution; we know also that we have had clear evidence to-day that there are many societies, or collections of people—in some cases apparently a collection of one person—who, though unfit to be responsible for so doing, have been arranging the adoption of children. Good adoption societies will be welcoming the Bill, because it will be a check upon the activities of the societies with lower standards. We have heard to-day of cases in which children have been sent to a family and then removed. Some people may feel that when a child has been removed in time not much harm has been done.
We know from our own experience how easily a bad habit grows, and how difficult it is to get rid of it. Do we realise what infinite hurt has been done to that little life by the spending of even a short time in unsuitable hands, in an unhappy environment, with bad people? Perhaps it is because of that that we see so many people who are neurotic and unbalanced in later life. How often is the responsibility for that on the shoulders of the people who have placed those children in bad surroundings. Obviously this Bill is much overdue. The time has come when societies must be registered, and I believe there is no more important part of the Bill than Clause 11, under which children will not be allowed to be sent abroad without a magistrate's order and unless they are going to British subjects.
It is said, quite rightly, that the bad cases may be few compared with the very large number of good cases. It is true that there have been many happy cases where children have been adopted and have become the loved children of the home. The other cases may be few, but the responsibility for them is on the shoulders of us all. We remember the Bible story of the one lamb and the 2381 99 others in the fold. The one lamb, if the practice of adoption continues to grow as it has been growing, may easily become 50 lambs out of 100, and then the harm may be very much more difficult to cure. This Bill causes no hardship. It is intended to remedy rare cases. We know that, if there is a little hole in a bank through which water trickles, and if someone only takes the trouble to fill up that little hole at once, no harm is done, but if the hole is allowed to grow until the bank is destroyed by the flood, it is too late, and the damage is many times more difficult to repair. It is because the cases now are few, because the leak is small, that this is the moment when we ought to safeguard these children. Every child that is adopted should be adopted in the very best circumstances that are possible. For these reasons I very gladly support the Bill, and hope it will reach the Statute Book unopposed.
§ 12.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I rise to support the Bill. It will be noted that, of the 10 names on the back of it, two are those of Members on this side, which indicates that there is a feeling among us that such a Bill is worthy of support. When I attached my name to it, I was in some little doubt as to what the Bill might contain. In such circumstances a Member attaching his name to a Bill has to take it on trust, and sometimes he may wonder whether the Bill may possibly take a line opposite to his own. However, when I read the Bill, I felt that it was on right lines, and this morning, after hearing the case stated for it, I feel well justified in giving it whatever support I can. It has been said that the House of Commons can rise on some occasions to a feeling of unanimity. Looking at the "Manchester Guardian" this morning, I saw it stated, in reference to our discussion yesterday on the question of a memorial to the late Lord Oxford, that the House of Commons occasionally calls an amnesty in its political fights. This morning I think we have called an amnesty on this matter, because we realise that it is one of those cases in which we ought to get together for what we believe to be the common good of humanity. Sometimes I feel doubtful of Measures supported by Members on the other side, especially when they are titled people—I see the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton 2382 Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), who will probably take part in the Debate, and I have some doubt as to whether I am doing the right thing in going along the same road with the Noble Lady—but I trust that a question like this will bring out the best in us all.
The object of the Bill is to stop trading in children, so that, when persons adopt children, it shall not be merely for the purpose of gain. When the object is merely gain, as it often has been in the past, it cannot be good for the child, for a person who adopts a child with that object must at some time or other be in a position to ill-treat the child if dissatisfied with the amount received. The object of the Bill is to remove that injustice to young children. Who are these children that are adopted? Largely they are the unfortunate children whom nobody seems to want, who are often born into the world in very unfortunate circumstances, and whose mothers are only too anxious to get rid of them, and will take advantage of any opportunity of doing so. This Bill will prevent that kind of thing, and I am very pleased with it on that account. It will also prevent the formation of societies for the adoption of children for purposes of gain. I notice that the Bill provides that the adoption must be for charitable purposes. That means that no profit can be made out of the transaction. On the whole, one is very pleased that the House is giving general assent to the Bill. There is just one item to which I should like to draw the attention of the hon. Lady. Clause 4 provides that the matter shall come under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State, and contains one word which I think ought to be altered in Committee. It says:The Secretary of State may make regulations.I hope the hon. Lady will consider in Committee altering the word "may" into "shall," because I want the Bill to be as much fortified as possible, and, whenever I see the word "may," it raises a doubt in my mind as to what will happen. I may be wrong, but I cannot help feeling that sense of doubt. That is the only fault that I can find with the Bill.
On the general aspect of the question the Seconder of the Bill stated that it often appeared that we dealt more with the welfare of animals than with the welfare of children, and the thought crossed 2383 my mind that many times this House is very hard when considering the question of children. After all, the child life of this country, no matter in what the grade of society, means the future prosperity of the country, and, in view of the strong humanitarian feeling that has been displayed in the House this morning, I should like to mention another aspect, which is not included in the Bill, but which refers to child life. It is that of the family with a large number of children, where the father sometimes gets out of work, and where in that event the provision made at the moment is not adequate to keep the children in the way in which they ought to be kept. I hope that later on hon. Members opposite, when they are bringing forward other Measures for dealing with children whose circumstances are not too good, will recognise the need of doing something for these cases. I refer, if I may, to the question of the means test. I will leave it at that, only drawing the attention of hon. Members opposite, while we are speaking of the child life of the nation, to the fact that there are other children who require some attention which through no fault of the parents they cannot get at present. Their parents as a rule wish to keep them at home, and they ought to have a chance of doing so under better conditions than sometimes obtain at present. With these general observations I have very great pleasure in supporting the Measure.
§ 12.45 p.m.
I certainly do not intend to go down the path pointed out by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I feel it would be dangerous, though I would very much like to follow his example. I would like to say how grateful we are to the hon. Lady for bringing in this Bill. It is rather interesting that nearly every one of the great social reform movements has started in this country—the Salvation Army, the nursing organisations and other things of that kind; but this great child adoption idea started in the United States. It is nearly the only idea that we took from them. I am a little sorry that the United States could not have been included in this scheme, because I know of the most splendid parents, with Anglo-Saxon blood, of course, who want to adopt 2384 English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh children, and who come over here from time to time to do so. I am sorry, therefore, that the United States could not be included in the British Empire for the purposes of this Bill, because child adoption started there, and it is regulated there.
We always get back to the Germans when there is any trouble. The point I want to deal with is that of children who have to go back after three months. I know of a case in Liverpool, where the child was about 3½ years old: it never spoke and could not be persuaded to do anything in the home. Perfectly satisfactory parents were found for it, but after three months they brought it back and said, "We cannot get this child to do a thing; it cannot speak or do anything." Another couple applied, and the minute that child saw the woman it put its head down in her lap and seemed perfectly happy. The home was not so tidy: it was not such a good home; but the parents were ideal. This question of child adoption is the most interesting thing, and I am glad it is on the increase, because I know enough about children to realise that it is better that a child should have the right parents, even though they are not its real parents, than that it should have unsuitable parents who are its real parents. I was interested when the hon. Lady spoke about a woman who adopted a child, and the child was perfectly happy but the husband got jealous. I wish they could have taken the husband back instead of the child. There is nothing in the world more pathetic than a woman without a child who is longing for one. It wrecks her life. I have sat in this House and heard people talking about mothers, as though every woman was a mother; but our greatest reformers have been unmarried women, and to-day we have a spinster bringing in a Bill which is going to do a great deal for child life in this country. We ought to be most grateful to her.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Dunn
When I read the Bill I made it my business to read every word of the reports of the Debates when the Adoption of Children Bill was passing through this House in 1926. The then 2385 Home Secretary, Mr. Joynson-Hicks, said on that occasion:I congratulate my hon. Friends on having introduced a Bill which is so much needed at the present time. It may have to be amended after a few years' experience, because this is the first time England in all these centuries has tried adoption."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1926; col. 935, Vol. 192.]Those words were used in 1926, and this morning we are carrying out what was forecast by the then Home Secretary. Together with all hon. Members who have already spoken, I would like to offer my congratulations to the hon. Lady who introduced the Bill. Some of us have always looked upon her as being as hard as granite, and as being entirely the opposite by nature and outlook from what the moving words she has uttered this morning would indicate her to be.
§ Mr. Dunn
That is a matter of opinion. In this House we are all entitled to our opinions. At any rate, some of us have formed opinions about the hon. Lady which I would not like to express. But I must confess that as I watched the clock this morning from 10 minutes past 11 to five minutes past 12, I was very much surprised how the time hopped along and how interesting was the very moving speech made by the hon. Lady. I think this House has been fortunate this week. We had moving speeches the other night about boys. On that occasion we had a speech from the noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) concerning young boys in mines. We were fortunate in having that speech on Wednesday, and the House and the country are fortunate in having this Bill introduced this morning.
Both my wife and I are deeply interested in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I am very proud to say that my wife more particularly—perhaps because she has more time—is actively engaged in doing all she can to promote the objects of that society. I am sure the House will be surprised when I say that the Society intervened in 129,000 cases last year. That is an appalling figure.
I know that many thousands of these cases are not in any way directly concerned with what this Bill is intended 2386 to correct, but it is an amazing thing that 129,000 cases should be dealt with by one society in this country where cruelty of one kind or another has been perpetrated against innocent children. I do not want to go through the memorandum, because the hon. Lady who introduced the Bill gave particulars of several cases which had actually been put before the Committee which sat a few years ago. The cases in which adoption societies figure came from Carnarvon, Gravesend, Hastings, Ipswich, Norwich, Oxford and West Ham. These are sample cases, I admit. Cases where there was lack of subsequent supervision came from Newcastle, North Staffordshire, St. Helens, Sheffield and Swansea, and there were other cases from Accrington, Bishop Auckland, Maidstone, Lincoln, East Cornwall, Denbigh, Canterbury, Bury, Bermondsey, Chichester and Middlesbrough. It is a surprising thing that in this document upon which this Bill is very largely framed and which carries out that about which the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are concerned, there are 39 cases—none of which I want to individualise—of the most appalling and shocking character.
Having regard to the case which has been made this morning, I am sure that the House was appalled, as I am sure the country will be appalled, at the very deep human tragedy which underlies this suggested legislation. When the Bill goes to Committee upstairs I shall be prepared to do everything I possibly can to lick it into shape and to try to tighten up the shocking state of affairs which exists in this country.
There has not been a word said this morning about some of the good cases, and I was very glad that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) intervened in this Debate, because she speaks as a mother, and there is something to be said for the woman who can speak as a mother. In this regard I have a case in mind of a boy who was adopted, and who is now nearing his 18th year. In that particular case, instead of the parents who adopted the child accepting the money from a working-class mother which had been left to provide for the child, they took the boy and allowed the mother to keep the money herself. Therefore, in that case it could not be said that they 2387 took the boy for money at all. I am glad to say that that boy is well cared for in a good home, with good parents. Last year he passed a Northern University's Matriculation Examination, and at the present time both the parents who adopted him and I are seeking to obtain the entry of the boy into one of the Universities of this country to be trained for the medical profession.
A word should be put in for the good foster parents who take over these children, because up till now we have been told only the sordid side of the story, and have rather neglected to place some little emphasis upon the side of the good people who take these children. As one who has had some experience in local government in this country, a word should be put in—although it is not strictly relevant to this Bill—on behalf of the children who by an unfortunate accident, in consequence perhaps of neglect, stupidity or economic stress have been turned over to the charge of an institution. It is a surprising thing really that what we are seeking to do by this Bill is to secure the registration of adoption societies. There ought to be no one-man or one-woman show in connection with the question of the adoption of children, and I entirely agree with the hon. Lady who introduced the Bill that people of this kind who are deluding the British public in their appeal for financial aid are not rendering any service either to the children themselves or to the people whom they seek to serve. I support this Bill because I want every body handling children, in whatever part of the country, to be under proper control. The local authority are the people with whom they should be registered, and the societies should be properly controlled in the interests of the children themselves.
I am also concerned with this further aspect of the question. I want an investigation not merely in relation to the children themselves, but the inquiries concerning proposed parents themselves should be rigidly overhauled. I do not think that parents should ask for children either from an institution or from a society until a proper investigation has taken place. The homes should be examined, the financial position of the people should be investigated and the family records examined. I say that for this reason. It 2388 is less than three weeks ago since a good lady who had adopted a child came to my house and told me that the child had got into very bad ways. The child was subnormal in many respects and was very wayward, although the home in this particular case was a good home and the foster parents were quite sensible people. I say "sensible people," because there are so many people who adopt children who are not sensible but are neurotic and stupid. But in this case the mother of the child is at the present time in one of our mental hospitals, and there are three other children who are also subnormal, two of whom are also in mental homes. Someone had passed along a child and the family record was not in any way explored or examined. Therefore, I desire that the family records should be properly looked into, in the interests of the children and of the country.
With regard to the question of supervision, one of my criticisms against the adoption societies is their process of baby farming, for that is what they are doing in many cases, trafficking in little children, farming in infants, for profit and gain, which I think can be proved in the majority of cases. I should like to see—I do not know whether it is in the Bill—not only registration of societies but supervision. I appreciate the good work that the voluntary organisations are doing, and I realise that they do attempt for some time to continue their investigations, but the supervision of the children ought to be continued while they are with their foster parents.
I should like to make a reference to children in institutions. Five years ago this Christmas I paid a visit to the Rotherham Poor Law Hospital, and I want to pay a compliment to that hospital in respect of its children's ward. Here were a number of unwanted children, for whom their parents did not care, and they had been taken into the children's ward. I shall never forget going to that Rotherham Hospital, five years ago, and noticing that in the children's ward the delicate fingers of a very good matron and a very qualified staff had worked out a tableau, which they called "The Dream of Heaven Come True," the children well-cared for and warm, well-fed and protected. As my eyes passed from the cupid celluloid dolls at one end of the 2389 ward, to the aeroplane passing into the clouds at the other end of the ward, while I have no desire to put children in institutions, I felt that I would rather children were put into institutions of that kind than into many of the homes that I know in this country. I am not prepared to say that all institutions are good and carry out work of that kind, but I shall never forget the Christmas when I saw before me the story of "The Dream of Heaven Come True." I have looked forward to the time when I could pay a compliment to the nursing staff of Rotherham Hospital for working out that scheme and making the children happy at that particular time.
When the children go out for adoption, full investigations ought to be made and the supervision of the children should continue. While this Bill will regularise and control the voluntary organisations of the country, we must not forget that the public institutions carry out mainly the provisions which are underlying the Bill. I give my support to the Bill in order that we may control this very vexed and very deep human problem. I congratulate the hon. Lady who has introduced it, and I hope that when we have licked it into shape upstairs we shall stop this horrible business of baby-farming and human trafficking which is taking place at the present time.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Allan Chapman
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for the Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) not only on his support of the Bill but on the personal and practical interest that he has taken in this matter, particularly in the case that he outlined to us. The whole House will wish success to the boy he referred to who is about to go to the University. Unlike the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), I had no doubt whatever about putting my name on the back of the Bill, because once I had read the Report any faint doubts vanished at once. Therefore, I was delighted, after the noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) had spoken, to find that the noble Lady and the hon. Member for Leigh were tripping gaily along the same path and in the same direction, as it should be in a Bill on which we are so unanimous.
The House is clearly anxious to adopt this handsome, healthy, legislative in- 2390 fant which we are inspecting to-day, for the second time, and to find it a home on the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment. At the risk of repetition I should like to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the senior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), not only on this Bill but on the splendid report of the Departmental Committee, of which she was the chairman. It is an admirable Report, full of information and very clearly set out. If I have one criticism of the Report it is that I think it too moderate in tone. I have a feeling that some of its observations were toned down, for reading between the lines, it reveals a state of things that needs to be corrected very rapidly.
I should like to pay a tribute to the good adoption societies. It has been my good fortune to come into contact with them on more than one occasion and certainly the good societies are a national asset of the very first order. They are doing a splendid and an important work, and I trust that as a result of this Bill their activities will extend and that a great many more children will find happy homes. We are, of course, the watchdogs of the nation, and perhaps it is only natural that we should leap upon the dark aspects of any problem, and deal with them vigorously.
May I, before I come to the main substance of my remarks, say how glad I was to see the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) at the Box opposite to-day, because I know that he has had this question of child adoption very much at heart. I am sure that if the House only knew the extraordinary amount of trouble that the hon. Member went to in regard to one solitary case, which prompted his own Scottish Bill, they would realise that his sense of duty makes him quite incapable of misrepresenting any constituency.
The importance of this Bill lies in the fact that the societies in a recent year dealt with 1,200 adoption cases, apart from the other adoptions by individuals, which run into some hundreds. Therefore, we are dealing with the lives of at least 2,000 children a year. I would remind the House that every time a Bill of this kind comes up there is a very considerable publicity, and the desire is awakened in homes where there are no children which may lead to the 2391 adoption of a child. Consequently, it is extremely important that any Bill which draws attention to this subject should also be a rigorous measure safeguarding the children in every particular. I think I am correct in saying that that has been the effect of previous Bills. One further point in relation to this problem is that the numbers of children who will be adopted in the future may increase because of the refugee problem in Europe which we are facing to-day. Emotion has been stirred and some will desire to help by adopting refugee children. It is, therefore, extremely important that we should examine the Bill and make sure in Committee that it safeguards the children at every possible point.
I particularly welcome Clause 5, which deals with the powers of the Secretary of State to investigate the activities of adoption societies. The good societies have nothing whatever to fear, and I am sure that they are rejoicing that things are going to be put on a safe basis, and that inspection is going to be the order of the day. If hon. Members will turn to page 26 of the Report they will find a case which, to my mind, fully justifies all the powers we are going to give to the Secretary of State. I hope he will use them to the full. Like the hon. Member for Leigh I should like the permissive word "may" turned into the mandatory "shall". On page 26 of the Report reference is made to one adoption society, and looking at its financial arrangements I can only say that they give me the impression of financial gerrymandering—no other words are suitable to the occasion. The Report says that the society proposed to raise an endowment fund with a capital value of £100,000. It was to he raised by a scheme of "returnable donations," and that large sums had already been collected. Then it gives the constitution of this particular organisation. There is a president, a vice-president and council, and a committee, and then in the next paragraph you have the chairman's own admission that the society was virtually "a one-man show."
When you examine the position of the trustees, and so on, there is no treasurer, or at least no treasurer has been formally 2392 appointed, since the chairman does that work. The treasurer and the chairman are one. There are two trustees. The Chairman of the society is one of them, and the other is a corporation of which the chairman of the society is the sole director. That is not the kind of financial structure which should commend itself to this House; it is too capable of being used for purposes other than the immediate purpose of the society, and I hope when the Bill becomes law that this particular society will be the first to be investigated under the powers of the Secretary of State, because there are a great many things which want looking into. I regret that the terms of reference to the Departmental Committee did not permit them to investigate the accounts of this society there and then. The Report also says that the chairman claims that the liabilities in connection with the endowment fund are his personal responsibilities; and then comes the most damning thing of the whole matter:A very small proportion of the society's income is expended on its adoption work.I dare not express myself fully in case my language might be quite unparliamentary. I feel most strongly that that kind of thing requires sifting to the bottom in order to be certain that there is no exploitation of any kind going on.
Turning to another aspect of the problem I find that one society, which I will call a good society, is able to carry through an adoption at a cost of £9, but that another society does the same thing at a cost of £60. One is inclined to ask what happens to the balance of £51. I should have thought that if one organisation could do it for £9 there is surely no need for such a large discrepancy as £51 in the case of the other. There is clearly every justification for the Secretary of State having complete powers of investigation.
Let me now turn to Clause 4 (1) paragraph (f). It says that the Secretary of State shall have powers:for making provision for the care and supervision of children from time to time in the custody of adoption societies.The point which arises there, to my mind, is about the failures in cases of adoption. 2393 You get a child going to a home on probation and the trial is a failure, and after a time the child is returned to the society. The paragraph in the Bill seems to me to leave it that a child, when it has been returned to the society, can be shot off to another home, and thus temporarily accommodated until a new adoption can be arranged. I should like each adoption society to have its own hostel so that children who have not been successfully placed could be sent to this central home and not unsettled by temporary accommodation.
It would have to be a central home of a big society, because small societies could not do it.
§ Mr. Chapman
I agree and I hope that some such central home will be provided by the big societies. I hope the big societies are going to predominate. It is not a good thing for a child to be temporarily accommodated here and there; it is much better for it to go to a home belonging to a good adoption society.
There is another point upon which I should like the guidance of an hon. and learned Member, that is, the question of legal adoption. I do not know whether it is practical politics but I should like to see legal adoption made compulsory in every case, whether it is through an adoption society or not—and for this reason. The child in the matter of its rights is being forced to let go with one hand before it has properly caught on with the other. You may get circumstances in which the parents part with a child and it is never legally adopted. If its natural parents suddenly disappear the child is left legally suspended in mid-air. If we can improve this position in Committee it is very desirable.
I give my most strenuous support to the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Linlithgow on the subject of adopters being of British parentage. I realise that I am treading on delicate ground, because, after all, Great Britain has adopted the Noble Lady the hon. Member for Sutton—a very happy circumstance for this House and this Bill.
§ Mr. Chapman
Whatever the circumstance, it has been a very happy one for 2394 all concerned. But I think it is important that children of British parents should be adopted by British adopters. After all, by this Bill we are in a sense becoming the guardians of the child's rights. I wonder how we should have felt if we had be adopted by foreigners, and after living in this country for ten years or so, had been taken to some other country, and made to live an entirely new life and take on the nationality of our adoptive parents. I believe there is a great deal in heredity, not in the narrow family sense, but in the sense of national characteristics. I believe that a child who went abroad in these circumstances would grow up with a kind of tug in its life; with a struggle between himself and his foreign surroundings, which would not make for the greatest happiness. If the hon. Member for Linlithgow is prepared to move an Amendment in this respect at the Committee stage, he will certainly have my very warm support.
I conclude by saying that this afternoon my hon. Friend the senior Member for Dundee has given us very real evidence of her profound interest in social welfare. The Bill which she has brought to the House, and introduced so successfully, is a very important one. I believe that thousands of children who may never know her name will have reason to bless her for her humanity, her great industry, and her great sense of duty.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant
I feel that I should be lacking in appreciation if I did not say a few words of praise for this Bill, which was so admirably introduced by the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). For a long time there has been considerable apprehension in the minds of the public as to the manner in which children have been bandied about under the guise of adoption. Reliable evidence has been produced to substantiate the fears which were prevalent that there were great abuses taking place, abuses which, if they were spoken of generally, it would be difficult to believe, but concerning which reliable evidence was established by no less an authority than the Departmental Committee. I feel sure that the general public will be relieved to know that this Bill will remove—I believe, completely—the causes for the apprehension that has existed.
2395 There have been doubts as to whether children who were being adopted were going to be well cared for and placed with reliable adoptive parents, and those doubts increased when it became known that behind many of the organisations responsible for arranging for the adoption of children there were opportunities for financial gain, and when it was shown by the Departmental Committee that it was possible for a one-man show to conduct a business under the guise of a legitimate organisation, thereby making a considerable profit, without caring in the least what happened to the children. The Bill will at least bring all the legitimate organisations under the public gaze, and will eliminate the illegitimate, or, one might say, the illegal, organisations. It will give to the general public an assurance that whenever a child is adopted, there is a reasonable guarantee as to that child's safety and well-being. It is only a week ago that a young lady of 25 came to my house and asked me to witness her signature to a declaration that she was parting with her child, who was being handed over to adoptive parents in the North of England. The young lady had never seen those people and knew nothing about them, and I am not sure that the adoption society knew a great deal about them. I questioned her, and I found that she had had great difficulty in maintaining the child, as she was an ordinary factory worker; boat although she had been subjected to that economic strain, she was reluctant to part with the child.
There are cases where the adoptive parents come before the juvenile court. Personally, I prefer that procedure, because with it I feel that the probation officers have made the requisite inquiries and that there is some guarantee that the child will be placed with good adoptive parents and have a good home. This Bill will ensure a similar procedure. We do not know, of course, what will happen to the Bill in the Committee Stage, but as there is general approval and support for the Bill in the House, we may be sure that whatever changes may be made, they will make the Bill a better one.
I warmly support the Clause which will ensure that there is a period of probation. A good many people, both men and women, on meeting a child casually, become enraptured with it, but after the 2396 child has been in their home for a while, they feel that it is, temperamentally, wholly unsuited to them, and they to the child. A period of probation would help to eliminate cases of that sort, for it would give the adoptive persons an opportunity of getting to know the child and of finding out whether it was temperamentally suited to them. This would tend to create harmony in the home.
Again, I think the Clause which suggests that a medical certificate shall be produced as to the health of the child is essential. For adoptive parents to take a child under the impression that it is in thoroughly good health, and then to find that the reverse is the case, is grossly unfair and wrong, and does not tend to the betterment and advantage of the child. On other grounds, I welcome the Clause, which will be for the benefit of both the adoptive parents and the adopted child. I am very pleased to express my approval and support of the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member on the admirable manner in which she explained its Clauses. She conveyed to the House not only her interest in the Bill from a technical point of view, but also her human feeling for those boys and girls who are left without parents, and without all the other advantages which mean so much to the rising generation.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Goldie
This Bill has been received with such unanimity that I should be doing wrong if I detained the House long, and I rise largely for the purpose of congratulating most heartily the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) on having introduced what all agree is a most excellent Measure. It so happens that in another capacity I have to deal to a very considerable extent with what may be called life's youthful failures, and for that reason I, as much as any man or woman, appreciate to the full the wonderful work that is being done in this connection, and how vitally important it is that adoption qua adoption should be extended rather than restricted. I do not know whether many of the hon. Members who are present have ever sat in police courts and have seen the confidential reports which are handed up to magistrates. Times without number in those reports there is one sentence which I, as far as it lies in my power, will never allow to be given in evidence in open court. That sentence is, "The accused 2397 is by birth illegitimate." One finds when dealing with these cases how true it is, as the hon. Lady has said, that a happy home is the basis of a happy and successful life.
Therefore, we must approach this Bill with the idea in mind that we are dealing with a subject which is almost analogous to Habeas Corpus—the liberty of the subject, the liberty of the newly-born child. I wish to do what is in my power to assist the hon. Lady by pointing out, briefly, one or two matters in connection with the Bill which may be worthy of consideration in Committee. I can see the possibility of difficulties arising. With regard to the judicial custody of infants, on Clause 1, which says:It shall not be lawful for any body of persons to make, or cause to be made, any arrangements for the adoption of a child unless that body is a registered adoption society or a local authority.When we find that body of persons means "any body of persons, corporate or un-incorporate," we are disposed to ask how will that provision affect the position of wards in Chancery. What I wish to deal with, principally, however, is the provi-vision in Clause 3 on the question of appeals. We are dealing here with a matter which fundamentally affects the child's life. We find that there is to be a registration authority which is to determine the all-important fact of whether or not a particular society is a fit and proper body to carry on the process of adoption. That is a matter of vital importance. Should a dispute arise we find—and I speak with the greatest respect of those hon. Members who sit on the bench at petty sessions—that this vital matter, which is not merely a question of the ownership of a dog without a licence, or an infringement of the decencies of society by getting drunk, is, in the first instance, to go on appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction. That means that it is to go before two local magistrates, They, and they alone, are to determine whether or not the decision of the local registration authority has been correct.
I venture, in passing, to touch upon one technical point. I suggest that the Committee which deals with the Bill should look very carefully into Sub-section (4) where the words are used:Shall be by way of complaint for an order.2398 If my recollection of the Summary Jurisdiction Acts is correct, they are nothing like as simple as that. In any case where you have a complaint, as distinct from a conviction, it is extremely doubtful whether the Summary Jurisdiction Acts apply in normal circumstances. But the real point is, in my submission, that this matter is so important that it should be dealt with at once by quarter sessions. In the case of counties it should be dealt with by the appellate tribunal of the county which exists for such purposes, and in the case of the larger towns it is a matter which could, with far greater safety, be left to a trained lawyer whose duty it is to deal with such matters. The question to be decided is not whether or not a certain child should be adopted, but whether or not what one might almost call the business of trading or dealing in human lives is to be permitted in particular circumstances. There is another point which seems to me to need careful consideration. Under Sub-section (5) of Clause 3:If an adoption society is aggrieved by an order, determination or other decision of a court of summary jurisdiction, the society may appeal to a court of quarter sessions.That is quite right, but what is to happen if the registration authority has been overruled in the petty sessional court? The registration authority is a public body performing a public duty and it has, one assumes on definite evidence, decided that a particular society should not be allowed to carry on this work. It seems a serious flaw that power should not be given to the registration authority to appeal to quarter sessions against the allowance of the society's appeal. These are points of difficulty which arise and to which I venture, with great respect, to draw attention, but everyone, I think, realises that this is a valuable Bill. Indeed it is one of the most valuable Bills that has ever come before the House of Commons in my experience here. Welcoming, as I do its provisions, particularly those with regard to unfortunate children who are sent abroad, I express the hope that when it has passed through Committee these various points will have been dealt with and that the Bill will then be found to be even more valuable than it is to-day. May I conclude by repeating that hon. Members in all sections of the House owe a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Lady for introducing this Bill.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
I notice that there is not on the back of this Bill the name of any member of the party to which I belong, and I think there is the possibility that this fact might lead to misunderstanding. Ours is, for the time being, a small party. We are the smallest party in the House but two; we are also the largest party in the House but two. I rise only to explain that the absence from the Bill of the names of any of my hon. Friends is not due to the fact that they were invited to put their names to it and declined to do so. I have associated myself with an Amendment which has been put down to another Bill on the Paper to-day, and I might have been tempted in those circumstances to look up an immense number of points of detail on this Bill and discuss it at great length, but that seems to me to be an improper procedure. Therefore, without taking up any further time, I would like to say on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends who sit on these Benches that we support this Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) on having introduced it.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Campbell
The speech of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) reminds me of an occasion a little time ago, when I was at Maskelyne and Devant's and a man who performed a trick said, "The last time I did this trick the whole audience rose, and I went down and shook hands with both of them."
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I would draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that there is a very much higher proportion of attendance in this party than in his.
§ Sir E. Campbell
I agree, but I do not see any reason why your party should not occasionally score off hon. Members on these Benches. I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), not only for having brought in this Bill but for having united all parties. The last time that I spoke on a Bill brought in by the hon. Lady, I regret to have to admit that I was principally responsible for that Bill not becoming the law of the land, because I was speaking at four o'clock when the Bill was talked out. The hon. Lady has forgiven me, but I want to take the first opportunity of putting myself right in 2400 her books, more especially as she is undoubtedly the most popular Member in the House to-day, for many reasons, and more especially for this very excellent Bill.
In considering the Bill, I think we must consider first and last the children. They are the most important part of it, and I have some excuse for speaking about children because I was the naughty boy in my family of 14 children, and I am quite sure that nobody could ever have got any parents to adopt me. I was fortunate enough, however, later in my life, to find a lady who adopted me, and I became the proud father of seven children myself. I have, therefore, some knowledge of and interest in children, and in fact on the Care Committee of the London County Council, as Chairman of the Places of Detention Committee, in connection with juvenile courts, boys' clubs, and boy scouts I see a great deal of and a great many children. I think this Bill is absolutely in the right direction. I would like to say that beside the careful scrutiny of the adoption societies, to which other hon. Members have referred, I feel that there should be very much more care taken and scrutiny made of the aspirant parents. From my own experience in the courts, parents or people who wish to adopt children do so for various reasons. It may not be that they have been married for a year or two, or a little longer, and have, unfortunately no children of their own, and someone suggests to them, "You know, you would make your life far more happy if you were to adopt a child," and they go about trying to find some child whom they can adopt.
The experiment is not only one which affects themselves, but it affects really the child. The child is there just to see whether its influence can bring the couple together again, as they were when they originally married, and, therefore, I think it is exceedingly important that after a year that child and those parents should appear once again, if possible, before exactly the same tribunal as before, so that the court which permitted the child to be adopted should see what difference there is in the child. Very often one can see, when a child either walks into court or is carried in, whether it is really happy and healthy, and, what is still more important, whether it has the affection of 2401 those who have adopted it, because the future of that child depends entirely upon whether or not it has the affection of those who have adopted it. It is not a question of a business transaction; it is a question of a child's life, and I think it is tremendously important that an opportunity should be given once again for the court to consider whether or not such people should adopt that child permanently.
Being a bit old-fashioned, I do not think I am very keen at any time on divorce, but everybody must consider these matters for themselves. I think that there again, if people who have no children divorce, it is just a matter for themselves, but if they have children and divorce, it is almost invariably a great hardship on the children. Whatever the cause is, the result is that one child, or two children, or whatever the number may be, are at loggerheads with their parents. The father gets the children, or the mother gets them, and someone is left without children. I would not like a hard and fast rule, because sometimes one may become divorced through no fault of one's own and may be very fond of children and wish to adopt them, but I think something might be done to safeguard that particular position, because the unfortunate result of perhaps seeing a parent only once or twice a year is not in the interests of the children. I therefore wish heartily to support this Bill. I doubt not that in Committee people who have the time to study it, as I am afraid I have not had, will be able to knock it into shape and to make a really good Bill and an extraordinarily useful Bill, and if it is carried out eventually in the spirit in which it has been drafted, I am sure it will be for the benefit of the children and, therefore, for the benefit of the country too.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Most of that, which can be said on this Bill, so far as general principles are concerned, has already been said to-day, and notably in the striking speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), who introduced it, and who had the somewhat unusual experience of presenting a Bill based upon her report of a Committee of which she herself was chairman. I think that is most unusual and perhaps fortunate, though there may be some 2402 difficulties in Committee if there are any divergencies between the report and the Bill. I have a constituency interest in this problem, because in my constituency are situated two of the most important institutions dealing with the class of children to which this Bill refers—St. Monica's Home and the Gordon Boys' Home. While every one of us agrees that in general it is better that children should be brought up in their own homes, one can nevertheless pay tribute to the very remarkable way in which some of these institutions, particularly if they are not too large, are conducted. I well recollect the debate in 1926 and the particular speech of one hon. Member, who is no longer a Member of this House, who was pathetically anxious that the Bill should become law because the only child in his house was an adopted child, and that adoption had no protection in law.
This Bill must be looked at a little carefully. I do not suppose I shall be on the Committee which deals with it. I happen to have been appointed to Standing Committee A, and this Bill, I presume, will be referred to Standing Committee B, and I am not likely, therefore, to serve on that Committee. I want to make one or two Committee points in the hope that when the Committee deals with the Bill they will look into them. Under Section II of the Act of 1926 there is provision for a register, and in the Schedule the form of the register is set forth. It is kept at the General Register Office, which I presume is Somerset House, and it is called the Adopted Children Register. There are merits in a register of that kind, particularly if it is kept in the right form. We do not want to make it too easy for parents who have given up a child to trouble the people who have adopted it, and I believe that there are provisions in the Act of 1926 for safeguards in that direction. In Clause 4 of this Bill there are certain provisions under paragraph (e) about prescribed information, but it appears to refer only to the activities of societies. I am not clear whether there is to be a register under this Bill. There are certain risks in a register, but, on balance, I think the advantages are much greater than the risks, because if we are to make sure that wrong things do not happen to children who are adopted there must be the means of keeping track of them, and a track can be 2403 kept only if we have a register. On Tuesday we shall be talking about another register, a compulsory national register, in which I do not believe, but this is a register of people which the law is seeking to protect, and when the Committee on the Bill discusses the powers to be conferred upon the Secretary of State o make regulations, I suggest they should consider extending them so that in some clearer way than is yet apparent the regulations will provide for a proper register.
There is one word of caution in regard to the whole of the Bill. It is important that we should not in any way introduce deterrents to legal adoption, and I am inclined to think that there is some element of danger in the Bill because it seeks to give "adoption" two meanings. In the definition Clause, "adopter" meansa person who is proposing to adopt, or who has adopted a child, whether in pursuance of an adoption order or otherwise.If this Bill becomes law and those words remain, the word "adopter" will have two different legal meanings. In one it will mean where the adoption is in accordance with an order of the court, and the other where it is the result of a transaction which has no legal authority behind it. There are elements of danger in the word "adoption" having two distinct legal meanings, one an order of the court and the other a contract of a terminable kind, and sometimes nothing much in the nature of a contract at all. I hope that those who sit on the Committee will look into that point. In the beginning of the Bill there is a word about penalties. Sub-section (2) of Clause I says,Any body of persons which contravenes the provisions of this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding two hundred pounds.When a penalty is as large as that there is usually an alternative of imprisonment or an addition of imprisonment. When Acts deal with corporate bodies they sometimes indicate what officers are liable. In some of the cases under this Bill infractions of the law are of a kind that imprisonment should not be excluded. I notice that the registration authorities under this Bill are to be the county councils and county borough councils. In general they may be the most suitable bodies, but we must realise 2404 that there are some large municipal boroughs that do not enjoy county borough status. In recent years charters have been granted to a large number of satellite towns round London which are very important towns, big enough to be registration authorities. In legislation of this kind we want to localise as much as possible. The county town is sometimes a very remote place. Middlesex Guildhall is the headquarters of the county of Middlesex, though it is not physically in that county. There are many boroughs recently incorporated which might be well fitted to be registration authorities, and it should not be limited to county councils. I merely take the case of Middlesex, not because I have any malice against that county, but as an illustration of the argument I have in mind. I notice in the same Clause reference to "prescribed information," and I take it that the regulations which are made will have to be laid on the Table in due course.
There is a point later in the Clause into which, I hope, some of my legal friends will look. It says that a registration authority may refuse to register an adoption society if it appears, among other things,that any person proposed to he employed, or employed, by the society for the purpose of making, or causing to be made, any arrangements for the adoption of children on behalf of the society is not a fit and proper person to be so employed.It is a little dangerous for a local authority to be required to refuse the registration of a society because they do not think the secretary, for example, is a fit and proper person. If an application of a society to be registered comes before a local authority and there is a proposal that the society be not registered because Mr. X. is not a fit and proper person, the members of the council will be in a somewhat dangerous position if at the council meeting they discuss the qualifications of Mr. X. Councils are not privileged to the same extent that we are. I remember that in the local authority of which I used to be a member there was a discussion with regard to the reasons why a principal officer of the council had resigned. In perfect good faith two members of the council made statements about the officer. The sequel was two slander actions which involved the two members, the mayor and the chairman of the committee concerned, in large sums. I hope that that matter will be considered by the 2405 Committee, because the same point arises in Clause 3. If an application is refused the authority has to say why, and the "why" may be a libellous statement if it is in writing, and the same "why" at the council meeting may be a slanderous statement. I see somewhere in the Bill that a committee is to be set up called a Case Committee. "Case" is spelt with a capital C and the word is not defined. It is the jargon used by those who run societies. They have case papers and case committees, but the word does not mean anything. It ought to be left out because it is unwise to put in Acts of Parliament words that are unnecessary. Ingenious barristers earn a lot of money arguing what a missing word or an inserted word really means.
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruthergien (Mr. A. Chapman) drew attention to the risk of adoption by foreign persons. In general it is not desirable that British children should be adopted by foreigners. I do not say that out of any prejudice against aliens, because I hope I do not suffer from that prejudice, but for the reasons he mentioned the point he made is a good one. On the other hand we must bear in mind that large numbers of children are coming into this country as refugee children at the present time, and there will be more. The bulk of them will be Germans or Austrians or Czechs at the moment, I think. I am not familiar with the law as it affects the naturalising of young children, but it is possible that some of those children may in a short period become British subjects, and then it might be impossible for them, though it might be a very good thing for them, to be adopted by people who have to live in Germany. It is a rather curious problem which may arise because of the refugee situation, and I hope that the Committee will take some account of the possibilities of the situation.
I notice that, according to the definition Clause, the word "abroad" means outside the United Kingdom. I presume that the United Kingdom referred to is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but even though the Irish Free State is not as fully conscious of the great privilege of being part of the British Empire as it ought to be I do not see why we should regard the southern part of Ireland as abroad. Nor do I see why the Isle of Man should be 2406 excluded—my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) no doubt has views on that subject—nor the Channel Islands. I know they have their own form of Home Rule, but there is ultimate authority vested in His Majesty, who in that respect works through the Home Secretary. Therefore the Home Secretary, as the Minister more particularly concerned with this Bill, is responsible in certain respects for the government of the Channel Islands and for the government of the Isle of Man. Honestly, I think we ought not to impose restrictions on adoption where it happens that people live either in Eire, in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, and the words "British Isles" might with advantage be substituted for the United Kingdom.
As I said at the outset, I did not rise to deal with the principle of the Bill, which has been adequately covered, but it is sometimes useful when one has read through a Bill and certain features seem to call for amendment to draw attention to them on Second Reading, because the promoters of the Bill and the Government Departments concerned have their interest awakened and have an opportunity of looking into those points before the Committee stage is reached. I think we all congratulate the senior Member for Dundee on this opportunity which has come to her. She is in almost the unique position of having been the chairman of the Committee which considered the subject and then drawing a place in the Ballot and being able to present a Bill based upon the Report of the Committee. I feel that I am voicing the feeling of all hon. Members in saying that we hope that this Bill, after it has been through the careful sieve of the Committee, will become the law of the land.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) will not be disappointed if I refrain from accepting his invitation to endeavour to elucidate Clause 2 of the Bill. It may be that on another occasion, in different circumstances, anything that is not plain in sub-section (3) of that Clause will have to be explained, but I do not propose in the few moments during which I intend to occupy the House, to deal with matters of that nature. May I first join in the congratulations which have been 2407 offered to the hon. Lady the senior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), not only upon her Bill but upon the manner in which she presented it to the House. If she were present in the House at this moment I am sure that she would appreciate that if I draw attention to one matter which has already been referred to, which seems to me to be in the nature of a defect in this otherwise excellent Bill, I do it in no spirit of criticism, but rather in the hope that at a later stage the matter may be adjusted and put upon a more satisfactory basis. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) referred to Clause 3, which deals with appeals, and pointed out that an appeal is given from the decision of the registration authority, which will be a county council or the council of a county borough, to a court of summary jurisdiction. In recent years there has been a tendency in legislation of this nature to give an appeal against decisions of local authorities to courts of summary jurisdiction. I am sure that all hon. Members who have had experience of the working of those appeals will agree with me that that is a very unsatisfactory manner of dealing with them. It is a tendency which, I hope, will not be continued. A court of summary jurisdiction is essentially not an appellate tribunal. Its procedure is not adapted for the hearing of appeals. The hearing occupies a great deal of the time of the court, it often results in the parties being required to attend on more than one day, and it causes delays and general inconvenience in the conduct of the business of the court. I find some support for that view in the Report of the Departmental Committee, which on page 47 expresses the opinion that these appeals should go to the High Court. That is a very much superior procedure to sending the appeals to a court of summary jurisdiction. It may be thought that the expense of conducting an appeal in the High Court is greater than it is in a court of summary jurisdiction, and up to a point, I think that is true; but, after all, if the matter has already been considered by a responsible local authority is it asking too much, where an adoption society is concerned to secure registration, that they should be expected to incur such additional expense—it may not be much; those of us who 2408 know the cost of appeals heard at petty sessions probably feel that the difference in the two cases is not very great—as is needed for a review of the decision of the registration authority.
If it is thought that that objection is insuperable, I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that it would be much better that these appeals should go direct to quarter sessions instead of going in the first instance to a court of summary jurisdiction. The court of quarter sessions, as the House knows, is very well adapted for the hearing of appeals. In certain parts of its work it is essentially an appellate tribunal. I hope that when the Bill is considered in Committee it will be found possible to alter the arrangements which are at present contemplated in Clause 3.
Let me add one observation with regard to Sub-section (5). My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington pointed out that under Sub-section (5), although an appeal is given to the adoption society from a decision of a court of summary jurisdiction, no appeal is given to the registration authority. I can well imagine a case in which the registration authority, who after all are required to inquire very closely into these matters, might feel strongly that their decision had been wrongly upset in the court of summary jurisdiction, and might desire, and properly desire, that the matter should be taken further and that they should have an opportunity of justifying their original refusal before the court of quarter sessions. I hope that when the Bill is considered later it will be found possible to amend that part of it so as to provide a right of appeal to quarter sessions for the registration authority as well as for the adoption society.
I do not intend to detain the House long at this stage of the proceedings. All I desire to do now is to say that I welcome the Bill, and that I think it is a most useful addition to the law of adoption in this country. The hon. Lady certainly deserves all the congratulations which have been tendered to her, both on the Bill and on her work as chairman of the Departmental Committee from whose labours the Bill arises.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
My first duty, and indeed pleasure, is on behalf of my right hon. Friend to thank the hon. Lady the Senior Member for Dundee (Mis Horsbrugh) and her Committee for the very laborious and complete investigation that they made into this subject. My second duty is to congratulate the hon. Lady upon the opportunity, which is not very often vouchsafed to chairmen of Departmental Committees or members of the House, of being able to bring in a Bill based upon the report of their own committees. We all agree in congratulating the hon. Lady also upon her speech. She certainly showed herself to be the master, or perhaps I should say the mistress, of her subject. I thought it was a very good thing that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) emphasised in his speech the good work that is at present being done by adoption societies which are well conducted. I think we shall all agree with that statement. In fact I know two adopted children myself, and I know that they are very happy and are being brought up in a very good home. No doubt other hon. Members could give similar examples. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill for dealing with adoption in Scotland claimed that in Scotland legislation was in advance of legislation in England.
§ Mr. Mathers
In bringing in the Scottish Bill we caused it to go slightly in advance of the English Bill of four years before.
§ Mr. Lloyd
While we are all agreed that adoption in proper cases is a very important constructive work, I must join issue with the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), who I am sorry is not in her place at the moment, because when she was dealing with the constructive side of adoption she was inclined to take the view that, like many other good things, adoption was first started in the United States of America. I noticed certain certain signs of dissent among hon. Ladies and others present. Whether it be or be not the case that adoption in modern times was practised in the United States earlier than in this country, the fact remains that adoption is a very ancient practice. It was most elaborately followed and indeed controlled by a legal 2410 system in Roman times, and if the Noble Lady doubted me I should have to quote the case of Scipio Africanus the Younger and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, both of whom were adopted children. There was an elaborate legal code for adoption in those days.
We are all agreed about the constructive side of adoption, but we are concerned to-day to deal with the abuses that may arise. I would like to mention one point which has not been touched on to-day and which is of general application. We have been dealing recently in this House with the Criminal Justice Bill, and in the Debates upon that Bill it became clear that bad and broken homes were a very considerable source of juvenile delinquency. I think we can say, generally, that we do not want to confine our efforts to trying to improve the results in cases of children who come from bad working homes, but we want to be careful that we do not allow the creation of bad homes, which, of course, is what happens if children are sent to parents when they are not suitable.
I think it is true to say that while adoption in general works satisfactorily, yet there are two classes of abuses, broadly speaking. One is the class where there is a really unscrupulous agent at work. In that case adoption can only be condemned as a sordid trafficking in defenceless young lives, In that case very often both the unhappy mother of the unfortunate baby and the would-be adopters are being financially exploited. The hon. Lady referred to a case into which I shall not go in much further detail, of a man who, after certain difficulties had been put in his way, established himself in an ordinary house which he called "Church House." He then proceeded to carry on his adoption business from that address. In addition to the name of the society with which the hon. Lady is familiar, he added that further evidence of respectibility which, in his case, I fear was not justified.
With regard to the greater volume of the abuses they are due in great part not so much to callousness or greed as to the work being undertaken by organisations which have not proper staff, machinery, or indeed funds, to enable them to do it properly. The result is that inquiries which are vitally necessary have been 2411 carried out in the most perfunctory manner if they have not virtually been dispensed with altogether. In this matter I would like to quote the following words from the Report of the Departmental Committee:Unfortunately certain other societies are less thorough and their representatives have admitted to us that applications are accepted without a home visit, and that in some cases, where, for example, applicants live at a considerable distance from London, even the personal interview is dispensed with. The representatives of two of the societies concerned agreed as to the desirability of home visits but said that want of staff made it impossible to arrange for them in the ordinary way. The application form used by one of these does not contain a question as to the accommodation which is available, nor as to the precise ages of the applicants.In this category there was one case, to which I believe the hon. Lady who moved the Second Reading referred, of a girl of three years of age who had been adopted by a labourer and his wife. It was found that the girl was ill-treated and she was removed. The Secretary admitted in evidence that she should never have been placed with those people. Yet that society had previously placed three other children in the same home, and all of them had been taken back by the society. All hon. Members will agree that we wish Parliament to deal with this matter and to protect children from this kind of abuse.
I should like to congratulate the hon. lady and her Committee on the very practical nature of the remedies they propose for the various evils. They considered very carefully the proper method of dealing with adoption agencies and societies and methods of licensing, and they came to the conclusion that the larger local authorities should be the licensing authorities. One or two hon. Members have mentioned to-day that my right hon. Friend would have power to make regulations, and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. A. Chapman) wished to substitute "shall" for "may." That is an old subject which will be remembered by many hon. Members who have served upon Committees of this House. It involves complicated legal arguments as to whether the word "may" is what lawyers describe as mandatory in a particular section or not, but we can safely 2412 leave that point till the Committee stage, on the assurance to hon. Members at this moment that my right hon. Friend certainly does intend to make regulations. If the House takes the view that has been taken on previous occasions, admittedly on more partisan subjects, that they are not satisfied that my right hon. Friend is prepared to make regulations, or that, even if he is, there may be some other right hon. Gentleman in his office who might not be prepared so to do, and if there is any such doubt, perhaps we may see that the matter is properly settled in Committee, so that there shall be proper regulations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the assurance on this occasion.
Then comes the question, not of societies, but of individuals, and it is in some ways more difficult. I think hon. Members take the view that it is right to deal with individuals as well as with societies. In such cases the adopter and the intermediary will have to give notice to the welfare authority. There is the further question of foreigners or, as they are referred to by the Home Office under the authority of Statute, aliens. I agree that we should be especially careful in regard to adoption by aliens. We ought to take note at once that adoption will not be possible by aliens resident abroad, and the question then arises, what shall be the procedure in regard to adoption by aliens in this country? Again, I think that the Committee adopted a practical remedy when they proposed that the machinery which is at present used to safeguard young people taking employment abroad, should be brought into action in this matter. The House may recollect that it is a question of examination by the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street. So far as our information goes at the Home Office, we believe that that machinery works satisfactorily in relation to young persons in the entertainment business, and that it will work satisfactorily in this case, but that is a matter which will have to be gone into in Committee in order to make sure that the dangers mentioned by the hon. Lady will not arise. We shall all agree that in some ways the worst of all the disasters which can overtake a child who is adopted is being adopted by a foreigner who then removes the child entirely out of the jurisdiction of the authorities in this country. 2413 In dealing with children in this country we have our remedies, although the authorities may be slow in using them, but once children have passed beyond our jurisdiction the matter becomes very difficult.
In this atmosphere of unanimity it is not necessary for me to make a very long contribution, and it only remains for me to say that it is, in the view of the Government, a very useful Bill to deal with evils which affect a particularly defenceless section of the community. The Government, therefore, welcome the Bill, and hope it will have a unanimous Second Reading.
§ Mr. Rhys Daviesrose—
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Davies
I should not be doing my duty if I did not join in the chorus of congratulation to the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsburgh) for her excellent speech and manner in introducing this Measure. The Bill is a private Member's Bill, with regard to which Members of any party can take what attitude they like, but I am sure the hon. Lady will be glad to know that, as far as I understand, my colleagues on this side of the House are unanimously in favour of the Bill, and it will therefore we hope, receive a Second Reading without a Division. That is a great accomplishment, especially on a Friday afternoon. While I do not wish to be unduly critical, I should like to say that the House really should not magnify this problem and give the public the impression that the evils which have been mentioned exist on any considerable scale. They do not. The record of this country with respect to the treatment of children is on the whole, in my view, exceptionally good. At the same time, it is wise to review some of these evils as they come to light; and anyone who reads the very excellent report of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children will see that the problem is a 2414 little bigger even than the one we are discussing on this Measure. The Report gives as good a picture as can be given, I should think, of the manner in which some parents treat their children. It shows that last year the society came across 29,190 neglected children, 46 abandoned, 112 exposed, 5,065 ill-treated children, 85 who were begging, and, worst of all, 342 who were depraved in their morals. That, I suppose, is part of the problem with which this Bill is designed to deal.
I have one or two criticisms to make with regard to the Measure. When I looked at the Bill first of all, I felt that it was a little too wordy. It reminded one of a very excellent pamphlet; and then, I do not think we ought to use a steam-hammer to crack a nut. I wondered whether the Bill, when it became an Act, would not have a deterrent effect on the adoption of children. From the little knowledge I have of the matter, through friends of mine who have adopted children, it seems to me that it is a very excellent thing in some cases, especially where you have a married couple aged 40 to 45 who have no children. I know of one case where it has been a real blessing, both to the child who was adopted and to the foster parents. I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), who took a keen interest in the Bill dealing with the adoption of children in Scotland, that since the passing of that Measure there has been an actual increase in the number of children adopted. That, of course, disproves any argument that the many provisions of this Bill would frighten people against adopting children, and that is all to the good. Hon. Members will, I am sure, know of cases where the adoption of children is beneficial. I saw a case the other day, in a district which I know well, where a workman, a very decent fellow, had lost his wife on the birth of their seventh child; all his children were under the age of 10. It was a real blessing in that case that a couple who knew the man and who had no children themselves assisted him by adopting the baby.
There is one point on which I should like to make a personal observation. It relates to a Member of this House who died not very long ago. I took an interest in his case. He and his wife had adopted 2415 a little girl in every form except in law. His widow is entitled to a widow's pension under the contributory scheme, but, because the child was not properly adopted according to law, the allowance of 5s. under the contributory pension scheme cannot be paid in respect of the little girl. I want to ask the hon. Lady whether we may take it for granted that, when this Bill becomes the law of the land, when a child is adopted under the formula which it lays down, that child, in the event of the death of the adopter, will be entitled to the allowance under the contributory scheme. I should like that point made clear.
That is entirely governed by the Adoption of Children Act. This Bill simply deals with the intermediary. The court will deal, and does deal, with that subject.
§ Mr. Davies
I hope that that may be true, but only yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) referred to the case of certain blind persons. Although it had been understood for 14 years that these people were entitled to their pension under the law, some legal gentleman in a Government Department came along and said that the law must be read otherwise. I do not know whether anything of that kind could happen under this Bill, but I want it to be made quite clear that the adopter of a child will be entitled to regard the child as his own with respect to this and other social services like health and unemployment insurance and unemployment assistance. I say that because we have come across cases where, when Acts of Parliament have been passed, points like these have arisen because nobody gave them any attention when the Bill was being discussed.
My next criticism is fundamental, and I hope the hon. Lady will not be offended by it. She mentioned that the Bill applies to England and Scotland. Where does Wales come in? Why does she not mention Wales?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Because I have been officially advised that, under the terms of the Adoption of Children Act, England includes Wales. It is not my fault.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
We all know that statements in legal language are sometimes strange to ordinary people. In dealing with this subject in other Acts, England, so I have been informed, includes Wales, and, if I were to make a difference in the Bill, I might upset all that the hon. Gentleman desires.
§ Mr. Davies
I do not sit for a Welsh constituency, but I was born in the Principality, and I can assure the hon. Lady that, if she wants a united or popular front on this Bill—
§ Mr. Davies
—she ought to mention Wales. I say that because the report which the hon. Lady herself quoted mentions one part of Wales in that connection:Other local authorities which have carried out a considerable number of such adoptions are the Glamorganshire County Council…This Bill implies, of course, that the Welsh people may not adopt children of their own race. The hon. Lady shakes her head, but she is not a judge in a court of law.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
This Bill has nothing to do with the procedure in court. That was dealt with by the Adoption of Children Act, 1926. The whole of the hon. Member's argument refers to that particular Act, which was passed long before I was in the House.
§ Mr. Davies
I am sure there are more Acts of Parliament containing the words "England and Wales" than the words "England and Scotland." Why does the word "England" not include "Scotland" as well as Wales? That is a criticism I thought I ought to make on the Bill, and I sincerely hope we shall get that point dealt with, because the tendency of this Government in particular is not to give fair play to small nationalities.
Let me now turn to one or two other provisions of this excellent Measure. There is one point that I welcome indeed. That is that when a register is made up and a local authority licenses any of these institutions the local authority can call for the books and accounts of the society. I speak with just a little knowledge of that, and I only wish there were more of that done by law in this country. Anybody who looks at the recent report on 2417 charities will see how the country is being swindled by some charitable institutions. I am pleased, on looking up the reports of all these adoption societies, to see that not only have they proper audit but they have fully qualified auditors for their accounts—and there is a vast difference between one auditor and another. I would very much like the hon. Lady to insert in the Bill, if she could, provision whereby the accounts of these societies, before they are called for by the local authorities, shall have been audited by competent auditors. Clause 6 says:(4) Any person who contravenes the provisions of this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, or to both such imprisonment and such fine.…I notice that the hon. Lady has not inserted the same provision in respect of all offences. In some cases there will be only a fine: in other cases a fine or imprisonment, or both. I think we shall be entitled in Committee to ask for an explanation on that point. There is another provision which baffles me, in which it is assumed that the Committee of a society is to be elected by the members. I can conceive cases where all the members of the society will be, members of the committee. How will the hon. Lady deal with a situation of that kind, where you have 20 members of an adoption society, and they all elect one another on the committee? There is a fine to be imposed on the society, amounting if I remember rightly, to £200 Is that fine to be imposed on the funds of the society or upon the committee to be paid out of their own pockets? It seems to me that a fine would have very little effect in connection with a society's affairs if the funds of the society are to be mulcted and the members of the committee are to be immune. That is a point that I thought worthy of mention in passing. I had meant to make a few other points on the Bill, but as I understand some hon. Members are anxious to have another Measure discussed and as it is not my custom to do anything to prevent any measure coming before the House—
§ Mr. Davies
The noble Lady must not be so scornful, because whenever a Bill dealing with the drink traffic comes before the House, I find that her eloquence is simply wonderful.
2418 We are dealing with a Bill of considerable importance to-day. In looking up the addresses of these adoption societies, I notice that the majority are in London. I take it, therefore, that the work of local authorities will not be very heavy outside London and probably the city of Glasgow, but I notice that there is a branch of the National Children Adoption Association in Lancashire and Cheshire. I want to quote one paragraph to show the excellent work that is being done in that part of England. My hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) mentioned in his excellent speech that when he was sitting on some tribunal the other day there was a young woman who wanted a child to be adopted by somebody in the North of England, and when he said the words "North of England," I felt that there was some scorn in his voice. Let me tell him frankly that I would prefer a child being adopted in the North of England rather than in London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—Because, first of all, the people there are better behaved. The report for 1937 of the Lancashire and Cheshire Child Adoption Council, which is a branch of the National Children Adoption Association, reads as follows:For the first time we have to record no advance in the number of adoptions arranged. Last year homes were found for 40 children and this year the same number of trial adoptions were arranged, but unfortunately seven of these were unsatisfactory for one reason or another, so that the net result has been only 33.The hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Haslam), who, I understand, is anxious to speak later on some other Bill, will bear with me when I quote those few words about the work in our county.
§ Mr. Davies
When I read that extract I have no doubt that this problem of the adoption of children is, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden has on this occasion rightly said, a problem of an economic character.
The problem of poverty shows itself in this connection almost more than in any other. The adoption of children, in the main, is caused because the parents who want them to be taken by somebody else are incapable of keeping them themselves on economic grounds. There are certain other grounds, I know, but the economic 2419 circumstances of these families come into play as well.
Shall I say just one other word on this Bill? (Interruption). I do not understand the attitude of those who ironically cheer. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) had his way I should not be allowed to say anything at all to-day. I think the worst offence of all was what the hon. Gentleman tried to do to-day. This is all the more surprising as we have been sitting on an important Committee together and working in harmony there. But I will leave the point there without saying any more about it now. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with me that we have had a strange spectacle on this Measure, and we ought to be proud of it. The hon. Lady who introduced the Bill and the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government are bachelors. It is a remarkable fact that the greatest enthusiasm, interest and intelligence has been shown to-day by people who fall into that category. I will tell the House why. There is nothing in this world so beautiful as a baby, and there is an old Welsh proverb which carries the matter very much further, and perhaps the noble lady from Virginia will listen to it, because I am assured that she is of Welsh extraction herself, and I am certain she is very proud of it. It is this:You are not a real fool until you are a grandfather.Apart from all that the House of Commons is doing a very fine bit of work in connection with this Bill, and I agree with one argument put forward to-day, the best argument of all, that there is a growing assumption in this country that you can deal with these children in institutions. I have come to the conclusion, on the other hand, that a decent home is better than the best institution. The hon. Lady, therefore, is doing excellent work in bringing this Bill before Parliament, but if she wants the same unity in Committee as we have found in this House to-day, she will really have to bear in mind that the word "Wales" will have to be included in the provisions of the Bill.
§ 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.