§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.11 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am reminded on this occasion that this is the third time I have had the honour to move the Second Reading of a Bill bearing my name. I hasten to assure the House that that has not been in any way the result of personal merit, but, so I am advised, it has been due entirely to a concatination of circumstances concocted by Dame Fortune. From my experience in the House, I know that no private Member can secure the passage of his Bill unless he carries with him the good will and co-operation of hon. Members on both sides.
Judging from my experience on former occasions, I feel confident, in seeking this Measure to give effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, that I shall carry the good will of the House with me. I hope that, as the result of our co-operative endeavour, I shall have the privilege of seeing the Bill find its proper place on the Statute Book.
I am delighted to see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland present this morning, and I hope that he will look upon these proceedings with a kindly eye. I am perfectly certain that, if he does, his countenance will be transformed and no longer show the rather stern and unrelenting look which he exhibited during the two days of our recent debate on the Bank Rate Tribunal. I hope that, as we have him here, he will not only grace the occasion by sitting on the Front Bench but will join in the debate. I hope to have the satisfaction, after the hon. Gentleman has spoken, of knowing that the Government will support the Bill and that, if there is any money involved, the appropriate Money Resolution will be forthcoming.
The Bill brings to our attention again the problem of the dire consequences affecting children whose lives are broken 1491 and blighted in consequence of broken marriages. The growing menace of the problem is such that the State should stand aside no longer. It must, in the interests of national well-being, seek the best possible solution to mitigate the consequences flowing from the increasing number of broken marriages.
I ask hon. Members to think on these statistics. Each year, the parents of over 20,000 children are parted in divorce. Since 1938, there has been a increase of 200 per cent. in the number of petitions submitted to the courts. In 1937, the number was 5,000. There was a very rapid rise to the peak figure of 47,000 in 1947, and, since then, there has been a gradual decline until, I am advised, last year when the total number of divorce petitions submitted to the courts was 25,000.
To simplify those statistics, I am advised—I say at once that I have no official confirmation of this—that one child in twenty is affected by broken marriage, and the ratio of marriages breaking down can be expressed as one in twelve. Thus, taking the child population of this country, one child in twenty is regarded as "deprived."
In human terms, what does this mean? There are thousands of children deprived of the joys of home life, unloved, unwanted, feeling insecure, frustrated and embittered. What is worse is that they feel they are just outsiders, that they do not belong. I do not want to cite cases, because hon. Members are only too well aware of these things, but the fact that there is such a large stream of children entering the community life of the country deprived of the normal joys and happiness of the home must mean that those children, in the course of their experience, have not been able to make the kind of development which would lead to the formation of good character and right outlook. This is not the kind of basis upon which children can build well for their future lives, and thus, when they reach citizenship and themselves marry, they may well not be able to make of their own married life a very happy institution.
I should like to quote what the Royal Commission said about the problem, because it emphasises far better than I could possibly do the serious consequences 1492 of the problem of children of divorce. In paragraphs 360 and 362 of its Report, the Commission said:Of the problems resulting from the dissolution of marriage none is more serious than that of trying to ensure the future well-being of the children…. Where divorce takes place it is therefore essential that everything which is possible in the circumstances should be done to mitigate the effects on the child of the destruction of family life.In submitting this Bill for the consideration of the House, I recognise its serious limitations. Legislation, after all, can only mitigate the effects of these problems. There is no solution and no substitute in law for the emotional harmony of a happy home so essential in the development of a child. If the Bill finds itself translated into law, I hope that it will have the effect, as I have indicated, if not of solving these problems, at least of mitigating them, and that as a result it will be regarded as a children's charter. In any case, if the Bill becomes law it will be the first time that the State, as the State, will be able to say that it looks upon these children with a charitable eye.
The two main features of the Measure are these. First, no final decree either in divorce or in judicial separation can be, or will be, announced or made final until the court is satisfied that, as far as practicable in the circumstances of the case, satisfactory arrangements for the future welfare of the child or children of the marriage will be made.
The second aspect of the Bill is also important. It is the court welfare service. I do not want to exaggerate the place of this service in relation to the divorce courts. I do not want to give the House the impression that this is a proposition which will involve the spending of huge sums of public money.
May I seek to explain, as far as I can, how this scheme will work? The purpose will be to assist the judge faced with difficult decisions regarding the custody of children. He will have at his service an expert court welfare officer, whose work it will be to investigate the circumstances surrounding the matter. In the process of his duty, he will consult those who have a knowledge of the background of the family life of the parents and, indeed, the children. It will be that report which will be considered by the judge. The report will, as it were, assist the judgment 1493 of the court and help the court to reach the best possible decision in determining the all-important question of the future welfare of a child as to its custody, maintenance and education.
How will this service be recruited? It will simply mean, so far as the provinces are concerned, that the personnel will be provided from the excellent probation service under the jurisdiction of the Home Office. It will not mean that in every case the court welfare officer will be employed. In a number of cases the custody of the children will he easy to determine, but it will be in the difficult marginal cases where the court welfare officer will be employed. From the advice that I have received from the Department concerned, I do not think that the public money involved will be excessive in amount. We have in Lord Denning, Lord Merriman and Lord Morton three judges whom I regard as men who are eminently welfare-minded. Their interest in this problem is only too well revealed, and they strongly support this scheme.
Affidavits are not the best basis on which to determine the custody of children. Speaking as a trade union officer of many years' standing and having had experience of a number of affidavits in the course of my work, I would say that the only thing that affidavits ever convinced me of was the many-sidedness of truth. We have at the Royal Courts of Justice the court welfare scheme which was set up under the direction of the late Lord Jowitt—who was then Lord Chancellor—I have investigated this scheme, and I must pay tribute to the senior court welfare officer and his two assistants for the excellent work they are carrying out. Taking 1951 as the first year, they dealt with fifty cases. Thereafter, the number gradually increased. In 1957 the total number dealt with in the interests of the children was 162. Nearly 800 cases have been dealt with by the court welfare service since the inauguration of the scheme in 1951.
I should like to say a few words about a subject originally raised, I think, in the Denning Report, namely, the question of securing independent representation for the children in the court where divorce proceedings are held. Originally I was attracted to this proposal, but after giving 1494 it very careful thought I came down very strongly against such a proposition. I can see no validity or real value in it. Such a proposal is bound to mean that very heavy costs would be incurred by the litigants concerned. The best means that we can devise in the circumstances to secure the most effective representation of the children is through the medium of the court welfare officer.
The Bill is in two main parts. Part I deals with England and Wales, and Part II deals with Scotland. Part 11 is in essence and substance the same as Part I; but, studying Part II and the paragraphs in detail, we find some strange phrasing. I am advised that the sole purpose of these paragraphs is to emphasise the dignity of Scottish law and its superiority over the English code, If any difficulty arises concerning points of law in relation to Scotland, I hope that I may count upon the generosity of the Joint Under-Secretary of State to come to my aid.
Clause 1, which is really the nub of the Bill, deals with the duty of the divorce court to consider arrangements for children's welfare before a final decree is announced. The purpose of the Clause is to give effect to Recommendation 32 of the Royal Commission by requiring the High Court to satisfy itself about arrangements proposed for the children before making a final decree in matrimonial proceedings. The Royal Commission thought that this requirement was necessary to ensure, first, that the parents themselves give full consideration to their children's welfare, and secondly, to enable the court's control over the welfare of the children to be made more effective than under the existing procedure.
The Bill does not provide in all cases a substitute for parental responsibility. The Report, indeed, takes the opposite view by emphasising the importance of increasing the responsibility of the parents for the future welfare of their children so that the children may no longer be the mere devices and pawns in a settlement with a view to securing divorce.
Clause 2 deals with the jurisdiction exercisable by the divorce court concerning children in cases when proceedings are dismissed. In short, the children of petitioners for divorce will 1495 be covered by the Bill even in those cases when the petition, after hearing by the court, is dismissed.
Clause 3, which extends the jurisdiction of the divorce court when a husband neglects to maintain his wife or children, carries out the second part of Recommendation 39 of the Royal Commission by enabling the divorce court to make provision for the custody of the children when it has made an order for maintenance under Section 23 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, in cases when a husband has been guilty of wilful neglect to provide reasonable maintenance for his wife or the infant children of the marriage.
The Bill has a limitation in the categories of children whom the Royal Commission recommended should be covered at the time that the home is broken up. The children of the marriage are covered. Illegitimate children of both spouses are covered, as are the legally adopted children of both spouses. The children who are excluded are the illegitimate children of either spouse. This section of the child population is very few in number. The reason for this exclusion is that it would have been necessary to amend the existing general laws concerning orders for maintenance and I was advised that it would be unwise to import such a provision into the Bill by seeking to confer upon the High Court certain powers in deciding issues of maintenance that were not part of the jurisdiction of the court.
In reply to a Question yesterday by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), the Home Secretary referred to this matter at great length and stated that he had decided to appoint an expert committee to advise him upon these matters with a view to tidying up the whole question of custody and maintenance of children in relation to the courts. That is the explanation for the limitation of the Bill in relation to the appropriate recommendation of the Royal Commission.
Clause 4 sets out the conditions for empowering the court to commit children to the care of a local authority when the arrangements for the custody of the children by their parents are either impracticable or undesirable. In such circumstances the children would be 1496 committed to the care of a local authority as if they were so directed under the provisions of Section 1 of the Children Act, 1948. The only difference between children dealt with by the Bill and those directed to the care of a local authority in the first instance under the 1948 Act is that in this case the children will be subject to the continuous jurisdiction of the court and cannot be removed without the court's authority.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The hon. Member has suggested that when the children are not committed to either parent they are committed to the care of the local council. They can, of course, be committed to either parent or to any other individual. There are many cases when the parents cannot take the children but other people can. I should not like it to be thought that the children automatically go straight to the care of the council.
§ Mr. Moyle
The point made by the hon. and learned Member is covered, I think, by Clause 5 of the Bill. At the moment, I am dealing with the committal of a child to the local authority under Clause 4.
The High Court is empowered to commit a child to the care of a local authority on the same terms as a child directed under Section 1 of the 1948 Act, except that in these cases such children will not be the subject to emigration nor can they at any time be taken out of the jurisdiction of the court except with the approval of the court and provided that the county authority or the county borough may have the opportunity, as and when necessary, to make appropriate representations to the court in deciding any variation of the original order as to custody, maintenance and upbringing.
The supervision of the children thus committed to the care of a local authority will not come within the province of the Probation Service of the Home Office but will come under the direction of the children's committee and will be supervised by the children's officer so provided by the county authority.
Clause 5, which provides for the supervision of children, gives effect to Recommendation 38 of the Royal Commission by enabling the divorce court, after making an order for the custody of a child, 1497 to place the child under the supervision of a welfare officer or an officer of a local authority children's service. The Royal Commission considered that if, as it proposed, the court was obliged to consider the arrangements for the child before making a final decree in matrimonial proceedings, there would seldom be need for continued supervision of the children. To provide for exceptional cases, however, the Royal Commission recommended thatThe court should have power, on making an order for custody, to place the children under the supervision of a court welfare officer or other suitable personand that where such an order was made,the court should have power to re-open the question of custody at any time on its own motion.That applies to the children who are committed to the care of an independent person. I think that is the question which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Surrey, East raised with me.
With these observations I now submit the Bill and leave it to the care of the House. I know that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will do what they can to seek to improve the Bill so that, if it does reach the Statute Book, it can be said at any rate to have had the best consideration this House could possibly give it to secure for the children concerned the best possible legal instrument this House can devise for their welfare.
While we may not be able to say we have solved the problems which flow from broken marriages, we can say that by the passage of the Bill we started to form at any rate the basis of a children's charter which will do something to mitigate the dire consequences which fall so unreasonably upon the lives of the children, and to rescue them from the worst effects, and to help them to share the best life of the community and, in so doing, to make them good citizens and the right kind of material on which to base happy unions of their own.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I beg to second the Motion.
I should like to begin by most warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle), not only on his exceptionally good 1498 fortune in the Ballot, but also on the exceptionally good use he has made of it. This is not the first time by any means fortune has smiled on him in the Ballot. To get first place in the Ballot three times out of seven, as I think the hon. Gentleman has, is a lot. We readily acquit him, or you, Mr. Speaker, or anyone else, of legerdemain in this, but undoubtedly the stars which govern private Members' legislation are on his side.
We who occupy the back benches are sometimes heavy with grievances about the time and prestige accorded to back benchers. I have never thought much could be done to boost it by timetables or Motions. I think that back benchers will be judged by what they do with the opportunities accorded to them in such time as they are given. No one on either side of the House has a better record than the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen. No one has put the Ballot to better use in recent years.
This is one of four Measures, I think, promoted by private Members who are interesting themselves in seeking to implement the recommendations of Lord Morton's Commission, which reported just two years ago, in March, 1956, and which, perhaps to a greater extent than we realise, is being implemented not only by legislation but by other means and through other channels. This Bill, however, is by far the largest bite, as befits the holder of first place in the Ballot. I have no doubt at all that if back benchers want to wrest back some of their rights and privileges, then legislating on necessarily reasonably non-controversial social subjects which may not otherwise get into the Parliamentary programme, is one of the best ways of doing it.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman with his Bill is by any means merely clearing up arrears. On the contrary, in one respect this Bill is in the vanguard. Although we may discuss and may disagree about the broad future course of our major social services, whether we should continue to expand them, or which should be expanded the fastest and so on, and whatever decision we reach about that, there are certain human needs in which, I am certain, we shall be breaking fresh ground in the next few years. One, for instance, is sickness of the mind 1499 and everything relating to that. Another may be prison reform. A third unquestionably is the care and treatment of children whose family life has collapsed, children who have been let down by family life.
They are not entirely confined to the victims of this evil in particular. They form a disquietingly large percentage of our society. The minimum figure mentioned by the Royal Commission is 20,000. The maximum figure I do not think the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I have not seen it on record—the maximum number of children involved under this head is very much higher.
I was for a short time associated with this sort of work, and my dominant conclusion was that, excellent and generous and generally enlightened as our arrangements are, supported by the services of the most devoted and single-minded people, they may have one fault, and that is that we sometimes go too far in relieving parents who, for one reason or another, have let the children down of their ultimate obligations, not only their moral obligations but their financial obligations, too. I do not think society has fulfilled its obligations to the children of broken homes simply by establishing expensive substitutes at the public's expense and leaving it at that. Society may have fulfilled its obligations to the children, but it has not fulfilled its obligations to itself. It is not sound social doctrine to relieve parents altogether of the social consequences of their actions, because not only does their sense of responsibility thus become weakened, but so does that of other people.
That is one of the principles which runs right through Part V of the Royal Commission's Report devoted to the subject of children affected by divorce. It is stressed in particular in paragraph 377, from which one can see how closely in its provisions—and the Bill follows those provisions—the Royal Commission sought to encourage rather than extinguish the element of parental responsibility in this matter.
It certainly is the principle underlying Clause 1, which is the main Clause, the nub, as the hon. Gentleman said, of this Bill. With exceptions a little wider but not significantly wider, the Royal Commission recommended proper 1500 arrangements by the parents for the children's future as a condition of a decree. The whole range of the Royal Commission's recommendations, as I read them, and as faithfully reflected in the Bill, is to avoid the easy course of simply devising a public net to carry young victims of marital tragedy. That would not in some circumstances be a social service at all. It could become an anti-social service. The Royal Commission urged that such responsibility should begin with the parents and that the greatest difficulties should be resolved by them, save in a very small minority of cases where it cannot be done.
The Bill upholds this, and the courts are not, under this Bill, assuming any sweeping powers. Both Clause 4, which deals with the committal of a child by the court to the care of the local authority, and Clause 5 relating to the power of the court to provide for supervision, contain the phrase "exceptional circumstances."
Social principles apart, I think that there are cogent reasons why provisions for the services of court welfare officers and the officers of local authorities in this work should be sparing, why they should be a supplement to rather than a substitute for parental responsibility. This is skilled work and, in the foreseeable future, we shall not have a surplus of those willing and able and equipped to undertake it. It is not easy to find suitable persons to work in this field. The best are very hard to find indeed, and training and experience is not superficial. We simply have not the resources to embark, on a national or local scale, upon arrangements whereby 20,000 children each year become a public instead of a private responsibility. Paragraphs 385 and 386 of the Royal Commission's Report make that point very strongly.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen on Part II of the Bill. Though I do not intend to give an exposition of what it means. I recognise what a feat it is to have had it included in the Bill. My own small experience of legislation is that on reaching the crucial stage, at about the ninth or tenth draft, the news is received that "Scotland cannot agree to it." Due to some fundamental difference which I have never understood, the 1501 most admirable proposals in London become totally unworkable in Glasgow. Then, after a great deal of coming and going, one hears "The Scots will not agree."
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
When the hon. Member knows the Scots a little better he will understand that they are very unhappy when they agree and very happy when they disagree.
§ Mr. Deedes
I admire their tenacity in legislative matters. That is all that I was intending to convey. I will not tempt providence, but there seems to be a basis for agreement with the Scots on this Bill which puts the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen in a quite exceptional class of legislators.
The Bill fulfils a most urgent and deserving social need, and is based on sound principles which may very well become models for this work in other fields. Someone wrote to me the other day and said, as they put it, that they were sorry to see that I was assisting in loosening the sacred ties of family life. I can hardly think of a more inappropriate comment on the Bill or on those who are associated with it. That is precisely what it does not do. It strengthens rather than weakens family responsibility at its most vulnerable point. That is why it gets my wholehearted support, and I hope that it receives the support of the House.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I am glad to be able to join in the very warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) on what, I think, will be a very happy occasion in the history of the House. Although perhaps the Bill is not a great piece of legislation, nevertheless it is a Measure of profound importance to the happiness of a great many unhappy children.
My hon. Friend has been extraordinarily lucky in the Ballot. In a House in which jealousy is perhaps an occupational disease and a besetting sin, nobody would feel the slightest jealousy of my hon. Friend, not only because when he has been fortunate in the Ballot he has used his opportunities so wisely and so constructively, but because of his own personal charm and the modesty with 1502 which he goes about to help and seek help in matters of this kind.
The Government ought to be very happy and very grateful to my hon. Friend, because he is saving them a great deal of trouble. In a debate in another place on 24th October, 1956, some very hard things were said about the Government for not being prepared to introduce legislation to enact Part V of the Royal Commission's Report. The Lord Archbishop of York, who is, incidentally, not noted for his desire to break up family life, said:If Her Majesty's Government had found it possible to introduce legislation for the welfare of children on this specific point in relation to the law courts, the name of the noble Lordthat is, of Lord Mancroft—would have been associated with what would indeed have been a children's charter…what we have been told is disappointing…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 24th October, 1956; Vol. 199, c. 1000.]My hon. Friend's name, however, will be associated forever with a children's charter if this Bill is passed.
Lord Merthyr, who is Chairman of the Council of the Magistrates Association, was even more vigorous. He was talking about the provision that, before a decree is made absolute, the welfare of the children must be provided for to the satisfaction of the court. He said:It was a unanimous recommendation, and I was sorry to hear the noble Lord. Lord Mancroft, say that there was no hope at present of its being brought into force.In language reminiscent of battles long ago, he added:We shall continue to harry the noble Lord until something is done about this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 24th October, 1956; Vol. 199, c. 1029.]If the Government give the support which they ought to give to this Bill, they will no longer be in danger of being harried in another place.
It is extremely pleasant to spend one's time in saying what a nice person is my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen, but I do not think that that in itself is sufficient ground for taking up time on Second Reading. I want, therefore, to make some criticism of the Bill, but in doing so it is with full acceptance of the general lines of the Measure. Some of my criticisms 1503 may seem to my hon. Friend to be Committee points, but I am in the difficulty that, to use a phrase which has become rather popular this week, I am in danger of being in purdah in Standing Committee D for a long time and may not be able to attend and make my points in Committee. Therefore, I want to make them now, if my hon. Friend and the House will forgive me, because I think they are very important.
The first criticism is on the question of the definition of children. My hon. Friend has given his reasons for departing from the Royal Commission's recommendation. I think that that departure is a very great mistake. There is no class of child more pathetic than the illegitimate child in the family, with his feeling of being different from other children, of not belonging to anyone and no one being responsible for him, who in time of crisis is dumped somewhere else because he is only a second-class member of the family. This is the root cause of a great deal of the psychological difficulties which illegitimate children have to face.
In some families, and I do not imply that they are by any means the majority, which reach the divorce courts there have been many previous trials and errors. Parents as they have gone along have not infrequently picked up quite a number of illegitimate children in various combinations, some of them being even more remote than the legitimate children of a previous marriage. That is the kind of family with which the Bill is designed to deal. If the effect of the Bill will be that the High Court judge is able to look at the children who have two parents—which is something—and can say, "You cannot be considered. I can take no interest in you. I am not concerned with your welfare because you are just an illegitimate child of the mother or the father", that will separate that child and mark it out with the mark of Cain in a way which I think would be deplorable.
If it is not possible to include in the Bill a provision for the maintenance of the child, for the reasons developed by my hon. Friend, then at least the court should be charged with the duty of caring for its custody. After all, the child has been living as a member of the family, is accustomed to regarding the parents as his parents, and then at 1504 this moment of crisis someone says to him, "No, you are not to be considered." The effect of that in what admittedly may be perhaps only a small number of cases will be profound.
The value of this Bill is that it is a preventive one. It is trying to prevent a breakdown in the mind of the child which leads to delinquency, maladjustment, and all the rest. Therefore, to wait until the child has been tossed from one unwilling aunt to an unwilling uncle, finally ending in the care of the council under the Children's Act, would be to weaken the value of this Bill, so I hope the point will be examined carefully in Committee.
The second point is one of interpretation. I am not clear whether the powers under Clauses 4 and 5 for care and supervision are mutually interchangeable. In other words, if the court makes a supervision order, can it substitute for this a care order? Alternatively, if the child is in care and the court wishes to take him out of care, can it couple the order taking him out of care with a supervision order? I think they ought to be interchangeable, and I hope this important point will be clarified.
The general idea behind the Bill of having the power to place a child in care or under supervision is admirable, and I have no criticism to make. However, I want to develop a point where I disagree with my hon. Friend. I will be frank in saying that on this occasion I am not standing on the findings of the Royal Commission because this is not in them. It is a matter about which I feel strongly. There ought to be in this Bill power for the High Court to delegate its functions for supervision and care to the juvenile court of the district in which the child lives. My hon. Friend disagrees with me on this point, but there are two real grounds on which my belief is based. I hope my hon. Friend is listening.
In the first place, I believe he thinks that I am engaged in empire-building activities for the juvenile courts and that my point is not really based on a dispassionate consideration of these matters, but merely on my desire to see more work for those courts. Secondly, I believe that he, from his greater personal experience in getting Private Members' Bills through this House, is convinced that such a 1505 power would cause difficulty in the House and might endanger the Bill. That is the last thing I would wish to do.
A great many cases where the divorced couple are people of substance, and have legal representation in the High Court, are obviously ones which would be dealt with by the High Court judge. One does not want to think of this in economic and financial terms, but, on the whole, that is the kind of case where it would probably cause resentment, so it would be wrong to have such cases supervised by juvenile courts. There are, however, a number of very humble people who get involved in such difficulties. In those cases, the judge—because it will depend only on the judge—may feel that much the best way to deal with them would be to have supervision by the local juvenile court.
I am not clear who will make decisions varying the orders of the court under either Clause 4 or 5. What is meant by the High Court? Is it a judge sitting in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the Law Courts here? Is it a judge on circuit? Or is it somebody in the local divorce registry in one of the towns which have divorce facilities? Whichever it is, discretion is likely to be exercised by somebody who has not a great deal of local knowledge and certainly not the familiarity which comes only from experience of dealing with the complicated problems of many children's lives.
§ Mr. Moyle
I know my hon. Friend is learned in the law, if not yet entitled to be described as such. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being so interested in the Bill. On the points he has raised, I will endeavour to give him some advice between now and the Committee stage. If I cannot satisfy him, he can put down an Amendment and we can have a proper debate on the points he raises. On the principle of the reference to the juvenile court as a supervisory agency, I am not at all convinced. I cannot see the slightest element of justification for it and, frankly, I am afraid that I would not get it through the House, because these children would be regarded psychologically as juvenile delinquents.
§ Mr. MacColl
I do not think my hon. Friend was listening, because he was having consultations when I was developing what I thought was the ground of his disagreement with me. He has confirmed what I said. Therefore I implore him not to close his mind on this matter, because there are two points of view on it. I am certain that what I say represents the views of many people who have much practical experience of this problem.
As an illustration, this is the kind of case I have in mind. An order is made placing a child in the care of the council, with a direction from the judge that the father shall have access. The father takes the child to the dogs and does not return it until 10 p.m. The children's authority get very worked up against this and think it is a bad idea. They say to the father, "We shall have to stop you seeing the child." The father gets angry because he says it is an interference with his rights as a father and with his child's liberty.
That kind of thing cannot be resolved by a formal hearing. It has to be discussed. Someone says to the father, "You have been behaving stupidly. We will adjourn the case for a fortnight and if, during that time, the child is brought back every night, we will say no more. But if you continue to play the fool, we will have to vary the order." That kind of family argument, which goes on between the social workers responsible and the indignant parent, is the kind of problem which is everyday business in the juvenile court, and it is the kind of job which can be tackled by a local court which is easily accessible. Often the court will make short adjournments to watch how the case is developing. I do not believe that this system will work effectively in these rather small matters, which cause a lot of trouble, by having the formal legal machinery which is suitable in cases of people who have adequate legal advice and representation.
That is the general ground. When my hon. Friend says that this will be wrong because the juvenile court is an entirely unsuitable place, I am afraid that he has misinstructed himself. In fact, in this matter everybody is out of step except "our Arthur".
It is a new idea that under the Children Act a court can direct a council to take 1507 a child into its care. I welcome it. When a child is taken into care under that Act the local authority may pass a resolution assuming the rights and powers of parents. That is subject to appeal at the time it is made, and it is subject to appeal at any later stage, when the parents may apply to have the order revoked.
That is the nearest analogy to the kind of case with which we are dealing. The child is being placed under care in the same way. In the other cases under that Act, Parliament has decided that the responsible supervising court should be the juvenile court. Parliament having done that, it is a clear indication that Parliament does not feel that the juvenile court is merely a criminal court. It is a court of a specialist kind, concerned with matters of custody, care and maintenance. It is familiar with social service matters and the duties of children's officers and welfare workers. It has available the services of probation officers and all the machinery which has been built up to take care of the interests of children.
I feel—I hope the matter will be considered in Committee—that discretion should be given to a judge to transfer responsibility to a local juvenile court to watch over the welfare of a child in what he realises is a suitable case, one where there is likely to be a breakdown if it is not supervised very carefully.
I do not want to end on a note of criticism of the Bill. The points which I have raised, although I think they are very important, do not in any way derogate from the tremendous value of the Bill, which is recognised by everybody. Whatever our views about divorce may be, we are all agreed that the unhappy victims of matrimonial breakdowns, the children, should be the chief object of the court's consideration. That is why we are all so grateful to my hon. Friend for having introduced the Bill, which is probably as important a contribution to child welfare on the preventive side as anything which could be done in the present situation. I warmly support my hon. Friend. I hope that I shall have an opportunity for a first-class row with him in Standing Committee if I can get away from my other commitments, but I congratulate him and thank him for having introduced the Bill.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) upon his fortune in the Ballot for the third time. Whatever may have happened to his earlier Bills, I wish him luck this time. He has introduced his Measure with his usual clarity, brevity and modesty.
The problem before us all is how we are to mitigate the hardships imposed upon young children by the vagaries of their parents. Sometimes it is the fault of one parent and sometimes it is the fault of both-parents; whichever it is, the young children are the sufferers. I say this with experience from the legal side. The vast majority of divorce cases go through undefended. A number are defended, but, generally speaking, the parties are anxious that the cases should proceed with the utmost celerity.
When the decree absolute or decree nisi is pronounced, in many cases the real battle starts. Questions of maintenance have to be decided and money begins to enter into the problem, and then feelings run a little high. Custody of and provision for the children are matters which are generally decided at the same time. The battle is generally a hard one, and the children are used as pawns in it. Consequently, whatever order is made by the court, the children are the ones who suffer.
It is a little trite to talk about juvenile delinquency in this context, but I am satisfied that what I have just described is one of the reasons why we suffer so much today from the evils of juvenile delinquency. The parents having thrown the problem upon us, it is our duty to do the best we can to solve it in so far as it can be solved. Whatever we do, we cannot provide anything which would take the place of the parents or provide for the children the conditions which they would have experienced if their parents' marriage had not broken down.
I wish also to congratulate those who laboured for four years to produce the voluminous Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce. If our task is comparatively short, theirs was Herculean; they produced a very comprehensive and sensible Report on which they are to be congratulated. The 1509 Bill goes a short way towards dealing with some of the problems which the Report raises; it also deals with them, generally speaking, in the manner which the Royal Commission recommended.
I will not say that there are not respects in which the Bill could be improved. However, I shall not weary the House with a lot of Committee points. I am not suggesting that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) did so. I do not entirely agree with him that these cases should be sent to juvenile courts. The hon. Member spoke of people of means being represented by solicitors and counsel and said that with the assistance of the judge the best possible solution would be reached in such cases. I would remind him that today we have provision for legal aid and advice, and people of the humblest means can be represented by solicitors and counsel in such cases. In divorce cases today, practically all those concerned are legally represented. I see no reason why that representation should not be continued when orders have to be made or varied.
§ Mr. MacColl
Where people are legally aided, it would be a very expensive and rather cumbersome business to have to go through the process of obtain-mg certificates and assessments of means from the National Assistance Board every time one wanted to go to court to discuss whether one ought to be allowed to have a child out for a Christmas dinner spree. Here we are dealing with a very homely situation. We get down to the rock-bottom of family life in these matters.
§ Mr. Doughty
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will not be necessary to make a separate application if the proceedings are taken under the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949. The rules and regulations provide for that quite simply, and therefore I cannot agree with him; but this is a Committee point which will have to be thrashed out.
Another point arising under Clause 1, which is really the whole nub of the Bill, is that although a decree absolute cannot be made until proper arrangements have been made for the children, there does not seem to me to be any provision for ensuring that those arrangements are maintained. If a couple who are anxious to push their case for a 1510 decree absolute go before the court and make a statement indicating that arrangements for the children, which the court agrees are suitable, will be made, and then after some time they break that arrangement, there does not seem to be any provision for bringing the case up again on anybody's application. This, again, however, is a Committee point. I have no doubt that Amendments will be put down and the subject discussed in Committee, but this is a loophole in the Bill which we ought to stop up.
On subsection (2), which is a most important part of the Bill, dealing with cases where the decree absolute can be made quickly in special circumstances, I do not think it is sufficient to obtain a satisfactory undertaking from the parties. I do not like undertakings in court; I think the court should make orders. If there is an exceptional case for a decree absolute, then the court should not accept an undertaking, but should make an order, so that the parties concerned shall appear before it at a specified time and detail the arrangements they have made. Again, this is a Committee point, and no doubt Amendments can be put down to the subsection, but this is a matter which ought to be thrashed out so that the Bill is improved in that respect.
Reference was also made by the hon. Gentleman to Clauses 4 and 5, and, although these Clauses are very important parts of the Bill, they apply only in exceptional circumstances, particularly the very exceptional circumstances in which the court is satisfied that neither parent is a suitable person to have the care of a young child. More than that, not only where the parents are unsuitable, but also in cases where neither of the parents, for whatever reason, is suitable, and there is no grandmother or anybody else who is fit to have the care of the child, it is only then that the children will have to be taken under the care of the local authority. Therefore, although this is an important part of the Bill, it is one which in practice will be found to apply to far fewer cases than those covered by Clause 1.
The hon. Member, in introducing the Bill, said that Part II, relating to Scotland, was, in fact, the same as Part I, except that, if I may use the expression without offence to people from north of 1511 the Tweed, it has been translated into Scottish language. I should hesitate to spoil any harmony which exists about this Bill by attempting to talk about Scottish law or what happens in Scotland. I leave that to hon. Members whom I see here representing constituencies north of the Tweed. I will only say that I do from time to time, when I desire to enliven the proceedings, take myself, metaphorically, north of the Tweed, when I can be assured of entertainment. I shall spare myself that pleasure today, and conclude by saying that I support the Bill, that I have given my name to it, and that I hope it will have a rapid and unopposed Second Reading, to be further improved during the Committee stage.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) on his good fortune and wisdom in introducing this Bill. It is one of several Bills submitted this Session which have resulted from the Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce. Although my hon. Friend was perfectly correct in saying that if one wants to succeed with a Private Member's Bill, it is generally desirable to bring in a non-controversial Measure, nevertheless I would myself say that there is some virtue in bringing in a thoroughly controversial Measure so that one may provide material for some of one's friends to proceed with legislation.
I should like to emphasise that, whatever our views may be about the issues which brought about the Royal Commission's Report, I am sure that all of us are extremely anxious that everything that possibly can be done should be done in these unhappy circumstances for the welfare of the children. I myself have views on divorce which are not shared by everyone in this House, but I am second to none in saying that, where children are concerned in these cases, our duty should be primarily to them. After all, the parents have had their chances in life, though they may have made their errors and mistakes and may also have had some misfortunes. The children, at least, are not at fault, and they are also often the worst sufferers. That is why I say that we must do our utmost for their welfare.
1512 When these matters were discussed in another place, the late Lord Jowitt suggested, if I remember correctly, that there should be some distinction in the law of divorce in cases where the are children, as opposed to those cases which are not. I am not sure that I would go quite as far as that, but I am not averse to any measures which may be taken to emphasise, as this Bill emphasises, the special responsibilities of person who are contemplating divorce if they have children of dependent age.
Nevertheless, in speaking on this Bill, I think we ought to get the position perhaps a little clearer than my hon. Friend was able to make it when he quoted some figures early in his speech. I must confess that I was surprised at some of the figures he gave, and I think we need to have this matter in proper perspective. I should therefore like to remind the House of the fact that of all proceedings taken for dissolution of marriage, one-third are taken by people who have no children and who never have had any children. The figures go back to 1899 and show that the proportion has been remarkably constant.
Of all divorce proceedings, one-third are taken by childless couples. Another third—again the figures have been remarkably constant—are taken by persons who have only one child of the marriage. I am not suggesting for a moment that one child is not worthy of consideration. In fact, an only child is usually the most difficult to deal with. It is interesting to note that two-thirds of all the divorce proceedings are taken by people who are childless or have only one child, and that it is in the case of the other one-third that we have families with children. This is important in the sense that, financially, it becomes more and more difficult to makes satisfactory arrangements the larger the responsibilities for education become.
§ Mrs. White
I understand that they apply to dissolution and annulment, but not to judicial separation, but, the number of judicial separations is relatively small.
1513 As to the number of children concerned, I think we have some ground to complain in that the figures of children under sixteen are not published in divorce statistics generally, which deal with the number of children involved regardless of the age they had reached at the time when the divorce took place. Therefore, one is sometimes misled by the suggestion that, for statistical purposes, children "necessarily means" young children." It means issue of the marriage.
It has been pointed out that the Royal Commission itself, in its Report, said that every year some 20,000 children were concerned, but it is not stated in the Commission's Report where the Commission obtained that information. Presumably, it was obtained by some means from the Registrar-General.
§ Mr. Moyle
Would my hon. Friend allow me to try to help her? I found the same difficulty in trying to get official statistics of these proportions. First, I took the figure of 20,000 from the Royal Commission's Report, and I have taken other figures from a statement by Lord Merriman on 24th October in another place.
§ Mrs. White
I fully accept what my hon. Friend has said. In its Report, the Royal Commission mentions 20,000, but I think I am right in saying that the Registrar-General does not normally publish figures giving the number of children under sixteen and that he made some special inquiry for the Royal Commission for the year 1954. I do not want to minimise the problem, but we should get it into perspective. It is not necessarily every year among these divorce petitions that we have quite as many children as that. This does not lessen the importance of dealing as well as we possibly can with the very large number of children involved, but we should not get the problem out of perspective by having it based on inadequate information.
While the Bill, quite rightly, deals with the children of parents whose marriages are dissolved, when we are thinking of deprived children in this connection we have to remind ourselves that children of parents whose marriages have been broken in other ways—either by magis- 1514 trates' court orders or through parents living apart without any legal orders—are every bit as unhappy and as badly cared for as the children whose parents' marriages end in legal dissolution. We are dealing in this Bill with only a relatively small number of the children involved. When talking about divorce, people are often apt to forget that the children about whom we are so much concerned are every bit as badly off, often worse off, where marriages have not been legally dissolved.
Before I turn to the Bill itself, I want to deal further with the point about children of parents whose marriage is broken in a sense that a magistrates' court order has been made. Although my hon. Friend has not included such cases in the Bill, we are very glad to have the Written Answer in HANSARD this morning from the Home Secretary stating that he has agreed to set up a committee to consider the whole question of matrimonial proceedings in magistrates' courts. I hope that that will extend to magistrates' court cases, when the time comes, the kind of provision which we are now making for divorce court cases.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
I am glad that the hon. Lady has mentioned the Answer which my right hon. Friend has given. This is perhaps a suitable moment to clarify a point in that respect. When the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) mentioned this matter he indicated that the expert committee's attention would be directed not only to proceedings in magistrates' courts but also to proceedings in the High Court. In fact, that is not the case. The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) has just stated the matter correctly in saying that it will be confined to magistrates' courts.
§ Mrs. White
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member. We should congratulate the Home Secretary on the number of committees which he is setting up. He is doing most valuable preliminary work which we shall be able to translate into legislation when we become the Government.
Turning to the provisions of the Bill, there are one or two matters about which 1515 I must confess that I am not entirely happy. I am not legally trained and therefore am not fully conversant with the present practice in the divorce court, but I was fortified in my apprehensions about the Bill by the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty).
It is suggested that it is only in exceptional circumstances that there should be any supervision to see that the arrangements which are made are in fact carried out. That is stated in Clause 5. I should be very much obliged if the Joint Under-Secretary of State, if he intends to intervene in the debate, would inform the House what sanctions there are if arrangements are made under Clause 1 and then for one reason or another are not carried out.
We do not wish the other party to have to intervene; that would be most unfortunate because it would bring back the child into pawn, which is what we propose to eliminate as far as possible. It therefore should not be achieved through such intervention. That is why I am a little concerned about the suggestion in Clause 5 that it is only in exceptional circumstances that the court may state that there should be supervision.
I am not suggesting for one moment that there would be a very large number of cases in which the court would wish to have the active supervision of a welfare officer regularly visiting the child and the home, but ought there not to be some obligation, if there is none already, upon the parent or the persons who have custody of the child to report from time to time, for instance if the child's place of education or place of residence is changed and not merely if the address of the person who has custody of the child is changed? Provision is made for the last point. If any major circumstance occurs in the child's life, surely that ought to be reported, if it is in any way relevant to the arrangements which are agreed at the time when the court is satisfied and makes the decree absolute. If this is not done, then in certain cases this may become a dead letter.
The hon. and learned Member said that those who are trying to obtain dissolution of their marriage may, in order to obtain that dissolution, agree to various courses 1516 which later they may be either unwilling or unable to carry out. I know that the Bill follows the Royal Commission suggestion that there should be supervision only in exceptional cases, but I am not at all happy that we are making adequate arrangements in the Bill, unless there are already some arrangements in the High Court of which I am not aware and which provide for the kind of situation which I envisage.
§ Mr. Deedes
This is an important point. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that there should be an obligation to notify a change of circumstances or is she suggesting that provision should be made for finding out a change of circumstances?
§ Mrs. White
I should have thought that there should be an obligation and that if it had not been fulfilled one would be liable in some way, but I am not a lawyer and I cannot put this view in a legal form. If we do not wish the Bill to be a mere formality between the decree nisi and the decree absolute, we should make some provision to see that it is not likely to be disregarded. I feel that this should be done not only in cases which are so obviously difficult that the court regards them as exceptional and orders supervision. I do not want to suggest that we should expect welfare officers to go round to see all these children all the time, because that would be unnecessary and unreasonable, but we do not want people to enter into agreements or obligations and then, their enthusiasm having waned as time has passed, not to carry them out.
Another point which worries me a little is the age of the children. The Bill suggests that sixteen is old enough. There may be good reasons for that, but I understand that a child can be in the care of a local authority up to the age of eighteen, although orders are not made over the age of seventeen. I wonder whether sixteen is old enough. I can think of cases in which children a year or two older—just over sixteen or seven—teen might be at a very critical stage in their education.
§ Mr. Doughty
The reason is that the jurisdiction of the divorce court, with certain exceptions, has always been limited to the age of sixteen and to go beyond that would mean a complete 1517 change in the whole practice of the divorce court. It might be right to do so but it is probably undesirable to do so. The jurisdiction of the divorce court has always been limited to sixteen, with exceptions with which I will not trouble the hon. Lady.
§ Mrs. White
When I read the Bill I suspected that there must be a reason of that kind for choosing the age of sixteen, but I am still not completely satisfied that it is the right age. With the emphasis placed these days on further education, irrespective of social status, we ought at least to suggest that this is a matter which should be looked at, because for purposes of education, in particular, the problem of these teen-age years can be extremely important. If, for example, in some cases one is trying to make financial arrangements to provide for the education of a person who is more than 16 years old, I should have thought that might be a very important factor. Because the divorce court in its general proceedings cannot, or has not in the past, dealt with children older than sixteen, it seems to me a pity that we should not do so now. What are we here for, except to legislate? If something has been the practice hitherto and we think it better altered, I cannot see why we should not at least attempt to alter it, and so I should like to see the age increased at least to seventeen.
I sympathise with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) about the other group of children recommended by the Royal Commission to be included, but which is not included. We are happy to find that the illegitimate children of both spouses are now included, but there are circumstances in which there might be an illegitimate child of either spouse, not of both, and apparently it is difficult to include them in the provisions of this Bill. It may raise complications, but my hon. Friend has, if I may so put it, no sort of political trouble with this Bill, and therefore I hope that he will not be lacking in enthusiasm even for Amendments which may be a little complicated.
I cannot claim the experience which would enable me to judge whether my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes is right in saying that he feels that the 1518 juvenile courts should look after the supervisory matters covered by the Bill, or should be enabled to. From the commonsense point of view, I should think that what he says is right. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East may move in higher spheres, but in view of many of the domestic details which are bound to arise in some of these cases, the more homely atmosphere of the juvenile court is probably the best place to discuss them.
§ Mr. MacColl
I do not wish it to appear that my hon. Friend is misinterpreting what I said. Although it may be that juvenile courts possess qualifications enabling them to act in such cases, I did not mean that the juvenile court had some inherent right to do so. I maintain that if the High Court judge, in his wisdom, thinks a case suitable for more detailed supervision he should be given the necessary power. I accept that the discretion should rest with the High Court judge who makes the original order.
§ Mrs. White
With that argument I have a great deal of sympathy, but these are points which we may hope to discuss during the Committee stage. The main purpose of the Bill is wholly admirable—that we should emphasise most strongly to the public and all the parties concerned that they have no right whatever to seek a legal dissolution of a marriage where children are involved without doing their utmost to see that the best is done for the children in what must be unhappy circumstances.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
I do not wish to curtail the debate, but I hope that it may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage in order to welcome the Bill on behalf of the Government.
May I first answer a question asked by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). She asked what is the sanction for the enforcement of Clause I. The hon. Lady will realise that Clause I involves the making of orders by the court and already the court has various methods for the enforcement of its own orders. To inform the hon. Lady about the sanction behind the Clause would need something of a discourse on the 1519 methods of enforcement of court orders. Of course, it is open to the court, either on its own motion or the motion of either of the parties, to vary or discharge orders which it has made.
The Government welcome the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) on having used his now legendary good fortune in the Ballot to introduce a helpful Measure. I speak with some feeling, because although I balloted regularly for about eleven years, I never once drew even the bottom place in the Ballot. Therefore, I greatly envy the hon. Gentleman.
It is widely recognised that the children of people whose marriages have run into difficulties for one reason or another are inevitably subjected to great strain and stress. One could quote figures one way or the other, as has been done by the hon. Member for Flint, East and by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen, proving what is the measure of the problem; but let us accept the fact that a very considerable number of children, who have no responsibility for and no control over the actions of their parents, whose lives and happiness are deeply affected by the disputes of their parents, and the way in which those disputes are settled, or are not settled. It is right, therefore, that the courts and this House should pay regard to the welfare of those children. I am sure that if this Bill becomes law, those who administer the law will welcome the new powers and responsibilities which will be given to them.
As is well known by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen, a good deal has been done under existing powers and by administrative action to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Matrimonial Causes Rules made last year provide that the parties should submit in writing to the court the proposed future arrangements for the care and upbringing of the children. An officer of the Probation Service has been attached to the divorce division in London as a court welfare officer since 1950. The Royal Commission states that it was most favourably impressed by his work. Since the Report of the Royal Commission was published similar arrangements have been made, with the co-operation of probation com- 1520 mittees, for probation officers to be available at courts outside London at which divorce cases are tried. These are in some but not all of our large towns.
The Royal Commission considered that in most cases it would be possible for the parties to make satisfactory arrangements for the welfare of the children. However, it thought that there would be exceptional cases in which the court did not consider that either the husband or the wife, whether guilty or innocent, was able to make satisfactory arrangements for the upbringing of the children. In these cases there should be power to commit to the custody of a third party or to a local authority. There might also be cases where there was not the need to make an order for custody to a third party, but where it was desirable to arrange for supervision either by the welfare officer—that is to say, the probation officer—or by an officer of the local authority children's service. I am glad to see that the Bill covers both those points.
I have reason to believe that the local authority associations are in agreement with the general principles involved, which is also fortunate. After the good start that the Bill has had today, may I wish the hon. Gentleman further good fortune with it. He has used his opportunity to introduce a useful, humane and indeed a necessary Measure.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I want at this stage to associate the Opposition with what the Joint Under-Secretary has just said and to say how much we welcome the Bill. Certainly we shall do nothing to put any impediment in the way of its successful arrival on the Statute Book. I join in the general congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). Already to have to his credit the Fireworks Act, 1951, and the Slaughter of Animals (Amendment) Act, 1954, is a remarkable achievement, and it now seems that my hon. Friend will have yet a third Measure to his credit.
Every year, when the time for ballot-ting for Private Members' Bills approaches, or when the result of the Ballot is announced, I canvass my hon. Friend to try to interest him in a Bill about stag hunting. I am bound to 1521 confess, though, that on this occasion I could not find any argument to use against his introducing this Bill in preference to that.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Anyway, I could not find any reason why my hon. Friend should not introduce this Bill and every reason why he should.
I join in the congratulations to him, and also in the thanks to those Government Departments which, I understand, have facilitated the preparation of this Measure.
It would be ungracious of me if I did not also congratulate the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). It is always very much better on occasions when a Private Member's Bill comes before the House that it should be an all-party Measure, and we appreciate the fact that the hon. Member for Ashford seconded the Motion for the Second Reading.
Generally speaking, on this side of the House we welcome the disappearance of Ministers from the Government. Indeed, those disappearances have become so frequent that we are inured to the loss of Ministers at fairly frequent intervals, but we have never seen any Under-Secretary depart from the Home Office without a feeling of regret, and among those whom we have been sad to see go has been the hon. Member for Ashford.
The speech he made today, with his suggestion of the progress which could be made with general consent in the fields of mental health, prison reform, and the care of children, was the sort of speech which would have been made by the hon. Member's distinguished uncle if he had been a Member of this assembly. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and I worked with Sir Wyndham Deedes for a number of years, and I think that he was the nearest thing to a saint that I am ever likely to come across in this mortal life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen said that the purpose of his Bill was to mitigate the consequences which flow from the 1522 increasing rate of broken marriages. I was appalled at some of the figures which he gave and, whether we accept those figures or the doubts which have influenced the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East, all of us will agree that the figures are too serious for the House to ignore. We are therefore appreciative of the fact that my hon. Friend has followed up the suggestion of the Archbishop of York in another place that this "Children's Charter" should be introduced,
I am glad that the hon. Member for Ashford referred to the letter which he received accusing him of seeking to break the sacred ties of matrimony, and I am glad that we have not brought into the debate the morality of divorce because, whatever our views, and whether we regard divorce as proper or not, nobody ever sees a broken marriage without a feeling of the deepest regret. If divorce is to be a permanent part of our social life, and, perhaps, a part which is growing in importance, then we have the responsibility of taking every action to look after the interests of the children who are concerned.
I confess that I personally felt appalled and ashamed this morning that I had not in the past been more keenly aware of the great tragedy which has been occurring in our midst, although I know, as every magistrate in a juvenile court knows, the extraordinary trail of juvenile delinquency which flows from broken homes and lack of parental responsibility. It seems, therefore, to be proper that the State should step in and refuse divorce, unless and until the court is satisfied that adequate provision has been made for any children of the marriage.
One of the aspects of the Bill which particularly attracts me is that this provision may give parents a greater sense of responsibility. It may, as the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce suggested, even keep parents together when they realise that they are failing in their parental responsibility. Yet, how many of us know of cases where the parents stay together for the sake of the children, when they have nothing else in common, and when there is an atmosphere of strain in the family which may well be more serious for the children than if the marriage completely broke up.
1523 I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought the Probation Service into the scheme which he is proposing. All of us admire tremendously the sense of devotion of the Probation Service and the efficiency with which it carries out its work. I hope that I shall not be introducing too controversial a note at this stage if I say how much many of us on both sides of the House regret the Government's decision to reduce the salary increase which was awarded by the Joint Negotiating Committee to the Probation Service.
If probation officers were a less kindly and less charitable body of men and women, they might well resent the fact that we as a House are proposing to impose further responsibilities on them at the same time as we are reducing the increase in pay which an impartial body had awarded to them. I hope that rather than persist in this rather niggardly saving of £4,500 a year, the Joint Under-Secretary will persuade the Home Secretary during the next few days to be himself and to take a more generous view of the situation.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member used the phrase "reducing the increase" which is not a very easy phrase to follow. However, it remains an increase of 8.2 per cent. and the hon. Member should not overlook that fact.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Certainly it is an increase, but the disappointing thing is that after a great deal of consideration and after a fairly long delay in considering the proposal, instead of granting the Increase which was recommended, the amount to be given has been reduced. There has been a good deal of criticism of the Government's action, taken to save £4,500 a year, a saving which newspapers have called "an act of injustice", "penny wise and pound foolish", "niggardly" and "false economy". But I do not want to introduce too controversial a note at this stage of the proceedings.
There are clearly points in the Bill which we shall have to consider carefully in Committee. There was the point raised about magistrates' courts, and I join with my hon. Friend in welcoming the Written Answer which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary gave yesterday to the hon. Member for Leeds, 1524 North-East (Sir K. Joseph). I was impressed by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) about the definition of children and his wish that we should in some way manage to bring within the scope of the Bill the illegitimate children of either partner in a marriage.
He may have a powerful case in favour of that, and I hope that we shall have an opportunity to consider it carefully in Committee. Those children, as he put it, have been living as members of the family and are, therefore, perhaps the most likely people to suffer in the event of the marriage breaking up. I was less impressed by what he said about juvenile courts, but no doubt he will deploy his argument on that more fully at a later stage.
I also found myself in much agreement with the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) in his view that it should be a matter of an order from the court and not an undertaking from the parties.
Having made those minor criticisms, I shall end as I began, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen. This is the sort of Measure we expect of his generous nature, and it is a very good Bill indeed. We in our party acknowledge a great deal of indebtedness to Margaret Macmillan for the work she did for children. About a year ago the Margaret Macmillan Fellowship had the pleasure of a visit from the present Home Secretary, as its guest of honour, on the occasion of its annual dinner, and her work now is, I think, generally acknowledged by all sections of society.
On one occasion, Margaret Macmillan said, "All children are mine." It seems to me that it is in that spirit that my hon. Friend has brought forward his Measure, that we as a House are asserting our responsibilities for the well-being of children in most unfortunate circumstances, and we are asserting that, even if some parents fail in their responsibility as parents, we have no intention of failing in our responsibility as a House of Commons.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am very glad to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for Oldbury and 1525 Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). In a sense, I suppose, when we come to the House as Members of Parliament we become epicene, but, on this occasion, I am particularly glad to be able to pay a compliment to a man, for one does not very often have the chance of doing so publicly.
Like the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), I find myself in a little difficulty. I am not only on one Committee but on two. I happen to be on Committee B and Committee D; so perhaps I may be excused if I also raise one or two Committee points. Speaking from my own experience of the many cases with which I have had to deal, I support and press the point made by the hon. Member for Widnes concerning illegitimate children. It is a very serious problem and extremely difficult to tackle. I hope that he will be able to raise the matter again in Committee.
The State is a majestic organisation necessary to protect men's lives and to secure their rights. It helps to adjust their conflicts but it was said by Burke, "Laws reach but very little way". We can say of this law that it will help to adjust conflicts, help children to secure their rights, but one realises, nevertheless, that it can go only a very little way to mitigate their misfortunes.
Before I quote from the Report of the Royal Commission, I should like to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), for she can, I think, say that it was really her work which induced the Government of the day to set up the Royal Commission, and she can now see four aspects of her work coming forward in the four Bills which stem from the Commission's Report.
In paragraph 377 of its Report, the Commission says:If parents were thus made to realise at the outset their obligations to their children, we would hope that they would sometimes decide to abandon the idea of divorce, for the sake of their children.I hope that the Bill will help people to adjust their feelings towards this end. Whatever happens in divided marriages, however well the children are looked after, it is very difficult for them to maintain divided loyalties. I have been struck by the loyalty of children to their parents, even in divided families. I have done a considerable amount of training 1526 in child welfare, both in hospital and among well children, teaching and in care committee work.
At one time, I worked in an institution in which many children were placed either because their parents were abroad or because the family had broken up. I remember only too well, on visiting days or at times when parents were able to come, the upset there was in the children's minds as to whether it would be mummy or daddy who came, and the difficulty there was for the individual caring for them to hold the balance between the two parents. I suggest that everything should be done, therefore, as the Report urges, to get parents to adjust their arrangements with regard to the children before final decisions to divorce are made.
Although I am a spinster, I have looked after many children from divided homes, one for as long as eight years. I agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East said, that one of the most difficult times in children's lives comes at the age of 16, when they are reaching adolescence, thinking more, perhaps, and having many more conflicts within themselves. If it were possible, in law, I should like a later age to be provided for in the Bill.
Like the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings)—who is not in the Chamber at the moment—I have served on a remand committee. I have found that a great many children coming to us are children of divided families and, very often, what has happened has been that one parent has felt that he or she could take the responsibility of the child and has then found it too much; the child has got into trouble and found himself in a remand home or on probation. I welcome, therefore, the suggestion that there should be some definite decision before the decree absolute.
Anyone who read "The Blessing" by Nancy Mitford—although it is probably an exaggerated story on this subject—can understand the many difficulties there are in divided families. What will happen when people make arrangements and then find, for some reason or other, that they must change them later? I am thinking of a man who divorced his wife for personal cruelty to him. The judge gave him the custody of the children, an arrangement 1527 which seemed, having regard to the way she behaved, to be for the best.
I subsequently learnt that he had not been able to get the help he hoped for in looking after the children, and he has now allowed them to go back to his ex-wife, who is looking after them. In such circumstances as these, will it be necessary, having given the judge an account of their arrangements, for the parents to go back and say that they have had to change them? It can happen that there is some sort of arrangement or collusion before the divorce takes place, and then the arrangements then made have completely to be altered.
Clause 1 deals with something referred to in paragraph 375 of the Report, where the Commission says:We think that it is necessary to give the court power, when there are exceptional circumstances, to allow the decree nisi to be made absolute before the question of the children's future has been settled to its satisfaction.The circumstance the Commission had in mind, apparently, was the common case where the court is asked to make a decree nisi absolute in order to enable children to be born in wedlock. As I understand it now, if the parents subsequently marry, after the birth of a child, the child is legitimate.
§ Mrs. White
I think that the hon. Lady is misinformed. If, at the time of the birth, either of the parents was not then free to marry, the child remains illegitimate, no matter whether they marry later.
§ Miss Vickers
The Report uses the wordsmaking the decree nisi absolute.That would mean they would be free thereafter to marry, and if that were so—
§ Miss Vickers
So that means then that they must be free in the first place in order that the child can be legitimised.
Coming to Clause 3, I should like to know whether this will in any way tie in with the Maintenance Orders Bill which is now in Committee, as it would greatly facilitate the working of the Bill if that were the case.
§ Miss Vickers
I thank the hon. Gentle- man for his suggestion.
I would also like to say that I would hope that the court would try to find any other individual to look after the child, as expressed in Clause 4, rather than send it into the care of the local authority. I am not saying anything against local authority homes. I think they are excellent and do a very good job, but I think that when a child enters one of those homes there is a tendency for the parents to forget their responsibilities and to leave the child in the care of the home for longer than is necessary. The parents visit their children in these homes and give them pocket money, and so on, but the local authorities find it very difficult to make such parents reassume responsibility for their children once more. I suggest that if the children can be sent to a relative it keeps them within the compass of the family.
§ Mr. MacColl
Although I might agree with the hon. Lady in theory, I would point out that in practice quite often a neutral environment is the only environment for such a child. If the child goes into the care of, say, the grandmother on one side of the family, it so annoys the parent on the other side of the family that the whole relationship becomes one of tension and dispute, whereas an impartial arbitrator, as the hon. Lady says she herself once was, in these cases sometimes makes for a calmer environment for the child.
§ Miss Vickers
I suggest that that is a matter of opinion. I personally would prefer the child to remain within the actual relationship of the family, I myself know the difficulty as an individual of being impartial.
I wish now to refer to Clause 5, which deals with the question of the welfare of the child. Subsection (1) states:committed to the custody of any person, order that the infant be under the supervision of an officer appointed under this section as a welfare officer or under the supervision of a local authority.1529 Subsection 2 states:supervision by a welfare officer, the officer responsible for carrying out the order shall be such probation officer as may be selected under arrangements made by the Secretary of State…I have read very carefully what the Royal Commission had to say in paragraph 390 of its Report. Consideration was given to putting these children either under the care of a probation officer or under the care of an officer of the children's service. It said:We have already said that there is advantage in confining the work to a single service.For that reason, the Commission came down on the side of the probation service. The Commission had considered the matter very carefully and said:We appreciate that often officers of either service would be equally suitablebut it came down, as I have said, on the side of the probation officer.
I am not entirely happy about the matter. It has nothing to do with the individual probation officer, because I think that probation officers generally do a magnificent work. I would like to see inserted in the Bill the words "either…or," the probation officer or the children's officer according to which officer the local authority might suggest to the Secretary of State.
§ Miss Vickers
I appreciate that, but this matter was thoroughly considered by the Royal Commission and this Bill, after all, is a new Measure, and we have a right to make other suggestions. The Royal Commission was rather doubtful about the matter and I am rather doubtful about it. The reason why I say this is that though the Royal Commission said that the probation service and the children's service were equally suitable, it also said:there is advantage in confining the work to a single service.If children are put into care, they come under the children's officer, and, therefore, it would be one service. I should like the matter left to the discretion 1530 of the local authority and for it to suggest which it considers to be the best person. I am thinking chiefly of small towns and provincial cities where people have a rather intimate knowledge of each other's lives. The fact that a probation officer goes to a house may make people think that the child has done something wrong.
I feel rather strongly on the point, and it is for that reason that I am taking this opportunity of raising it because I may not have the chance of doing so on the Committee stage. I think that the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen will realise that since 1948 children's officers have become much experienced in this work, and it is for that reason that I press the point. I trust that the Bill will receive a speedy passage through its Committee stage, that the hon. Member will be luckier than I was with my Private Members' Bill, and that it will eventually become an Act. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the points put forward today, and I congratulate him on bringing the Bill forward.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Billericay)
Before I seek to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) in what she has said about the value of the children's department and the proposal that it should be either the probation officer or the children's officer who should be charged with the duty of supervising the children under Clause 5, may I turn to the more general principles of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ash ford (Mr. Deedes) described the Bill as a "vanguard." I would describe it as one more stage, and perhaps the last stage, in the development away from the common law attitude towards children and the common law principle that it should be the innocent party in divorce proceedings who ought to have the custody of the children. It has now become rather a trite saying in the courts that in deciding which party shall have the custody of the children the first and paramount consideration should be the welfare of the children. That was not aways the case. Indeed, it was not the case at all until comparatively recent times.
1531 Not so many years ago a judge who was deciding the question of custody said:It will probably have a salutary effect on the interests of public morality that it should be known that a woman, if found guilty of adultery, will forfeit as far as this court is concerned all rights to the custody or of the access to her children.That principle was followed by our courts with unmitigated severity for more than half a century. It was not until 1910 that guilty parties were allowed to have access to the children of a marriage, let alone their custody. Up to that time all parental rights were forfeited by any party found guilty in the matrimonial court. Now it has become quite common for a guilty party in divorce proceedings to have the custody of the children. Nineteen fifty-seven saw another landmark in this process away from the common law principle when the Matrimonial Causes Rules were introduced. They are largely linked to the effect of this Bill. A year ago in an undefended cause custody nearly always followed the decree. Counsel for the successful party at the end of the hearing would ask for costs and, almost in an undertone afterwards, also for custody. Custody would then be granted almost as a matter of course and with very little, if any, inquiry being made.
On 1st May last year, the new rules came into effect. Now, before a petition in which there is a prayer for the custody of the children can be filed, the petition must contain a paragraph in which the petitioner sets out the full particulars of all the proposals he or she makes for the support, care and upbringing of the children. The undefended divorce causes are now divided into two lists—those in which custody is asked for, and those in which custody is not. Undefended divorce causes, which at one time used to take ten minutes or so, can now take half an hour or sometimes more when the question of custody is considered. There is no doubt that custody is being treated with the greatest care by the judges. I suggest to the House that there need be no great anxiety in our minds as to how the question of custody is resolved.
May I say a word or two about Clause 3? I do not think that the point I shall make is a Committee one. It concerns 1532 a rather rare kind of proceeding, because there are in the courts each year only a few to which Clause 3 would apply. A wife who has been deserted or who wishes to allege the wilful neglect to maintain seldom goes to the High Court, but prefers the magistrates' court. It is easier there for her to obtain a summons. The matter can be dealt with in perhaps two, three or four weeks at the most instead of there being a delay of months in the High Court. A summons can be obtained at no cost, the fee being often remitted. The hearing can be dealt with locally in the magistrates' court, which may be only a short distance from her home. Moreover, it is easier to enforce an order made in the magistrates' court than one made in the High Court, because the High Court order has to be enforced in the county court which, as I have said before in this House, is a long, lengthy process, often taking months and involving great expense to the persons seeking to enforce it.
A wife seeking the custody of the children in a magistrates' court applies under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1925. A summons will not be issued under that Act if the parties are still living together. Once the parties start living together again an order ceases to have effect. When one brings proceedings under Section 23 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, and obtains an order for periodical payments under that Section, that is enforced in the same way as a degree of judicial separation. Those orders will only cease if the parties resume cohabitation, and cohabitation is not to the lawyer the same thing as living together under the same roof. A couple can live together under the same roof yet not cohabit. Therefore, it would be possible under the Clause as it stands for two people to go on living together under the same roof, but custody will continue to be vested in one party.
I suggest that would be a most unsatisfactory arrangement. It would be very wrong for one parent to lose his parental rights yet still live under the same roof as his children and have no power to exercise parental discipline or control. Therefore, when the Bill goes upstairs I hope the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) will consider an Amendment whereby this Clause will be effective only when the parties are living apart.
1533 May I turn now to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport as to who should be charged with the duty of supervision. Clause 5 says that the task should be performed by a probation officer, and it follows the recommendation in paragraphs 388 to 391 of the Royal Commission's Report. That conclusion was, I believe, unanimous after it had considered the evidence most carefully over a long period of time. These are the words in the Report:We have been greatly impressed by the work undertaken by that officer"—that is, the principal probation officer of the divorce division.
The Report goes on to say that the work should be extended to the provinces and that it would be preferable for probation officers to do this work rather than children's officers. That is the only alternative—for this work to be undertaken by the children's department of the county council.
I should be reluctant to say anything against the children's department of the Essex County Council. Whenever I have had to present a matter to them politically they have always been most helpful. But my experience with them forensically has been less happy. It would be unkind to call them empire builders, and I do not use that phrase; but every time I have heard them in a court in which I have appeared, whether for the father or the mother, I have always been impressed by their consciousness that the homes that they provide are so good that any child would be lucky to gain admittance to them. If I may be allowed to make this one criticism of them, I think they are a little bit too conscious of their own abilities. They know of the pleasant country homes, the fresh air and the wholesome food that the children in their care can have. They rather too frequently take the view that the material things of life are of greater importance to the children than other matters.
When they give their evidence, the representatives of the children's officers seldom seemed to emphasise the value of parents as such. Seldom do they seem anxious to release a child from a children's home and often they are a little too keen to take a child away from the 1534 parental home. We would all agree that it is dangerous for any child to be taken away unnecessarily from the home of the parents.
In contrast, the probation officer, from the very nature of his experience and training, takes a very different attitude. He may spend half his time dealing with broken marriages and unhappy homes and he knows well enough the value of the good parent. Time and time again, in cases of broken marriage and when husbands are away from the home, he has to take the place of the father in the home in giving guidance and sometimes discipline to the children of the marriage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport said that she felt strongly about this. Her main reason was that people do not like neighbours to see a probation officer coming to their homes. That is a fair criticism of the work of a probation officer and it is fair to say that many neighbours who see a probation officer visiting a home in which there is children think he is visiting juvenile delinquents. But that is the very reason why probation officers in every district have offices rather like the "surgeries" of Members of Parliament, where people can visit them and where they can carry out most of their supervision.
The fact is that in the course of their work, probation officers do not continually visit the home. They are well able to carry out most of the supervision by the children or, if need be, the parent coming to them at their offices. In many probation districts, there are several such offices scattered around the area. Every probation officer is anxious to have the widest possible facilities for people to go and see him.
In every case which I have known, the probation officer has gone out of his way to make it easy for people to visit him. Nobody knows better than the probation officer the embarrassment that a visit to the home can cause. As the result, visits by probation officers are made only when they are really necessary. It is the experience of probation officers that they can supervise juvenile delinquents and, indeed, assist in the reconciliation of broken marriages quite easily, not by going to the home, but by having the parties concerned coming to them in their offices.
§ Mr. MacColl
I am not disagreeing with the hon. Member's argument, but I should not like it to be thought that it is customary for a probation officer supervising a child never to pay a domiciliary visit. What goes on in the home is vital to the supervision of the child and the probation officer who did not from time to time visit the home would be the subject of considerable difficulty if the child got into trouble. I agree that the probation officer has to show discretion, but the job is not one which can be done simply in the office.
§ Miss Vickers
The object of the visit by a probation officer is to see that the order of the court is being carried out. People who contravene the orders of the court are not likely to go to the probation officer and tell him.
§ Mr. Body
I certainly do not want to suggest that probation officers never visit homes—indeed they do. My point is that in exercising their supervision, they do not do it entirely by going to the home. I would go so far as to say that at least three-quarters of their supervision is not done within the home and that it is their experience that they can exercise their supervision in many ways better out of the home and away from the influence of an individual parent. Probation officers often arrive at the truth of the matter, not in the home, but in their own offices.
The children's officers do not have the same kind of facilities. It is true that they have offices of some form or another in most main towns, but their facilities are not as great as those of the probation officer. I would suggest that the visit of a children's officer would cause equal embarrassment as the visit of a probation officer. Neighbours may not know the difference between the two and in either case the visit might give rise to gossip.
There is another reason why the work would be done better by the probation officer than the children's officer. We have been given statistics that 25,000 divorce petitions were filed last year. Perhaps 20,000 of that number—at least the vast majority—were handled at some stage by a probation officer: in other words, at some stage or another one of the partners to the marriage consulted a probation officer. That is almost invariable 1536 among people from the more humble homes who are involved in divorce proceedings. Nowadays, I think it is well known that more than three-quarters of the divorces come from the poorer homes. In all those cases, the probation officer will already know a great deal about the background to the marriage. He will have been to the home and, perhaps, have been involved in the matrimonial dispute from the outset. He has, therefore, the advantage of considerable background knowledge, which the children's officer will not have.
My final reason for suggesting that the probation officer is probably the better person of the two is that he is an officer of the court. He is himself subject to supervision; he is consulted by the judges or the magistrates. There is to some extent a two-way flow of ideas between the court and the probation officer throughout the course of the year. He is, therefore, subject to some kind of control, which would not be the case with the children's officer. The children's officer, as an official of a local authority, is subject to no control, save only by the county council.
I suggest that the court is in a better position to be an overlord, as it were, of the supervision than is a local authority. Moreover, it would be easier and speedier if the matter were handled by a probation officer rather than by a children's officer.
Unfortunately, not enough is known of the work of probation officers. If there is one class of the community that deserves a halo round its head—I hope that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is a distinguished magistrate, agrees—it is the probation officers.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I would not put a halo round the probation officer's head. I would put what has been awarded to him into his pocket as salary.
§ Mr. Body
I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. If more were known about the work that the probation officer is doing and his achievements, there would be no doubt in the minds of hon. Members about who would be best fitted to discharge these functions.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) raised two matters which he thought might be Committee 1537 points. One was the problem of illegitimate children. He asked whether the Bill would have application to them. Clause 1 of the Bill in effect extends the requirements of Section 26 (1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act. 1950, and the rules under which custody is given under that Section. It has been decided by another place, in the case of Galloway v. Galloway in 1955, that that Section of the Matrimonial Causes Act applies to illegitimate children of the marriage and, therefore, if that be so, it follows, I would suggest, that this Clause must apply to those children.
As to the matter of variation of these orders, there has been some doubt which would be the best way to go about it.
§ Mr. MacColl
The point which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) made, and which I also made, was that it applies to the illegitimate children of the spouses, and the question is what happens to illegitimate children attached to the home who are the illegitimate children of one or other spouse.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Clause 1 relates to "any child." It does not say whether the child is a child of the marriage or a child of any other marriage. It is not specific. It is so vague as to be absolutely meaningless.
§ Mr. Body
That is something which, perhaps, can be cleared up in Committee.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes referred also to the matter of the variation of the order. If it is his suggestion that variation should be made by the magistrates' court, then I would strongly agree, because all of us who have to appear in magistrates' courts know that in the variation of these orders and the discharge of them, and in applications for arrears of payments, those courts can deal with the matters much more speedily and easily, and more cheaply for the parties concerned, than 1538 applications can be dealt with in the High Court. I hope, therefore, that some provision will be made in the Bill to enable such application to be made.
I hope also that when the Bill is in Committee one or two other smaller matters can be considered. For example, at the moment no custody can be given to either party unless in the prayer to the petition there is an application for the custody of the child. I think that that was held in the case of Boddy v. Boddy in 1860—nothing to do with any relation of mine.
Again, no application can be made for custody of the child if the petition has been dismissed. The Bill seems to contradict that. I hope that both those matters will be considered by the Committee on the Bill so that there may be no ambiguity about the matter, so that, whether the petition be dismissed or not, either party, petitioner or respondent, may be awarded custody of the child; and likewise that custody of the child may be given to either party even though the prayer for the custody has not be included.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), who at the moment is not here, unfortunately, could not resist the temptation to bring up that hobby-horse of his, stag hunting, though he said he was glad that he had not been able to persuade the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen to introduce a Bill about that instead of this Bill. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale knew Exmoor a little better than he does he would agree that the antics of the stag are very like the conduct of the worst kind of husband. Though he may not realise it, this Bill has some connection with stag hunting. Therefore, as a stag hunter, I would congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen, adding my congratulations to the others paid to him, on bringing forward this Bill.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Although I have enjoyed many of the contributions that dealt in some detail with the Bill, I want myself to keep to the wider issue and look at the general principles. For my part, I, and. I believe, a great many people in Scotland, and 1539 most of the organisations with which I am familiar, support the Bill. Personally, commend it very warmly indeed, and I hope that when the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland intervenes in the debate, as, I understand, he intends, he will tell us that the Scottish side of the Government are also going to support the Bill.
During the debate, it has been pointed out that the larger part of the Bill relates to Scotland. Of course, those of us—and that is really all of us—who are interested in these matters hold in affectionate recollection the name of Margaret MacMillan. In this field she was one of our noblest pioneers. She was a great Scottish lady, and most of her work on these lines, as we all know, was carried out in England, in the Borough of Islington and the City of Bradford.
She had a very lovely phrase. She compared our children to gardens. She deplored the fact that we neglected our child gardens, and she took the view, as I think all of us do, that the more we spend in cultivating our child gardens the finer the blooms, the lovelier the flowers, and the richer the yield.
These things have become very much evident during the post-war years. I know, of course, that many of us are disturbed by what has been called juvenile delinquency, and the fact, as shown in Army records, is revealed that there is much more mental backwardness among recruits than many of us would have perhaps expected.
Nevertheless, the intervention of the State in the life of the child has, in my view, been an entirely happy one. Some of those who are, perhaps, slightly critical of the Bill may be thinking that here once again the State is intervening in the lives of people and children, and they may feel, as one might conclude from some of the things said here this morning, that we have got to be careful and not go too far in that respect.
I entirely disagree, of course, with that view. In the post-war period there has been an enormous intrusion of the State into the private life of the nation and of the child. Even before the child is born he comes under the care of the State in the ante-natal services. When he is born he becomes the recipient of the family allowance. He comes under the care of 1540 the health visitor. His parents have the infant welfare clinic at their disposal for guidance about his health, and there are welfare foods to nourish him. Then, when he reaches the toddling stage, he has the nursery school.
Incidentally, most of us deplore the fact that the splendid work of the nursery schools in the development, training, maintenance and care of the child in the way he ought to go has been more or less suspended. The fact that the nursery school has ceased to play its part in the welfare of the child is one of the contributory factors in increasing juvenile delinquency.
When the child goes to school he has milk and meals and medical inspections of all kinds. His physical being is looked after. His teeth are taken care of; and the dumb, the spastic and the blind child are all now the responsibility of the nation. When he leaves school, the youth employment bureau is waiting to guide him along the path best adapted to his aptitude and ability. But, in many cases, before he gets firmly set on that path the Army snatches him up and takes away two of the best years of his life.
To some extent, the Army cashes in on the services which the civil side has provided. I do not want to say anything more about that aspect other than that it is at this point that we discover that there is more backwardness not only physically but also mentally in many of the recruits than we had suspected. It is worth while taking note of the fact, however, that generally the improvement in the young people of our day is most marked. In my own City of Glasgow and in Edinburgh, as a result of these social services, the boys and girls of today are a stone heavier and four inches taller than were boys and girls at the beginning of the First World War.
§ Mr. Rankin
I referred to the fact that juvenile delinquency had increased, but I do not want to go into that subject specifically. We have to note that, despite the improvement that has taken place physically and, I believe, generally 1541 on the educational side, there has been a rise in the figures for juvenile delinquency. But juvenile delinquency is a very wide term indeed. Many of the offences which were not regarded in my boyhood as offences for which a child could be classed as a sort of delinquent are now so regarded.
§ Mr. Rankin
The scope of charges has tended to widen, and the whole definition of juvenile delinquency is much wider than it used to be. However, that does not in any way detract from the general picture of improvement that has taken place over the years. Edinburgh and Glasgow substantiate the point that I am making, and the same can be shown of nearly all the great cities. There are similar figures for London and Liverpool.
Nowadays we emphasise the importance of the teacher-parent relationship and we recognise that if the child is to develop properly, not only along the physical line but also along the line of moral and spiritual development, the teacher-parent relationship is very important. We are reminded in today's debate that there is also a relationship of far more importance, the relationship of the father and mother. The state of that relationship in many cases disturbs us, and it is with such a situation that the Bill seeks to deal.
Many people regard the social services as relieving them of their obligations. This is a wrong attitude. The State is not necessarily subtracting from the duties of the father and mother when it provides all these services for the children. The State is actually enabling the father and mother to look after other phases of the child's development which presently are often ignored. If parents have not to attend so much today to the development of the child physically as formerly they had to, then, having been freed from that, they should be paying more attention to the development of the moral and spiritual side of the child and to his emotional development and adjustment to the society in which he lives.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) seeks by means of the Bill to close that gap in our social defences. He has posed to us the problem of what happens to the child when this essential, fundamental 1542 relationship between the father and mother is broken. We recognise that there is no substitute for the home. There is no real substitute for the mother and there is no substitute for the father. If the relationship between those two is disturbed, the child becomes the victim, and it is proper then that the State should intervene and seek to provide a substitute.
What the nature of that substitute will be, whether it will be institutional or the provision of another home, will be matters, I hope, for close examination during the Committee stage. I have had considerable experience of what is called the boarded-out system of dealing with children who have unfortunately become the victims of these ruptures between father and mother. There is the institutional method of dealing with them. There is the home. Both are good, but if I have a partiality, it is for the home. When a normal home relationship has become impossible for the child and if a solution has to be provided, then in my view the next best thing to the home is the substitute home. I have seen it in operation for our boarded-out children in many parts of Scotland. In ten years of local government work as a member of a parish council there was only one case where I found that the child had fared unfortunately when boarded out in a private home. So, when we deal with this aspect at a later date, I shall express my view that the substitute home is better than any other method of dealing with a child in these circumstances.
We must face this problem, by the magnitude of which I have been astonished and disturbed this morning. In my view, it calls for State intervention, because if we are to deal with the problems arising on the spiritual and on the emotional side, we must deal with the child when he is young. I was reading recently that in one of our great hospitals in 1956, 87 per cent. of the beds were occupied by patients suffering from nervous diseases. They were maladjusted persons, and if one could trace their histories it would almost certainly be shown that these were people who had come from homes where the parent relationship had been broken. They were the victims in childhood of a situation over which they had no control.
1543 I do not know whether I shall be on the Committee dealing with the detailed points which hon. Members had been mentioning. If so, I may have a word or two to say about some of them. I will mention only one now. It arises on Clause 1 (1, a), in line 20, which reads:…satisfactory or are the best which can be devised in the circumstances…I would like this sentence to end at the word "satisfactory", deleting the alternative of—…the best which can be devised in the circumstances…Once we get away from the idea of satisfactory arrangements, and into the realm of the best that can be devised in the circumstances, we shall tend to weaken the purpose of the Bill.
As I have said, I commend the Bill warmly to the House, and I am glad to have had the opportunity of saying a word in support of its Second Reading, which was so ably moved by my hon. Friend.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene in response to the invitation of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), which was also extended to me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle), to express the point of view of the Government on the Scottish provisions of the Bill.
What my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has said about the attitude of the Government to the Bill applies to the provisions which cover Scotland as well as to those which apply to England and Wales; namely, we welcome the entire Bill. The House will have observed that the Government have placed a Money Resolution on today's Order Paper in the name of the Financial Secretary.
The Morton Commission followed up its recommendations relating to children in divorce actions in England with recommendations for Scotland which, apart from a few exceptions, are broadly similar. The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen is to be congratulated warmly not only on the Bill, and his lucid 1544 exposition of it, but also on not being content to amend the law in England and Wales alone, and on including in the Bill a Part II relating to Scotland, so as to keep the law in the United Kingdom as nearly as possible the same. It is appropriate, therefore, that the Bill should cover the law on both sides of the Border and be dealt with as a single problem.
The hon. Gentleman twitted slightly those of us who represent Scottish constituencies, by saying that the sole purpose of the Scottish Part is to emphasise the dignity of Scottish law and its superiority over the English code. He knows very well, having worked so hard on this Bill, that it does not seek to emphasise anything; it merely seeks to express the differences in the law on the two sides of the Border.
Now I come to the scope of the problem in relation to Scotland. I am glad to see the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) in her place, and I understand that she will speak later. In 1957, 1,800 divorce actions were dealt with by the Court of Session in Scotland. Of these, 1,239 rather more than two-thirds, were between parties with one or more children. In about half these cases custody orders were made. These were cases where custody was placed in issue. No doubt in a considerable number of the other 600 cases the children were satisfactorily provided for, but it is more than probable that there were some instances in which the courts would have made arrangements to afford a more settled and secure future for those children if they had possessed at that time the powers and obligations which the Bill would confer on them.
The Morton Commission can be said to have accepted two principles, first that even where the marriage was past saving, the children were not, and, second that if the parents could not be relied upon to look after the children's interests, the courts must do so.
This Measure attempts to alter two bodies of law so as to achieve substantially the same result. That is, in the best sense, an ambitious aim. But through the courtesy of the promoter of the Bill it has been possible for my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate 1545 to consult the Lord President of the Court of Session about the Scottish provisions in order to ensure that they will be workable. There are several matters which must be left to the courts themselves to deal with, whether by Act of Sederunt or otherwise. For example, there is the need for parties in divorce actions to submit a statement of their proposals for the children's future. I understand that this is already covered under the English law. It forms the subject of the Commission's Recommendation 33. The promoter of the Bill has been careful, and rightly so, to leave such matters to the courts.
I wish now to say a word about the local authorities, because it has also been possible to consult them. The Morton Commission recommended that the courts should be able in certain circumstances to entrust children to the care or supervision of local authorities. My right hon. Friend has consulted the associations of Scottish local authorities about this recommendation. I am glad to say that the principle has been accepted by the local authorities' representatives and is incorporated in Clauses 8 and 10 of the Bill. They made certain reservations about safeguards, which they regarded as necessary; but the Bill seems to me to be drafted in such a way as to afford adequate safeguards and to protect the interests of the local authorities.
For example, Clause 8 gives them the opportunity to make representations to the court about any order which the court proposes to make for placing a child in their care or for the maintenance and education of the child; while Clauses 10 and 13 ensure that the Exchequer grant is payable on expenditure properly incurred by local authorities in looking after such children.
The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen referred to the Committee which has been set up by the Home Secretary, and the Joint Under-Secretary of State has also had a word to say about it. Although the English Part of the Bill does not deal with the jurisdiction of magistrates' courts, the Scottish provisions extend the powers of the Sheriff Court, where most actions of separation are heard. This is in accordance with the recommendations of the Morton Commission, and does not raise the same 1546 difficulties as would be raised by any attempt to deal with magistrates' courts in the English provision. As the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen said, the Secretary of State for the Home Department announced yesterday that he would set up an expert Committee to deal with this matter and similar problems connected with the matrimonial jurisdiction of magistrates' courts. There is no similar problem in Scotland. Consequently, I wish to make it clear that the inquiry does not cover Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), in an equally noteworthy speech, said that we sometimes go too far in relieving parents altogether of the social consequences of their actions and that, in his view, we went too far in relieving them of their essential responsibility for their children. I note—it is well worth noting—that Clauses 8 and 10 make it clear that under the Bill it is in exceptional circumstances that the courts will make an order committing the child to any other individual or to a local authority or an order placing the child under the supervision of a probation officer or a local authority. That covers to a considerable extent the points raised by the hon. Member for Govan.
With regard to the basic provision, in the Scottish Part of the Bill it is contained in Clause 6, which, like its English counterpart, Clause 1, obliges the courts to consider the future of the children in all actions for divorce, nullity or separation. If after reading the Report of the Morton Commission anyone doubted the wisdom of such a provision, I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen has convinced him of it.
Reference has been made to the idea that the courts should consider the future of not only children of the marriage but all children living, so to speak, in the family, in particular children of either spouse, whether legitimate or illegitimate, living in the family, and any other children, other than boarded-out children, living in the family. The difficulty is that under the National Assistance Act, 1948, the principle was adopted that a man or a woman is liable to maintain only his or her own children. To give the courts a discretion to place the responsibility on the other spouse would seem to run 1547 counter to this principle. I will say no more than that the issue is a rather more contentious one than is generally contained in Private Members' Bills which reach the Statute Book.
I need not say much about Clause 7, which, like Clause 6, is in much the same terms as its English equivalent in Part I of the Bill. I should, however, like to say a few words about those Clauses in Part II which have no English parallels.
Clause 9 provides for what is a new service in Scotland—a system of reporting officers in each county and large burgh on whom the court can call, if it thinks it necessary, for a report on the child's circumstances and on the proposed arrangements for its future. The English courts have already introduced a system of this kind, as has been made clear in the debate, but we are advised that we cannot proceed in Scotland by administrative arrangements in this case, and therefore we require legislation. So we welcome the provision which is made to implement paragraph 416 of the Morton Commission's Report, which says:It is an essential feature of the scheme which we propose that there should be available to the court a service of welfare officers to undertake, as directed, investigations into the arrangements proposed for the children.The Court of Session, I understand, sometimes appoints a person to report on the circumstances of a particular case which is before it; and this Clause, I see, has been drafted so as not to interfere with that practice. But there are obvious advantages in ensuring that throughout the country there will be local officers who have been specially designated for this work and who will eventually become experienced in it. The House will appreciate that there will not be enough cases of this kind for such jobs to be full-time—indeed, we hope not—and therefore the Clause requires the sheriff principal to select either a probation officer or an officer of the local authority, who will thus combine this responsibility with his day-to-day work, whether it is probation work or work in the children's department, or in any other field.
The Commission recommended that the officer should be drawn from an existing statutory service or services. This seems to meet the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss. Vickers) 1548 but not entirely those of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Body). I hope the general nature of these arrangements will also be acceptable both to the courts and to the Counties of Cities, the County Councils and the large burghs in Scotland, for this seems to me a most useful extension of the courts' powers.
May I now say a word about the removal of children out of jurisdiction? Clause 11 will, I hope, close a loophole in the present law of Scotland. The Morton Commission drew attention to several instances in which a spouse had removed children out of the country before the court had come to a decision about their custody. The Commission therefore recommended in Recommendation 40 that, as soon as matrimonial proceedings had been instituted, any interested party could ask for an interdict to prohibit the removal of the children out of the jurisdiction or out of the control of the person in whose charge they are, except with an order of the court.
I am advised that this is the effect of Clause 11, and that it does give effect to Recommendation 40. It has no counterpart among the English Clauses, because it has already been possible, I am informed, for the English courts to deal with this problem by rules of court. This is another example of the way in which this Bill will bring the law of the two countries into line. I should like to make it clear, whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford may say, that it is by no means always the case that it is Scottish law that is brought into line with English law, and that in many outstanding and very important cases it is English law which in recent years has been brought into line with Scottish law.
Now, a word about custody and access. There is no exact counterpart, either, for Clause 12 in the English part of the Bill. I understand that this is because of differences in drafting and in the powers of the courts in two countries. There has been some doubt whether the Scottish courts have hitherto had power to award custody to a person other than one of the parents, but subsection (1) of this Clause will clear up that doubt and give them the power, thus meeting the Morton Commission's view. It will also make clear that the courts may regulate access to a child whether or not they 1549 make an order as to its legal custody, while subsection (2) makes in clear that the court has power to vary or revoke any kind of order made under this part of the Bill, either on the initiative of the court or of any party interested.
To sum up, it seems to me that these Scottish Clauses carry out the intentions of the Morton Commission on the points with which they deal, and will bring the law in the two countries very much more into line.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Gentleman has said that Clause 9 will require legislation, if I followed him correctly. I mean Clause 9 in its application to Scotland.
§ Mr. Macpherson
No, Clause 9 is the legislation that is required.
The result of implementing the Morton Commission's recommendations on these matters will be a considerable improvement in our matrimonial law. Whatever views one may hold on the subject of grounds for divorce—and we all know how controversial that is—there are few who would deny that when a marriage is in jeopardy to the point where it has come before the courts, the future of the children must be safeguarded. Inevitably, the breakdown of a marriage affects the children.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland welcomes the Bill as a stout effort to ensure that despite their parents' failure to provide a normal home, the children will be given a chance in life. I wish the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen two rather conflicting things—calm waters and fair wind.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I should like to add my word of congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) on this Bill, in the first place, because of its clarity. I have no legal knowledge, and I think this is the first Bill of anything like this size that I have been able to understand the first time I have read it. It is very clear, and it is 1550 quite obvious what my hon. Friend means by it.
I should also like to congratulate him on his ingenuity in bringing—I was going to say raking—in so many different cases in which the welfare of the child must be the first consideration, not only in cases of successful applications for separation and divorce, but also unsuccessful ones, and the cases where the husband defaults in providing for his wife and children.
My chief reason for welcoming this Bill is that it is the first step in breaking the legal conception, as I see it, of the relationship between parents and their children. As I understand it, the law much too much regards the child as the chattel, almost the plaything, of the parents, to be claimed whenever it suits them and to be abandoned when it does not suit them. I would remind the House that it is not illegal to abandon a child, unless it can be shown that the abandonment is likely to cause unnecessary suffering, injury to health or danger to life. This Bill puts the child first, or at any rate makes it necessary that the welfare of the child should be considered before that of the parents.
I think we should all agree that increasing marital disharmony is a cause of present-day trouble. I have had a good deal to do with the Stepney Family Service Unit, which is doing very good work in the East End of London, and I have talked to field workers there and they tell me about their cases. In so many cases of problem families and families where there is a certain amount of neglect of children or even of cruelty to children there is marital disharmony. Again, for many years I was chairman of the committee of management of a remand home for boys. I have talked to these boys and have found out about their conditions, and in so many of these cases they seemed to have got into trouble because their home conditions were not right and because there was trouble in their homes.
Therefore, I think that this Bill, by picking out a group of children who need help perhaps more than any other group—because they are the group in which there are these marital troubles which are so liable to affect the mental and physical well-being of the child—will do a great service.
1551 There are only two points of detail with which I should like to deal, because I do not want to detain the House. First of all, it seems to be generally agreed that for the supervision of the children involved, the court welfare officer should be the probation officer. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Body) said he had had a great deal to do with the officers of the children's committee of the Essex County Council. Apparently, the hon. Member was not enormously impressed by the work of the child welfare officers of his local authority.
I have been a member of the children's committee of the L.C.C. since its formation, and my opinion is very different. I am constantly impressed by the knowledge and ability of the child welfare officers and how they understand, as is so important, the psychology of the child, because it is most difficult to look into a child's mind and understand what is going on there. The way these people do that work is astounding.
Whether the probation officer will be the best person to carry out the decisions of the court, I do not know, but there should be some officer to advise—only advise, I go no further than that—the judge in giving decisions on such cases and that individual should have an intimate knowledge of child welfare. I cannot conceive of anyone more suitable than a senior child welfare officer of the children's department of a local authority.
There is another point in this very useful Bill to which I want to refer. Clause 1 provides for the court to have the care of the children if they are under the age of sixteen. Clause 4, however, says that when the local authorities are brought in, children must be under 17 and have to stay under the care of the local authority until they are 18.
Between the ages of 16 and 18 is a very important time in a child's life and the court should have jurisdiction, when divorce proceedings are involved, over a child under the age of 18 and not merely 16. Children often leave school or are apprenticed during those ages. Those are the ages where very important decisions are taken. Again I am speaking from experience, because I happen to be chairman of the managing committee of a hostel run by the L.C.C. for boys of 16 1552 to 18 who are just starting work. Very many difficulties arise between those ages, and I appeal to the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen to consider that aspect of the matter.
There are many other Committee points with which I should like to deal, but I hope to have time for myself today for other purposes and so I shall not detain the House further.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Before I discuss the Bill, I want to make a protest through you, Mr. Speaker, to those Members who removed the volumes of the Public General Acts from the Division Lobbies. I have had great difficulty in the course of the last twenty-four hours in getting hold of a copy of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, to find out what it was we were trying to do in the Bill under consideration. The volumes had been removed from both Lobbies and no copies were readily available in the Library, although the Library officials were prepared to go to great trouble to get me a copy. I want to voice that protest so that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will not take these volumes away and so prevent other hon. Members from getting the information they need to put their points in a debate.
I have a great respect for the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle), and each of us realises his sincerity in all that he tries to do. There were very few of us who did not feel a tinge of sadness when he referred in the moving terms he used to children of broken marriages. We have all had experience of dealing with the children of divorced parents, and we all know the difficulties which those children suffer.
We all know that many of them eventually find themselves in trouble with the police because they do not have the normal affection which ordinary children receive. I hope that in due course we shall be able to remove the causes of divorce rather than have to deal with the children of divorced parents.
In almost every case when there are children, it is better for the parents to find some modus vivendi rather than to go through the divorce courts. There is nothing worse for children than knowing that their parents are parted and to feel that when they are playing with their 1553 friends they are a race apart. Rather than break up a marriage, parents should be prepared to accept almost any conditions. The one condition not acceptable when there are children is that in which there are continual rows. I am sure that that is even worse for the children than divorce itself.
Having said that, I must voice my disagreement with the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), who said that our object here is to legislate. It is my view that our object is to legislate as little as possible. The country suffers from over-legislation, and that is why I have on previous Fridays opposed legislation which I regarded as unnecessary. However much I admire the sincerity of the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen, I sincerely believe that the Bill is completely unnecessary and does not do the job which he hopes that it will do.
I will refer to the Matrimonial Causes Act I do not propose to take up much of the time of the House, because there are other Bills, some of which I hope to oppose, later today, the debates on which have been adjourned. I want to give the hon. Members interested in those pieces of legislation an opportunity to state their cases before I point out how unnecessary it is to pass those Bills.
In Clause 1 of the Bill, there is a reference to Section 26 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950. It was to this Section that I wished to refer last night in order to refresh my mind about what was in it. I am sure that you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that it is very difficult to remember what is in every Clause of every Act which we have passed since 1950. You will appreciate that that is why it is important that these volumes of Statutes should be readily available for hon. Members to be able to refer to them.
Section 26 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, says:In any proceedings for divorce or nullity of marriage or judicial separation, the court may from time to time, either before or by or after the final decree, make such provision as appears just with respect to the custody, maintenance and education of the children the marriage of whose parents is the subject of the proceedings…".The rest of that subsection is not relevant to my argument. It refers to the children 1554 of marriages which are the subject of proceedings. Since then I believe that there has been a case in the courts which included the illegitimate child of one of the parents.
§ Mr. Williams
I am sorry, I apologise to hon. Members. So the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Miss Vickers) is not valid unless it covers the illegitimate children of the two parents.
I submit that that Act gives adequate powers to the court to ensure the proper maintenance of any child of the marriage. This Bill goes further. In Clause 1, it states that no decree shall be made absolute… unless and until the court is satisfied as respects every such child who has not attained the age of sixteen years…".Under this Bill we shall give power to the courts to prevent the remarriage of any parties who seek to be divorced. Although I disagree with divorce, I think that a wrong thing for this House to do. If Parliament recognises divorce, as it does, it should give reasonable facilities for people to obtain a divorce, especially if they wish to marry again. It may well be that they are about to become the parent of another child by an illicit union. I think it wrong that the court should be put in a position where it can withhold the granting of the decree absolute, and for that reason I object to that part of the Bill.
§ Mrs. White
The hon. Gentleman will have read Clause 1 (2), which provides for the case he has in mind, where possibly some other child may be born out of wedlock, if the decree absolute is not granted at once, and it is in the discretion of the court so to do.
§ Mr. Williams
I was coming to that point. Under Clause 1 (1, a), the court can insist that arrangements be made about the upbringing of the child… and that those arrangements are satisfactory or are the best which can be devised…Subsection (3) of the Clause indicates that if it is impracticable the court shall not insist on such arrangements.
1555 In subsection (2), to which the hon. Member for Flint, East referred, it says:The court may if it thinks fit proceed without observing the requirements of the foregoing subsection if it appears that there are circumstances making it desirable that the decree nisi should be made absolute, or as the case may be, that the decree or judicial separation should be pronounced, without delay and if the court has obtained a satisfactory undertaking from either or both of the parties to bring the question of the arrangements for the children before the court within a specified time.The fact that these alternatives are before the court will lead to an unnecessary amount of legal argument and also, I believe, to considerable abuse. The courts are given powers along the lines I have indicated under the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, and I think that is adequate, and that these additional powers are unnecessary.
Now we come to the question of who is responsible for the children if they are not properly looked after following a divorce. The powers already existing are sufficient for the local authority to ensure that a child is properly provided for when its parents are parted. Clause 1 (1, b) of the Children Act, 1948, states that if… parents or guardian are, for the time being or permanently, prevented by reason of mental or bodily disease or infirmity or other incapacity or any other circumstances from providing for his proper accommodation maintenance and upbringing…the local authority is empowered to receive the child into its care. I consider that sufficient to ensure that the children of divorced parents are properly cared for. Here we are probably dealing with the children of humbler sections of our society—
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, I shall be happy to give way. But I should have thought that where the parents were in a substantial financial position it would be easy for a court to insist on the proper provision being made for the children under the Matrimonial Causes Act. Surely it is only when the parents are not wealthy that there may come a time after the divorce when the children are not adequately cared for, and that is where I should have thought the Children Act was the most suitable legislation to invoke.
§ Mr. MacColl
The Children Act is very narrow in its interpretation and applies only to cases where the parents are unable to look after the child, either because they are homeless or because they have not enough money. It does not deal with cases where parents are living in circumstances which, for various reasons, put the children in some kind of moral danger. The only way to deal with such a matter would be by taking proceedings in the juvenile court under the Children and Young Persons Act.
§ Mr. Williams
I appreciate the point which the hon. Member has made, but under the Matrimonial Causes Act the court has the right, as I understand it, to insist that there is ample provision made. This Bill does nothing whatever to ensure that there is proper provision for the children of divorced parents. It merely repeats powers which already exist.
I do not propose to follow what was said by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who dealt with the provisions of this Bill which affect Scotland. The last time I spoke about anything to do with Scotland was in relation to the provision of bus shelters, and I got myself into serious trouble. I am still smarting from the remarks of an enraged Scottish lady who wrote a vulgar postcard to me because I interfered with the affairs of Scotland. From the remarks made by my hon. Friend, and after reading the provisions in this Bill which apply to Scotland, I am satisfied that the criticisms I have made about the provisions which apply to England and Wales apply equally to those relating to Scotland.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I feel very honoured indeed to have the privilege of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) on introducing his Bill. I have a long experience of public life and some experience of women's organisations. I have always heard how much better things could be done by women. Unfortunately, whenever I urgently wanted to introduce some reform or other, I have always found that a man had forestalled me.
1557 I am very glad that that is so, and glad to record the interest of men in questions affecting women and children. When I saw that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen had chosen this subject, I felt very great rejoicing in my heart. However, I feel that today we have got rather bogged down in Committee arguments. After all, this is a far-reaching Bill which penetrates deeply into our social life, perhaps much more deeply than the House realises.
Arising out of my long experience of local authority work, the magisterial bench and ten years' visiting of boarded-out children, I can endorse a great deal of what has been said about preferring the probation- officer to the children's officer. In most cases, may I say, I would prefer that the officer should be a man. I cannot say that in my public life I have noticed that women have a softer heart, a wider approach or a deeper penetration than men. Indeed, I often think that had my home been visited by some women officers I should have gone on the black list.
My home was invariably untidy, and that would have meant a black mark. I do not say that it was unclean, but if a woman officer had gone into one room she would have found the floor strewn with sheets of music; and if she had gone into another room, a bedroom, she would have seen books scattered all over the place. If, worst of all, she had gone into a third room, an artist's room, she would have found paper scattered all over the place from paper sculpturing, and clay modelling, and books of every kind.
I had an untidy family, but they pursued their hobbies, and were allowed to do so. Women officers would have condemned me for smacking my children, because I often smacked them, and on some occasions I even had to leather them. I would at once have been condemned for that. However, I make no apology. If I had had only three children, I could have said in the House today that never once did I find it necessary to do more than raise my voice to them. But I had another two children. They gave me my wider experience. I had two non-conformers. I often had to smack them, on the hand when they were infants and in another place where it hurt 1558 more when they were bigger. Of all my children, I would say that those two would be regarded as the most successful today.
This brings me to the position of the foster parent. Heaven help a foster mother if she is known to smack the children. I found that was so when I visited foster children. The foster mother dare not lift her hand to them, and yet, had not I lifted mine? Some time ago one of my sons reminded my about a severe thrashing which I had once given him. He said, "It was twenty years ago, but my buttocks still sting." When I felt properly rebuked, he said, "Do not worry, mother, it was the best day's work you ever did in your life." I think that if I told the House the circumstances of that thrashing it would agree with that.
Those are my feelings about the foster mother, about the third party and about the home when children are boarded out.
I turn now to the Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce, in paragraph 377 of which it is stated:And if parents were thus made to realise at the outset their obligations to their children we would hope that they would sometimes decide to abandon the idea of divorce for the sake of their children.Paragraph 383 states:The burden will thus rest upon him"—the petitioner—before coming to court to satisfy himself that the respondent is able to look after the children,and it then goes on to say that he will be, and should be, closely examined by the court. That gives me great satisfaction.
I do not like to see the divorce rate remaining even as it is at present. I think that the tendency will be for it to go up, because we read that the marriage rate in the 16–21 age group is increasing. People are marrying earlier, and, contrary to a stupid report by a feature writer in one newspaper last week—I will not quote the name of the newspaper—to the effect thatafter a survey by this paper I can state that these marriages last as long as any in the later groupsuch marriages are breaking up more frequently. The statement by that feature writer is positively untrue. The records of the divorce court show that in the 16–21 age group the rate of divorce is as high as 25 per cent. Far from thinking 1559 that such marriages should be encouraged, as they are by the Press which sees something romantic and glamorous about falling in love at sixteen, I should see something more to be wondered at if the Press were to write about someone who did not fall in love at sixteen. I think that all of us have fallen in love at sixteen and probably gone on falling in love, more or less, for many years afterwards. It is one thing to fall in love at sixteen and another to throw away the best years of one's youth by settling down to marriage and having several children before one is twenty-one.
I speak from experience. When I was twenty-four, I already had three children. My marriage was a very long one. It was broken only two weeks ago, and it was neither of us who broke it. I still think that I should have done better to have taken my mother's advice and waited until I was twenty-one, because I did long for the flesh pots, I did long to get a night out with the girls at the theatre or a night out with the boys at the dance, and I did feel that I had been deprived of those teen-age years. I still think that a little hesitation is a good thing.
The main argument for my support of the Bill and my enthusiasm for it arises from a statement made by our late right hon. Friend, Mr. Walter Elliot, formerly the Member for Kelvin-grove, whose memory with some of us in the House will always remain green. He told us in Scottish Committee one morning about the increase in crime in Scotland. That was fiercely resented by hon. Members on our side of the Committee, but he proved his case and when he was met with such remarks as, "Juvenile delinquency" and "Apple stealing", he showed us the figures of serious crimes. He said, "I have not had time to find out whether this is widespread forth of Scotland". I had the time and I made the investigation.
First, there was the report of the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Nott-Bower. He wrote:There was a disturbing increase in crime which has naturally caused me a great deal of anxiety. The main increases were in housebreaking and shop breaking and in larcenies of various kinds, and the present tendency unfortunately seems to be for the numbers to go on rising…. There were again more arrests of people under the age of 21. This 1560 was equally true of 'children' (aged 8–13), 'young persons' (aged 14–16), and of the age-group 17–21. In the case of the last group, the increase in arrests was nearly one-quarter.He continued that there had been a downward trend since 1951 in the arrests of persons under 21 but that it had been reversed in 1955. He added:I regret to report a further increase of 1,214 in such arrests in 1956. Since in two crimes out of three the offenders go undetected, the number of persons under 21 arrested affords no reliable measure of the amount of criminal activity within that age-group as a whole…. It affords me no consolation to know that the trend is national and not confined to London.I had the help of these very fine people, the statisticians in the Library, to enable me to find what was the position in the Scandinavian countries, because I can read neither Norse nor Swedish. I found that the tendency was for the figures to rise and the crimes to be more serious. The figure for Paris was the highest of all in Europe and for Rome the lowest of all. Shortly afterwards the New York Times conducted a survey into the reasons for the increases in serious crime throughout New York. It even listed the number of cities in the State which had introduced a curfew for youth under eighteen.
What are the reasons? Sir John Nott-Bower is puzzled. He wrote:Reasons can be advanced for increases here and there, but I cannot point to any single cause or combination of causes that would explain the increase in the total number of crimes.At one time we on this side of the House thought that all we had to do was to eliminate poverty. I remember going on to the magistrates' bench in Glasgow after we had decided, as a magisterial group, to give the gangster all we could the maximum. I was, I think, the first to go on to the bench to do just that. When I saw the gangster, I was appalled to see a little, misshapen, rickety piece of humanity, someone we in Glasgow would call a wee bauchle, showing obvious signs of suffering from malnutrition. I thought that if this wee, stunted individual had a good home and a good meal, we should not see so much of crime in Glasgow.
Alas, I am completely confounded. They never had it so good. My hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) has told us: never have they 1561 been so good in weight at their ages, never has their health been so good, never have they had so much pocket money to throw around, never have there been so many clubs, welfare officers, etc. to look after them. I was greatly puzzled, because this meant the demolition of the case I had built up to satisfy myself that we could make these evil things disappear when we introduced the Welfare State and made an end of poverty.
The consensus of opinion, according to the New York survey, is that the principal reason is broken homes, the new, easier method of applying for divorce.
Some of the things said by divorced people astonished me. "We are great friends," they say, after they have been divorced two or three times. I believe that the Dunmow Flitch should go not to the couple who can say, "We never had a quarrel in our lives," but to the couple who can say, "We constantly found incompatabilities, but we have stuck it out together to the end of the road"—particularly where there are children.
Lack of parental control contributes its share. While I was interesting myself in that survey, there was a statement made from the Scottish Office, by Sir Charles Cunningham, telling all Scotland that the number of children now out of the care of their parents was the greatest ever—10,000 boarded out, 4,500 with foster 1562 parents, those figures taking no account of the number with relatives. How many grannies, for instance, are holding the baby while the daughter or the son is away with another man or another woman? In England and Wales, the number again is the highest ever, over 60,000, though it must be stated that this 60,000 includes many temporarily boarded out. A mother may be in hospital for a long period with T.B., or the father may have T.B., and the children may be placed in the care of the local authority. As I have said, Rome has the lowest figure for juvenile delinquency in Europe. I imagine, knowing their religion, that that figure also indicates that they probably have the smallest figure for divorce.
This Bill will take care of the children. If parents have so forgotten their obligations in their selfish pursuit of their own happiness that they cast aside the happiness of their children, it is right that we should assume some public conscience in this matter. I am glad that we are at last assuming it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend most warmly and I hope that great good will result from his efforts.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).