§ Mr. Levy
I beg to move in page 2, line 41, at the end, to insert:(a) the infant has been for not less than six weeks in the care and possession of an adoption society or of a children's committee of a local authority or their representative or of a relative as defined in Clause twelve of this Act, during which period but not subsequently the natural mother may reclaim possession of the child:Provided that—When moving the proposed new Clause which stood in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and myself, we received a comment from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that, although the Clause was simple, the situation was not. Here I think the position is reversed. The Clause is not very simple but its purpose is. In a few words, the purpose is simply to protect adopting parents from unnecessary pain. The Bill does a great deal to safeguard the interests of the child. It does a great deal to safeguard the interests of the natural mother. But no Clause and no paragraph of it, so far as I can see, makes any attempt to protect or safeguard the interests of the adopting parents.
- (i) the adopting parents shall be entitled to take charge of the child before the six weeks shall have elapsed, having been advised in writing by the placing authority that they are liable to be deprived of the child if the natural mother should wish it before the six weeks has expired; and
- (ii) that the above subsection (1) (a) of this section shall not apply if the infant is more than eighteen months old."
This, I would say, is almost the only shortcoming, within its scope, of the Bill, and one which puts it at variance with the sentiments of the Committee, and of the House when we discussed the matter on Second Reading. Then on all sides there was a very clear desire evinced that adopted parents also should receive adequate protection. As a matter of fact, as the Bill stands—and this is the point to which the Amendment is directed—at any time within three months a child may be wrenched away from the adopting parents—not merely because those parents are unfitted to take charge of the child; that we would assent to, that is a perfectly legitimate and indeed essential proviso. But a child can be wrenched away also simply because the natural mother has changed her mind, simply because perhaps through illness, perhaps 676 through lack of imagination, perhaps through sloppy-mindedness, she did not know her own mind at the time she decided to hand the child over to other parents. I use those terms not censoriously, because this is a perfectly natural situation. But it is a situation for that reason which is all the more likely to be encountered.
As a result of this Bill, or at least after the Bill has been passed, what the placing authority will have to say, in effect, to the prospective adopting mother is, "After you have nursed and cherished and learned to love this adopted child; after you and your husband have rebuilt your lives around it, it is a reasonable possibility that the child will be torn away from you. As a matter of fact, that possibility has been increased by a recent Bill which in fact we are discussing today. The placing authority will have to say to the prospective mother, "That is the condition of adoption, and you can take it or leave it."
I think that is very serious, and something to which we should turn our attention. It contrasts very markedly with the attitude towards the natural mother. To her the placing authority says, "Get rid of your child if you want to; but don't distress yourself unduly, because at any time within the next three months, if you should be pleased to change your mind, you can get it back. You can get it back at the expense of some other wretched woman who, out of the goodness or the emptiness of her heart, has contracted to take care of your child."
Quite obviously nobody in this House wishes that situation to persist unaltered. I am quite sure the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) does not, if it can be helped, want his admirable little Bill to go forward with this grave blemish upon it. The only reason why we have tolerated this situation so far is because, on the face of it, it does look extremely difficult to solve. It looks as though we are faced with the insoluble problem of breaking the natural mother's heart or breaking the heart of the adopting mother. With two maternal claimants nobody, except my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and myself, has had the temerity or the impudence to emulate that self-confident monarch, 677 King Solomon, and attempt a judgment. We attempted one on the Committee stage which I agree was faulty. We have now made a second attempt, which if perhaps less spectacular than Solomon's, we believe is no less workmanlike.
What it amounts to is this. We propose that the probationary period of three months should be retained so that at any time during that three months, when the child is once lodged with its new parents, it can be withdrawn if those parents prove to be unsatisfactory. We also propose that that probationary period should be preceded by another period of six weeks—a time which I might call the neutral period—during which the child shall be left in the charge of the placing authority and during which the natural mother shall be entitled to reclaim possession of the child if she wishes. For the whole of that period, she will be advised, she may change her mind. But after that period has elapsed and if the child has then been removed into the bosom of another woman she shall be advised that she may not tear that child away. In other words, there is a reasonable deadline of which she will be given fair notice in advance.
That is the proposal and we believe it to be a practical one. There are attached to it three qualifications as a result of the discussion which took place during the Committee stage. The first is that this shall apply to infants of not more than 18 months. This age limit was put in in answer to a criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol). The second reservation is that the adopting parents can, if they wish, dispense with the neutral period of six weeks. They may say "We will take the child over at once and take our chance." It seems to me that, provided they are properly warned in writing of what they are doing, as it is laid down that they shall be, it is reasonable to allow them to take the chance of a personal tragedy if they want to. Therefore, that reservation has been added. My own view is that it is extremely probable that the great majority of adopting parents will take advantage of this provision and will not leave the child for a neutral period, in which case the physical practicalities are rendered all the easier.
The third reservation deals with another question raised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for 678 the Home Department. He pointed out that we might encounter a case where a grandparent, an aunt, a sister, or some other close and responsible relative, was ready to take over the charge of the child immediately the natural mother wanted to get rid of it. He suggested that it was absurd and unnecessary to refuse such relatives the right to do so and to put the child into a local authority's or adoption society's care for an intervening period of six weeks. I am bound to say that I think that is a valid argument and we have, therefore, incorporated it in our Amendment. In the Standing Committee the Under-Secretary of State said:… in every case, whether there are grandparents or other relatives prepared immediately to take over the child with a view to adoption, that cannot be done and … the children will have to go to public care.That is what he said would happen if the Amendment we had then proposed had been accepted. The hon. Gentleman continued:If my hon. Friend"—which is I—can tell us"—which I can—that he does not intend that"—which I do not—we shall have to think again.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 31st March, 1949; c. 58.]I know of course that "thinking again" is a non-committal phrase and that it is possible to think twice and arrive at the same conclusion; but I hope that in view of the manifest seriousness of this issue my hon. Friend will not be disposed to treat the matter in that way. Some of us feel that this is of really fundamental importance to the Bill. It is a matter of such palpable and crying-out humanitarianism that I hope that the Committee will take the trouble to provide—either in the way we have suggested or in some other way as they may think fit—some protection, for adopting parents, against avoidable pain.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have little to say in addition to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) who has most admirably put the views already expressed on Second Reading 679 and in Committee. I have only one point to add. It is that I think the various provisos here would mean that few children would actually be left to the care of a local authority, with the possible expenditure involved. Most children would either remain in the care of an adoption society or of a relative. Alternatively, the position would arise in which the adopting parents were willing to take the child for the intervening period. Therefore, I do not think that the likelihood mentioned during the Committee stage that this might put a good deal of heavy expenditure on local authorities would materialise. The steps taken to meet the various criticisms advanced in Committee would cut out the need for any very heavy expenditure of that kind.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)
I hope that this Amendment will not be accepted. It does not give anything like enough protection to the natural mother. I agree with many of the views held by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), but this seems to be essentially an Amendment put down by people who are not natural mothers. I am a natural mother, and I think that mothers need far more protection than is provided in this Amendment. Even where a woman has a baby under ideal conditions, in happy married life very often for weeks after the birth of the baby she is ill and unfit to make decisions. Fortunately, in ordinary life most women are not called upon to make serious decisions in the first six weeks after the birth of a baby. The child belongs to its natural parents and no question arises. It is most serious to lay down a rule that after six weeks a natural mother, whatever her state of health may be, whatever condition she may be in mentally she should be called upon definitely to decide whether she will keep or renounce her child.
I fully appreciate that it is hard on adopting parents if they take a child and the child is snatched away from them, but I appreciate still more the importance of protecting the natural mother as much as possible. This situation arises particularly in the case of illegitimate children. The mother of an illegitimate child often suffers a great deal before her child is born. There may be a great deal of mental suffering which may lead to both 680 mental and physical illness for a considerable time after the birth of a child.
There is another situation which has arisen quite frequently, and which we seek to do away with in this Bill. Adoption societies believe, quite wrongly, I think, that anyone rather than the real mother of an illegitimate child—I mean any respectable, suitable person—is a better parent than the natural mother.
Quite often, in the early stages after their child has been born, women have been persuaded to sign an order stating that they wanted their children adopted, and then, at some later stage, which may be any time from two to three months, they have wished to reverse their decision, because they have become physically strong again and have felt able to undertake the care of the child they love and long to have back. They wish to reverse their decision and have their own babies, and, quite often, even at great cost to themselves, to have the opportunity of bringing up their babies themselves.
It is absolutely essential that everything shall be done, first and foremost, to safeguard the child; everyone will agree about that and therefore if there is a loving mother with a real affection for her baby—and she will not want it back unless she has that affection—then she is likely to be the best person to bring up that child, and I should like to give her the opportunity of doing so.
Therefore, I think that is the best way to safeguard the baby, and I also think that, if we have a woman who is a natural mother and who is going to offer a good home to the child—and if she wants to do that she probably will be a good mother—she is the next person whom we ought to protect. Much as I deplore the sorrow that may be caused to adopting parents, I think this Amendment is not fair and does not give anything like enough chance either for the baby to grow up with the love of a natural mother or for the natural mother to have the opportunity to which she is entitled to keep her own child.
§ Mr. Levy
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, may I ask her this question? Presumably, she agrees that the natural mother should not have the right to reclaim the child indefinitely, and she will accept that there has to be a limit to that period? She has not said 681 in her speech what that limitation, in her opinion, should be—whether it should be six weeks, or, if not, what she thinks is the right period. If the principle is accepted that there should be a limit, what we are really discussing is whether it should be 6, 8, 10 or 12 weeks.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould
It is not the principle to which I object. I quite agree that it is not possible to have an indefinite period during which a mother can reclaim her child, but I think six weeks is much too short, and that it should be at least three months; indeed, I think six months might be better. I do not want to commit myself absolutely on this point; I should like to discuss it with a gynaecologist, because I am not a medical woman, before suggesting a definite period. From the point of view of the mother, however, it should certainly be a very much longer period than six weeks.
§ Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)
I should like to support this Amendment, especially as I put forward one point during the Committee stage which it is proposed to meet in the Amendment. Of course, this is a very delicate situation concerning the feelings of the natural mother, and I think we made it perfectly clear, both on Second reading and during the Committee stage, that all of us who are interested in this question of adoption in this Bill have been scrupulously careful to express our deep concern for the rights of the natural mother, and to make perfectly certain that she is to have the opportunity of bringing up her child if she is willing to do so.
We all realise that the perfect person to bring up the child is a good natural mother, and that is beyond argument, but there comes a point at which, if the mother is contemplating adoption, she has to make up her mind. She cannot put off the decision indefinitely, and she cannot indefinitely keep changing her mind. There comes a moment when she has to make the break and decide whether she is able to support her child or not, or whether she wishes it to be taken into a good home. It is a very moot point whether that period should be six weeks or three months. I am a natural mother, but I hope I have enough imagination to see the point of view of parents who are contemplating the 682 adoption of a child. In any case, they are in a precarious position vis-a-vis the natural parents.
Usually, married people without children who contemplate this step are willing to rebuild their entire lives and generally prepare for the adopted child in very much the same way as a mother expecting a child. They plan for the future and surround the child with a great deal of love and affection, and it is a dreadful thing if, after a very short time, when they have become really attached to the child and given it a warm place in their hearts and home, the natural mother should come along and say that, after all, she has changed her mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) knows of the experience of one of his close friends to whom this dreadful thing happened twice in a very short time, and it is a dreadful experience.
We are dealing with children who are deprived of a natural home and who can be accepted into a good home as the next best thing. We must not place any deterrents in the way of parents who might contemplate this step. It takes a great deal of courage, far more than most people have got, to take a child into one's home and give it all the love and affection which any other child receives and then to find that it is to be taken away. Those of us who are dog lovers know how we feel when we lose a favourite dog, so what must be the feelings of these people when they are told that they must lose the child which they have taken into their homes?
I hope that, if this Amendment is not accepted in its present form, some way will be found to protect the prospective adopting parents, and I hope we shall improve the Bill to that extent. It is a splendid Bill, to which we have all looked forward, and I hope it will be possible to find a way of making certain that people who are going to take children into their own homes shall at least have some guarantee that they are not going to be placed in the distressing position of having the child taken away from them. At the same time, I want to make it clear that I realise the rights of the natural mother. I have made that clear over and over again, and I insist that we must do three things—we must protect the child, we must protect the natural 683 mother and we must do something for those who are going to provide a good home for that child.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
There is obviously a great deal in what the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) said. It is most difficult fairly to hold the balance between possibly competing interests concerned, but I share the view of the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) that the period of six weeks does unduly diminish the rights of the natural mother. There is a great deal, of course, in what the hon. Lady said, particularly about the case where the adoption takes place when the child is very young and, therefore, the natural mother's mind may be a little affected by the consequences of the birth of the child. It is well known, and our jurisprudence recognises, that at such a time decisions made by a woman may be affected by those circumstances. I would remind the House that in the Infanticide Act, passed before the war, statutory recognition was given to the fact that that disturbance might last as long as 12 months.
In those circumstances, the six weeks' limit seems to be unduly restricted. I quite agree with the hon. Member for North Bradford that there must be a limit, but six weeks is unduly short. This is an extremely important decision for all the parties concerned. I share the view of the hon. Member for North Hendon that if it is possible for the natural mother to continue to look after her child, in the majority of cases it is more in the interests of the child that that should be done than that the child should be within the care of even the most kind and thoughtful of adopting parents. That is so because we have so much of the natural forces of nature there to reinforce the natural kindliness of human beings to each other.
I hope the supporters of the Amendment will not press it, at any rate in its present form. I think also that the intermediate period—in theological terms the period of purgatory—before proceeding to the adoptor's home is subject to certain disadvantages and that is recognised by the imposition of an age limit in the Clause. The process of adoption 684 obviously involves some disturbance to the child. In the non-political sense, children are very conservative and resent changes in environment and even changes in the faces of those looking after them. I appreciate that there would be a limited number of cases but even so this would be adding to the disturbance by causing changes to take place in their lives at two stages, instead of one.
§ Mrs. Nichol
The two hon. Members who put forward the Amendment deliberately made the age 18 months because it is appreciated that up to that time the child does not suffer much disturbance.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I appreciate that that was the reason, but I rather doubt that it really meets the difficulty. One can only speak from the experience of one's own family. In the case of my own children they were conscious of and resented changes considerably before reaching the age of 18 months. It is difficult to argue from one child to another, but the hon. Lady will agree that many children are conscious of these changes well before that age and the very fact that an arbitrary age limit is to be inserted is an implicit recognition of this very difficulty. It is a factor which the House should consider. I think that on balance the Bill is better in its present form and I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I did not mean to intervene in this Debate but, as two natural mothers have intervened and they take a different view, perhaps my intervention may weigh down the scale on the side of the natural mother. The adopting parents are being considered in this Amendment. They want a child, a blue-eyed fair-haired little girl of two years of age—anybody's little girl. One person's little child is to those adopting parents as good as any other parent's little child. But what is the position of the mother of that child? What is the position of any father who is the proud possessor of a blue-eyed, fair-haired little girl of two? There is only that one little girl in the whole world. To the natural mother there is only one child and she yearns for that child.
I have experienced this in my work on Glasgow welfare committee where the mother, after parting with the child, 685 has become distraught and not knowing what to do, nor how her life was to shape. She did not know if the man would marry her or not, and she consented quickly to adoption and then, after she had "come to herself," came to the committee complaining day after day, with tears running down her cheeks, that she wanted the baby back in any circumstances.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) and with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that even our jurisprudence recognises the abnormality that follows a birth. It is very difficult to put a period on it. The gestation period before the birth is usually nine months. From my own experience I should put the same period after the birth. It was grand when the courts recognised that abnormality, and I think it would make for peace and happiness in many homes if it was recognised generally. We ought to recognise the abnormality and come down in favour of the natural mother, wait until her senses come back to her and get the real bond, the real affinity between the mother and child re-established always, if we can. I hope the House will reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Younger
I take the same view as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I appreciate that there is a very real conflict of interests here. That was made plain by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) when he moved the Amendment. On the one hand, we have the right of the natural mother to have a reasonable time during which she can change her mind and, on the other, we have the very natural and proper desire of the intending adopters to have certainty and security and the knowledge that the child cannot arbitrarily be taken away, if they are considered suitable parents. Thirdly, we must not lose sight, and the House has not lost sight, of the interests of the child, independently of the feelings either of the natural or the adopting parents.
It will be possible under this Measure for adopting parents to achieve certainty within three months of giving notice of 686 intention to adopt and, under this Amendment, the certainty so far as objections from the mother are concerned, but not in other respects, will be attainable after six weeks. What we have to consider is whether six weeks or three months is the more suitable period. We have to consider whether the difficulties raised by the machinery are so great as entirely to outweigh any advantage there might be in shortening this period. I wish to say a word about the interests of the child. It is a perfectly valid point, to which no doubt all of us would attach varying weight, which was made by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that children are conservative and that we should not change their environment more often than is absolutely necessary. I should have thought that probably modern doctors would say that that applies to a very early age indeed, although I would not profess to be an expert upon the subject.
I think it is possible that under this Amendment there might be cases in which a child was placed out very soon after the birth, not necessarily with any intention of adoption, and that child might stay a number of months, at the end of which time an intention to adopt and a willingness on the part of the natural mother to allow adoption might develop. Under this Clause that child would have to be moved from the person with whom it had already been for three or four months, because no adoption order could be made unless there had been this six weeks period during which it had been in the care of an adoption society, a children's committee or their representative, or a relative.
I should have thought there would be not an inconsiderable number of such cases where a baby is placed out, the mother being in hospital perhaps after the birth, and, the baby having spent some months there, the intention to adopt develops and everybody is willing for an adoption order but the order cannot be made unless this condition which is laid down in the Amendment is fulfilled. I think it is a rather serious objection that the child should have to be taken away from the people with whom it is placed and who ultimately are going to adopt it, in order to spend a useless and futile six weeks possibly in a children's home of the local authority or somewhere else.
687 Let me turn to this question of the period of six weeks. I should have thought that that was much too short a period from the point of view of the natural mother. I need not elaborate what has been said about the medical aspects of the case, and the fact that certainly for more than six weeks many a mother may be in a somewhat abnormal state of health. Quite apart from health, there is another point which has not been mentioned and which I think is very relevant. One of the reasons why a natural mother might be willing to allow her child to be adopted, although she felt great affection towards it, would be grave doubt whether she could maintain it and give it a home.
Are we to say that within six weeks of the birth she ought to make up her mind and make any necessary arrangements, for instance, to get a job where she would be able to take her child—perhaps a domestic job—where she could support herself and the child and have the child with her, and ascertain whether the natural father was prepared to maintain the child or assist her to maintain the child? Are all these things to be settled in six weeks? I think it is an altogether outrageous proposition from the point of view of a natural mother, and I should have thought that even a three months period is a short period in which to require her to make up her mind on that sort of subject. It is very likely that she could not even start looking for some employment until at least five or six weeks after the time of the birth.
Therefore, I should have thought that on the merits, it is altogether too harsh to reduce the period during which she might still refuse her consent to six weeks. For other purposes the Bill chooses three months as a probationary period during which the parties concerned and the court can have sufficient evidence whether the proposed home is suitable, and so on. I should have thought that it was much wiser to stick to that period for all purposes and to give the natural mother at least three months in which she could make up her mind.
I would point out that there are very many unpractical aspects of the machinery which it is proposed to lay down. 688 This was raised in Committee in relation to adoption societies. I think it is very doubtful indeed whether the provision that the infant must be in the care and possession of an adoption society for six weeks has any reality at all in most cases, because a very large number of adoption societies have no means whatever of taking charge of a child for six weeks. There are exceptions, of course, but normally an adoption society has no means of carrying out that obligation at all.
As regards local authorities, I do not want to stress this, but I would point out that although by implication a duty is put upon the local authority to accept the child in such circumstances, in fact it has no power to do so at the present time. There is nothing in Section 1 of the Children Act which would justify a local authority, merely on the grounds set out in this Amendment, taking care of a child. In a number of cases it might be that some of the conditions in Section 1 of the Children Act were fulfilled, but there would be cases where the local authority would be obliged to say, "We cannot take the child," and if there was no adoption society available, we should have to fall back on the third alternative, the relative, who might be available—we do not know—and we might find ourselves in the position of everybody wanting adoption and the adoption order being impossible under this Clause. There are great difficulties, quite apart from whether the intention is really correct. I should have thought that it would be very much better to leave the period of three months and not try to introduce any shorter period for this purpose.
§ Mr. Nield
I have deliberately refrained from intervening at an earlier stage because the Debate has shaped itself on such lines that for an ageing bachelor to express an opinion would be a bit difficult. I have listened to the arguments, and it has appeared to me that the balance lies with those who are opposed to this Amendment. I say that with regret because the hon. Members for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) and Dagenham (Mr. Parker) have seen me on this matter. I hope I am not unsympathetic, but I think, on the whole, it is really right that the natural mother's interest should be very closely protected for an adequate period so that she may make up her mind one way or the other.
689 I am told that the number of cases where a mother reclaims a child after consenting to adoption is very small, and it does not seem to me that the number is sufficient to justify depriving the mother of the right to recover the child before the order is made. I feel, on the whole, that the period of three months might be uniformly applied so as to give a proper right to each of the parties concerned.
§ Mr. Levy
I am afraid that, in view of the fact that there has not even been a proposal to try to examine further what we regard as an important issue, my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and I will have to divide the House on this Amendment. I should like to say a word as briefly as I can in reply to the objections which have been made to the Amendment, only one of which in my view seems to have any validity whatever and which both of us would be perfectly prepared to meet.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made the perfectly reasonable point that it was undesirable to subject a child, even an infant, to a shifting environment. This was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. First of all, I should say that one can exaggerate enormously the deleterious effects on an infant of 18 months of being moved from one home to another. It can be a grossly exaggerated point, though it is fair to recall that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames put very little emphasis upon it. In any case, precisely the same thing can happen under the present Bill. A child can be taken to its adopted parent and the natural mother can change her mind, in which case the child is whisked back and it has been subjected to two environments. What the difference is between what we propose and what is already in the Bill in this connection, I cannot really understand.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Surely the difference is this: under the Bill as it stands the child will be submitted to two environments only in the very rare cases in which the mother reclaims the child. My hon. and learned Friend has pointed out that they are rare. Under the Amendment, on the other hand, it will be submitted to two environments in almost every case.
§ Mr. Younger
It is not the argument that because it happens rarely it does not matter. Surely the difference between the Bill as it stands and the proposal of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) is that, all of us agreeing that it is a harmful thing to do, he is proposing that it should be done in all these cases whereas we are saying that it is better that it should be done in only the very small number of cases where, unfortunately, things work out that way.
§ Mr. Levy
But I have yet to learn that there is really any serious injury in moving such a child. I think the whole point is sadly exaggerated and does not really deserve much more emphasis than that placed upon it by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter).
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made two or three further points. He drew attention to the case where a child was adopted by its relatives or other suitable adopters immediately it was born, and he asked what would happen then. Would they have to give up the child for six weeks and put it in public care? If the child were adopted immediately it was born, that situation would not arise. It can arise only if the child were placed with relatives and they had not previously decided to adopt it but, while it was with them, they then decided to adopt it. In those few cases they would, indeed, have to surrender the child for a period of six weeks, but those cases will be infinitely fewer than the cases of mothers who change their minds. The rarity here is much more than the rarity used in the argument against the total Amendment. If the rarity argument is to be used in one instance, it is fair for me to use it again and with much greater force; because this can only happen very rarely and, even in those cases, nobody 691 would pretend that it is a very injurious thing that there should be a six weeks' intervening period.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said that six weeks was not a long enough period for a mother to make up her mind. He said that after suddenly having a child a mother does not know what to do; she has to re-organise her circumstances and to look around to find out whether, in fact, she can or cannot look after the child. As has been pointed out, I am not a natural mother, but I learn with surprise that the actual birth of a child is the first intimation the mother has that she is going to bear a child. The argument that for the previous eight or nine months she will not be able to think about the problem of what she is going to do about the child strikes me as a very odd argument.
§ Mr. Levy
My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), who has come forward this afternoon in the rôle not only of natural mother, but of sob-sister, appears to need certain enlightenment from me—and I am neither. The idea that a mother is not going to make any plans for her child, is not going to dream about her future, simply on the ground that it may not be born alive is one that I, frankly, just do not believe.
§ Mr. Levy
Are we to accept the idea that a woman is completely incapacitated for nine months before the birth of her child and another three months afterwards, and that only then is she able to think about what she will do with her child? If we were to accept that proposition, I think we should be rather extravagant.
All this turns on the question of whether six weeks is an adequate period. It turns on what, in my opinion, is the only valid objection to the Amendment. We are perfectly prepared to revert to the 692 three months period if the only serious objection to the Amendment is that the period of six weeks is too short. Personally, I would not dissent from that. When we are discussing a question of a period one is always obliged to be somewhat arbitrary and the idea that the principle of the Amendment should be abandoned because the period of six weeks is not the right period is one which I hope we shall reject.
Finally, there is the argument advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) who said—and I was surprised to hear him say it—that, after all, there are only a few cases. But that is to say that there are only a few cases in which the natural mother changes her mind. There are precisely as many cases, no more and no less, in which the adopting parents suffer. Every time a natural parent changes her mind the adopting parents suffer. There may be few cases, but there are as many of the one as there are of the other. If the fact that there were only a few cases was an argument against our taking any notice of the matter—which the hon. and learned Member for Chester certainly does not believe—it would be an argument, equally, for not taking any notice of the predicaments of those mothers who change their minds; and none of us consents to that.
There well may be only a few cases of mothers who change their minds, but this House, quite rightly, has thought that we ought to protect those mothers. We have not been deterred from doing so by the argument that there are only a few of them. Why in the world should we be deterred by the argument that there are only a few—though, indeed, an exactly equal quantity—adopting parents who will suffer as a result of these changes? There may be only a few heartbreaks, but even a few heartbreaks are worth a little trouble and a little ingenuity on the part of this House.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House proceeded to a Division, and no Members being willing to act as Tellers for the Ayes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Nield
I beg to move, in page 3, line 10, after "Where," to insert "under subsection (1) of this section."
693 I think that it would be convenient to consider with this Amendment my next, in page 3, line 11. These two Amendments provide that those of the child life protection provisions of Section 7 of the 1939 Act, which are attracted by this subsection of this Clause, shall not apply if the child, of whose proposed adoption notice is given to the welfare authority, is over compulsory school age. It has been estimated that about three out of every 100 adoption orders are made in respect of children of 15 years of age or upwards, and it is felt that, since the court is under the duty, before making an order, to give due consideration to the wishes of the infant, having regard to his age and understanding, it is unnecessary to require the welfare authority to "visit and examine" children of this age, who are quite capable of speaking for themselves.
In these circumstances, the first Amendment brings up into line 10 the words "under subsection (1) of this section," which the second Amendment proposes to omit from line 11 in order to insert "who is not over compulsory school age." The House will later, as we proceed with the Bill, see that "compulsory school age" is to be defined, if an Amendment to that effect is carried, as having the same meaning as in the Education Act, 1944.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In page 3, line 11, leave out "under subsection (1) of this section," and insert, "who is not over compulsory school age."
§ In page 3, line 14, at end, insert "section thirty-seven of."—(Mr. Nield.)
§ Mr. Nield
I beg to move, in page 3, line 15, after "1948," to insert:but subject to the provisions of subsection (2) of the said section seven.This is intended to make it clear that the duties imposed on welfare authorities and on prospective adopters by the subsections of Section 7 of the 1939 Act, which are attracted by this Clause, do not continue after the adoption order has been made, and again that they do not continue if any adoption order is made after the child attains the age of 18. The 694 Amendment brings the provision into line with the ordinary application of Section 7.
§ Amendment agreed to.