HC Deb 03 July 1956 vol 555 cc1160-2
Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the operation of section fourteen and paragraph (d) of section thirty-six of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1953, and of the Schedule to the Legitimacy Act, 1926; and for purposes connected with that matter.

I feel sure that this modest Motion, which seeks to remedy a defect in the law which oppresses a small section of the community, will be supported on all sides of the House. The purpose of the Bill which I am asking the House for leave to introduce is to extend the right to re-register a birth, as the birth of a legitimated person, to all persons born out of wedlock whose parents were free to marry at the time of their birth and who subsequently married.

As the law stands at present, certain people are legitimated by common law and others by statute law, under the Legitimacy Act, 1926. Children recognised as legitimated under common law are those who are legitimated by their parents' subsequent marriage under the laws of the country—other than England and Wales—whose laws permit legitimation when the father has his domicile in that country both at the time of the child's birth and at the time of his marriage to the child's mother.

The odd thing is that those people who are legitimated under common law are not within the categories covered by statute law, and, in consequence, they cannot be issued with a birth certificate showing them to be legitimated. Thus, they cannot obtain a birth certificate showing the same surnames for both parents. I think hon. Members will agree that this is a hardship which was never intended by the law, and that the stigma should be removed with all possible speed.

This is a difficult matter to explain to hon. Members who, like myself, are not learned in the law, and it may help the House if I give an example to show that the mere accident of the domicile of the father can have a far-reaching effect on the future happiness of the child.

I will take the case of a G.I. bride who marries the father of her child after its birth. If the father was domiciled in, say, the State of Oregon, where the law permits or confers legitimation as a result of the subsequent marriage of the parents, and if he was domiciled there both when the child was born and when he married the child's mother, the child will be recognised here under common law as a legitimated person. Strangely enough, however, the registrar is not able to re-register the birth, or issue a certificate showing that the child is legitimate, since the circumstances of the birth are not covered by statute law.

On the other hand, if, when the child was born, the father was domiciled in a State where the law did not provide for legitimation by subsequent marriage, but he had become domiciled in, say, again, the State of Oregon when he married the mother, the child would be recognised in England as a legitimated person, and, since the circumstances happen to fall within statute law, the Registrar-General could re-register the birth and issue the appropriate birth certificate.

This shows the anomaly between the two sections of common law and statute law. These are, of course, merely examples. It happens that in almost every case where the father has his domi- cite outside England and Wales, his domicile, possibly a Scottish one, is the same both at the time of the child's birth and at the time of his marriage to the mother. These children are for the most part recognised as legitimated under common law, but, at the same time, they cannot receive the appropriate birth certificate.

Those are the children that the Bill seeks to help. If it goes through, it will be retrospective and cover all children born under the circumstances that I have described. I hope that the House will give me permission to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Howard, Mr. Cronin, Mr. Freeth, Mr. Gower, Mrs. McLaughlin, Mr. Tiley, Mr. Charles Pannell, Mr. Grimond, and Mr. Fienburgh.