§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Measure is designed to amend the law relating to the adoption of children, and it seeks to give effect to the recommendations of certain committees which have recently considered the problem. I hope very much that its proposals will meet with approval in all quarters of the House. It occurred to me that it might be of assistance to hon. Members if I were to review shortly the events which have led up to the introduction of this Measure. That history goes back some 28 years, for in 1921 a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Alfred Hopkinson made a report upon this and kindred questions and they reported, among other things, a great increase in the number of persons desiring to bring up some child who would be treated in law and generally regarded as occupying the position of a natural and lawful child.
Then in 1925 there was a committee presided over by Lord Tomlin—Mr. Justice Tomlin as he then was—which committee recommended the introduction of legal adoption. There was the suggestion then that, for the first time in our history, there should be a system of adoption with statutory sanction, and it was upon the recommendations of that committee that the Adoption of 1478 Children Act, 1926, was based. The 1926 Act, which is referred to in this Measure as the principal Act, enabled a person to apply to the High Court, the county court or the juvenile court for an adoption order, a guardian ad litem being appointed to protect the interests of the infant. The effect of the making of an adoption order is set out in Section 5 of the 1926 Act, and it may be summarised fairly in this way: all rights, duties, obligations and liabilities of the parent or guardian in relation to the future custody, maintenance and education of the adopted child shall be extinguished and become vested in the adopter as though the child were a child born to the adopter in lawful wedlock.
In 1937 a Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Lady whom many of us remember in this House, Miss Florence Horsbrugh, reported upon the subject of adoption societies and agencies, and there is one passage in the report of that committee which I should like to quote. They say:We consider, however, that for the child a good family life is to be preferred to life in an institution, however excellent, and adoption has the additional advantage that a child brought up as a member of the adopter's own family enjoys a sense of security which otherwise it might not acquire.From the deliberations of Miss Horsbrugh's Committee there emerged the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act, 1939, the effect of which was to prohibit any body of persons other than registered adoption societies or local authorities from making arrangements for adoption. It provided for the regulation of the work of the societies, requiring, for example, a probationary period before the order should be made and the supervision of certain adopted children by welfare authorities. That Measure in 1939 had to be postponed by reason of the war and, in fact, came into force on 1st June, 1943. Then there was the Clyde Committee of 1945.
I come to the report of the committee under the chairmanship of Dame Myra Curtis, which reported in September, 1946. The House, I think, has already recognised the work of that committee and I am particularly pleased that a member of it, the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol), is one of the backers of the Bill. The 1479 Curtis Committee reported on the general question of adoption in these words:If it"—that is, adoption—is successful it is the most completely satisfactory method of providing a substitute home. It gives the child new parents, with all the parents' rights and responsibilities, who take the place of the real parents so far as human nature allows.That Committee made a number of other specific recommendations on this subject, some of which are incorporated in the Bill. Finally, in 1947, a Committee was called for conference by the National Council of Social Service and other bodies to consider this question. This Committee was under the chairmanship of an old friend of mine, His Honour Judge Hugh Gamon. A number of their recommendations also are incorporated in the Measure.
I pass from the history of events leading up to the introduction of the Bill in order to consider—which, I feel, the House would desire—the magnitude, extent and importance of the whole question. In the 20 years which followed the 1926 Act, just under 166,000 children were the subject of adoption orders. In the first year after the passing of the principal Act—1927—the number was 2,967. By 1946, 20 years later, the figure for the year had risen to 21,280. The last available figures are for the year 1947, when 18,269 children were the subject of adoption. It is sometimes said, or implied, that every adopted child is an illegitimate child. On my information that is quite incorrect and is, of course, a very cruel and harsh implication. Of course, many of those who are to be the subject of adoption orders are illegitimate, and I am also told that about one-third of such illegitimate children are adopted by their own mothers. That is the size of the problem with which the House is asked to deal by means of the proposals contained in the Measure.
In framing the Bill for which I am now asking a Second Reading, I have had in mind two major principles. The first is that while the link between a child and its natural parents, particularly the mother, must never lightly be broken, in the case of a proposed adoption it is the interests, well-being and happiness of 1480 the child which are the paramount considerations; it is not only financial considerations which are the test. The second principle I seek to incorporate is that our aim should be to create a relationship between the adopted child and the adopters approximating as nearly as possible to the relationship between the child and its natural parents.
I should like to refer briefly to the specific proposals contained in the Bill. Clause 1 is divided into two parts of quite a different nature. Subsection (1), which has in mind a decision of the courts and is really for the purpose of removing doubt, is designed to make it clear that an illegitimate child may be adopted by the mother or by the natural father, either solely or jointly with the spouse of the mother or the spouse of the natural father. Subsection (2) is a new provision proposing that a child living in this country may be adopted here even though it is not of British birth. This is a new proposal for the consideration of the House. Thus, there may be French people living in England who desire to adopt a French child who is also in this country, or there may be illegitimate children born to foreign women overseas, perhaps during the war, who have been brought here, who may be desired to be adopted by people in this country. It must be borne in mind that in all these matters the discretion of the court to which application is made still remains.
The next four Clauses deal with restrictions upon the making of orders and the conditions which may be imposed in them. Clause 2 alters the 1926 Act so as to require that no order shall be made if the applicant or joint applicants are less than 25 years of age or less than 21 years older than the infant. I propose, however, that these restrictions of age and difference of age should not obtain if either of the applicants is a relative of the infant. the definition of "relative" is widened in this measure. Clause 3, which I can deal with shortly, reproduces the consents Which are necessary before an order can be made, and makes it clear that the court has the power and the right to dispense with such consents in a proper case.
Clause 4 will at once, I think, be recognised by hon. Members who are lawyers as seeking to overcome a rule in a well-known case called Russell v. Russell, to 1481 remove the effect of that authority where the question of paternity arises in connection with an application for an adoption order. That case decided that neither spouse might give evidence tending to show that he or she did not have marital intercourse if such evidence would tend to bastardise the child prima facie conceived in wedlock. I think I can best deal with that authority by referring to the observations of the Committee on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Denning, as he then was, which commented upon the rule in Russell v. Russell in this way:We have had much evidence in favour of its abolition and none for retaining it. We recommend that it should be altered"—and then certain suggestions are made. In my view, to do away with this most artificial rule, if I may respectfully call it so, in adoption cases would save time, trouble and expense, and would in my submission facilitate justice.
I feel that Clause 5 will be regarded by the House as of great importance. It seeks to ensure that no adoption order shall be made in any case unless there has been a probationary period of three months during which the child has been in the care and possession of the applicant, and during which the local welfare authority has had surveillance of the case. Hitherto a probationary period has been necessary only when an adoption society arranged the adoption. It is now proposed to make it necessary in every case, and this is one of the proposals made by both the Curtis Committee and the Gamon Committee. I would add, because I think it is important, that I do not think this provision will increase greatly the work of welfare authorities, since the proviso excludes cases in which the welfare authority already has to supervise under existing legislation, and in most other cases local authorities would be likely to be parties to the proceedings as guardians ad litem or in the capacity in loco parentis.
Clause 6 is included, I admit, rather for expediency, but I am given to believe that it does sometimes happen that when children are returned to an adoption society under Section 6 of the 1939 Act within the probationary period of three months the society may have no accommodation or facilities for looking after the child. The proposal here is that the 1482 society should be empowered to nominate some suitable person to look after the child.
Clause 7 is administrative, and provides that the local authority to act for the purpose of child adoption shall be the council of the county or county borough. Other local authorities, it is thought, have not the staff and machinery for the purpose. Again, that is a recommendation of the Curtis and Gamon Committees.
Clause 8 is designed to give effect, at any rate in part, to the second major principle which I ventured to advance in the earlier part of my observations: namely, to effect a relationship between adopted child and adopters as similar as possible to that of child and its natural parents. The first provision under this Clause is that the adopter and the adopted child shall be deemed to be within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity; the second is that, in the case of an illegitimate child who is adopted an affiliation order in respect of that child shall cease to have effect, the purpose being so that mercenary motives may be excluded. Further, an order committing the infant to the care of a fit person under the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, shall cease to have effect.
I would observe that I should like to have added under this part of the Bill proposals dealing with the question of succession and inheritance so as to put the adopted child in a position similar to the natural child; but the framing in a short time of Clauses which would have to deal with complicated questions of settlement and entail, and the rest, has not been possible. I express the hope that if, as I sincerely trust, this Bill reaches the Committee stage, that matter may be dealt with then.
Clause 9, although rather a matter of machinery, does embrace a principle which I think will commend itself to hon. Members, its purpose being, in truth, to take further steps to conceal the fact of illegitimacy. It deals with the shape of the Adopted Children Register. The situation at present is that, if the date of birth of the child is unknown there may be entered in the register either the words "date of birth unknown" or "date of birth on or about" a certain date, which would in my view indicate 1483 to those seeing the register the fact of illegitimacy. The proposal in the Bill is that the court shall be empowered to fix a date, such date being inserted in the register as a specific date. The Clause makes further provision to assist in the keeping of the register, but I do not think it necessary to deal with that in detail.
Those, in broad outline, are the proposals contained in this measure. I would say that at one time I had considered the desirability of endeavouring to formulate a codified measure; but I have thought it right to introduce an amending Bill first. Possibly it may be thought proper to consider codification later on. In legislation dealing with children a number of phrases have been used to describe children who are less fortunate. Thus, in our discussions on education we spoke of the "handicapped child," and in our consideration of the Children Act of the "deprived child." Here is a further enlargement of that phraseology. We are considering the position, I suggest, of the unwanted child. In some measure this is, perhaps, the saddest phrase of all, but if the Bill is any step towards a state of affairs where there will be no child unwanted by somebody, I am not fearful of the Bill's reception.
I must say a word of thanks to those who assisted me in this task. I hope that the purpose of the Bill will commend itself to hon. Members in all quarters of the House, and that the House will be ready to give it a Second Reading, joining later in improving it in Committee. If it should be thought that the proposals in the Measure, and their introduction, warrant any commendation, that commendation should go to a very considerable body of men and women of public spirit who have laboured devotedly for a long time and have given careful and anxious thought to this human problem.
§ Mr. Speaker
Does the hon. and learned Member wish to have the Motion seconded? It is not really necessary for an Order of the Day.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
We are all deeply grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield), 1484 who has brought this Bill forward to be read a Second time. It will be generally agreed that the way in which he has presented the Bill, and particularly the second part of it which makes the unwanted child definitely a child belonging to a family, having all the security that that family can offer, has commended the Bill to all our hearts. I am sure we all feel that no child should have a shadow cast across the threshold of its life. Much that has been said this morning will clear away that shadow and allow the child to step out into the sunlit day as a child that is wanted. All children are indeed wanted, and only the difficulties of adoption have prevented, in the past, unwanted children from coming to a family that deeply wants a child, and is willing to give a child the benefits, protection and security of ordinary family life.
From all these points of view we welcome the Bill. We agree with what Miss Horsbrugh's Committee said, and what the Committee on Deprived Children also said, that the best thing for the deprived child is adoption. The Bill closes some of the gaps, but not all of them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it will be possible in the Committee stage, if the Bill is given a Second Reading and the Government agree with it, as I am sure they will, to close up more of the loopholes. On one of them I shall want to make a few remarks shortly.
I should like to say how much I welcome the broadening which Clause 1 of the Bill offers to us, and particularly Subsection (2), which deals with the extension in this country of adoption of alien children. That is something which we have all wanted for a very long time. I remember many years ago that the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) and myself had, so to speak, a very large family of some 4,000 children who were everything that children ought to be: intelligent, high-spirited, good looking and naughty. Many people in this country would have liked to adopt those children, who were brought here during the difficult years of the Spanish civil war. Many of them were orphans, or had parents under sentence of death in political prisons. As the law then existed, they could not be adopted, and the same position exists at 1485 the present time. A great impetus has been given to this matter as a result of the war. I think the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) may tell us that there are large numbers of refugee children in this country, and others who want to come here from the refugee camps of Europe, who could be adopted legally by families in this country, and will be so adopted if the Bill reaches the Statute Book.
This is a matter which all of us will be happy to see changed. I hope that the Home Office will agree about it. Only a few months ago a Question was put down by an hon. Member opposite asking whether the children of the nationality of one of our Allies might be adopted. The Under-Secretary of State replied that as the law stood, it could not be done but he hoped he would have time to look into the matter, and that if a new Bill were put before the House that point would be noted. It looks as if we may be getting this Bill accepted, and then we can deal with the difficult situation of foreign-born children in this country whom our people are willing to adopt. I welcome the Bill's proposals on that point.
I should like to turn to Clause 3. I am very glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman has proposed three dispensations dealing with cases of desertion, failure to contribute, and withholding of consent. Under Clause 3 those three conditions can be dispensed with. There is a fourth case which is not set out here. It is perhaps an unusual case. I may even be wrong in law, in which case I should be glad to hear the views of the hon. and learned Member.
I had my attention drawn to a case not very long ago, of a young woman who had had an illegitimate child. She was paying for it and it was with foster parents. She married again. I understand that a second husband takes over all the liabilities of his wife—in this case the payments for the child; but this young woman did not wish to disclose to her husband the fact that she had had the illegitimate child. She was making a good go of her second marriage. The foster parents were very anxious to adopt the child, whom they had been looking after ever since its birth. In order to obtain adoption, we understood that it 1486 would be necessary for the young woman to ask the permission of her husband, but she did not wish to do so. It is a legal point which probably has not occurred very often, but it needs looking into. In any event it is a Committee point, but I thought if I mentioned it today, it would give the hon. and learned Gentleman a chance to look into the matter.
If I am right in my assumption that the second husband would have to give his consent to this adoption, I hope that this condition will be one of those which can be dispensed with, so that adoption may be proceeded with. Many a young woman may wish to start a new life without disclosing what has happened previously to marriage. There is no reason why she should not do so. Here we were faced with the difficulty of breaking into a happy marriage or, on the other hand, of leaving the child unadopted. We should like to see this kind of case taken into account in Committee.
Probably most people will look at Clause 5 which deals with the probationary period, and hope that it will be considerably strengthened. I should like to see all the recommendations of the Curtis Committee included in this Clause of the Bill. I do not want to take up points which my hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol), may wish to raise. She was a member of that Committee and did splendid work on it, but I feel strongly that there ought to be a possibility of making the probationary period longer. Six months would give a much better guarantee than three months. We have to take the greatest care that the natural parent of the child does not come to a decision too quickly.
I do not want to suggest that these things are not generally done as well as they might be done, but we know that in their anxiety to find children for adoption some societies are inclined to get the natural mother to sign on the spot, before she has had a real chance to decide whether she will keep her child or not. The natural mother ought to have sufficient time after the first shock of bearing an illegitimate child and the realisation of the social obloquy which still attaches to it, to decide what she shall do about the child. At first she may be only too anxious to be rid of the child. She may later think that the right thing is to keep 1487 it. Second thoughts may bring out more natural and maternal feelings.
During the period of probation, these children ought to come under the care of the children officer whose business it is to see that the adoptive home provides the proper atmosphere. Indeed, the officers ought not to wait for the end of the probationary period if they see that the situation is not satisfactory but should have the right to remove the child from that new home earlier. The hon. and learned Member for Chester has provided very good machinery for the removal of children in his Bill. The children need not go back to the adoption society if there is no room for them in the institution; it is always possible to find people willing to take care of them. Local authorities are getting longer and longer lists of people who are willing to do this work. There should be no hesitation in removing the child at once if the proposed home is found to be unsatisfactory.
During this period some test ought to be made of the health of the child and of the adopting parents. We do not want a child to go into homes where there is tuberculosis or some other form of disease which might be infectious to the child or might again deprive him of a parent or of proper financial support. The adopting parent ought also to know something of the health of the child. Many adopting parents would like to feel that they had the right to look after a delicate child and give it all possible help and financial assistance to build up its health, but one has to be very careful. One does not want to put a delicate child or a child suffering from disease into a home where it will not get all that is necessary for its recovery, care, attention and long holidays in sunshine; we want to be sure that the home can offer those things.
I very much welcome the later parts of the Bill which turn the child into a real member of the family. I hope that in the Committee stage the hon. and learned Member for Chester will try to find means of overcoming what has always been a difficulty in adoption cases—the question of the laws of inheritance. That may well provide a feast for the lawyers in their attempt to find a way of overcoming the difficulty. If we can do that. we may have an almost perfect Bill. I 1488 hope that the Bill will receive the full support of every hon. Member in the House.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Dagenham)
I also very much welcome the Bill. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) will not mind if I take one point and deal with it rather fully. I disagree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) about the probationary period under Clause 5. Everybody in the House will agree that as far as possible the mother or the putative father of the child should be encouraged to adopt the child and make it part of their own family, but one has also to look at the matter from the point of view of the parents who propose to adopt the child, if they do not happen to be relatives.
Recently there came to my notice a very hard case which should be borne in mind when we are revising the law. It was the case of a happily married man and woman. The woman was about 40 and then had a small boy of four, and they felt that they would like another child. However, it was impossible for the woman to add further to her own family, and the parents were therefore very keen to adopt a child. They went to an adoption society and took a child into their home. The boy was very enthusiastic at the arrival of a small sister. However, after the little girl had been in the household for a fortnight or so, her mother suddenly arrived and insisted on taking her away. The adopting mother was very upset and so was the small boy. The adopting mother had had all the emotional delight of adding a member to her family and then she suddenly experienced this great blow. The parents decided at first not to adopt another child after that disappointment, but their son was so upset at not having a sister after all that they altered their minds. They obtained another child from the adoption society, only to have the same thing happen all over again. The woman's emotional upset in those circumstances can be imagined.
Something must be done to guard against that kind of thing. I recognise that every precaution must be taken to see that a child goes into the right kind of home and that there should be a probationary period to see whether the child will settle down and 1489 whether the adopting parents want it, but before a child undergoes that probationary period in a new home, a period should be provided during which the child is under the care of the adoption society and the mother has an opportunity of reconsidering her decision. If she has a period of a month or two to think it over, she may get over the initial shock and discover that she can provide a home for the child with her parents or in some other way, and decide that she would prefer to keep her child, after all. If at the end of that period the mother should decide not to keep her child and the child is adopted, she should not then be able suddenly to change her mind and upset the emotional life of the family which has adopted her child. Provision ought to be made for this in the Bill.
It is a difficult subject. We do not want to have too long a period in which the child is unsettled. In the case of a child of over three years, the mother's decision to give up the child should be taken as final and there should be no probationary period for her, but if the child is under three, a probationary period is desirable. It means that we have to try to make arrangements by which the local authority, the adoption society, or some other responsible authority would take responsibility for the child over that period, place it somewhere temporarily and, when that period is over, make arrangements for it to be taken by the parents who wish to adopt it. Therefore, I disagree with the hon. Member for Epping in saying that the three months probationary period in the new home should be extended further because, if we are to have a month or three months, as I suggest, before that, then a period of up to six months altogether before the child is finally settled is enough even for a small child.
I hope also it will be possible to look at the existing law to see how far it may be necessary to make any changes to assist women, particularly unmarried women, who may want to adopt a child. There is a great deal of prejudice against allowing a woman who may be unmarried and earning her own living to adopt a child—sometimes it is automatically assumed that it may be an illegitimate child of her own.
1490 Recently I have come across an instance of two women living together who wanted children. One of them was a school mistress and another was doing some job on the land. Realising the unlikelihood of getting married and having children of their own, they decided to adopt two children. They managed to do it because one of them happened to be a distant relative of the children. They took two children, a boy and a girl, one six, another eight years old. It has been a happy experiment. The two women have had a great deal of joy in bringing up the children, who are now practically grown up, and who have had a home which otherwise they would not have had. There was a lot of prejudice in that area at first, and the women had difficulty in making arrangements. Finally, however, it was necessary that one only should carry out the adoption, although they wanted to do it jointly.
Everyone will agree that adoption is much better than a child having to go into an orphanage. I hope that the two points I have raised can be dealt with in Committee. I welcome the Bill, and I hope that the House will not only give it a Second Reading, but will carry it into law.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
As I have been closely associated for many years with an adoption society of high repute, I thought it would be proper if I made a few remarks about this Bill, and also offered a few criticisms in regard to some of its Clauses. First, however, I should like to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) and the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) on the way they moved and supported the Bill. I was impressed by their moderation of language, their obvious sincerity and their conviction.
At the same time I think the Bill does not cover the points that are in their minds. The Bill does not go far enough, neither is it comprehensive enough to fulfil their good intentions. We all know where good intentions can lead us, but I believe that the Home Secretary—who, after all, will be responsible for the execution of this Bill, possibly in more ways than one—would be more properly designated to bring in a Measure which 1491 will not only eliminate some of the existing faults in our adoption Acts but, at the same time, cover the many problems in regard to adoption still outstanding.
I hope I have not implied that this is a bad Bill. I am told that it has the blessing of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, that great society to which I give my modest contribution every year. But it might also, and just as well, have the blessing of the R.S.P.C.A. or the Association of County Councils for Scotland—they are all admirable bodies, but they know nothing about adoption which, to my mind, is one of the most serious and difficult of the social problems that confront us today.
A Bill of some sort is necessary, as I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department would agree. Even the regulation Act of 1939, although it gave many valuable rights to the Home Secretary for bringing in orders and regulations to deal with any issue which might arise, was not sufficient. As my hon. and learned Friend suggested, there should be a codifying Adoption Bill, not dealing with the problem piecemeal as this Bill does. While I do not propose to divide the House on this question, I believe that this Bill tinkers with the problem. It is too big a problem to be tinkered with and, from my own preference, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should give us an assurance that he will introduce a Bill covering the entire question and codifying the existing Acts.
As my hon. and learned Friend explained, the adoption of children was regulated in England and Wales by the Act of 1926, and in Scotland by the Act of 1926, followed by the Act of 1930. Before that, there was no legal security for an adopted child. There are certain broad principles that we who associated with adoption societies would like to see incorporated in any Adoption Bill. First, we want to see that the welfare of the child and its future are the chief considerations in any Act of Parliament. Also, as the hon. Lady said, we want to make sure that the health of the child and of the adopting parents is tested and found good before adoption is allowed to take place. We believe also that the home atmosphere of the adopting parents should be verified to ensure that there is 1492 likely to be love and confidence and trust between both the adopting parents and the child.
None of these principles has been specified in any Act yet, and that is why I am drawing the attention of the House particularly to these points. We believe that money or social position should be regarded as quite unimportant and, of course, we want to make sure that the legal position as regards inheritance is tidied up. At present it is most anomalous. The child, when adopted, loses no right to any inheritance from its natural parents, but at the same time, cannot gain anything from its adopting parents unless left by will. To take an extraordinary case, supposing two adopting parents and their adopted child were in a plane together; it crashed, and they were all killed, and the adopting parents had left their money to that child. What happens to the money? It goes to the next-of-kin; in other words it goes to the real parents who probably have not been seen or heard of for years. That is a fantastic result of the existing situation and undoubtedly it should be cleared up. The Under-Secretary of State may advise us if it is possible to put that right in Committee. Then perhaps we can mould the Bill into an instrument such as my hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Lady desire, and I should he happy to help.
We think it extremely important that all adoptions should be carried out either by, or with the approval of, or supervision of, a registered adoption society who know the work, have studied the problem and given their lives to devising the best methods for carrying out adoption work. I have seen it stated that only 20 per cent. of adoptions are carried out by societies.
§ Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)
The Curtis Committee discovered that 25 per cent. were carried out by adoption societies and the rest either by third parties, local authorities, or private individuals. That was in 1934.
§ Sir T. Moore
My information is that last year the percentage was 20 per cent. and that the remainder were by local authorities or private individuals. We believe that is wrong and should be rectified. My hon. and learned Friend referred to the Committee set up under Judge Gamon. If he studies the Report 1493 of that Committee, he will find all the features I have described as being required in an Adoption Act, based on Judge Gamon's recommendations.
One of the other matters with which this Bill does not deal is the very frequent situation when a mother of an illegitimate child is almost hysterically ready to relieve herself of her unwanted burden. That problem should be dealt with, but it is not dealt with by this Bill. There is a danger that local authorities become too anxious to shed their burdens. Space is very limited and they are anxious to get rid of the child and its mother, but with no hostility to the child. If they can find four walls and a roof, they are apt to place the child without sufficient thought. One of the worst features in regard to adoption, is the way in which doctors often prescribe adoption, like prescribing a bottle of medicine, for elderly and neurotic women. It is arranged off the record, so to speak, through no society, and the consequence to the child is disastrous. A case came to my notice of a doctor who prescribed adoption to a woman of 60. What hope is there for that child? None of these things is legislated for in the Bill.
Two or three comments were made by my hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Epping about the value of Clause 1 (2). There is a danger about that, because it makes it possible for a foreign child of any nationality to be adopted, provided it is resident in England or Wales. But the so-called child can be adopted up to the age of 21. I am sure the House will appreciate the danger. There is the possibility of securing a cheap maid of foreign extraction, for instance, with no thought whatever of the wellbeing of the person adopted. That is possible under this Bill, but the hon. Member for Epping seemed to think it a tremendous achievement. I think the matter is worth more examination.
§ Mrs. Manning
Does the hon. and gallant Member realise that bad will can be exercised towards an English child, just as much as towards a child of foreign birth?
§ Sir T. Moore
Clause 3 (2) means that a mother can, and probably will, blindly give consent to the adoption of a child. That might, and probably would, be quite acceptable if the adoption were carried out through a registered and competent adoption society, but unhappily the bulk of these adoptions are arranged outside societies and the result is very often unhappiness to the child. I think it would be advisable that the address of the adopters should not be included in the consent. Our belief is that once adoption has been ratified, or even before, the parent and the adopter should be unknown to each other and undiscoverable. That would prevent such an incident as that described by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker).
I object, and we object, to the phraseology of Clause 4—(Evidence of paternity). Whatever the intention may be, it gives power to married couples to bastardise their children. There is no getting away from that. Let any hon. Member read Clause 4 and that must come into his mind if he has studied it carefully. In Clause 6 the word "suitable" is used. If there is no room in the home or institution or the adoption society's premises, it is provided that the child should be handed to someone who is regarded as suitable. But who is to decide what a "suitable" type of person is? The language is too vague and ambiguous. Much more precision should be reached. There is too much at stake—the whole life and happiness of an individual.
I do not like Clause 7 (2), which gives local authorities supreme power and control, yet without knowledge. The whole future of an adopted child is at their disposal. I think that is putting too much responsibility and too much power on local authorities, even with children's officers now appointed up and down the country. They have not yet the experience, the knowledge, the judgment which is necessary. In regard to Clause 9 (3), we consider it is most undesirable that the adopted child should know its own original surname. Why is it necessary? It raises ideas in its mind about the past. The child can delude itself that it is the son of a prince, etc., which raises all sorts of objectionable features in later life. There is no reason for it, there is no value in it, there is nothing 1495 to be gained from it. I would like, and I think everyone would like to see the word "illegitimate" obliterated as far as possible from all documents or actions concerned with adoption. I cannot understand the mention in Clause 9 (3) of the child's name. There would be far more advantage if the adopter's name were given instead of the child's.
I may have seemed unduly critical; my criticism has not been hostile but constructive. That is because, like everyone present today, I and those for whom I speak have the good of the child at heart. We want to make sure that adoption is a success. We want to give every adopted child a fair chance in life and to rectify any legal defect by which that fair chance can be destroyed. I shall certainly not vote against the Bill if it is carried to a Division, nor do I propose to carry it to a Division, but I hope that we shall get an assurance either that the Bill can be made satisfactory in Committee, or that the Home Office will introduce a codifying Bill which will cover the points I have made.
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)
I am pleased to support this Bill, and I would also congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) upon the splendid way in which he moved its Second Reading. To one who, like myself, has been rather entangled in a mass of legal bibliography in the last day or two, the hon. and learned Member made its provisions so perfectly clear as to make one realise afresh what a long way this Bill goes towards remedying at least some of the defects in the present law relating to adoption. I agree with other hon. Members that the Bill does not cover all the points which some of us would like to see incorporated in fresh adoption law, but it goes some way and introduces many new points of great advantage.
One of the interesting phenomena of this post-war period is the long waiting list of people who are eager and anxious to adopt children. Adoption societies and local authorities are at present in a position to be able to select homes very carefully because there are so many prospective adopters who desire to have children in their homes. As I say, it is one of the interesting features of the 1496 times in which we live that it is so easy to place these children. Nevertheless it is most important that all parties concerned should be carefully safeguarded at every stage. It cannot be emphasised too often that successful adoption is the best way of dealing with these little children who are deprived of a good natural home. As has already been said, not only does the child get the love, affection and security of a good home but also a set of relatives and friends, and wider interests. The adopters get responsibilities and the rights and pleasures approximating very closely to those of natural parenthood. It is gratifying that so many children are being adopted.
One of the points with which I should like to deal is the manner in which young mothers are frequently induced to sign an agreement for adoption. It has been brought to my notice that a young mother, tired and exhausted, is often presented, very soon after the confinement, with a form folded over so that nothing appears except a line for her to sign on, and someone says to her "Sign here". A pen is put into her hand, and she, not feeling very strong or well, signs. It is not until some time afterwards that she discovers she has signed away her child. Sometimes this inducement to sign is made before the child is born, at a time when the expectant mother is often in a very distressed mental state—she is frightened, and bewildered, her parents may have turned against her or her young man has turned against her. Again, she signs without fully understanding that there are at least three months in which she may withdraw her consent. It would be desirable for an Amendment to be introduced into this Bill, if it reaches the Committee Stage, as I hope and trust it will, which would require applicants to get confirmation of agreement to adopt, not less than three months after the first agreement.
I welcome Clause 5, especially subsections (1, a) and (1, b), which imply that there shall be at least three months supervision or investigation of the home into which the child is received. I should like to be assured that this covers all kinds of adoptions—those made by adoption societies and local authorities and those which are direct placings, and that particularly in the case of private placings the fulfilment of that obligation shall be required. Would it not be wise 1497 to make that implied intention a little more explicit?
Another defect in the Bill—and I am only making these points because some of these matters were brought out very forcibly before the Curtis Committee—which I hope will be remedied is the absence of any provision to stop what I can only describe as the trafficking in young children. Some disquieting evidence came before the Curtis Committee, and reference is made in paragraph 455 of the Curtis Report. Hon. Members will recollect that in 1946 there was a case which attracted a considerable amount of publicity and notoriety, which aroused public indignation and led to a demand for a change in the law.
The point with which I am dealing refers to cases in which people are in a position to have some authority over young mothers, and in particular over very distressed young women who are about to give birth to an illegitimate child. It was found that some of these babies were being sent long distances a very few days after birth to homes which had not been inspected, without even the security of a guarantee that an application for an adoption would be made, and without any care as to the risks of the journey and the danger to the child. Some such children have arrived in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester and other towns in a distressed condition after long journeys, and some have died. It is most necessary that a Clause should be added to the Bill during the Committee stage, prohibiting private persons from acting as adoption agencies. If something of that sort could be added it would be a very fine safeguard.
There is a further point I wish to make with regard to paragraph 457 in the Curtis Report. This deals with adopting parents who have previously been refused an order to adopt. It is true that parents who have been refused in one court may go to another court, having signed a declaration concerning only the child in question. In other words, if adopting parents have been refused an order in the case of a previous child that is not counted. It is only counted if they have been refused an order in the case of the child before the court. I consider we ought to tighten that up if possible and say that if there has been a refusal 1498 by any court in respect of any child at least further investigation should be made.
I give a warm welcome to Clause 1 (2) dealing with alien children, the point which caused some disquiet to the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). Every one who in their public work has had anything to do with adoption will realise that this is a tremendously important addition to this Bill. I heard of an incident only the other day which I found very moving. A friend of mine who has done valuable and important voluntary work in the matter of adoption told me of a case which came before the home with which she works. It was before Christmas and a delightful little boy came for adoption. They found they could not adopt because he was an alien. It was later discovered that his birthplace was Bethlehem. That incident did seem to me to have some poignancy, both because of the time and bcause of the particular place where the child was born. It is of course, only one of many and the hon. and learned Member for Chester is to be congratulated on having included this subsection which will make it possible for little children who are aliens to become members of a happy English family.
I think this is a splendid Bill so far as it goes, and the hon. and learned Member will not mind if the chief criticism is "The Bill is good—what there is of it." We all wish it went a little further. I hope that it will reach the Committee stage and that many matters which hon. Members raised out of their experience and knowledge of this subject, will be incorporated in it. Then it will become a useful adjunct to that little group of Bills which, in our minds, we call the "Childrens' Charter."
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mrs. Ganley (Battersea, South)
I wish to associate myself with all that has been said, and to thank the hon. and learned Member for the way in which he introduced this Bill. He emphasised, and I think we all agree, that the reason for adoption is to care for the child. It is obvious that the main point is that the child is being given a home. It is going to a home of its own, a home in which it can feel that it is being cared for. 1499 That is the reason why it is so much more useful to have adoptions arranged whereby that can take place, than to have large institutions brought into being, as the Home Secretary has power to do at the present time. It is more than care that is needed, it is an anchor to both the children and the parents. There is an altogether different feeling in that relation. Both the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) and the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) emphasised in the first place that the relations between the mother and child must never lightly be broken and that nothing must be done to prevent the mother from really wanting to part with her child. I consider that extremely important. Clause 3 states:any consent required by this section for the making of an adoption order may be given by any person without knowing the name of the proposed adopter, and may be given whether or not an application for such an order is pending.My reading of that is that a mother, when her child is born may sign an order saying "Yes, I give consent to adoption," and that may be the end of what that mother has to do with her child for ever.
§ Mrs. Ganley
On the other hand, having had some experience of adoption work in the juvenile courts, I know that it has there been the rule in the past that the knowledge and consent of the mother must be obtained, and, where possible, the attendance of the mother in court. That is in order that the mother might realise what was happening with the child, and might know that the adoption was taking place. That was the position and many times—
§ Mrs. Ganley
I am speaking from experience in the juvenile court. I am quite well aware that, in the High Court and the county court this attendance was dispensed with. But I am saying that I feel that in these instances in the juvenile court the right of the mother was very much better safeguarded, because it was accepted and understood and recognised. Very often we adjourned cases in order that the mother might attend the court 1500 and know that she was giving up all claim to the child; but it was a question of safeguarding the right of the mother until the child was adopted. Until the child was adopted, that mother had some knowledge of the child and it was not completely wiped out of her mind.
I agree, as I say, that it does not happen in the High Court and the county court, but I suggest it is a safeguard to the mother. The safeguard that has hitherto been exercised in the juvenile court is a much better safeguard for the mother and her interests than what has happened in the High Court and the county court up to now. I would plead that that question should be looked at again. We should realise that while there may be cases where, for all sorts of reasons, it is desirable that the mother shall relinquish all thoughts of the child, at the time she comes out of the home, or hospital, or wherever she may be, I feel that she should have some knowledge and that knowledge should be the contact, as we still get it in the juvenile court.
The hon. and learned Member for Chester referred to the case of Russell v. Russell, which has made the position clear with regard to a man and wife living together and the desire for the repudiation of paternity. It may be that there was only that one case and that the law turned it down, but there are a large number of people who might be in a most difficult position. In cases where people cannot afford to get the protection of the law, women may suffer because at present it is possible for a man to deny paternity if he deserts his wife. A situation could arise where there is a family with two or three children. Another child comes and the husband deserts the wife. The wife may wonder what is to happen to her children and she may ask for an adoption of one child, perhaps by a relative. The husband may deny paternity of that child. That is a serious situation and, arising out of it, the woman and the child would be condemned.
I welcome the provision which allows the extension of the law to children who are other than British by birth and are resident in the country. At the moment a certain length of time must pass before a child is old enough to accept recognition. I had a case of some people 1501 who wanted to adopt a child when it was young but they had to wait until the child was of an age when it could consent. I feel that some of these small matters which, of course, are of great importance in the life of the people concerned, can be cleared up to their benefit. Another question concerns the amending of the name, the surname and the date of birth. The Bill provides that an adoption order may be amended by the correction of the name, the surname or the date of birth, and it further states:where an adoption order is so amended any necessary correction of or addition to the Adopted Children Register shall be made accordingly.Where and how will that amendment be made? Will it be merely a question of making an entry in the register or does it mean that the amendment and alteration of the original adoption order should be made before the court in which that order was given?
I very much welcome the improvements which this Bill will bring and the easement which will be given to children who need so much the safety, settlement and care which many people desire to lavish upon them. I ask that we should still safeguard the rights of the women concerned in all these cases. As I see it, this means that where a woman has come into this position, sometimes through no fault of her own, her rights have not been considered sufficiently. A woman in these circumstances—whether sinned against or sinning—still has the right to expect humanity and consideration.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been for the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). As I understand him, he does not intend to oppose this Bill but he is not in favour of it. He made certain criticisms with which I disagree and about which I think a voice should be raised from this side of the House. He appeared to criticise the Bill because it was not a Government Measure, because the Home Secretary had not introduced a Measure codifying the legislation on this subject. We would all agree that such a Measure is overdue and could be advantageously introduced; but that is not a reason for refusing to give a Second 1502 Reading to this admirable and modest little Bill. So far, the Government have shown no sign that they intend to introduce a Measure of this nature. In the circumstances, it seems right and proper that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) should introduce one. One often finds that Private Members' Bills have the advantage that they are short, easily understood, and to some purpose. The same cannot always be said of Government Measures.
My hon. and gallant Friend appeared to think that people who wanted to adopt children were, or might, be filled with the most curious and inhuman motives. I was astounded when I heard him suggest that someone might desire to adopt a child of foreign nationality in order to make it their servant. My hon. and gallant Friend really should have more faith in human nature. If he thinks that everyone is of that nature, there is no purpose in having adoption at all. His criticisms fall completely to the ground, because a court is provided in order to decide these matters. A court can decide quite easily and simply if a person is actuated by improper motives, and it can prevent it. That is why the courts are provided. If we are to go into every single sort of motive there would be no end to the matter. We would never get a useful and helpful piece of legislation such as this passed into law. I agree with him on many points, but I do not think that it is a fair criticism of the Bill to say that it does not deal with the succession of adopted children in regard to inheritance and so forth. We all agree—
§ Mr. Gage
I would certainly assist my hon. and gallant Friend to draft such a Clause. He would not find it easy. I think that such a Clause would have the support of all of us if the hon. and gallant Gentleman introduced it. It does not seem to be a fair criticism to make that, because my hon. and learned Friend has not had the time or opportunity to introduce many provisions which he would wish to introduce, therefore one should condemn this Bill.
I also wish to refer to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for South Battersea (Mrs. Ganley). I confess that I may 1503 not have completely followed her argument. So far as I understood it, she was making a plea for the natural mother of an adopted child to have some dealings or connections with the child after adoption. The whole essence of adoption is that the mother should cease to have anything to do with the child afterwards. If one thinks that that is sad and unfortunate, the answer is that the mother must not allow her child to be adopted. Once she makes up her mind to allow her child to be adopted, something like a curtain must come down between that mother and her child, shutting off the child completely from the mother. There is no halfway house, and we cannot have these things both ways. We have to consider the welfare of the child, and it is quite right that we should in a Bill of this nature and the sole consideration should be that the child cannot possibly go through life with two mothers pulling in opposite directions. One sees enough of that, unhappily, in matrimonial disputes where a child's life has been ruined, and I do not think that anyone would wish to do that in this Bill.
There are one or two other matters on which I should like to comment shortly. With regard to the Clause dealing with the adoption of children who are not of British nationality, I welcome it, and I think it is long overdue, but it requires a little more consideration, because we have to consider the nationality of the adopted child. I am not quite sure what the position would be, but I think this is a matter which could probably be dealt with in Committee by some additional Clause which would provide that the nationality of the adopted child became the nationality of the adopter. If that is not done, I can see that there may be complications and difficulties afterwards.
With regard to Clause 4, which I think was criticised wholly unnecessarily by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs, I would point out to him that the Clause deals purely with a technical matter, and that it is quite wrong to say that the parents could not give evidence of paternity because they always give that evidence in a different way. This Clause merely removes a technical difficulty which lawyers have been anxious to get out of the way for a long time.
1504 Those are the only matters to which I wish to refer, save to say in conclusion that I agree to some extent with the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) about the probationary period. This is a very arguable matter, but I am inclined to think that the probationary period is sometimes unsettling for the child. I think there is a point to be considered there, and I should not like to express a view too definitely one way or the other. In regard to the other point raised by the hon. Member, concerning the adoption of a child by a spinster, I see no reason why that should not be done, but I think there is a danger in the case where two people who are not related by the tie of marriage adopt a child—for instance, two spinsters or two men. Such people would have no tie between them, and there would only be the tie with the child. If at a later period they went their separate ways, it might well be disastrous for the child, and I think that is the answer to the point which the hon. Member raised.
In the main, I am sure the House will agree that this is an admirable and excellent little Bill, and one which is designed, as I am sure it will, to assist in this very difficult problem of the adoption of children. I think the House is indebted to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester for introducing the Bill and for the admirable way in which he did it.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)
I welcome this Bill very much and I hope it will receive its Second Reading, although I also hope that in Committee one or two additions to it will be made.
First, I should like to refer to what was said by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) in his comments on the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Battersea (Mrs. Ganley) I do not think my hon. Friend intended that there should be any question of a natural mother keeping in touch with the child after it had been adopted, but I do agree with her view that the natural mother ought to be able to have some knowledge of the kind of home to which her child is going. This question is an extremely difficult one, because obviously the most important thing is the welfare and happiness of the child, though at the same time one does not want entirely to exclude the love that 1505 a mother may have for her child, despite the fact that her position is so unhappy that she cannot keep the child. What happens in the juvenile courts is that, when the case comes up, the mother has to be informed that the case is being heard, and the court has a discretion to withhold the name and address of the adopter or the place to which the child is going. Thus, that mother will have no information afterwards concerning where her child is, but she will have the satisfaction of knowing the kind of home to which it has gone.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould
Because it is provided in the juvenile court that she shall be informed what sort of a home it is to which her child is going. I think it would be a good thing if all the courts dealing with this question were under the same jurisdiction, and if in all courts, including the county courts and the higher courts, when adoption cases are dealt with, the procedure was the same and there was no discrimination.
Turning to another matter that was raised by the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol), I should like to emphasise the question of consent. It is a very serious, and often a very cruel, thing for a mother, when she is in a very low state and sees nothing but blackness and gloom ahead, to sign a paper which she knows means that she is giving her consent to the adoption, and to find after a time that she would like to have her child back, but is never informed that if, within three months, she wants to do so, she can withdraw her consent to that child being adopted and have it returned to her. I think it ought to be made obligatory for every mother to be told that she has three months in which she can, if she likes, decide that she will have her child back. I realise that the sort of thing which my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) mentioned might arise, and I think it is extremely hard lines, although I do not see how we can obviate the possibility of cases of that sort arising.
Only yesterday, a friend of mine who is the chairman of a juvenile court told me of a case of a woman coming to her for a signature, and it transpired that the woman had signed her child away when it was only one month old. This 1506 mother said to my friend, the magistrate: "I feel as if I have signed my death warrant." My friend told her: "You need not feel like that, because you can decide that you want to have your child back; it is only one month old, and there are still two months left in which you can decide to have it back." The woman was very nervous and said: "I am under so many obligations that I could not do that." However, eventually the mother did withdraw her consent to the child being adopted. This happened some years ago, and subsequently the mother married an extremely nice man who was anxious to adopt the child, and they are now living very happily indeed, and the child is with its natural mother and stepfather. Obviously, if that sort of thing can happen, it is desirable. Therefore, I think it ought to be made legally obligatory that every mother should know what are her rights in regard to keeping her child and withdrawing her consent to its adoption during the probationary period.
There is another thing which I hope will be added to the Bill during the Committee stage. It is the case of a direct handling over of a child by the natural mother, as often happens, to another woman. There were a good many such cases during the war when, I believe, more illegitimate children were born. This difficulty arose in a great number of cases. I do not know why it was always supposed to happen in a fish queue, but the fact remains that it was nearly aways in a fish queue that a mother was alleged to have handed over her baby to another woman.
However, to come back to the serious side of the matter, the woman who willingly took the child would later apply to the court of summary jurisdiction for an adoption order. An investigation would then be made as to whether her home was suitable for the child to be adopted into. It might be found that the home was completely unsuitable, in which case the adoption order would be refused. Under the present law there is no procedure, in the case of direct placings, by which the child can be removed from the unsuitable home unless it is so unsuitable that the matter can he dealt with under the Young Persons Act or by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Of 1507 course, there are many homes which are completely unsuitable.
If a court of summary jurisdiction decides that a home is unsuitable for such an adoption, that equally means that the home is unsuitable for the child to be in, but it need not necessarily mean that the child is being physically ill-treated, or is not being properly fed, or not being sent to school. I know of a case where a women who had a family of boys was very pleased to adopt a little girl; but that litle girl, without being in any way directly ill-treated, was virtually a drudge to the family. All the other children were boys, and this child got practically no playtime because she had to look after the family. Of course, that sort of thing might happen in a home where the little girl was the natural daughter of her parents.
I submit that we want to do the best we possibly can for the welfare of these children. Even if, in some cases, we cannot do something which we should like to do about a normal home which is not a very good home for a legitimate child living with its parents, we should do everything we can to safeguard the children who are not living in their natural homes. The fact that we may be faced with this difficulty in regard to children living in their natural homes should be no reason for excluding the possibility of the court of summary jurisdiction making an order for a child in an unsuitable home to be handed over to the local authority. In that case it would be properly looked after, and would very likely be found a suitable home into which to be adopted, because there are many more people wishing to adopt children than there are children to adopt. I hope that this really important thing will be added to the Bill during the Committee stage, although by and large I welcome the Bill as a great step towards helping to create many more happy and comfortable homes for adopted children.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
I should like to add, if I may humbly do so, my compliments to the hon. and learned Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill for the thought which prompted him to bring it forward, and for the very interesting and lucid manner 1508 in which he addressed the House this morning. At the same time, however, I wish that he had been a little bolder, although I know that what he probably had in mind was that, in introducing a Private Member's Bill, he would very likely have a much better chance of getting it through if he did not put into it everything he had in mind. I believe that the Government will accept the Measure; I cannot see how on earth they can avoid supporting a Bill containing provisions of such a necessary nature. Indeed, I think they would have accepted it even if it had been very much wider than it is at present, because it deals with an extremely important subject. It is a matter of the lives of youngsters who, in due course, are expected to grow into manhood and womanhood with unblemished memories and untarnished ideas, in so far as their paternity, their antecedents, and anything which may make their future lives miserable in that particular regard, are concerned.
This Measure and those which have been introduced hitherto are intended to normalise the lives of individuals. It has been rightly said that "the child is father to the man." When it comes to the question, not of the so-called "unwanted" child—because it has been rightly said this morning that such a child is wanted by many who cannot at present adopt it—but the child who is placed in a peculiar position in consequence of some act which is no fault of his or hers, but which has placed him or her in that particular position, it is a matter of tremendous importance. It must be regarded by every thinking man and woman as being the concern, not merely of that child, but of every individual who thinks about the position of the nation, and, indeed, of the world as a whole.
I remember, as no doubt the House will remember, some of the reflections of the poet who wrote of the possibilities that might have been open to the humble whose graves he was visiting, had they only had opportunities in life. He wrote:Perhaps in this neglected spot is laidSome heart once pregnant with celestial fire;Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd.Or wak'd to ecstacy the living lyre.How many of these children who in the past have not had the opportunity of 1509 a home which they could call their own, or proper surroundings, to whom the word "father" or "mother" meant so much, might have been thought about in similar terms by any ordinary individual who stopped to consider their lot for a few minutes? I have seen many hundreds of youngsters who are craving for the happiness of having a father or a mother. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) was quite right when she indicated that I might know perhaps a little more about this subject of refugee children than some hon. Members. What torture it must be to the mind of a child who has no person known to him as his father or mother. He does not know where to turn. It is our duty as legislators to see to it that a child's interests in such circumstances are so protected that any difference between a child who has known parents and a home, and a child who has not, is as small as it can possibly be made.
I know that when one reads an Act of Parliament and tries to interpret what is meant by the Act, it appears a very dry and colourless thing compared with the flesh of the material with which it attempts to deal. Many Members say, "Why are lawyers needed in these matters? Let us deal with all problems as laymen." There are very few people in lay life who are given so deep an insight into the lives of those men and women who are exceptional cases. After all, we are today dealing with the exceptional cases in life, although there is so large a number of them and the lawyer frequently gets to know what is happening to such people from the cradle to the grave.
How often have lawyers found in the course of their experience that the so-called criminal acts of men and women have derived from the fact that they have not had proper homes, that psychological reactions have arisen in them because they have pondered and worried about their abnormality in not having had recognisable parents, and from the cruelties which have accompanied the fact that there is "a dislike for the unlike."? That dislike for the unlike is revealed perhaps even more among human beings in cases involving illegitimacy, and so on. Take, for instance, the cruelty of children at school, and the bitterness of the attack by youngsters who 1510 do not understand, against a child who is different from themselves in this regard. In the interests of children who are so placed, we should do everything we possibly can to remove difficulties of that nature.
I hope the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) will forgive me for the reflection which I am about to make, slightly of a party nature. I think it can be claimed that in the course of this Parliament there have been some very great strides in the direction of bringing a humane understanding into the lives of the people in this country and putting the interests of individuals on a family basis. Whether they be members of the same family or of the same group, an attempt has been made to bring the whole nation into a great family with a proper family spirit. As we know, the lot of the infant, of the individual in poor or other unhappy circumstances, has been taken out of the sphere of charity and has been brought into the realm and the perspective of family life. I am sure that having that viewpoint, this Bill will fit into the pattern that is being created for the future of men and women in this country.
I should like to deal with some of the specific points in the Bill itself. Some criticism has been offered on the question of evidence being given by a married man or married woman concerning the paternity of his or her child. Many years ago, in my early days in practice, I was sitting in court and there arose a most peculiar situation about the case of a man who was being called upon to pay maintenance towards his wife, who had amitted to the officer in charge of the case that the two children of hers were not children of her husband. Those children were born in the course of their married life. The court were in a quandary; they did not know what to do about this case, because both the local authority and the individual who was being called upon to pay maintenance for his wife's children, knew and admitted—not under oath of course, because the parents were not allowed to give evidence under oath —that the man from whom this maintenance payment was being claimed was not the father of the two children; nevertheless, they were not in a position to prove it in the court.
The result was that the maintenance order had to continue, in spite of the fact 1511 that everybody in the court knew that such an order ought not to continue against that man. The court were in a quandary and they asked me whether I would help the man to see what could be done about it. I think laymen in this House will find it difficult to believe the sequel to that story. The man ultimately obtained a divorce. One of the children, after a considerable amount of trouble, was proved to have been illegitimate. We could not call the husband or the wife to give evidence at all. We had to send people to various parts of the country to prove that during every day for a period of months there was no possibility of the husband and wife having had any marital relationship. One can well understand how difficult it was to do that, particularly as it happened that the people were living only a matter of 40 to 50 miles away from each other during that period.
With regard to the other child this impossibility of access could not be proved. It was impossible to satisfy a court without taking the evidence of the husband or of the wife for the purpose of establishing the facts. The man, having obtained a divorce, was left with a child which was not his in fact or in law. He had to continue to support the child which was not his own. As to the other child, the man was relieved of the obligation, although everybody knew very well that neither of those children was his. Such cases occur frequently, much more often than is imagined. It is perfectly clear that if a legal system of that sort is to continue, the expense of obtaining proof—even if the proof can be obtained —makes it impossible in many cases for the matter to be proceeded with. I hope, therefore, that those hon. Members who have questioned the desirability of inserting that particular Clause will reflect once again on the position.
With regard to the date on the birth certificate, it may sound trivial, but if hon. Members would reflect on this aspect also they would realise, I think, how abnormal the position of a child must be which has no anniversary of its birthday. I wonder how many hon. Members have thought about this; of the position of a child at school, for example, where every other child has a birthday to celebrate—if not every year, at least on many occasions and afterwards 1512 at the age of 21. This may sound sentimental but it is really an extremely serious matter, and one which is apt to create in the mind of a schoolchild's companions that unlike which immediately introduces the dislike to which I have referred. I hope that, in the further stages of the Bill, no one will disagree that a date should be inserted in the register, so that if a birth certificate has to be obtained, it will show the position of the child to which it relates as a quite normal one.
Then there is the question of the alien child, the answer to which should be perfectly obvious. What can happen to a child which is or has been brought to this country if it needs to be adopted? That child just cannot be adopted as the law stands at present. Where is the sense in that? Children who come to this country, as children did at the time of the Spanish civil war, cannot be adopted, merely because they happen, through no fault of their own, not to be of British nationality. Why should not the very many people who want to adopt children be given the opportunity of adopting a child, whether of British nationality or otherwise, to enable that child to lead a perfectly normal life?
There are a number of other matters with which I should like to deal and I hope, therefore, that all those other hon. Members who wish to speak will forgive me if I deal at some length with them because of the experience, both in my ordinary and professional life, I have had in respect of these matters. The question relating to inheritance is not really so difficult that the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member for Chester should not be able to produce the Clause which is necessary to deal with it.
There are difficulties, I know, but unless something is done, an abnormal situation will continue to prevail. On the death of an adopted child a situation arises which is entirely different from that which prevails in the case of a natural child. Difficulties arise over insurance because an adopted child is not treated in precisely the same way as an ordinary child. In juvenile courts, when adoptions are made, the adopters have to be told what is the position regarding insurance. Magistrates, who are very reasonable people, normally take great 1513 pains to give proper advice to the parties concerned. But there must be very many instances, when courts are busy or proceedings are not completed as quickly as they might be, when these necessary precautions are overlooked.
There is no sense in allowing a situation to exist in which, on the death of an adopted child, a search has to be made for the natural parent, so that any effects which the child has left may be handed over to that parent. The child might have been brought up all its life, from the time it was only a few months old, by adopted parents, but if the child does not leave a will, the adopted parents have no opportunity of obtaining any of its effects.
Indeed, the adopted parents are excluded in this respect even as against the Treasury, for if no living relative can be found the effects ultimately revert to the Treasury and not to the adopted parents. This position, obviously, cannot be tolerated any longer and I hope that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman himself cannot find suitable wording for the Amendments which are needed to deal with this situation, he will approach the Home Office for assistance. Failing proper legislation this is another instance of how the position of the adopted child will continue to be materially different from that of other children.
The Home Office should also tackle the question of permitting intending adopters to visit children's homes. Very often homes refuse to allow prospective adopters to visit them to see children, and make the excuse, among others, that it is not a good thing for the other children. Ways and means should be sought whereby permission for prospective adopters to visit homes should be compulsorily given. I say this in no eprecatory sense, for the homes may be extremely good. Perhaps the reason is that the homes have acquired such an affection for the children that they do not want to part with them. There can be no question, however, that in the broad sense, an ordinary home is infinitely more important for a child's welfare—I say this with great emphasis—than even the very best of the homes, such as, for example, the Cottage Homes, where attempts are made to treat children as though they were in ordinary, natural homes of their own.
1514 I have dealt at length with these matters because I feel very strongly about them. Most of the provisions in the Bill—I do not say all of them—will ultimately prove to be the steps in the right direction. It certainly deserves to go to the Committee stage, and I hope that when it does so, the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) will be accepted, although not of course, in the sense that the Bill might be withdrawn and a new one introduced. The Government should throw itself wholeheartedly into supporting the spirit underlying the Bill and the ideas behind what must necessarily appear, when put down in black and white, a very prosaic kind of thing. I hope they will realise that this does give them the opportunity of remedying the defects to which various hon. Members have referred; that it gives them the opportunity, as the Bill proceeds, of adding by way of Amendment, many Clauses which will remove anomalies to which other hon. Members and myself have referred, and which distinguish between the normal child—if I may use the term "normal" in that sense—and the child which is abnormal in the sense that it has not any parents. I hope that the Government will assist in that regard.
Emphasis was laid on the necessity of the mother having every opportunity of looking after her child if she possibly can, and if she desires to do so. I entirely agree, and I am sure the hon. and learned Member for Chester will also agree, that every opportunity for this must be given. But in my view—and I think in the view of anybody who has considered this question in its fullness—it is equally important that, once the parent has given up the right, she must under no circumstances feel that she is entitled to interfere with the adopter. Not only would that create in the mind of the parent who has lost custody of the child an anxiety, a curiosity, and a hope which must needs be frustrated—because obviously when the child has been adopted the parent cannot get it back— but it leaves open the possibility of an interference by a parent who has discarded the child, with the upbringing of that child by its adopted parents. Both those things must be avoided.
It may sound a little unnatural to say that a parent should at all times during 1515 her life be deprived of seeing the child. Well, when the child grows up to womanhood or manhood it is a different matter. It may very well be that then the child will want to meet its natural parents again. But until the child has been placed in such a position, so far as the law is concerned, that it is entitled to use its own discretion and to exercise its ordinary legal rights, it would be not only a bad thing but a cruel thing to the natural parent to have constantly in mind the possibility of this, and it would also be a very cruel thing for the people who adopted the child if they always feared the possibility of someone interfering in that way. In those circumstances, I hope that the Bill will be accepted. I am sure it will be welcomed. I hope it will also be accepted in its full spirit as well as in its letter.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)
It might be appropriate if at this stage I were to indicate the view of the Government about this Bill, without of course in any way wishing to close the Debate, in which there are probably still hon. Members who would wish to participate.
Everybody who has spoken so far has welcomed the Bill, and on behalf of the Government I wish to do the same. I must congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) on both the substance of the Bill and the exceedingly lucid and brief manner in which he explained it to the House. After his speech there is really no need for me to enter at any length into the history of this topic. I will only say that the Government agree with the view which he expressed, that the contents of this Bill are in line with the recommendations which have emerged from several past inquiries into the question of adoption law. We have now had just over 20 years' experience of the working of legal adoption, and while on the whole I think it may be said that the system has worked well, it has been recognised for some time past that amendments to the law are necessary; the Government have certainly recognised that fact.
It has been said that successful adoption is the ideal solution for children 1516 who have lost the benefits of an ordinary natural home. I think we would all agree that that is correct. It is, of course, very far from being a universal solution, and whatever we may do to improve the adoption law I think it would still be only a proportion of the children who have been deprived of a normal home life for whom adopted homes could be found. I was rather struck on being informed that in, for instance, the London County Council area, out of 3,000 children—these are rough average figures—taken yearly into their care they reckon that probably in each year only 150 or thereabouts are actually available for placing by means of adoption. Those very remarkable figures are no doubt due to the fact that rather a high proportion of the 3,000 who come into their care come in for short periods, in whose case there is no suggestion that the parents should permanently give up their care. Nevertheless, that does indicate that there will always remain a very considerable number of children who, for one reason or another, have not got a normal home but who could not fall within the limits of the adoption law. It is true, however, that adoption orders have been steadily increasing ever since the earliest Act was introduced. The hon. and learned Member for Chester gave the figures, which I will not repeat.
In our view, this Bill remedies a number of the more serious defects which have been noted in the law. It is quite clear from this Debate that there are a good many other questions, not at present dealt with in the Bill, which hon. Members feel should be at least the subject of discussion at a later stage. No doubt they will be considered in Committee. As I listened to the Debate it struck me that before hon. Members put down Amendments on all these points for the Committee stage they might consider very carefully whether all their suggestions do, in fact, require legislation. It is my impression that some of them do not.
§ Mr. Janner
I wonder if the Under-Secretary would adopt the suggestion which I had the temerity to offer, that some of the people who are dealing with this Measure might have advice from those in the Home Office who have a very intimate knowledge of these things.
§ Mr. Younger
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be very anxious to give all the assistance he can. It will, of course, always be open to hon. Members who serve on the Standing Committee to put down any Amendments they may wish to have made. I was only calling attention to the fact that I thought that some of the entirely legitimate points which have been made do not really require legislation. For one thing—and this arose in my mind particularly as I listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore)—I do not think that we should approach this problem on the assumption that the courts do not exercise a reasonable discretion, and that therefore one must always find a hard and fast rule to be laid down in statutes to govern every single case. Each of these cases is a human case and differs from every other, and we must assume that the courts do on the whole, as I believe they do, exercise a wise discretion.
For instance, the hon. and gallant Gentleman cited cases where adoption is proposed in circumstances which seemed to him unsuitable. I am bound to say that they seemed to me, prima facie, unsuitable. A doctor, thinking primarily of the welfare of his patients and prescribing the adoption of a child as a remedy for the neurotic condition suffered by the adopter, need not necessarily be wrong. That is something which would come before the court. Unless it was shown to me that very undesirable consequences arose in such cases I would not think that the mere fact that certain unsuitable propositions are put forward is necessarily a condemnation of the present law or that it demands a legislative remedy.
There are one or two points which, for different reasons, seemed to me not to need legislation. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) is not here. She said she had been worried because she thought that under the present law, and under the Bill as it stands, if a woman had an illegitimate child and subsequently married a man who was not the father of the child, and the woman wished to place the child in adoption, she would require to tell the whole story to her husband and get his consent to the adoption.
I am advised that that was indeed the position at one time but that it has been 1518 remedied by a Section in the Children Act. The reason why that consent was required originally was that her husband would, at that time, have been one of the persons who, under the Poor Law, would be liable to contribute to the upkeep of her child. The categories of persons liable to contribute were largely reduced in the Children Act, and now her husband is not one of those who are liable to contribute under the existing law, and he would not be required to give his consent.
There was a great deal of discussion about the consent given by the mother of the illegitimate child. The general desire was that there should be some safeguard to ensure that she was aware that she had a period of months during which she could reconsider her decision to consent to adoption, if she so wished. It is at any rate doubtful whether it is necessary to include any such safeguard in the Bill, because we have in Clause 5 a provision for a period of probation and indeed of notice to the welfare authority. It seems to me that under the rules made in connection with adoption law, rather than in the statute itself, would it be proper to provide an assurance for a point of that kind.
I do not want to take up the time of the House in going through the many points which were raised. There was the question of refugee children—I should say foreign-born children, although refugee children are much the biggest category of the children involved. I am informed that the reason why, under the existing law, it is not possible to adopt a foreign child is for what one might call the technical legal reason that at the time of the original Bill the lawyers were afraid that to do so might conceivably lead to a conflict of laws between the two countries, we having adopted here a child who was a national of another country. We think, however, that the dangers of that were somewhat illusory and are certainly outweighed by the advantages of making this Amendment. In any case, nothing but good could arise for refugees who are Stateless and are not nationals of any other country.
I do not think that I need enter into the technical legal point about what is called the rule in Russell v. Russell. That rule, I think, has no friends in the legal world. Any dangers which it might be thought to involve are also illusory, as the 1519 hon. and learned Gentleman will no doubt be able to show when he is called upon to consider the matter in greater detail in Committee. There is one thing towards the end of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) to which, I should refer. The hon. and gallant Member said that he had been interested in adoption societies for a long time. Those societies have done valuable work, and I would not wish to say anything which has a contrary implication, but I think the hon. and gallant Member went a little far in saying that they should be in all cases the only agencies for adoption. We feel that local authorities and others, given proper safeguards, may be suitably qualified and may be considerably experienced for this kind of work. In so far as we are discussing Clause 7, to which the hon. Member took exception, I am informed that that is simply inserted for the removal of doubt, that local authorities for the most part have considered themselves for a long time entitled to undertake this work, and that only a few particularly careful authorities have been worried about their statutory authority. The Clause does not impose a very great enlargement of the existing practice. It is mainly for clarification.
I do not think there is anything further I need say at this stage. No doubt we shall be able during the Committee stage to introduce a number of Amendments which will improve the Bill. His Majesty's Government hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I am sure that everyone who wishes the Bill well will be glad to learn that, with modifications, it will be accepted by the Government. We hope that the Government will give it priority so that all difficulties will be cleared away and it may become the law of the land.
The only thing that I want to say about the Bill is that it does not go quite far enough in certain particulars. The first point is the probationary period, which I do not think is long enough. On the London County Council we insist on six months. My experience is that careful and unobtrusive observation during those six months may be highly desirable. This is not an opinion based upon mere hearsay. I have had experience of this.
1520 Some years ago a child was under my care in hospital. It was being adopted through an adoption society. The parents became tired of it and wanted to return the child before the adoption process was complete. An X-ray examination showed that this child's nose had been injured, with the intent, I believe, to show that it was suffering from congenital syphilis, so that the adoption might not take place. If careful observation during six months had been carried out it would have been obvious that the parents were getting tired of the child and did not want to adopt it, and unnecessary suffering would have been avoided.
Only yesterday another case came to my notice through my being chairman of the Adoption and Parental Rights Sub-Committee of the Children's Committee of the London County Council. A couple had taken a child with a view to adoption. The mother had agreed that she would no longer go out to work but would give her full attention to the child, but this she had not carried out. Our visitor called and discussed the matter with the adopting mother and it became clear to her that, although the adopting father was fond of the child, the adopting mother liked her dogs better. We at once withdrew the child.
§ Mr. Hastings
It could in that case, but it might not be so in every case. In the first case I mentioned it would not have been evident because the child had been under care for more than three months when the unfortunate occurrence took place.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) stressed the excellent work adoption societies are doing. I entirely agree. They are doing a very great service, but the local authorities are doing good work in this direction also. They are using just as much care in the supervision of the child and in the selection of adopting parents, and the fact that the London County Council have 10 times as many potential adopters as they have children for adoption bears that out. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs suggested that local authorities acting as adopting agents under the Children Act 1521 would rather wish to get rid of children early, and perhaps earlier than the adoption societies. The reverse is the case. The London County Council are very careful, in the case of foundling and other children, not to arrange for preparations for adoption under nine months. I am not sure that the reason is a very good one, but it is that not until nine months can they be certain that the child is healthy in both body and mind, for only at nine months does sufficient intelligence develop to show that the child is not an imbecile. The London County Council are very anxious that no one should unwittingly adopt a child who turns out afterwards to have some mental defect.
I want to deal with a point which was dealt with fairly fully by the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) I have had similar experience. There are cases in which, for services rendered, a promise is given to a girl who will later give birth to an illegitimate baby that the child will be got rid of for her. The individuals who make that promise find someone who is ready to take the baby, when it is a few days old, of whom they know little or nothing. This is called a third party case, and there is nothing in the present law to prevent this from happening. The child is merely handed over by the third party, and I understand that if no monetary exchange occurs, it is within the law. Something ought to be done about that, and there is no reason why we should not insert a Clause in the Bill to make it impossible.
Another point relates to the health of adopting parents. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs pointed out—I regret that this is the case—that in the past some doctors have recommended to neurotic people who are not content with dogs, that the adoption of a child might be in the interest of their health. Before a child is adopted, the court should insist on a medical certificate from both of those concerned—we shall only have successful adoption when both a man and a woman are concerned—to show that they are healthy. That would avoid regrettable cases like those mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs. In every case the only thing to be considered must be the good of the child and its upbringing as a healthy, happy and useful citizen. I believe 1522 that, modified as may be thought fit, the Bill will have that very desirable effect. I am very glad to give it my support.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
As one speaker after another has had his say, he has systematically reduced by three or four minutes the length of my own speech. I confess that that diminution distresses me as little as, no doubt, it distresses the House. However, there still remain one or two points on which I want to speak briefly.
The Debate has necessarily devoted itself very largely to Committee points, for the very good reason, at which its promoter will, I am sure, be gratified, that its principle, which is normally the substance of a Second Reading Debate, is so impeccable as to be non-controversial. The objects of the Bill, after all, are to stop up loopholes, prevent abuses and ensure that adoption is carried out to the benefit of the child and of the adopting parents and with the minimum of distress to the real mother. Nobody can dissent from that. I need not, therefore, apologise if what I have to say comes rather under the character of Committee points.
The first point is this. Clause 1 says:… and has always included power to make an adoption order authorising the adoption of an illegitimate infant by the mother or natural father of the infant, either alone or jointly with the spouse of the mother or natural father.I should like the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) to clarify the phrase "either alone or jointly." Does it mean that if either of the parents wishes to adopt his or her own illegitimate child, that can be done whether or not the other party objects? That seems to me to be the sense of the wording here—that it does not need the joint approval of both members of the marriage; all it needs is the desire of one. If that is so, it opens up the possibility of a child being adopted into a home, becoming a bone of contention, and finding itself, as a result, in an unhappy and quarrelsome atmosphere. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will address himself to that point.
My second point relates to the application for a court order. As the law stands, this application cannot be made until the end of the three months' probationary period. I should have thought 1523 there was something to be said for allowing the application to be made at the beginning of the three months, even though it be not granted until the end of that period. In many cases there are difficulties, in acquiring, after the lapse of three months, all the necessary information required to make the application go through easily and properly, and in many cases the mother herself cannot even be traced. This, though a small point, is one which I would recommend for consideration in Committee.
Another small and related point is this: during the probationary period it is not necessary, as I understand it, for the adopting parents to be in continuous charge of the child. They can take it on, go off for a holiday, come back, and be there at the end of the three months. Surely it would be desirable for this to be continuous and not spasmodic?
§ Mr. Levy
I am glad to know that; I had overlooked it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) contrasted the claims of adoption societies with other adopting bodies. I have first-hand experience of only one society and it has seemed to me to be in every way admirable. It is conducted efficiently and sensitively by warm-hearted, perspicacious and experienced people. However, there are 40 or 50 adoption societies in the country and on my experience of one, I would not make so bold as to assert—which the hon. and gallant Member seemed at least to imply—that all of them are necessarily better bodies for handling adoption than local authorities and welfare authorities. They may or may not be, but I see no reason on the face of it why there should be a monopoly of experienced or perceptive people running these societies. Many of them, we know, are well-placed in this respect; others I do not know about. But where we could surely agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that the same safeguards which operate in the case of societies should operate in all other cases. Adoptions take place not only through societies, not only through local authorities, but also through private arrangements, and it is of first importance that 1524 there should be the most stringent and rigorous regulations overseeing the proceedings of all adopting bodies or persons impartially. That is, I take it, at the base of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point, and with that we could surely all agree.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) made some comments upon the length of the probationary period. He cited two cases which he invited us to accept as proving that three months was an insufficient period and that six months were necessary. He admitted subsequently that the second example which he gave would not have been affected by an enlargement of the present period, and I suggest that the first case he mentioned could be contested on similar grounds. It was the case of a couple of adopting parents who, after the three months period had run out, decided that they did not want the child and committed a deliberate and infamous injury upon the child in order to have it removed from their hands. But that could have happened after the six months period also. Whatever period is laid down as statutory would not preclude that kind of thing happening. I should have thought the countervailing argument against a long period of probation was overwhelmingly the stronger: a period of probation is inevitably a period of unsettlement for both parties, on the receiving and on the giving end, and it must be desirable to curtail it to the uttermost.
Allied to this was the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) about the withdrawal of children once they had been placed—I will not say frivolously or lightheartedly, because that is not what he meant. However, he raised a point about which we must be very careful. My hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) put the other point of view, and it is as well that it should be put. She emphasised how disastrous it may be if a mother changes her mind and, having changed it, is distressed. We all recognise that for a mother to part with her child to adopting parents can be—usually is, though not always—a grave emotional event. Obviously, it is the kind of decision which cannot be made without serious emotional repercussions. However, we must remember that the reception of a child 1525 by adopting parents is also a big emotional event, and if it were not so I venture to say that those receiving parents would not be proper parents to adopt a child.
So, although this is a difficult question of balancing sometimes between two injuries, I think we must be careful to ensure that mothers who decide to have their children adopted should do so only after it has been made clear to them that this is an important step which they may possibly regret but that, having taken it, they should not be encouraged lightly to change their minds because serious distress can be the result. I hope that between now and the Committee stage, the promoters of the Bill may get together and examine some of the proposals suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham whereby there might be a short intervening probationary period when the child is neither with its own mother, nor with its prospective adopting parents, and that only during that time the mother should have the right of changing her mind.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
That is before the three months' probationary period?
§ Mr. Levy
Yes, that is what my hon. Friend suggested. The disadvantage which comes to mind immediately is that it is often desirable for the infant to go to its new parents as early as possible but a six weeks period might be a reasonable compromise.
Another question relates to the procedure in the High Court as distinct from the juvenile and county courts, which affects the question of anonymity. We cannot over-emphasise the importance of keeping from each other, the parent who gives the child and the adopting parents, the identity of each other. That must be secret. There are many cases which hon. Members could quote where disastrous consequence have occurred in later years when a child who has been adopted and lives happily in the adopted home not only finds he is an adopted child, but becomes curious as to who are his real parents, searches for them and has no difficulty in finding them, or conversely when the parents have no difficulty in finding him. Obviously, tragedies can result from that. I hope that the procedure 1526 which is accepted in the High Court will be made obligatory in the juvenile courts and the county courts—that the strictest anonymity shall be observed as to the identity and name of the adopting parents.
The only criticisms which have been made of the Bill today are criticisms of omission. In other words, the hon. and learned Member has committed no crime save that he has been too modest. We all hope that between now and the Committee stage even that defect will be repaired. I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to accept this Bill and to give it help, and we all look forward to its passage through the House.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I have listened with much interest to this Debate. While I have not a great amount of experience of it, I realise that this is a great problem, but though it is a great problem it also presents a great opportunity. Although there are difficulties during the period when the child is being transferred from its natural mother to its future parents, the essential thing to remember is that in reality we are deciding the fate of a human soul—the child itself. Whatever else may be important in regard to technical points and in regard to the parents and to other children, there is no doubt that the vital question is the future life of the child who is being adopted. We ought to look at the subject from that point of view.
The child is to become a citizen, and in those circumstances those who are adopting it have control of the situation. What principles ought to guide us as a nation in dealing with these special children? One of our primary needs is to have better citizens. Here we have an opportunity with these children whose destiny we can largely control. I understand there are more people wanting these children, and that means that there is a good deal of choice in the matter. I suggest that when considering where the child should go, we should have primarily in mind not only elementary questions of whether the child will receive enough to keep him alive, but the choice of a high standard. We should consider the standard of home life to which these children are being admitted. It ought not to be merely a question of food and clothing. The general standards of home 1527 life and the prospects of the child becoming a really good citizen, should receive consideration.
The period of probation during which a mother may have her child back is a difficult problem which has reactions on all concerned. I think the mother should have a reasonable period in which to make her final decision. There are varying circumstances and causes of the intended adoption. Often the mother is in a difficult mental condition because of what has happened. She may be undecided up to the moment of confinement and it is unnatural, if that is the case, to solicit the decision from the mother in her great trial during the time preliminary to the confinement, before she feels settled in her mind. Knowing the arguments which can be put, I am not too happy about making the period too short. It is a question whether the period should not be longer rather than the short one proposed.
I should like to deal with the position of the child after it has been adopted. A case has recently been brought to my attention of an adopted child in a really good home, whose parents do not, of course, wish to have it known that their child is an adopted one. They left the district in which they had been living and found that for some reason, the education authority of the district which they had left had sent to the district where they went to reside, information that this child was adopted.
The father is deeply upset about this. His point of view is that the child has gone through the whole legal procedure and is now the child of his wife and himself. "Why," he asks, "should there be any records in the education files to indicate that my child is adopted, when I do not want that to be known? Why should it be done?" That argument seems to me to be a sound one. The child's separation from its natural parents having been made, the legal necessities having been complied with, and the child having been adopted, why should that information be contained in any kind of document in the possession of the education authorities? It seems to me to be unreasonable that it should be, and when we are dealing with the Bill in Committee, I hope that point will be considered.
1528 Then there is the question of the legal standing of the child, which has been raised during the discussion. I am inclined to favour the view that when we are dealing with the situation with which this Bill seeks to deal, and attempting to make a good job of it, we should, in Committee, go into the legal position and complete the job. As we are dealing with a definite problem, and as we know from the Debate that there is an aspect of the problem which is not covered in this Bill, surely if there is a possibility of dealing with it in Committee we should do so.
I favour the aims of this Bill, and I consider that the hon. and learned Member for Chester has done a very good job indeed, as I think the country at large will realise. I have not been a Member of this House for very long, but I am convinced more than ever before, of the necessity for some opportunity being presented to Private Members to impress their views on the legislation of the country. I hope that when this Bill is considered in Committee it will be properly and fully dealt with, and will come back to this House a better instrument for dealing with the problem in a way which will give satisfaction to the whole country.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)
The hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield), who has performed such a service in having had this Bill brought before us today, must be feeling very happy because of the almost universal praise which it has received. I feel sure that he cannot be in any way disheartened at the suggestion that a Bill which is devised rather to point a new way of approach to an old problem will require to be amended in Committee, where the hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to give his expert legal guidance. On Second Reading we have to deal only with principles.
I speak in a treble capacity this afternoon; first, as a man who has spent some 20 years in the service of children, a proportion of which period has been spent in the service of under-privileged and unwanted children. Some of those children would have been much happier at school and would have become much better adjusted citizens if the attitude which the House is taking today had been adopted a quarter of a century ago. In 1529 the days of which I am speaking, some 20 years ago, when I first became acquainted with the problem, no matter how much compensation those of us who love children and endeavour to serve them could give to these under-privileged youngsters, deprived of family life, nevertheless something was always lacking. It was for that reason I took the attitude that no institution, however good, however humane its officers, could compensate the child for the lack of its rightful heritage, a proper family environment.
I am a member of the Central Executive Committee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. There, very reluctantly, we often have to demand the separation of ill-treated children from their parents. We always regard that as the very last resort, and take that step with the utmost reluctance, because we feel that our duty is to patch up neglected homes, to help to preserve the family unity without which the child's mind cannot properly burgeon and the child's whole spiritual development proceed to that ideal citizenship which has been so admirably described by one of my hon. Friends.
The problem arises, why, although there has been a body of well-intentioned legislation to deal with adoption, it has been left to a Private Member's Bill to make clearer to well-intentioned people who wish to adopt children that it is easy and indeed meritorious to do so. One thing for which I have been fighting all my professional life, together with many thousands of educationists and welfare workers, is to secure for the child the most normal atmosphere, so that he does not become mentally maladjusted or resentful of the difference between himself and his schoolfellows and neighbouring children. The difficulties in the way of adoption, in the past, have led to undue publicity and, therefore, to some people regarding the adopted child as a rarity, something strange and abnormal.
For that reason I felt sorry when my hon. Friend the Member for South Battersea (Mrs. Ganley) tried to introduce into the discussion what I felt to be an imaginary slight on the natural mothers who give up their children. I believe that the only motive which actuates the hon. and learned Member in regard to 1530 this Bill is the good of the child, so as to allow him or her to come into the full possession of the heritage of childhood, and so that the children concerned may afterwards be happier and more effective men and women. The only way in which that can be achieved is to make a clean cut from the natural mother as early as possible, so that the adopted parents may be entirely unhampered by any drawbacks in their care of and love for the child.
Also, it has to be remembered that if the welfare department or the juvenile court allows the natural mother to inspect or to be aware of the intended home, doubtful and I think harmful publicity is given to the actual transfer of the child. It may make it possible, as has happened several times in my experience, for a form of modified blackmail to be attempted on the adopted parents by the natural mothers in later years. My hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) is aware of many cases of that kind where the natural mother does not want the trouble of the child. But because she is aware that the new home is much wealthier than her own, and more comfortable, and that any trouble making she may do may induce the new parents to buy her off, she is emboldened to make herself a nuisance, not at all with any idea of helping the child she has given up. So I would say in this matter that we should think only of the welfare of the child. Even the adopted parents are only a secondary consideration. I submit that they are a means to an end so far as we are concerned, in this matter.
I would also demur from the view expressed by the hon. Member for South Battersea that it is the right of the natural mother to know that the home is suitable. It is admitted on all sides that where the adoption is of a very young or newly-born child, the mother is in a natural state of emotional upset. She is no real judge of the home, or of the adopted parents. She is concerned, as a general rule, in getting rid of the liability for the child, and I would say that the smallest possible period of time consistent with the essential safeguards should elapse before the absolute right of the adopted parents is recognised.
1531 My hon. Friend said he wanted a reasonable period. I would submit, as one who knows something of the psychology of these matters, that it would be impossible to define a reasonable period. The recovery of a mother from her immediate emotional response to the birth of an unwanted child may be succeeded by a period of resentment that she is giving up a natural right, and then she has another kind of emotional upset. If we are to wait until she is in a presumably rational state of mind, and then admit her right to upset the adoption arrangements, incalcucable harm may be done, both to the new parents, and to the child itself at a very formative time of its life. I think that three months is quite ample. The excellent work of the welfare departments with their splendidly trained officers, is sufficient to ensure that the right of recovery within three months is a clear one and is made known to the mother.
To my mind the child has the first consideration and the sooner the separation and the new environment is achieved the better for all concerned. I hope I shall be able to watch the Bill through Committee. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Chester on the insertion of subsection (2) in Clause 1. It has already been referred to in the Debate, but I would make this point. There are a great many children in this country already, not only foreign born as referred to in the Clause, but British born, who are, in effect, adopted; but because those who are looking after them do not know the way in which to obtain legal control of the child, they are in a very difficult position. The right of recovery on the part of the natural parent is worrying them.
The point is one with which I am particularly concerned. I know of some of the cases and the difficulties regarding those foreign-born children whose parents died during the war and whose plight became known to worthy, fairly well-to-do, comfortable folk, anxious to do something to repair the ravages of war and the enmity between the peoples. I have in my hand a very pathetic letter, and the writing of it is, in effect, a tribute to the hon. and learned Member:My wife and I, both over 30 years of age, have been acting as foster parents to a little 1532 girl of seven years of age, born in Vienna and brought to England in 1945. We have had her for 18 months and would now like to adopt her officially. Please therefore let us know further about this—and the writers expect me to do what I can to help them. That is only one case of many. Having regard to the way in which our Britain has been enriched by people, refugees, who fled here, young people and old alike, who have contributed to our development and our British way of life this is one way which would be acceptable to everybody, a way of Christian kindness, which will be made possible by the passing of this Bill
I am very glad that the Government and the House regard the Bill as a whole, and are willing to facilitate its passing with, of course, necessary and inevitable Amendments to make it stronger and to cover some points which the hon. and learned Member for Chester has not been able to insert. I hope it may be added to that volume of legislation on behalf of children and their welfare which, to my mind, has always been the finest monument to the men and women who have gone before us in this House, and which I hope will continue to be our constant care.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
Like other hon. Members I welcome the principle of this Bill and congratulate the initiator upon a Bill which does much to remove disabilities, more especially in the case of the illegitimate child, and provide for the adopted child a normal family life and also does what is possible to remove the brand of illegitimacy. It has as its intention to place the adopted child, in so far as the law is competent to do so, in precisely the same position as other children.
As has already been said, the interest of the child is paramount, and must be paramount. Therefore, it is desirable to sever the child completely from its past in order that the future may be opened up to it without any of the social perplexities which might otherwise result. For that reason, I hope the Committee will accept Clause 8 (2), which deals with the question of the need of the annulment, after an adoption order, of any affiliation order in respect of the illegitimate child.
I think I am correct in saying that at the present moment the law is obscure 1533 in relation to this matter. There has, in fact, been no High Court decision upon it. Quite clearly it is desirable that this should be part of the law, because, in the first place, the affiliation order is not intended to be a penalty. It is simply intended to be for the support of the child, and I think that now it is desirable that, both with regard to affection, property, support and responsibility, the illegitimate child should be placed in the same position as the normal child of adoptive parents. I am very glad that an attempt is being made to remedy the obscure position of the law. It would be anomalous for a child commencing a new life to find out—and it would be rather difficult to prevent it—that it depends for its support upon a person other than its adoptive parents.
For precisely the same reason, I hope that the point put forward by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) will be considered during the Committee stage. I agree with his suggestion that we should find some kind of Clause to deal with the property of an adopted child in cases where something happens to the child. The point has often been put to me by parents by adoption that if they put money in the child's name or gave it any property, then, if anything happened to the child, the money would not be returned to them but would go to the parents of the child. Obviously, that is most anomalous, and the position ought to be remedied in some way by this Bill.
Clause 4 deals with the question of evidence of paternity and the removal of the principle of Russell v. Russell. I welcome this Clause, but it is necessary to point out that it will create an anomaly in that cases in which there has been an adoption can come to court—for instance, the Divorce Court—and dispense with the principle of Russell v. Russell and prove non-access. In the great majority of other cases they will not be able to do that. I hope, especially in the light of what the Under-Secretary said about this principle, that the Government will find it possible to take an early opportunity to deal with the whole of the matter root and branch and to abolish the principle from our law entirely.
In Clause 3 there is something which I do not understand, but which I suppose has some significance. I refer to the 1534 statement that there must be the consent of the person who has the actual custody of the infant. According to Clause 5 the infant must be continuously in the care and possession of the applicant for at least three consecutive months immediately preceding the date of the order. That apparently means that at the time of the application, and for three months before, the child would have to be in the custody of the person making the application, no doubt by the consent of the person who has the actual custody. The Bill appears to apply to someone else. I do not understand the contradiction. No doubt the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) has some point in mind. Perhaps the matter might be explained or dealt with on the Committee stage. I welcome the principle behind this Bill. I hope that this Measure will go forward, that it will be strengthened during the Committee stage and that it will become the law of the land.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.