§ 11.4 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I propose to make only a short speech in commending the Bill to the House so that as many Members as possible will be able to take part in the debate, which will be wound up by my hon. Friend the Joint of Under-Secretary of State. My hon. Friend has already done a great deal of work in the preparation of the Bill and I hope that she will be able to deal with the points which hon. Members raise. She will also have the primary responsibility for the Bill in Committee. We look forward to any constructive suggestions which hon. Members may care to make with a view to improving the Bill. This is a human problem and one on which we wish to enlist the co-operation of hon. Members.
It so happens that this Bill is the last of the Measures for which the Home Office is responsible this Session. We have asked the House to consider a good deal. We have already passed into law the British Nationality Bill and the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill and the Recreational Charities Bill, and also a new Bill which provided for the most important step in the 744 development of the constitution of the Isle of Man since about the middle of the last century. We have also taken a fatherly interest in the First Offenders Bill, and the Maintenance Orders Bill is now approaching its final stage.
As hon. Members will know, the Home Office deals with an immense variety of subjects. I do not think that there is any particular thread running through this series of beads of legislation, but I would claim that our record this Session and, in particular, the Maintenance Orders Bill and the Bill which I now commend to the House, represents definite and useful measures of social reform. The measures illustrate, I hope, the desire of the Administration of the day to take what practical steps they can to improve the welfare of people in need of help, in this case the younger generation. I am particularly glad to be able to introduce this Bill, because before and since the days of the Education Act I have been concerned, I think by natural inclination, with the upbringing and welfare of children and young persons.
The Bill deals with certain groups of children who are in special need of the care and protection of the community, foster children within the rather special meaning of the Bill and those who may be adopted. I am confident that the general principles of the Bill will meet with the wholehearted approval of the House, although I dare say, as I said in my opening remarks, that a variety of views will be expressed as to the method of carrying them out.
The Bill consists, as hon. Members will have observed, of two parts. The first part repeals and re-enacts in one Measure the dispersed child life protection provisions of the present law. Most of these are contained in the Public Health Act, 1936, and in corresponding enactments for London and Scotland. The re-enactment makes certain modifications and improvements in the existing law, but there are, in Part I, no particular radical alterations in the existing law. On the other hand, the second part of the Bill makes a number of changes in the law on adoption of infants. Similar provision, hon. Members will observe, is made for securing the welfare of foster children and of certain children awaiting adoption, but otherwise, the two parts of the Bill are not closely related the one to the other.
745 As I said, Part I contains provisions designed to secure the welfare of foster children, and that expression, which is in Clause 2 includes, with certain exemptions, any child below the upper limit of compulsory school age whose care and maintenance are undertaken for reward for a period exceeding one month by a person not the child's relative or guardian.
Undertaking the care and maintenance of a child for reward is widely defined in Clause 2 (6) and (7). It includes any arrangement under which a personreceives any payment or gift or money or money's worthwhether or not he makes a profit or intends to make a profit. The exceptions to the definition of "foster child" are listed in the earlier subsections of the Clause. They exclude, for obvious reasons, children whose welfare is already the responsibility of some competent authority—for example, children in the care of local authorities or voluntary organisations.
Clause 1 sets out the purpose of Part I, and lays upon each local authority a duty to ensure the well-being of foster children in its area, and the rest of Part I provides the machinery to enable local authorities to carry out that duty. The scheme which is set out in Part I modifies but does not radically alter the existing law, and for the benefit of the House I would summarise its objectives, or aims.
The first is to provide adequate safeguards for the well-being of foster children; the second is to cause no inconvenience which may be avoided to people looking after them—because I think that we would all accept that the vast majority of those people perform an invaluable service—and the third is to ensure a system of supervision which can be administered simply and effectively by local authorities. Here, I should like to pay a tribute to the competence, experience and humanity which local authorities have shown in carrying out their many responsibilities in relation to children in past years.
So much for Part I of the Bill. I now turn to Part II, which makes a number of changes in the law of adoption. Hon. Members will have observed that these changes are based upon the admirable Report of the Committee which sat under the chairmanship of the late Sir Gerald Hurst. Some time ago the hon. Member 746 for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)—whom I see gracing his seat—made some rather disparaging remarks about certain holes in the Home Office in which he said we kept pigeons. Apart from this, there is a feeling that, in general, Governments of all political complexions do not pay sufficient attention to the labours of Committees and Royal Commissions which they, or their long-distance predecessors, may have set up.
I make no comment upon the relative records of the parties on this point, because I wish for an atmosphere of sweetness and humanity in this debate, but it can be counted to our merit that the Government have not only considered but have acted upon the valuable Report of the Hurst Committee. We will discuss the other matters at a later date.
The Report and the Government's provisional proposals for acting upon it have been fully discussed with the voluntary organisations chiefly concerned with adoption, and with local authorities. Here again, I should like to say that this consultation, which has been very thorough, has been carried out with great efficiency and despatch by the bodies concerned and by the local authorities, and we are obliged to them for sending us their views. In the result, the majority of the many recommendations made by the Committee—though not all of them—have found acceptance. Those which need legislation have been put in the Bill, and some others will be given effect to by statutory instruments. Some of the amendments to the law are technical and will be best discussed in Committee, so I will confine myself today to commenting upon some of those which seem to me to be of wider interest.
In the ordinary course a court may not make an adoption order unless the child's mother—and, if the child is legitimate, its father—consents. Under the present law the count may dispense with that consent if the parent has abandoned, neglected or persistently ill-treated the child; if the parent cannot be found, is incapable of consenting, or is withholding consent unreasonably. The Hurst Committee found that there are a few cases in which the court ought to be able to dispense with a parent's consent, but may be prevented from doing so under the existing law.
747 It happens occasionally that the making of an adoption order which would clearly be in the best interests of the child is frustrated because the child's natural parent refuses consent, although he or she has neglected to discharge his or her obligations as parent, or to show a proper concern or affection for the child. Clause 18, therefore, gives the court a new power to dispense with the parents' consent in circumstances of this kind.
Another important change in the law is proposed in Clauses 23 and 24. In this country eligibility to apply for an adoption order is governed by domicile and residence. This derives from private international law, and is ordinarily based on common sense. In this context, in a few cases which have come to my attention even since I have occupied my present position, and others which have come to the attention of my advisers for some time, the judicial interpretation of "residence" has caused hardship, and forms a bar to adoptions which would benefit certain children.
The first kind of adopters who are at present disqualified are persons who are domiciled here, and regard this country as their home, but work abroad. Clause 23 enables such people to apply for an adoption order during a period of leave in this country, provided that they fulfil all the other conditions which the law requires of an applicant.
So much for that change, which, I think, will be generally accepted as an improvement in the law. The second category of adopters consists of those who are domiciled abroad, but are living in this country. They may be Australians, Canadians or, conceivably, members of the United States Forces. I mention only some cases, as specimens of the types of people concerned, but they are typical. Such people would be enabled by Clause 24 to apply for a provisional adoption order giving them the custody of a child so long as they are in this country, and authorising them to take the child abroad with them if they leave either temporarily or for good. All the usual safeguards must be satisfied and, in particular, cases under these two Clauses go through the county court or High Court. In addition, the prospective adopter and the child must live together under the supervision of the local authority 748 for six months instead of the usual three months.
This is a change which could be regarded as more controversial, and which in, certain recent cases, has been displayed as being more controversial, but, after close examination of the type of case that may come up, I have come to the conclusion that the human considerations outweigh any false impression that might be created by a change of this sort. There are cases which are at present estopped, and as human relations transcend natural frontiers, and certainly any temporary feelings of nationalism, I think that it would be wrong not to adjust the law in this respect. At any rate, that is the proposal contained in the Bill, and I hope that it will pass through the Committee and return to the Floor of this House, so that it may become the law of the land.
Finally, I would refer to the proposals contained in Clause 30, which confer upon local authorities power to arrange the adoption of any child for whom adoption is desired. Some local authorities have acted on the view that they already have such power under the existing law, but the more general view is that the power can be exercised only in respect of children in the care of a local authority. If there has been such a limitation in the past—and it is not absolutely clear—the Clause removes it.
There are some other provisions in the Bill to which I have not referred. In particular, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the comprehensive provisions embodied in the first Schedule, on page 24 and onwards. These comprehensive provisions relating to protected children re-enact a great many provisions of the existing law and adapt some of them. I should imagine that they will be the subject of examination either on the Floor of the House on Second Reading or upstairs, but I think they will commend themselves to the House as being a clear exposition of the protection afforded to children. They are an up-to-date gathering together of the powers. Looking at the Second Schedule and the Third Schedule of repeals, I think it will be seen that a considerable amount of repealing of enactments, consolidation and clarification of the law has been done in the Bill which is before us today.
749 I have not referred, Sir, to some of the more controversial questions which have been omitted from the Bill, namely, the proposals of the Hurst Committee about revealing the name of its parents to the child at the age of 21 and the question of the medical examination of the would-be parents. We have decided, for reasons which may or may not commend themselves to the House, not to include those provisions in the Bill. Again, if my correspondence and contacts are correct, such provisions under the adoption portion of this Bill would have been highly controversial, and, in some cases, would be offensive to those involved in this most intimate of all affairs, the adoption of children. Therefore, I hope that the House will accept our judgment as a Government on this matter.
I certainly do not think that the passage of the Bill through another place reveals our judgment to have been wrong. The comments in the other place have been valuable to us and I hope that the comments here will be equally valuable. We have decided to take this modest step forward, and I think that it is an efficient step forward, in looking after children both in their protection and in their adoption, and I hope that, as such, our efforts will be commended by the House.
It might have been possible to introduce a Bill which was more revolutionary. I might have been able to garnish my observations with severe stories of the ill-treatment of children. There are and have been such cases but, as I said earlier, we have been much helped by the extraordinary manner in which a local authority, with all its duties, has been able to watch over children in a manner which is a credit to our age. Therefore, we have not adduced cases of great cruelty or upset.
Nor have I adduced in dealing with the second part of the Bill cases of great abuse, because I do not believe that so many exist as there were some years ago. I do say, however, especially of Part II of the Bill, and to a great extent about Part I, that it was worth while doing some careful and patient work to bring the law up to date, and that insofar as I can put the Bill forward modestly I hope that its effect will be the more enduring. I do it, as I say, as one who 750 has always taken a special interest in the welfare of children, and on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself I commend the Measure to the House.
§ 11.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for the spirit in which he has moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and for his assurance that speeches from this side and his own side of the House will be listened to, and that he will be sympathetic to constructive suggestions. Certainly, we shall have a number to make, because now and in Committee we shall approach the Bill in the same general spirit as that which he has shown.
We welcome the Bill. We are glad that it has given such wide acceptance to the major proposals of the Committee under the late Sir Gerald Hurst, which did admirable work. We are also grateful for the unaccustomed speed with which the recommendations of the Committee have been carried out. This Measure certainly tidies up and improves the law, and probably the most important thing in it is the bringing of local authorities into adoption procedure. This will speed and help the process, and it will probably do more than anything else to cope with the difficult problem of third party adoptions which spring largely from the delays that occur if the whole matter, or practically the whole matter, is left only to the adoption societies, which are very much overworked.
There is a great deal of human happiness at stake in this Bill, very much more than in what are called major Bills that come before the House. That is not only because what we do here will affect the actual happiness of children and decide whether they lead difficult or frustrated lives or ones in good family surroundings but because, as the children themselves grow up, they will affect other adults according to the kind of childhood they have had. There is a spreading effect of the success or failure of what we do in this difficult matter.
Adoption is a rapidly developing feature of our society. Perhaps the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary will give us the exact figure, but I understand there are around 13,000 a year, perhaps more, 751 without taking the de facto adoptions into account. A curious feature is that there is a surplus of would-be adopters and, at the same time, a surplus of children. There is a residue of children whom nobody seems to want to adopt and a surplus of adopters who cannot find the kind of children they want. We must bear that in mind in deciding and judging upon all the rather difficult problems that come before us.
I cannot congratulate the Minister on the form of the Bill, which is a horrible example of legislation by reference. This is a matter which concerns ordinary people, not those used to getting advice from lawyers. The Bill ought to have been a simple redraft of the whole affair so that there was in one document something which ordinary people, who are much concerned in adoption, could understand. It is wrong that they should have to try to reach an understanding of their rights and duties by solving a sort of difficult crossword puzzle set them by the ingenuity of the draftsman. That I am sorry about.
There are a number of real problems which arise directly in connection with adoption. The trouble is that one meets a conflict of principles, good in themselves, about which people feel deeply, feelings which transcend normal party divisions, and it is difficult to get the balance right between two principles good in themselves. We feel that the Bill has done this on the whole fairly well, but that in certain respects it has not got the difficult balance quite right. Many of my hon. Friends who know much more about this subject than I do, and have much longer personal acquaintance with it, will have a number of suggestions to make, and I am glad that the Government have already said they will look sympathetically at them.
There is one conflict of principle which runs through both parts of the Bill, that is the difficulty of balancing, on the one hand, the need to get proper supervision, regulation and control and, on the other hand, not to take it so far as unnecessarily to harry people, especially people who are to look after other people's children. If we take that harrying too far, the things we try to do become unenforcible, many other things are driven underground instead of being above board, 752 and it reduces the number of people available to do this important job for society. The difficulty of balancing the rights of foster-parents and the rights of children is a complicated one. Foster-parents certainly do an extremely good job. They develop affection for children who would not otherwise have it and themselves become greatly attached to the children. On the other hand, the child is, by definition, helpless when handed over to a foster-parent unless some other authority can inquire from time to time and exercise some control.
It follows from the way we do these things that this balance, in practice, depends on balancing the rights of the local authority with the rights of the foster-parent. We are glad that there is provision for appeal from the requirements of a local authority officer. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said, that the way in which the local authorities do this work is rather wonderful and a great tribute to the humanity of our age. Nevertheless, it is possible for individual officers to give decisions and make requirements that are wrong or not properly thought out.
We regret the provisions in Clause 3 which exempt foster parents from the duty to give notice when foster children leave them in certain circumstances. This seems to us to be an unnecessary obstacle in the way of a local authority doing a job which it ought to do to discharge a function of society, which is to make sure that the helpless children are watched over and properly cared for.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the major interest will turn on Part II, the provisions for adoption. Here we have very difficult problems of getting the right balance. What we all want to do is to ensure that there is a very careful scrutiny and care before adoption is completed and made legal and that thereafter we should as far as is humanly and legally possible treat the adopted child as if it were a natural child, having taken all the care that can be taken to make sure that no error is being made.
Difficult specific points arise. There is, first of all, in the scrutiny the conflict that could arise between the rights of the natural parent and the interest of the child, particularly in reference to the adoption when the natural parent withholds consent under Clause 18. We do 753 not want to undermine the proper rights of a parent. This is a vitally important part of our whole social structure.
On the other hand, the rights of the parent, certainly in modern times, have never been regarded as absolute. It is accepted that certain duties on the part of society in respect of the child must be taken into account. The only solution seems to be that neither case should be regarded as paramount. There should be a balance between the two, as equal as possible, and it does not seem to us that that balance has been properly struck in the Bill.
We have to remember the context here. There has been a tendency in the courts to give rather restrictive decisions in these matters, so to speak, leaning towards the rights of the parent and against the rights of the child. It seems to us—and we shall try to put down Amendments to bring out this—that it should be made absolutely clear that the court should take into account, as one of the factors, the welfare of the child. There is no specific obligation laid upon the court to take that into account in this problem, and what we need in the Bill is guidance to the court to treat the two things as equally balanced, neither paramount above the other.
There should be some tightening up in the preparatory supervision and investigation which goes on before an adoption order is first made. The courts should be able to insist on a medical examination of would-be adopters. Third party adoptions raise very great problems and I understand that there are very large numbers of third party adoptions and that in fact only about 20 per cent. of adoption cases pass through societies, although I may be wrong about that.
Of course, there is no harm in that. It is perfectly natural and in certain cases an asset to adoption, and in any case it could not be stopped. If we tried to stop it, we should get it happening de facto, but outside the purview of the law. We all hope that bringing local authorities into this matter will help to solve the problem by speeding up procedures so that would-be adopters do not have to wait such an unconscionable time, as is now sometimes the case.
There is one further proposal which could be made and which would not have 754 the defect of being unenforceable and which would improve things. That is that third parties should be respondents to every application for an adoption order. It is not enough to answer, as will be said, that this will be done in the rules which are to be produced. This is one of those cases where the intention of the rules should be included in the Bill. There is already a reference in Clause 21 to the intention of certain rules, so that this proposal would not be an innovation. Clause 21 says that certain rules should be made to do certain things. We do not want precise and clear rules written into the Bill, but we should like general words of the kind already in Clause 21 (4) to cover this point, to which we attach extreme importance and which we think is a Parliamentary responsibility and not merely a matter of the Government making a declaration of intention.
Then there is this matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the right of the child, upon reaching a certain age, to discover the identity of its natural parents. We think that the Bill is right and that the Government are right not to include such a provision—although there may be some of my hon. Friends who do not agree with that. It is true—and this again is a matter of balance—that there may be some children who will suffer psychologically from not being able to discover the identity of their natural parents, but, on balance, the unfortunate effect where the natural parents have set up new families, and so on, should be the prevailing consideration.
It is very curious that on a matter as important as this we have different law in different parts of the Kingdom. This is extraordinary and I understand that it has something to do with the law of succession in Scotland. However, if it is a good principle, it does not cease to be a good principle at the Border. There is a case for making this clear in the law of the whole land. I do not feel that this is one of the very many and important matters in which the law between the two countries should differ. It is a simple matter of principle, which one decides one way or the other, and I hope that something will be done to make it general over the whole Kingdom. This is the only time on which I have ever dared to say anything about Scotland or Scottish law in this Chamber.
755 Finally, I come to this very difficult matter of adoption abroad. I do not think that there will be any objection to Clause 23, which deals with the rights of parents who are to settle here and adopt children, because they will obviously be under our own laws, and so on. That seems to us to put right the law where it has gone wrong.
However, there is a good deal of dispute and strong feeling about Clause 24 which enables people to take children abroad permanently and altogether out of our jurisdiction. I have a question which partly arises out of this ghastly business of legislation by reference which makes it extremely difficult to understand what has happened. I take it that the present procedure of Bow Street licensing continues and that it is not repealed, but I should like to know whether I am correct. If it is continued, and if the new provisions are merely additional and not a substitute, why has not the very sensible proposal of the Hurst Committee, that two lay magistrates should sit with the Chief Magistrate, been incorporated into the Bill? However, in spite of the best advice which I have been able to obtain, I may be wrong and the Bill may repeal the existing machinery.
The important issue is that children born here are British subjects and we must be careful not to deprive them of the born and inherited rights of British subjects. Whether they are abandoned children or orphans, they are British subjects. In addition, they may be going to countries where there are no controls over child welfare and no protective legislation. Of course, no problem arises if the other country is Australia. I will not mention names of countries, but the children may be going to countries where there is no protection of any sort, and that is a matter which worries many people.
My own view is that, on balance, the Bill has it right, but some of my hon. Friends do not altogether share that view. I think that if one is too strict in this matter, the effect which one will achieve is that many children who would otherwise have been adopted, will be left in institutions. The principle which should prevail is, having taken sufficient care over the original adoption order, to treat the child as a natural child. We do not prevent ordinary children from being taken overseas to those countries by their 756 parents. If we are to treat adopted children, once adopted, just like ordinary children, it is wrong on principle that we should then try to chase the new parents with all sorts of controls which we should not exercise over ordinary children and ordinary parents.
When doing so very grave a thing as this, it is right that extra special care should be taken before the provisional adoption order is made, and I am very glad that the Government have accepted the Amendment made in another place to have a six months' period instead of a three months' period. That is very important, as is the provision that the order should be made only in the High Court, or in the county court.
Those are sensible and proper provisions, but there may be other provisions which could reasonably be included in the Bill. For instance, such cases as overseas adoptions should always go through local authorities and not through any other means. That is a matter which is very worth considering. In my view, the right solution is to multiply the precautions which one takes before making such an order, and then to treat it like any other order. Whether the Bill has got the balance right, is something of which I am not quite sure.
I repeat that our aims will be very constructive. We want the Bill and we do not want it to be held up. In certain respects, some of them important, we want to alter the Bill to make a better balance between conflicting principles, and we are very grateful that the Government have said that they will give sympathetic attention to what we say. We welcome the Bill, and we shall give it an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
I am sure that all of us recognise the sincerity of the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), and thank him for his helpful speech. We all know his deep interest in these human problems—the country knows it, too—and his interest in the expansion of social welfare for the benefit of our people. We also know the interest taken in these matters by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), who is to wind up for the Opposition. 757 He is to speak in my constituency this weekend. I hope he tells my constituents what a good Member of Parliament they already have.
I was forced to smile when the right hon. Member for Smethwick said that we sometimes produce Bills which ordinary people could understand. In my three years' membership of this House I have not yet seen one. It seems to me that we produce Bills which even extraordinary people cannot understand.
It would have been wrong to delay this Measure in order to include all the rules and regulations possible or until a more comprehensive one could have been produced.
My first note is "pigeon holes." Here is a Measure which did not come out of the pigeon holes of my right hon. Friend because it never got into any pigeon holes. We compliment the Home Secretary on the Measures which, during his tenure of office, he has laid before the House and the country. He is a great reformer, and I am sure that the country recognises that.
It is not a bad thing for us occasionally to boast of the things that we do for children. There is no better place in the world for a child to be born than these islands, whether the child be rich or poor, black or white, brown or yellow, legitimate or illegitimate, sick or well. All parties—Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals—have contributed to this happy state.
Tremendous progress has been made during the first half of this century in the welfare of our children. Every day during the year we cannot but admire the thousands of children who are brought from their schools to view this seat of democracy—their bearing, their clothes, the manner in which they are cared for in their homes. They are a great tribute to our people. Gone are the bow legs and knock knees, the eye complaints, the rickets and the twisted feet. Diphtheria, whooping cough and. T.B. have been conquered, and soon we hope to remove polio from their lives and from the fear of their parents.
In this House we take a pride in the well-being of our children, but we must not praise ourselves too much, because the real value and the real work is to be found outside, being done by many thousands who have no interest whatsoever 758 in politics. The Second Reading of the Bill enables use to pay a tribute on behalf of the country to all those people who serve the children of our land—those in science and medicine, in hospitals, in children's societies and adoption societies, those in schools, and, as both my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Smethwick said, those who serve in our local authorities. We must think also of the huge amount of service given by voluntary helpers.
I recently attended an annual youth parade on the largest sports grounds in my city. There the entire arena was filled with Boy Scouts, members of the Boys Brigade and Girl Guides. There was a mass of young people, and it took them half an hour to walk past the Lord Mayor. What can measure the voluntary work of the people who arrange all that and the care they have for our children? We should be grateful to them.
It is very rarely that we pay tribute in this House to another vast army of workers, the Sunday School teachers. Not for them the golf course on a Sunday or picnics in the hills and dales or on the moors or trips to the seaside. At 1.45 p.m. on Sunday after Sunday, week after week, month after month, they visit our Sunday schools. Some of them do it for the whole of their lives. Who can measure the benefits which the nation receives from this great service, from this vast army?Peace hath her victoriesNo less renowned than war.We all welcome the Bill. The Second Reading is an opportune moment to express gratitude for certain things which do not appear in the Bill. I am sure that both sides of the House are agreed that it was right not to accept the recommendation that by law at the age of 21 full details of his adoption should be given to an adopted person. This would have been a grievous error which might have caused more harm and more suffering than good. Our purpose in this House—as it is of those who care for adopted children, the friends of and the families who adopt them—should be to make the adoption as near natural as possible from the moment of the adoption. To have had such legislation would have been to destroy part of that aspect and part of the planning made in the home for the future of the adopted children. Some parents in my division 759 who have adopted children wrote in anguish when they felt that such a measure was to be included in the Bill.
I hoped that the Bill would include some standardisation of birth certificates. It is a great pity that we have differentiation on children's birth certificates, because, after all, they are all children and all equal. It seems to me that we that we could keep whatever records we need in our country's registers and our local registers, gathering in a file all the information that is required about the history of children. I have never been able to understand why it is not possible to issue a simple straightforward standardised birth certificate in respect of every child.
I welcome Clause 22, which makes an important change in our legislation. By the Clause, adopted children will enjoy the same benefits as natural children in wills and settlements and under the terms of the Married Women's Property Act. This is as it should be. I want, however, to ask two questions. Is the Clause drawn sufficiently widely to include the wills of grandparents, uncles and aunts? Does it include all the wills of a family and not merely the wills of the parents?
Secondly, some children are the proud possessors of rich aunts and uncles. If one of those aunts or uncles dies intestate—the Clause does not explain this; it merely refers tocertain dispositions by settlement or will"—will the adopted nephew or niece inherit his or her share of that estate as a normal, natural child would do? If not, I suggest that a change should be made.
I welcome the Bill. We make these strides in social progress for many unfortunate children. Indeed, so much is being done in welfare for them that they are becoming a happy section of children and we are glad of this. There is, however, need for us soon to take recognition of the need for study of children outside the scope of the Bill.
Since the war, there has been a great change in the family structure. Because so many young mothers now go out to work to assist in the earning of the family income, there has been a neglect of some children especially in our industrial cities, where so many young mothers work on evening shifts. Only a few days ago, I received a letter from the Bishop of Bradford, 760 Dr. Coggan, expressing concern and anxiety at the falling off in the standards of the family life, evidence of which can be found in the increasing numbers of children in local authority care and in increasing juvenile delinquency. I hope that when we have passed this Measure, which takes us a step forward, the House will soon have time to consider the wider aspect of the present need for care of children to ensure that the progress which we have made in this century is not lost and that we do not move in the wrong direction.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
There are two axioms to be considered when thinking about a Bill of this character. The first is that the interests of children are, by and large, equal with the interests of the parents. The second is that the interests of the children are best served by being in a family. If one can do anything to encourage their being in a family, that is certainly desirable. It is because I believe that the Bill takes a small step towards both these aims that I support it today.
My excuse for intervening is that I have the honour to serve on the Children's Committee of the London County Council, where we are concerned with a very large number of children who are in need of care and protection. There are, in fact, about 8,000 children with whom we deal, a distressingly large number. Some are there for a short time and others are in our hands for a long time because there is nowhere to which we can send them.
Why do they come? They come, I think, for four reasons. The parents may be ill, one parent may have abandoned the child, or the parents may be homeless and the children possibly neglected. Here, I would make the only controversial remark that I must make today in saying that the number of evictions has undoubtedly increased because of the Rent Act. This may have a small effect upon the number of children with whom we have to deal. The fourth reason is that the children have been committed by the courts. These are the main reasons why the children are there.
One has to be very careful that the facilities offered by local authorities are not used by parents as a dumping ground. Probably the majority of parents 761 send their children for care for very good reasons, but there are some who send them merely for a short time and want to have them back again later. We must take great care that these facilities are not used by parents merely to send their children away for a short time to the detriment of the children, who then become thoroughly unsettled and are in neither one home nor another.
I turn to the question of foster parents. The London County Council, and, indeed, other authorities also, I have no doubt, are exceedingly short of foster parents. In July last year, for example, we needed 430 foster parents, but were unable to get them. There are two reasons for this. The first I mention with great respect to all concerned, but it must be mentioned. There are a large number of Catholic children who cannot be adopted because there are not enough Catholics willing to take them into their homes. That is something which we must consider seriously and I shall refer to it again presently, on the question of adoption, because the same problem runs through both matters.
The second reason for the inability to obtain foster parents is the question of pay. There is a fear in the minds of many people nowadays, a fear hanging over from days gone by, that we must not in any way be mixed up in baby farming and that, if too high pay is given, people will simply adopt children for the money they get and without any love for the children. That is something against which we must safeguard. At the same time, however, if there is a shortage of people for any particular employment, one of the things that it is natural to consider is to raise their pay so as to obtain more of them. That is a course which might well be considered in the case of foster parents.
I turn now to the question of adoption. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) about the need for the courts to consider carefully the welfare of the child as well as the welfare of the parents. For that reason, I welcome Clauses 18 and 19, but I am not sure that they go far enough. I am a little concerned about the phrase in Clause 18 (3), which says that certain things may be doneunless it appears to the court likely that, if the order is not made, that person will discharge those obligations".762 I suppose that there must be some sort of proviso, but this lays it open to the court to say, "We think that there may be some kind of agreement or settlement, and because of that we cannot go forward with the adoption order." I am not sure that I know the answer, but we certainly need to consider whether there is not a loophole in the Clause.
I am concerned particularly with the child who has been sent to foster parents for, perhaps, five or ten years and who has become fond of the foster parents, who want to adopt the child. Then, the court has to decide whether they can do it. The child's parents may say, "Although it has been a long time since we have seen this child, we may become reconciled and we may somehow be able to look after this child, which we have not been able to look after for five or ten years." It is extremely important that the court should not give those parents too easy an opportunity to remove the child from the care of the foster parents who want to adopt it.
I welcome very much Clause 3. It was most unfortunate that the Daily Mirror had the kind of article which it had recently, making out that all children who were going abroad were to be sent there for white slave traffic. This did great harm and upset many people considerably.
I said that I would refer to the question of Catholics in connection with adoption. One of the reasons that makes Clause 23 very necessary indeed is the shortage of Catholic people willing to adopt these children. I suggest that there are three solutions to the problem, and I put them with all humility to the Catholic Church. First, it might be possible to obtain more Catholics to adopt children. If more British Catholics living in this country can be found to do that, it is undoubtedly the best solution.
Failing that the Church might possibly consider on certain occasions, allowing children to be adopted by non-Catholic parents—although I see all the difficulties here—provided they get a Catholic education. The third solution is that covered by Clause 23; that foreign Catholics may be permitted to adopt the children. Something has to be done to solve this problem because, time and time again, we find that the children cannot be adopted because, although 763 there are plenty of adopters, they are not the right adopters and, in this case, not Catholic adopters.
Another class of children with whom one finds considerable difficulty today are, of course, the coloured children. That problem, again, might be helped by Clause 23; if coloured children can be adopted by people living abroad.
This is a big problem, and I should like to join with the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) in paying tribute to all the people who are helping to solve it today. One hears too much about officials coming in and interfering with other people's lives—hard, dreary officials with no imagination—but here we have officials devoted to their work, who spend an enormous amount of time on it, and who are really anxious to help child and parents, and we should pay our tribute to them.
Much has been done, but much remains to be done, and I think that the Bill will do a little towards helping the cause that we all have at heart; the cause of settling the problems of these very unfortunate children.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Evelyn Emmet (East Grinstead)
I should like some elucidation of Clause 24. I very much welcome the possibility of children being adopted by people who do not live in this country. It will help the type of case which came to my notice a fortnight ago, particulars of which I have sent to the Home Office. It is the case of a mother with an illegitimate child. She is married to a German working in this country, and they wish to adopt this child properly. It is her own child, of course, but, under the present law, as she is married to a German, she cannot adopt it. I hope very, much that this Clause will put that sort of case in order.
Even if it does, however, to me there still seem to remain one or two problems about which I should like some information. There is the question of the child's nationality. Under the new laws, a British mother who marries, say, a German, can retain her nationality; but what about the child? I imagine that the child will be able to retain his nationality if he so wishes, by opting at the age of 21, but that should be made clear.
764 Again, will there be any sort of international arrangement whereby, when these children go abroad, the equivalent to our Home Department in the particular country knows about their circumstances? It occurs to me that, perhaps at some later stage—for instance, in the case that I have just quoted—the mother might die and, the father being a foreigner, the child might not know its rights. I should, therefore, like to know whether it will be registered in the country in any particular way so that it can obtain the necessary information when the time comes.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
Like everyone else, I welcome the Bill. I should like to make one or two brief observations on it, and I should like now to apologise in advance because I may not be able to hear the replies to my observations, as I have to catch a train to Wales.
I should like some assurances on Clause 24, including the points just mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet). As I understand, adoptions are not internationally recognised. I am open to correction on this, but I think that New Zealand is one of the very few countries that recognises adoptions made in other countries. While marriage is normally recognised internationally, and while divorce is usually so recognised, I believe that adoption is hardly ever recognised.
Therefore, the status of these children who are to be adopted by persons domiciled abroad must concern us very much. We have not an absolute guarantee that when they leave this country they will be adopted under the laws of any other country. We should not put unnecessary obstacles in the way of children having happy homes outside this country, if the homes are not available here, but something much more is required to safeguard them.
Are any steps being taken internationally to see that there is recognition which would at least, give the child some assured status? Naturally, one hopes that things will go right but, as the hon. Lady has just asked, if they should go wrong what sort of safeguards are there for the welfare of these children? This is a matter on which we really must have some reassurances before we are fully satisfied with Clause 24.
765 Some of us who were listening to my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) were not entirely in accord with him when he said that we should evenly balance the rights of parents and children—and I am happy to hear that I have the support of some of my more senior hon. Friends on this point. It is clear that the rights of the natural parents must never be lightly regarded but, having said that, surely most of us would be of the opinion that, in these abnormal circumstances, the wellbeing of the child should predominate. I hope, therefore, that we will approach the Bill in such a spirit that, while we pay due regard to the rights of the natural parents, our main concern should be the welfare of the children.
My right hon. Friend referred to the omission from the Bill of the recommendations contained in paragraph 48 and subsequent paragraphs of the Hurst Committee's Report, dealing with adoptions through third parties. I know that for some time past this has been a highly contentious matter, and I do not want to be regarded as someone who is against third parties in any emotional sense, because I recognise that there are circumstances in which a third party arrangement can be very suitable. I am sure that many very satisfactory adoptions are made in this way.
On the other hand, I feel that it is quite illogical for us to demand that adoption societies must not only be registered but, having been registered, must take very considerable precautions about adoptions—and this applies also to local authorities—whereas a third party adoption may be done in a very casual way indeed. It is quite true that before an adoption becomes legal there is a probationary period, during which inspection is made of the home, and so forth, but anyone with any knowledge at all of child care knows that that may be almost too late.
The child may be placed in a home which, though not really satisfactory for the child, nevertheless is not so unsatisfactory that the officer carrying out the inspection during the probationary period can absolutely condemn it. It is then very difficult to remove a child from even a relatively unsatisfactory home. Quite a lot of harm may even be done 766 by bringing a child from an unsatisfactory home if it has more or less settled down. It would have been much better if that placing of the child prior to legal adoption had never been done, and the child had been put into a home which was more satisfactory.
We all welcome the clarification of the situation relating to local authorities so that it will now be possible for all local authorities without question to undertake this work. That in itself will diminish the number of these casual third party adoptions in so far as it will make it easier for parents who wish to adopt a child to do so.
There is no doubt that one of the main reasons why there have been so many third party adoptions in the past has been that admirable prospective parents have gone to the adoption society and have been treated rather coldly. I am not saying that in any disrespectful way; it is merely that the adoption societies have so many demands and relatively few children, particularly young babies. It is because they have relatively so few available that they can be a little "off-putting" to the prospective adoptive parents.
The adoptive parents may not be in an area where the local authority has any children which need caring for, and they naturally begin to make inquiries among their friends, acquaintances, doctors, midwives, solicitors, and so on, who may be excellent people in their professions, but are not necessarily the best people to arrange adoptions. If one could have a better balance between prospective adoptive parents and the children available for adoption through the local authorities as well as the adoption societies, it would be much easier for the adoptive parents.
There may be parents with a compulsive urge to adopt a child. Indeed, there are some parents who have reached a point of neurosis and seem to suppose that they have an absolute right to adopt a child because they have not been able by nature to produce one of their own. I have spoken to one or two workers concerned with this problem, who tell me that some women ask if they may buy a child rather as if they were buying their groceries, and are indignant because there is not a child available who will suit their requirements. That may be a rather strong way of expressing 767 the matter, but I have had that comment made to me by people engaged in this work.
I have been told by a social worker in an organisation which is well known to many hon. Members—I admit that this may be an extreme case—that a lady in very comfortable circumstances went to this organisation and was indignant to find that it did not arrange adoptions although it did a lot of work to assist unmarried mothers. The lady was dismissed with the information as to where she could apply for details relating to adoptions, and a few moments later shrieks were heard from the outer office because this woman had literally snatched a baby from another woman who had come to ask for help with her illegitimate child. The woman who thought that she had a right to adopt a baby was so indignant to see another woman sitting there with an infant that she had physically taken it.
That is an extreme case, but it is an illustration of an attitude of mind that is not altogether uncommon. A number of these people whom probably an adoption society would not accept as suitable parents go round by the back door and try to find someone who knows of some illegitimate child whose mother is not able to keep it and who says, "Oh, yes, we can arrange that quite easily." Then we get the initial placing which can do so much damage.
There are doctors, midwives and such people who offer to help prospective mothers with illegitimate children and who do so, I am sure, with no thought of gain but because they think they are doing the right thing for the mother and the baby, but they are not normally in a position fully to investigate the circumstances of the home into which the child would be going. Therefore, it is essential that we should do more than is proposed in the Bill—as a matter of fact, nothing at all is proposed in the Bill—to deal with third parties.
One should not attempt to abolish third party arrangements because there are other circumstances in which they can be very helpful, but one should hear in mind the responsibility of being a third party in an adoption, and anybody who makes this arrangement should be prepared to answer for any action which he 768 takes. Therefore, there should be a specific duty on the court to inquire into the method by which the adoption was arranged when considering the desirability of making an adoption order. I hope, therefore, that we shall have assurances that a provision of this kind will be included in the Bill. I cannot see why one need be satisfied by merely being told, as I believe was the case in another place, that there will be some regulation in the future, without being told of its full scope and effect.
In general terms, this is a good Bill. We shall hope to improve it in Committee, and if we can get assurances on the points which have been raised, particularly on Clause 24, on this matter of third parties and on one or two other points, about which some of my hon. Friends feel rather strongly, I hope that we shall soon see the Bill on the Statute Book.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), who has a great interest in and knowledge of this subject and has done a considerable amount of work in this connection. I agree with most of what she has said.
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said on the question of medical examinations of parents, provided that it is not insisted upon for the parents of the child concerned.
I was interested in the remarks of the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) relating to keeping children in their homes. I hope this Bill will do nothing to discourage mothers of illegitimate children from keeping their own children. I have personal knowledge of women who have had illegitimate children and who eventually have married and settled down quite happily. I hope that whatever we do in this Bill, we will not encourage more people to foster their children out or to get them adopted.
I think we have come a long way in the last few years. When one considers the work done by Lord Shaftesbury, the conditions in Dickens' days, and even "The Water Babies", by Charles Kingsley, when children were sold to chimney 769 sweeps, one realises that over the years great progress has been made. It is regrettable, however, that in these days we still have to make even further legislation to provide for people looking after their own children. I feel, however, that this is a further stage in what I call a Charter for Children.
I welcome the provisions relating to the parent who has been neglectful of his child. There are many cases in which a mother would like to have her child adopted but where the father has taken no interest in the child for several years so that the mother is unable to get it adopted without the known father's consent. I am glad we are to have some legislation with regard to the inheritance of a child. I have always thought it was very unfair that an adopted child should be left out, and I hope that the point raised by my hon. Friend about the present situation will be elucidated.
On the question of providing supervision by the local authority during the probationary period for adoption, there are Clauses in the Bill on which I should like some explanation. I should like to support what the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East said about children being fostered out or adopted without any authority knowing anything about it. This is what I believe is called "baby farming", and we know far too well that a great many parents make excellent arrangements. There are people who probably pay something each year under what is purely a private arrangement. On the other hand, there are a great many rather callous people who want to get rid of the child as quickly as they can, and who, as the hon. Lady indicated, show no interest in what may happen to it. I should like to see something in the Bill to provide that such parents must notify somebody, or that the local authority should be told, if any arrangements of that kind are made.
§ Mrs. White
There is provision in the Bill for notification, but the trouble is that there is not sufficient publicity. Very often, even well-intentioned people do not know the law about their obligations, while ill-intentioned people are hardly ever prosecuted.
§ Miss Vickers
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I should like far more attention drawn to this matter, and 770 I personally do not think the position is sufficiently safeguarded at present.
I should like also to refer to a question which was raised in the Hurst Committee's Report, paragraph 125 of which says:Many witnesses have drawn our attention to the fact that when an adoption order is refused there is nothing to prevent the child remaining in the adoptive home, unless the arrangement was made by an Adoption Society.The Report goes on to say that the results are very unfortunate, and in paragraph 128 the Committee makes the suggestion:We think that the most practical way to deal with the difficulty would be to give the court power, when refusing an adoption order, to direct the local authority to bring the child before a Juvenile Court for consideration whether he is 'in need of care or protection',I hope that we may have something of that kind in this Bill. I welcome the provisions about the refusal of an adoption order and also the reference to the juvenile courts, which I think is a very essential measure.
I too welcome Clause 23, because I have personal knowledge of people overseas, and particularly of one eminent doctor, who was a medical officer in the Colonial Service, who, when he wished to adapt children, was forced to do so in South Africa, because South Africa allows their children to be adopted, whereas he would not be able to adopt a child in this country.
I join with the right hon. Member for Smethwick in asking whether Clause 24 provides a substitute for the present licensing system. I should like to be a little more clear about it. I think that probably there are sufficient safeguards concerning the taking of adopted children out of the country, because it will be a very expensive process. The prospective parents have to come to this country.
I mention this particularly in reference to a recent article in a Sunday newspaper, which might give a wrong impression, and which might lead these people to think that anybody will be able to take children out of the country. Of course, it will be a very expensive business, because the people concerned will have to come to this country and reside here for a period of six months, and go before a High Court Judge. I should have thought that those safeguards would be sufficient.
771 The only difficulty which I should like to mention on this question is the situation that might be caused if the parents happen to be killed in an accident. What would happen then? Clause 2 deals with another important point which I should specially like to mention. It refers to the case of a child below the upper limits of compulsory school age, not maintained by a relative or guardian, and, in this case, the person taking the child will have to register if the child is there not more than one month. I suggest that this period should be three months, and I put this point because there are a great many people who, not being relations, take children into their homes as paying guests—such as the children of people in the Services, in the Civil Service or in business in the Colonies. It is not common today to find people who are willing to take children without payment. I think that three months would be more satisfactory, and should provide a sufficient safeguard in this respect.
Clause 33 (4) is rather different from the corresponding Section in the original Act of 1850, and it contains the definition of the territories in which children can be placed. It states:In this Section 'the British Islands' means the United Kingdom, The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.I understand that Section 45 of the Adoption Act, 1950, states:This Act shall apply to citizens of the Republic of Ireland"—and so on. It would appear that, as this Clause is drafted, Clause 33 (4) means that people in France or the United States can take children for adoption without going through the preliminaries which somebody living in the Republic of Ireland will have to do. I suppose this is done in order to exclude areas where passenger traffic is not controlled, but I think that now that we have so many people from Ireland working in this country, there is a very good reason to include Eire and I should like to know why it has not been included.
I welcome the provisions in Clause 25 about registration and the giving of certain information, but I should like to draw attention to one of the recommendations of the Standing Conference of Adoption Societies on this question. The recommendation says:It might be desirable if the Bill included express provision for the competent court 772 of jurisdiction not to make an order authorising the Registrar General to disclose information from his confidential records until it has been considered, and a report received from an official responsible only to the court.This is because there might be circumstances in which it is necessary to discover whether the mother has been married, whether there are any other children by the marriage or whether there is a surviving husband. For example, if the child's parents had been hanged or if the child had been conceived in incest, it would be absolutely undesirable that the child should learn anything about it. I hope that something will be provided in Clause 25 (1) to deal with this question.
Clause 31 (5) does not cover the adoption societies which have no homes of their own. If such an adoption society arranges for the adoption of a child, and the adopter does not want to have the child, it either has to remain with the society or it has to go to another authority's home or a local authority home. Who shall be responsible in this case for taking the child? The society very often acts as a third person, as the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East said, but there is great difficulty in knowing what is to be done with the child in the meantime, especially if the mother disappears. The Hurst Committee, in page 26 of its Report, refers to the position of the infant parent. It has been suggested, I think, that there is doubt whether a parent still an infant should give consent to the adoption of his or her child. The Committee goes on to recommend that it should be made clear that the parent's consent is necessary and that this principle should apply for infant parents. I hope that something will be put in the Bill to provide that it shall not be just the guardian's consent which is required, which I gather is the present requirement.
Before its adoption, a child may require some form of medical attention. As the law stands at the moment, if a child needs an operation, other than an emergency operation, or if there is any question of vaccination or polio protection, the consent of the natural parent has to be obtained. I myself feel that adopters should be given the right to do what is necessary.
Clause 3 (5) is weaker than the provisions of the 1950 Act as regards notifying the removal or acceptance of a 773 child, and I should like to see the Clause strengthened. I should like to draw attention also to Clause 4 (2) which the children's officers, so I understand from what they have written to me, regard as difficult to work. It would seem possible for a foster parent to have a number of children, to have her own children and even daily children. There seems to be no limit to the number of children she can have, as the Bill stands.
Under the Bill, it is possible for a person to take a foster child in what is called an emergency, but the same power is not given, I understand, to the local authority to remove a foster child from the home, and local authorities consider that it is necessary for them to be able to do so. They are now required to obtain permission and an order before they undertake this.
Finally, I wish to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend one of the resolutions adopted by the Children's Officers Association in regard to Clause 18. The Association says:This Clause removes all rights which the local authority now possess to object to an adoption order being made in respect of a child in care for whom the local authority holds parental rights, either under a Fit Person Order or by a Section 2 Resolution. It is not even clear whether when foster parents apply for an adoption order without the support of the local authority the local authority would be in the position to appear in court as a respondent.I should very much like some information about that. At least, this is important when the foster parent is in the area of another local authority, which might quite easily happen. Children's officers would be even more unhappy about it in a case where there were no natural parents available. I hope that the position under Clause 18 will be safeguarded when we come to the Committee stage.
With those comments upon it, I wish the Bill success and a swift passage through the House.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
Like all hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken so far, I welcome the Bill. It is a good Bill, but I feel that it could be improved, and all that I am about to say now will be aimed in that direction.
774 First, there is the matter of health. I regret that the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State has just left the Chamber, because I was about to say that I fear that she who, we are told, has had a good deal to do with the drafting of the Bill, must have forgotten some of the valuable experience she acquired when she was associated with the Ministry of Health.
First of all, Clause 6 provides for various conditions which those who want to foster children for reward must fulfil. We are told of the various things which they ought not to do or have done, but nothing is said about their health. This may well be a matter of very great importance. A person who has active pulmonary tuberculosis who fosters children is very likely to give it to them. Young children are especially liable to infection by tuberculosis from anyone with pulmonary tuberculosis who looks after them. Indeed, there are authorities who say that in every case of tuberculosis of the lung the disease was contracted in early childhood, lying dormant until something later in life awakens it into activity. There is no doubt whatever about the danger.
The medical Press last year gave prominence to a case in Clitheroe in which a woman concerned with the preparation of meals for schoolchildren inadvertently infected 13 of the children certainly and probably another 17.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
Would Clause 7 cover that point, which my hon. Friend has very rightly raised? It refers to the removal of a child whenever there is imminent danger to its health or well being. Would that cover it?
§ Mr. Hastings
I do not think that it would. It is not a matter of removing a child who has contracted tuberculosis. I do not want the child to have it at all or to be put under conditions where it would be likely to contract that unhappy disease.
Similar considerations apply to people who are to adopt children, the potential adopters. Again, I should like something to be said to the effect that all potential adopters, fathers and mothers, should have a medical examination, the medical certificate being presented to the court. I do not suggest that every individual who is not completely normal should not have 775 the right to adopt a child, but the court should, at any rate, know what the outlook is and what the probable life of the individual is thought to be.
If, for instance, a person is suffering from chronic heart disease and is not likely to live very long, the court ought to know that. I quite agree that Clause 19 says that the court shall have regard, among other things, to the health of the applicant for an adoption order. But is not that too vague? How can the court have regard to the health of the individual? How can an ordinary person say whether an applicant is healthy or unhealthy? That is exceedingly difficult to determine, even after a medical examination.
Many years ago, when I was in active practice, I remember that a person with advanced tuberculosis of the lungs and larynx came into my consulting room. After examination, I said, "I am afraid you are very seriously ill", and the man said, "I am feeling a little weak, but I am as clear mentally as you are"; and he was quite right. He agreed that he should go into hospital, and he died a couple of days later. Every doctor could quote many similar cases.
It is difficult for the court to have regard to the health of the applicant unless it is provided with a medical certificate. The adoption of a child is most important to the parents, to the adopting parents, and the children.
I should like now to turn to Clause 24, about which a lot has already been said. I look upon it as a valuable but very dangerous Clause. What is being done is to allow foreigners to come to this country and, after six months, to take to their own country a British-born child. I am perfectly well aware that in many cases this will be to the advantage of the child. I have been a member of the Children's Committee of the London County Council since the Committee was formed. As has been said already, we have about 8,000 children under our care. I have not the figures with me, but I think about 5 per cent. are coloured children. If these children go through their lives as children in institutions they will be under a very great handicap. It would be certainly advantageous if a dark-skinned person would adopt them and take them perhaps to the West 776 Indies. But more and more British people are adopting these coloured children.
I had occasion only last year to write an article on black babies which appeared in one of the evening papers, and I was deluged with letters from people saying that they would like to adopt these children. I do not know whether they were desirable people or not. I passed all these letters to the Children's Officer of the London County Council, and they were investigated.
We ought to be very careful before we give away a child's birthright of British citizenship. I look upon it as a great honour to be born a British citizen, because of our culture, our traditions and our laws. The very presence of all of us here today shows how much we appreciate and value the laws of this country. Some of us hope that they may be made even better.
By Clause 24 we are allowing foreigners to take children, and before we do this I feel that we ought to know something of the adoption laws of the country to which the child is to be taken, as the adoption order will only be provisional. We ought also to know something about the laws of child care, education, and employment of children in the country to which the child is to go. I suggest that something should be put in the Bill to that effect. How do we know that the people who say they want to adopt the child and acquire a provisional adoption order will really adopt the child when it reaches the country of their choice? That is an important matter which should be carefully considered.
A good deal has been said today about the dangers of third party adoption. In these important cases the adoption should be carried out only by a registered adoption society or by a local authority. At any rate, they are disinterested and have the welfare of the children at heart. Also, the mother, if her existence is known, should consent to the child being removed from the country of its birth. Only when she consents should this be permitted. Where the mother is not known, I think that the local authority which has acquired the rights and powers of parents should have to accept the same position.
Lastly, I should like to deal with the rights of the parents of a child over their 777 child and the rights of parents to prevent their child's adoption when it is thought to be in the interests of the child. A good deal has been said lately about the glory of the unmarried mother and her child. I have know some of these children. If they are middle-class children they are under a handicap all their lives. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) said that some of these children might be adopted by the parents when the mother is married. I have known some of these children, too. They may be outcasts of the family. In my view, next to the care of loving parents the love of adopting parents is the best thing for a child.
What does the law say at present? In the High Court a few years ago a mother was given custody of a child because of the criminal record of the father. She wished to have the child adopted and the court agreed. But the father appealed, and this is what the learned judge said:In my opinion, the first requisite before an adoption order can be made is the consent of the parents".As I understand it, that is the law at present. The Hurst Committee, I am glad to say, suggested that the paramount consideration should be the welfare of the child, and the Bill goes some way in that direction. Clause 18 says:If upon application for an adoption order the court is satisfied that any person whose consent is required … as parent or guardian of the infant has persistently failed without reasonable cause to discharge the obligation of a parent or guardian of the infant, then, unless it appears to the court likely that, if the order is not made, that person will discharge those obligations the court may dispense with the consent of that person".This is asking too much of the court. How can the court say whether it is likely that the parents will discharge their obligations? I should feel happier if those words were left out. The past record of the parent should be considered, not what is likely or possible in the future.
When the Bill was being discussed in another place one of the noble Lords put this case. It was suggested that wealthy people who proposed to adopt a child and who, therefore, could provide everything that it needed, would have a strong case for adoption as against the wishes of a relatively poor parent. I feel, however, that any court that knows its business at all would realise that the loving care that parents can give to a child is 778 infinitely more valuable to the child in its upbringing than all the money in the world.
I regard this as a good Bill. I hope that it will have its Second Reading today and that we may be allowed to change it where necessary in Committee to make it even better.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Billericay)
Before I follow one of the points made by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), I should like to give the two reasons why I welcome the Bill. The first is the rather obvious one that it is one more nail in the coffin of the baby farmer. In serving that purpose, however, the Bill endangers some of the well-intentioned and bona fide people who look after children for more than the one month period referred to in Clause 2 and for what some people might describe as profit. I therefore hope that the Bill will have a great deal of publicity, so that these people will not be placed in jeopardy for an unconscious breach of the law.
My second reason is that the Bill is a necessary sequel to the movement away from institutional life and towards family life for orphans and children of bad parents. Not many years ago, such children were indiscriminately taken away by county councils to orphanages and inhuman institutions. I am strongly in agreement with that movement. I therefore find myself in some disagreement with the full-blooded eulogy of praise that we have heard today from both Front Benches about the work of the children's departments, because some of them are still too keen to take children away from their parents and to place them in institutions of the county council.
I believe that there is more cruelty wrought to children by "Bumbledom" than by the malice of individual parents. I have on a number of occasions to appear professionally in magistrates' courts on behalf of parents to answer applications by county councils to take children away from the parents and to deprive them of their obligations and responsibilities. It is distressing and harrowing to have to represent the parents on those applications, particularly when one hears some of the reasons given by these child care officers as to why the children must be taken away. Very often those reasons do not stand up to a 779 moment's cross-examination. Again and again, the attitude of these officers in the witness box and outside the court towards the children and the parents seems to be that the gentlemen in the shire hall knows best. I believe that that maxim is just as wrong as the kindred one that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best.
I believe that if certain of those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are present today and some of whom have served on children's committees had shared that experience, they would perhaps take the view that there are occasions—I do not want to put this too highly or to exaggerate—when these officials can become rather too officious, rather too nosey and rather interfering busybodies.
I recognise at once that, in the main, these officials do splendid work, but there are some who lack training and experience. An officer in a children's department does not require much training nowadays before being let loose to enter people's homes. There is, unfortunately, a dire shortage. I would rather see a merger of those departments with the probation departments freed from the control of local authorities.
That brings me to my one general criticism of the Bill. It is, I think, a mistake that local authorities, the officials of the shire hall, should be given so much power by the Bill. I would prefer a merger of the probation departments and the children's departments into one service which could undertake this kind of work, which could be freed from local authority supervision and which instead would be subject to general superintendence by something analogous to a standing joint committee, the kind of body that generally superintends a police force but does not interfere with its day to day work.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
What about those areas where there is no standing joint committee and where the police authority is the watch committee? Would the hon. Member like to see this work handed over to the Watch Committee of Brighton?
§ Mr. Body
That is exactly the position: child care officers are subject to control by the children's committees. I am certain that if probation officers were subject to the control of something similar to a watch committee, many of them would want to leave the service.
780 There are some 30 or 40 Acts of Parliament affecting the law relating to children. The law on children—the Bill when enacted will add to it—is becoming very complicated. Only this morning I had to look up a point of law as to whether a parent who had obtained the custody of a child under the Guardianship of Infants Act could take the child out of the country without reference to a magistrate's court. Before I discovered the answer, I had to wade through at least four or five Acts of Parliament.
That is no hardship to a lawyer. Indeed, by his training and experience, a lawyer should be able to do that quite easily; but it is not only lawyars who are affected by these 30 or 40 Acts of Parliament. It is seldom that a lawyer has to refer to them. Those who mainly have to refer to them are children's officers, probation officers, family welfare association people, citizens' advice bureaux and marriage guidance councils. Even station sergeants of police forces are consulted on these matters. It is they who must weave their way in and out of all the many provisions in these many different Acts of Parliament, and that is something which, very naturally, they have difficulty in doing.
It is appallingly difficult to reach the right decision and the right interpretation of the law when one has to weave one's way in and out of so much legislation. I therefore hope that the time will soon come when the Government, or another party if the time should come when another party is elected to power, will introduce a consolidating Measure which will embody in one substantial Bill, one large Measure, virtually all the law relating to children. That would be a great boon to those who have to refer so much to the legislation affecting children.
I rather regret that the Government have missed the opportunity of doing that now. Perhaps the short answer may be that they must await the recommendations of the Ingleby Committee to see whether some of those may be implemented, but I hope that the Government will seriously consider whether a consolidating Measure would be beneficial. Subject to those reservations, I support the Bill and hope that it will be passed by the House.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Body) is establishing for himself a reputation for his participation in debates on Bills which come before the House on Fridays. It is quite a good reputation to have. I often think the debates which take place here on Fridays, often in a sparsely attended House, do not get sufficient publicity, especially as from time to time on Fridays we pass legislation which is of very great value to the nation. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Billericay taking part in a debate on this question of children.
I regret, however, his strictures on children's officers. It seemed to me that he was rather sweeping in what he had to say. Perhaps he has been unfortunate, for it would appear—maybe I am wrong—that his experience has been in the courts and only in the courts and in cases involving difficult circumstances, the sorts of circumstances and difficulties because of which, and only because of which, the cases go to the courts. I commend the hon. Member to pay more visits to the homes which are in the charge of the children's committees. Perhaps then his strictures will not be so bad as they have been today.
I agree in general with what the hon. Member said towards the end of his speech. I, too, look forward to the day day when we shall have a consolidating Bill which will bring together all the legislation which applies to children. Thinking in those terms, let us look at this Bill.
It certainly does take a lot of understanding. During my life I have taken some interest in these matters, but I confess that when I started to study this Bill I was confounded. I would describe it as a conglomeration of bits and pieces. When I started to think about making a few remarks on the Bill and went to the Library to study it I found myself wading through several Acts of Parliament, a Departmental Committee's Report, and a memorandum of proposals for amendment of the law on adoption, in order to comprehend this Bill of 41 Clauses and three Schedules including a list of enactments which are to be repealed. To trace what is cut out of previous Acts and what is put into the Bill as the result of the Departmental Committee's considerations 782 and the memorandum of proposals was indeed a task. My concern at the moment is that my speech may be like the Bill in being made up of bits and pieces. However, in speaking on a Bill of this kind that is almost inevitable.
The purpose and objects of the Bill are wholly right, and I am quite sure this is the kind of Bill which merits improving Amendments in Committee. I would stress what my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said about the emphasis being on the child or on the parent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) rather suggested that there was an equal consideration here, an equal consideration between parent and child. I desire that the emphasis all the time shall be on the well-being of the child. That is what we pass this kind of legislation for. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) reminds me, and I am sure he is right, that in some previous legislation quite a way back that desirable emphasis was made quite clear in the terms of the Measure itself.
I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary of State returned to the Chamber I know she has to get refreshment. In passing, I would say that I welcome the fact that she will be primarily in charge of the Bill in Standing Committee. We hope to welcome her there in that capacity. I hope she will consider whether we can bring into the terms of the Bill words which will make it clear that our endeavour is to emphasise the necessity that the child shall have the first consideration.
The Departmental Committee which reported in 1954 was not asked to report on foster parents. That was not in its terms of reference. In spite of that, Part I of the Bill is certainly very necessary legislation. Safeguards are almost as necessary in the consideration of foster parents as in the case of adoption. The only proviso I would put to that remark is that I hope that when we are considering safeguards we shall not make them so stringent that they prevent us from finding the right homes for the children. For all that, the safeguards which are contained particularly in Clauses 3, 4 and 6—I shall not deal with 783 the Clauses individually because of lack of time—I regard as most valuable and very important.
I want to pay a tribute to the majority of foster parents. There are exceptions amongst them and there are snags, I know, but in the main those who take on this self-sacrificing work are admirable people indeed, and I am sure that other hon. Members, out of their constituency experience, will join me in saying that in their constituencies they come across foster parents who are doing a great job of work for children who are not their own and to the point of great sacrifice.
While none of us wants to take the risk of making the reward so great that people will be prepared to undertake this duty for the money alone I think the time has come when we should look at what are indeed the inadequate payments for this work. It is safe to say that at the moment children can hardly be kept on the allowances which are granted in respect of them. Greater encouragement should be given in this respect. Yet the provision in Clause 3 that the local authority must be advised of the taking away of any foster child is wholly admirable, and I am sure that no foster parent who has a child's welfare at heart will resent this kind of safeguard.
In Part II safeguards are even more necessary than in the case of foster parents. Unlike foster parents, adoptive parents become a child's parents for life, and it is very important that we, as a House of Commons, should be quite sure that the safeguards are adequate. I wish to raise a rather small point in connection with Clause 10, and I do so mainly from my experience as a justice of the peace. Some of these cases are far too urgent to wait for the normal sittings of juvenile courts. Furthermore, in all cases of adoption I submit that the greatest possible privacy should be maintained in hearing them. Two justices can constitute a court, in a very small room, and I hope that it will become the practice throughout the country to hear these cases in that kind of atmosphere and under those conditions.
One of the greatest headaches of justices of the peace arises from the complications involved in the question of consent. I have in mind in this connection recommendations (21) to (34) of 784 the Committee, and the Bill contains very good safeguards in this respect. Those of us who have had experience in the hearing of these cases realise what heartbreaking experiences they sometimes are for the natural mothers, who are very often reluctant to mention the name of the putative fathers—and mothers of illegitimate children are not all harpies, by a long way. Some of them are excellent girls in every other respect. Legislation of this kind can be of very great help to them, in association with the law of adoption.
In paragraph 85 the Committee recommends the appointment of guardians ad litem and also the fixing of dates and times of hearings, by the clerks to justices. This would give authority for a practice which already exists, and the court would then have discretion either to make the appointment itself or to delegate the duty to the clerk of the court. This recommendation has not been included in the Bill, and it may be that in Committee hon. Members on this side of the House will wish to put down an Amendment on the matter.
The recommendation contained in paragraph 112 of the Report can be credited to the evidence given before the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). The paragraph reads:We think it right, however, that the closest relative of a deceased parent should invariably be consulted. We have heard of cases in which a father of a legitimate child has been killed on active service and his child has been adopted without the knowledge of the father's family. We recommend that provision should be made for the wishes of a deceased parent's next of kin (if he can be traced) to be taken into consideration before an adoption order is made.I shall not argue that point in a Second Reading debate, except to say that there is no reference to it in the Bill. I hope that it can be discussed in Committee.
I now turn to recommendation (8) of the Report, which says:Central and local health authorities should give priority to the provision of mother and baby homes.Not a word has been said about this today, but I regard it as very important. Speaking in the House as Members, and outside the House in other capacities, we often discuss the lack of provision of suitable homes for this, that and the other. We very often talk about retarded 785 children. In this connection, I think of the wonderful scheme in which the London County Council is engaged at the moment, which has been referred to recently in an article in The Times by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings). The London County Council has set up homes for the training of mothers with families, and they are doing an excellent job of work. Local authorities have tackled this matter before, but I should like to see it covered by a provision in the Bill.
I know that the Government will say that there are economic difficulties, and that they cannot indulge in any more capital expenditure upon such matters as this, but I am horrified when I see our expenditure or armaments and then think about the niggling amounts of money required for these great jobs of work. It is such a terrible comparison, and such a wicked commentary upon the way in which we are now doing things. I should like to see this economic argument wiped out, and suitable homes provided for all these excellent purposes. That recommendation of the Hurst Committee has not found its way into the Bill.
Another recommendation is that upon reaching the age of 21 the adopted person should be given the right to a copy of his adoption order, so that he can find out the names of his natural parents. This matter has been referred to only once or twice today. I am happy to see that no provision is made for it in the Bill. It would be a terrible thing if it were included, and the Government are quite right to leave it out. It would be a retrograde step.
Another suggestion I should like to make which might be somewhat startling concerns the use of the words "illegitimate children". Although the term is not contained in the Bill it occurs again and again in the Committee's Report. When, in the name of goodness, will we drop that term? I am sure the time has arrived in these enlightened days when we should not refer to any child as illegitimate. I have set an example by taking a vow that never in public will I refer to illegitimate children. It is time that the term went out of our language. We should regard all children as children of the State and forget the beginnings of their lives.
786 I have spoken in a disjointed way which is in line with the Bill which is a conglomeration of bits and pieces. I end by saying that the Government have done a splendid job in introducing this Measure, and that I hope we shall have an opportunity in Standing Committee of expressing our view in greater detail and making it an even better Bill than it is. I congratulate the Government on their foresight in introducing it, but let me end where I started and where the hon. Member for Billericay finished, by saying, for goodness' sake let us have a consolidating Bill on children's legislation.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I do not want to detain the House by roving over what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) called the bits and pieces of the Bill. Were I to do so, my remarks would be entirely congratulatory to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary.
I want to say two things about the speech of the hon. Member for Salford, West. The first concerns a phrase he used towards the end of his speech. It was a little unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman referred to "children of the State". I am sure that he did not mean it in the way that this phrase is normally accepted.
Earlier in his speech the hon. Gentleman expressed the principle of the paramountcy of the well-being of the child. I found myself in greater sympathy with the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) expressed it, that we should keep a balance between the rights of the parents and the welfare of the child. There is a danger in basing our arguments entirely on the advantages and the benefits to the child.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) said he thought Clause 18 (3) did not go far enough, and in that connection I understand that he also had in mind the paramountcy of the child's welfare as against the parents' rights. I want to concentrate on that Clause for a few moments, because I think it goes too far. This is the Clause which provides a further occasion when consent can be dispensed with, 787 and I suggest that the House ought to look carefully at any provision which increases the occasions of what I would call enforced adoption; because it is, indeed, enforced adoption if the courts are ordering adoption without the consent of the parents. Clause 18 (3) introduces an entirely new occasion when this can be done.
Under the Adoption Act of 1950 the question of consents to adoption are included in Section 2 (4) and again in Section 3. Subsection 2 (4) of that Act states:Subject to the provisions of section three of this Act, an adoption order shall not be made—(a) in any case, except with the consent of every person or body who is a parent or guardian of the infant …When one turns to Section 3 to find the exceptions to that general rule as they stand in the present law, they are:The court may dispense with any consent required by paragraph (a) of subsection (4) of section two of this Act if it is satisfied—(a) in the case of a parent or guardian of the infant, that he has abandoned, neglected or persistently ill-treated the infant …Those are the three occasions and alternatives. Later, Section 3 states:(c) in any case, that the person whose consent is required cannot be found or is incapable of giving his consent or that his consent is unreasonably withheld.The courts have held that the test of that phrase "unreasonably withheld" is not the welfare of the child but the attitude of the person concerned. That follows merely from the wording of the present Statute, but Clause 18 (3) of the Bill seeks to extend that wording "unreasonably withheld" and to set aside the test as it stands under the present law. To the present occasions when consent can be dispensed with, the Bill adds that the court can dispense with consent if the parents have not carried out the obligations of a parent or guardian; but there have to be three things shown to the court for it to dispense with the consent on that ground. These are: first, that the parents have persistently failed to discharge those obligations; secondly, that they have done so without reasonable cause; thirdly, that they are likely to continue not to discharge them. I am paraphrasing the subsection.
It seems to me that this new test is an examination of the parents without 788 any real reference to the child's welfare. For example, someone else may be discharging the obligations of parents towards the child, yet this Clause would apply. It relates merely to the conduct of the parents, and if the parents do not pass the examination—that they have observed the obligations of a parent—then they suffer what I would say is the supreme penalty of being deprived of their child.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could elaborate the point a little. I am not an expert on these things, but I have been very interested in what he has been saying about the parent Act, in which it is provided that in the event of parents neglecting or deserting the child, consent may be dispensed with.
The hon. Gentleman argues that this provision in Clause 18 (3) of the Bill is an extension of the conditions under which consent may be dispensed with. Yet, if I understand what he said correctly, this would, in fact, be a restriction, because where parents have neglected or deserted a child, it must also be established under this Bill that they are not prepared to mend their ways. Will he explain that?
§ Mr. Page
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to this point. Obviously, I did not make it clear.
This test under the Bill is an additional alternative. If the court is satisfied that the parents have neglected the child, it can dispense with consent. If it is satisfied that the parents have abandoned a child, it can dispense with consent. If it is satisfied that the parents have persistently ill-treated the child, it can dispense with consent.
In future, if the Bill goes through, if the court is satisfied that the parents have not carried out the obligations of a parent, it can dispense with consent. What I want to suggest to the House is that the law is sufficient as it stands, and that we are adding something which is dangerous. It does not even achieve the purpose claimed for it, namely, of looking solely towards the child's welfare.
The reasons for this amendment appear in paragraph 120 of the Hurst Report. I will not weary the House with reading 789 the whole of it, but I will read the first sentence of that paragraph. It says:Nevertheless, we are aware that there are cases in which a parent, usually, but by no means always, an unmarried mother, has allowed a child to remain for months, or even years, in the care of others, and to be placed with prospective adopters, but when an adoption order is applied for has refused her consent.The Hurst Committee went on to recommend something in the terms which now appear in Clause 18 (3).
The Clause goes a lot further than meeting that case which the Hurst Committee had in mind, of an unmarried mother leaving her child with an institution for many years and, when it comes to the local authority wishing to get the child adopted, hesitating to give her consent. I thought that that was the case which it was intended to meet, but the Clause goes a lot further and, although right hon. and hon. Gentlemen might feel it proper to legislate for that sort of case, general legislation in the terms of this Clause seems very dangerous.
§ Mr. Ede
I find Clause 18 (3) very difficult to construe. The phrase,then, unless it appears to the court likely that, if the order is not made, that person will discharge those obligationsmeans that the court will have to consider the possibility of there being an improvement in the conduct of the parent who has been, what for want of a better word I will call a defaulter, in her obligations in the past. That may be of some assistance to the parent who admits having been neglectful, but who says that he or she intends to behave better in future and possibly has some evidence that that intention is likely to be fulfilled.
§ Mr. Page
That proviso, as it were, favours my argument. It waters down the rather severe part of the rest of the Clause which penalises the parent for not carrying out something which is called "the obligations of a parent."
It is that phrase to which I call the attention of the House. What does that phrase mean? It is nowhere defined in the Bill. Does it mean the legal obligations of the parent? For example, can a local authority or, a prospective adopter go to the court and say, "These parents have not carried out the legal obligation 790 of sending the child to school"? Does it mean the moral obligation? If so, the court will be set an impossible task. Does it mean spiritual obligations?
Some people would say that parents have an obligation to bring up a child in a certain religion and that that is a very great obligation on the parent. Is that the sort of thing which is included in that phrase? We are placing a very great burden on the court, a burden which might be open to quite innocent abuse and which might result in a sort of legalised child confiscation by different courts interpreting what is meant by "the obligations of a parent."
I suspect that the Clause is merely to satisfy local authorities and that it may be a little hypocritical to plead for it on the basis of the welfare of the child. I do not believe that it is directed towards that, and I do not believe that it achieves anything more in that respect than the present law. Does not the existing law meat all the cases of the wicked parent where the wickedness affects the welfare of the child? Consent can now be dispensed with if there is abandonment, if there is neglect, if there is persistent ill-treatment, and I think that the law goes quite far enough. We are now only confusing the matter by adding this extraordinary phrase, "the obligations of the parent".
Let us think for a moment how these cases might come before the court. Generally, they will be brought by the local authority, in all its might, presenting the case to the court, possibly against an unrepresented mother of the child, and saying to the court. "Unless this mother takes her child out of our institution, we are going to arrange for it to be adopted." The mother will have to show that she has not failed in the obligations of a parent and that she is capable of carrying out those obligations in future. It will be a very difficult thing for her to prove, because no one can tell from the wording of the Bill what she has to prove.
We must remember the effect of an adoption order. It is an irrevocable change in the family, in the status and in the rights of the child. It is an irrevocable removal of the child from its parents, depriving the child and the parents of their own flesh and blood.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not read this subsection as the hon. Member does. I do not think that it empowers a local authority to go to a court and make any such general statement as the hon. Member has suggested, because it says:If upon application for an adoption order …which means an application by a specific applicant for the adoption. That cannot be held out as a threat by the county council, or county borough council, that if the mother does not take her child out of the institution, the council will put the child on the list for adoption. That is not covered by the Clause and, as the hon. Member is usually so meticulous in the way he details a case, I am a little shocked to find him proceeding on those lines.
§ Mr. Page
The right hon. Gentleman is a little naive about this matter. Suppose that there are two parents and that the local authority persuades one to make the application against the will of the other and the court decides that that other who refuses to give consent has not observed the obligations of a parent; perhaps I was cutting it short in saying that a local authority appears before the court. The local authority may be behind the applicant for the order and I think that that leaves the way open to oppression of the parent.
One might think that it is entirely wrong that parents should, as it were, sponge on local authorities by leaving their children in institutions. The right hon. Member for West Bromwich talked about "dumping the children on the local authority". That may be, but that is no ground for applying this enforced adoption, this supreme penalty, on the parent.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick said that the matters with which the Bill dealt were matters upon which many of us felt deeply and which transcended all party lines. I feel strongly on the particular part of the Bill to which I have addressed my remarks. I hope that it will receive the most careful study in Committee and on Report so that something clearer may emerge. I hope that we shall not be steamrollered by any party lines into accepting a Clause against which my conscience revolts.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
To save time, I shall confine what I have to say very largely to Clause 24, which permits adoption by persons domiciled outside Great Britain of British-born children. I consider the Clause to be undesirable, objectionable and unnecessary, and I shall give the reasons for my view.
Seven years ago, there was a case which attracted a certain amount of public attention at the time and in which Miss Jane Russell took a young child from Lambeth, Tommy Cavanagh, to the United States. I regarded that with some doubts and I raised the matter in the House on more than one occasion. The then Home Secretary, now the Lord Chancellor, took the view at the time that he was not satisfied that any amendment of the law was required to prevent this rather irregular and very rapid transfer of a child from this country to the United States by someone who stood in no relationship to the child, who was not a relative or guardian and who simply took the child away as easily, if not more easily, than one can take a parcel from this country to another country.
It was, unfortunately, necessary to question the Home Secretary about the case for quite a long time. Eventually, proceedings were taken and the parents were fined 40s. for the breach of the law which had been committed. It struck me as curious that the law relating to the transfer of children abroad could be flouted and broken with the imposition of a paltry fine of only 40s.
At the time, the Home Secretary made it clear—and it has been clear until now—that it is an offence to transfer for legal or de facto adoption the care and possession of a British child to a foreign national outside this country, other than the parent, guardian or near relative of the child.
Clause 24 widens the possibilities very considerably. This will be the easiest Clause in the Bill to evade. I mention this because this was one of the pretexts put forward in the Cavanagh case, to which I have referred. What is to prevent, how can the Home Office or any other Government Department prevent, a parent from sending his child to a foreign country on the pretext that that child is to have a holiday for a month, two or three months, and then, after the 793 child is outside our jurisdiction, in due course the person abroad to whom the child has been sent saying, "I have taken a great liking to the child and, as a result of the friendship, love and affection which has grown up between us, I want to adopt the child and take him over permanently"?
For that purpose the Bill is useless. The Clause is useless and will do nothing at all to prevent him. What annoys me more than anything is that the Departmental Committee, referring to this problem, said, in paragraph 177:We have heard disquieting evidence about children sent abroad for adoption by persons unknown to them.If the Departmental Committee had disquieting evidence about children being sent abroad for adoption, how much more disquieting are the possibilities that are involved in sending a child away for a month or two months' holiday to a foreign land and in that way sidestepping the provisions of the Bill?
The Departmental Committee went on to suggest that the police at seaports or airports ought to be empowered to prevent the departure of children reasonably suspected of a breach of the law. If children are being sent abroad in breach of the law, it might be a little easier, although even then it would be quite difficult, for the police authorities to prevent the illegal transfer or dispatch of children to a foreign land, but where the child is being sent away for a holiday for a month or two, I do not see how the suggestion put forward by the Departmental Committee can be carried out as a practical piece of administration.
It has been suggested in some quarters that one of the reasons why it is necessary to extend the facilities to enable foreigners to take British-born children from this country is the number of coloured children and Roman Catholic children who otherwise might have to spend all their childhood in institutions. It struck me as very odd that hon. Members who know the work which is done by the London County Council—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings)—with their long experience, did not offer any figures to give us an idea of the magnitude of the problem. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary 794 Secretary, in her reply, will tell us how many Roman Catholic or coloured children, or other children, will be provided with salvation who otherwise would be condemned to institutional life. How many will be saved by the operation of this Clause?
I feel that we should have been provided with much more convincing evidence than any which has been provided, either in the discussions in another place or elsewhere, that Clause 24 is necessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich criticised an article which appeared in the Daily Mirror on the subject, in which attention was drawn to the dangers of the Clause which I am discussing. In my view, so far from criticising the paper for publishing that article, I think that it ought to be commended for doing so.
The way in which the public is made acquainted with the law or the change of the law relating to children is quite unsatisfactory and inadequate. Important as this Bill is, the Government have brought it before the House on a Friday when the attendance is not as great as it is on other days, and when the Press reports of our discussions are not likely to be as detailed as would otherwise be the case. It is even hoped to telescope the discussion into two or three hours. In my view, that is not the way to deal with an important matter of this kind.
Different views have been expressed about the virtues of adoption societies, but not a single adoption society of any repute, as far as I have been able to ascertain, has a good word to say in favour of this Clause. In the article which my right hon. Friend criticised, the Secretary of the National Children Adoption Association is quoted as saying:We shall refuse to accept any foreign applicants because the Bill is so lax.Another statement on behalf of the Church of England Children's Society says:We see very grave dangers in the loopholes of the Bill in its present state.Reference has been made to the prospects of a child adopted by the citizens of countries where the adoption laws do not exist or, if they exist, are in an unsatisfactory condition according to our standards. Apparently in Colombia, in South America, the law requires that 795 if a child is born to a couple after adoption, the adoption must be ended. In Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, adopting couples must be over 50. Will all these things be taken into account by the courts when applications are made to them for adoption under this Clause?
I gathered from discussions which have taken place in another place that various regulations will be issued, and I think that we ought to know what those regulations will contain before we can agree with any ease of mind to the incorporation of this Clause in the Bill.
I have no serious objections to the remaining parts of the Bill, but I should not like to allow this opportunity to pass without registering the most emphatic objection to Clause 24 which, I repeat, is in my view dangerous, objectionable, and unnecessary.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I am sorry to have come into the Chamber so late and yet to have been called so soon, and I promise that I will not detain the House for more than a moment or two. It is not normally my habit to intervene in a debate unless it is on a subject of which I have some particular knowledge, but I have a constituency interest in this matter which I have undertaken to bring forward. It relates to Clause 18 of the Bill.
There are many types of foster parents, but the type which is sometimes overlooked includes the parents who have looked after a child for very many years and have devoted care, love and attention to its upbringing, while the real parents, although still alive, have refused to pay anything whatever towards the support of that child. Then, in the future, when the real parents think that they might be able to get some return from the earnings of the child when it goes out to work, they want it back in their own family. Such cases are not rare. There are many of them. If the foster parents have no rights to secure the adoption of that child and it reverts to its original parents, great hardship can often result to the child and to the foster parents. The devoted love and attention of many years is lost and great unhappiness is caused.
In my division those precise circumstances have arisen. The foster parents, whom I have known for a long time, 796 have given the child a magnificent home whereas the original parents have persistently and consistently refused to make any contribution whatever towards the maintenance of the child. Now they wish to stand in the way of the foster parents securing the adoption of the child.
I am, therefore, delighted to see that under Clause 18 foster parents will presumably be able to adopt a child without having to secure the consent of the parents, if the court is satisfied of certain conditions. There is, however, one question which I want to ask. No period of time is mentioned in the Clause. What period of time has to elapse from the foster parents taking over a child before they can be considered to have a right to obtain adoption under Clause 18?
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I welcome the Bill. I had some misgivings about Clause 24, and one or two hon. Members have expressed their doubts about it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) that newspapers can fulfil a very useful function in drawing the attention of hon. Members to things which may be happening but which would otherwise be beyond their ken because of the exacting day-to-day duties which we have to carry out, sometimes many miles from our constituencies.
I was, however, reassured when I read the speeches in another place, and particularly the speech of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor, speaking of a provisional adoption order, said that a personmust satisfy The court of his suitability and must in every respect, except that of his domicile, fulfil all the qualifications required of an applicant for an ordinary adoption order. Furthermore, applications of this kind can be heard only before a sheriff in Scotland, or the judge of a county court or the High Court in England, so that the more difficult questions of adoption law in other countries, which may sometimes fall to be considered, may be examined by a highly qualified judicial Bench.The Lord Chancellor went on to say:I would emphasise once again, that this is not an unrestricted right, that the application is considered by the court, and we can be confident that courts will grant orders only when they are fully satisfied as to the suitability of the applicants and of the home to which the child will go."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 11th March, 1958; Vol. 208, c. 11.]797 Many points along those lines will have to be dealt with in Committee. I am satisfied with Part I of the Bill, as far as it goes, but I notice that this Measure takes the line of amending earlier Acts, and out of a very long experience of visiting boarded-out children, of ten years on the Glasgow Children's Committee, and seeing boarding-out in practice in crofts and in tenements, I have, as I get towards the end of my public life, often looked back and tried to find out what we could have done that we failed to do.
I am convinced that there is something that sticks out very prominently in the 1948 Act, which ought to be amended by this Bill. I note that it is eight years since we discussed a Children Bill in the House, so the chance, obviously, does not come very often. I refer to the terrible scandals that have been revealed recently caused by taking children from foster parents. Sometimes a little child has had to go from one, two, three or four homes to a fifth home, just because an official has been dissatisfied.
We have cases in England and Wales, and it is not so long ago since I raised one in Scotland that got a good deal of publicity. It was written up not in the sensational week-end Press, but in the British Medical Journal, which comes into my house regularly. Two university scientists established the identity of a boy, who had been missing and dead for nearly a year, by piecing together a skull, loose teeth, and 128 separate pieces of bone found on a Scottish hillside.
I do not want to harrow the House any further, except to say that little Dugald Johnstone was removed from the Isle of Mull from foster parents who were the only parents he had ever know from birth. The male foster parent was a councillor who, to this day, has an untarnished reputation. That little boy was taken away from that home and moved to another, Tayinloan, moved to another, at Southend, moved to a third in Toward, and then to a fourth and a fifth home.
I say nothing of his removal from the first and second homes. I do not claim Parliamentary Privilege to absolve me. I say nothing about his removal from the third home, but the boy was removed from each of them. There was something 798 wrong there. Before a child is removed from good foster parents, surely a more satisfactory home should be found. So unsatisfactory were these homes that the little boy took refuge in a barn. He disappeared for 48 hours, and was later found to have lived on shellfish. He was removed to the third home, then to the fourth home, he disappeared from the fifth home and his skeleton was found on a hillside.
All manner of excuses were advanced. Not a single hon. Member of the House would listen twice to the excuses applicable, even if true, to the MacPherson home. I am only sorry that I have not time to go into them all and to demolish them. They would not stand the light of day. They are demolished by the fact that another little boy was removed from another foster home where he had been for six years—from the only mother he had ever known. He also was missing. He had not had so many intermediate shifts, he was moved direct, but he was removed at a time when he should not have been removed. He could well have been allowed to finish his primary education.
A scrappy postcard reached me five or six years ago. The foster mother had got it from the little boy, who had to tell her that he would find her if he had to climb all the mountains—and he had evidently tried to do just that. Reporters have been to Bunessan, and have brought back the real answer that Bunessan is a remote island, and that the official wanted to remove the children.
That is not the only case. One was reported this week in the Daily Mirror, of a child who was taught to say, "Hello, Mum," and "Hello, Dad" for the fifth time—the fifth time. In the case of Dugald—and of the elder boy whose name I do not want to mention—the tie was cut. He was told, "Never again must you correspond with these people with whom you have lived so long." That is unlike transfer to a boarding school, where children can keep in touch with parents, and can go home to them at Christmas.
Here, it was a case of "No, you are to have a new mother and a new father"—and, as in the experience of Dugald Johnston, five new "Mums and Dads". In the case reported this week there had been five new "Mums" until the child 799 knew the parrot-like phrase, "Hello, Mum" and, "Hello, Dad" and all the procedure. And it so happened that "Dad" had been guilty of an offence, and the child should not have gone there.
There is the case of Margaret Green. How many more cases are there in this White Paper, which gives us some information? I find that there are over 60,000 children in care in England and Wales. There are 14,500 in Scotland. When I asked the Home Secretary how many children had been removed from foster parents… by reason of remote geographical location; and how far in such cases the foster parents or their children have been consultedI received this astonishing reply:The information requested in the second and third parts of the Question is not available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th May, 1958; Vol. 588, c. 75.]The 1948 Act provides that when a voluntary home is removed from the register an appeal may be lodged, and I am asking that foster parents should be able to appeal.
I know all the things that worry some officials. On one of my visits I was told that it was suspected that a little girl of 12 was doing some housework. Well, one good way of finding out is to go to the school and, as one of the visitors, I made arrangements to see this little girl in the school. We met her coming along the road from the school, with other school children, jumping about and frolicking and very happy. When I asked if she was asked to do some housework, her answer recalled to me my own childhood. When my father and mother went out I used to turn the house upside down; I did a good deal of housework. I liked doing it. I liked the 6d. that I got from my mother when she case back and found what I had done. This little girl liked to do that sort of thing.
We were told that Dugald Johnstone was asked to work while Councillor MacPherson and his wife came to London. It was said that an official called in the absence of this councillor on county business, and found that the boy had yoked a pony. The official thought that the boy was working on the crop. No one would dream of saying that my father and mother had gone out for the afternoon, leaving me, a child of 13, to do all the housework. I wanted 800 to do it. That sort of thing will not be reported. But if it happens in the home of foster-parents there is somebody ready to report them.
We owe a great deal to foster-parents. The boarded-out child is costing the country £1 15s. 2d. a week, but in a local authority home he costs £7 1s. 4d. The foster-mother and father are giving love and affection which cannot be measured in terms of finance. This Bill gives ordinary foster-parents the right to appeal. Why not go back to the 1948 Act and have a Measure which will give a right of appeal to foster-parents of boarded-out children who may have been residing with them for six years, or even three years? Let the sheriff hear the foster-parents. Let the child have a chance of saying whether he wants to leave or not. I hope that we shall be able to make some Amendment to the Bill on those lines.
One cannot praise too highly the work of the local authority officials, for whom I have nothing but admiration. I commend the Bill, but I hope that we shall be able to remedy the situation to which I have referred before it comes back to the House again.
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
I intervene for a moment or two as I believe the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) is the only Scottish speaker from the Opposition back benches, and I should like to deal with the points which she has raised.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The hon. Lady will have to be very quick indeed if she is to catch an aeroplane at 2.50. I quite understand that she has to go.
As the hon. Lady is on her way, may I cut my remarks very short and say that we cannot for one moment accept the statement which she has made in connection with the cases that she has raised. She was asked by the late Mr. Hector McNeil, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland to substantiate the statements which she has been repeating today. 801 She was asked to submit further evidence and he said that he would conduct an inquiry if she would do so. She has never submitted that evidence. She has not done so until now.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I have myself seen the letter which was sent to the hon. Lady by the late Mr. Hector McNeil, and I am assured that she has not submitted to the Department in writing or otherwise since that time the evidence which she was asked to submit.
§ Mr. Macpherson
What I was going to say to the hon. Lady is this. If she will care to visit me or my right hon. Friend, I shall be very glad indeed to go into the points that she has raised, because I feel quite confident that when she has seen all the evidence at my disposal she will agree that what she has said this afternoon is quite unfair. I welcome very much indeed the remarks that she made about the officials as a whole. I hope that when she has seen this evidence she will extend those remarks to the officer whose conduct she has been impugning today.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should like to know whether it is in order for a Minister to refer to a document in the course of a speech without producing the document. He referred to a letter that had been sent to my hon. Friend and I thought that he ought to produce the letter.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
The Minister has to produce it only if he quotes from it. He did not 802 quote from it. I think that we had now better get on with the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I have to say these things in fairness to the parties concerned.
As to the rest of what the hon. Lady said, all I can say is that we shall certainly examine very carefully what she has said, but, as she realises, the definition of "foster-child" in Clause 2 excludes children who are in the care of local authorities. I realise that she would like an alteration made, but the fact is that these children are in the care of the local authorities, even though they are boarded out; but, having said that, may I say that we will certainly consider what she has said today.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
We should thank the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for having personally introduced this Bill. It emphasises the great importance that this legislation should have in the general administrative arrangements of the country.
I should also like to express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for having so quickly followed up the Report of the Hurst Committee by producing this legislation. He almost caught up in time with the speed that I showed when I bought in the Children Bill so soon after the receipt of the Myra Curtis Report—a Bill which became the Act of 1948.
In view of the emotions which are aroused when these Reports are made, it is highly important that this House should show the sensitiveness that it has towards the possible sufferings of children, by seeing that as far as possible any revelations of the kind made in the two Reports to which I have alluded should be dealt with as soon as possible.
There are only two or three things that I want to say. First, I want to differ from my right hon. Friends the Members for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) about the position of paramountcy in this matter. I believe that in this matter the interest of the child must always have the paramount place in the consideration of the court and the administrative body. After all, it is rarely that in these cases the child is the sinner in any of the matters that may have brought it within 803 the ambit of the local authority's attention. Quite frequently, the child has been grievously sinned against.
A point was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich which, to some extent, was criticised by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). My acquaintance with this kind of matter goes back to the times when the Poor Law children were handed over to the county councils, on 1st April, 1930. We were continually coming up against this problem of parents who had shown no interest in the child at all, but who had, somehow or other, managed to keep account of the location of the child until a year or eighteen months prior to its being eligible to enter the labour market. Then, suddenly, the parents overwhelmed the child with the kind of sympathy which we get from the Front Bench opposite when they intend to resist one of our best Amendments, and assure us how much they sympathise with us and would have liked to have done everything they could to meet us, "but not today."
The parents would then take to all sorts of subterfuges to get in touch with the child, would waylay it on its way home from school, and would then assure it that they had always been trying to find it so that they could give it proper love and attention, and that it was only the hard-hearted county council or board of guardians which had prevented them from doing so. When the period for which the local authority could remain responsible for the children ended, and such children went back, the parents regarded them only as wage-earning machines.
We have done a very great deal in the nearly thirty years that have elapsed since the Local Government Act, 1929, to put an end to that kind of thing, and I hope that we shall still regard the child as the most important of the people with whom we have to be concerned in dealing with the various episodes in a child's life that come before us. I want to see as many children as possible given the opportunity to live in a family, in which they can enjoy not merely love but a feeling of security.
Anyone who goes to a children's home or small institutional home, no matter how well it may be conducted, knows that the one appealing thing is the way 804 in which children of two, three and four years of age cling round one in the hope that they will be shown some sign of affection, some indication that one is interested in their security, although, of course, the reactions are almost instinctive, and I am not suggesting that they are very much concerned at that age with reason. This is one of the most appealing things, and I hope that this legislation will strengthen the feeling of security that children can now get when they move out into other families.
I am more concerned about Clause 24, and I should like to know who will be at the court when the application is made to watch over the interests of the child. I cannot gather from Clause 24 that anybody will be charged with the duty of representing the child on such an occasion, and I think it is essential that, before a child is taken from this country by adopters to live in a foreign country, we should have an assurance that the laws concerning adopted children in the country to which the child is going shall be put clearly before the court.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) read extracts from statements made by two societies about the kind of thing that may arise. In one country, nobody under the age of 50 may adopt a child. I rather imagine that in this country we would take the view that if a person has reached 50 years of age it is very doubtful whether he or she should be allowed to adopt a child at all. In another country, a child showing ingratitude or unworthiness may lose the benefits of adoption. I do not think that children should be allowed to go from this country to countries where that kind of thing is the operative law, because I regard security for the young as being probably the most important gift that adult life can give it.
All of us who have had the advantage of being brought up in good homes know the feeling of security which we had, and realise that the dangers of being subjected to the kind of thing to which my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) alluded never entered our minds. Security was the natural atmosphere in which we lived, and those of us who have been blessed in that way surely ought to have a very strong feeling of sympathy inspiring us to help those children who 805 find themselves tossed between one person or another, or who find themselves in a foreign country, where, owing to no fault of their own, the operation of a law under which they were not born may place them in the kind of insecurity revealed in some newspaper reports.
I congratulate the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State on being given the opportunity that she will have in the Committee stage, because I know from past experience how generous a chief she has. I hope that it can be felt that here we are dealing with one of those human problems with which party politics, as such, has no concern at all. We are all anxious to see that the children of this country have as happy, as secure and as helpful lives as we can possibly give them. I trust that what my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) said about the great advantage of being born British will not be lost sight of in our considerations, and that we shall not lightly see a child deprived of British nationality and a British home unless we can be assured that its future will not be blighted by any action that may be taken under the law in the country to which it is going.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
I am quite sure that the greatest desire of all of us is to proceed to the end of this debate with the satisfaction in our hearts that here, at least, we have disposed of the assumption that the Opposition must always oppose. If that is supposed to be our function, then we have fallen down on the job today, and I am very glad that we have.
Here, as has been mentioned more than once, is a human question uniting all sides of the House, and I am very glad that, apart from the criticisms and the further proposals which have also been advanced, testimony has been given to the intentions of the Government in introducing this Bill, and so, in some small way, helping us once more to demonstrate the fact that in this House we consider that all the children of this country are our children. When I say that, I am thinking not merely of the 60,000 or so children for whom we are acting, so to speak indirectly in loco parentis. I mean that all children belong not merely to 806 their physical, natural parents, but also, in one sense, to the whole community.
Earlier, one of my hon. Friends referred to the belief that children should be the children of the State. He was taken to task by another hon. Member, quite rightly so, but I think that there was a misunderstanding. I am perfectly certain that my hon. Friend did not mean that our children were the children of the State in any impersonal sense but that they should be recognised as the responsibility of us all as a community. It has been said also that the proper place for a child is in a home rather than an institution; but, of course, a home itself is an institution. I suppose that what is really meant is that that kind of institution, the home, is better than the other kind which has a less domestic and intimate character.
The Bill, so far as it encourages the provision of more homes for children who otherwise would be put into the less fortunate kind of institution, certainly serves our own national interest. On the other hand, it is well to appreciate that not every home is necessarily better than an institution. I myself, more than once, have come across tragic homes in which children have been reared, and I have been sure that those children would have benefited very substantially if only they could have been taken away from the unfortunate atmosphere in those homes and put into the better kind of—let us call it that—less personal institution.
Particularly is this so when the children's institution is of the kind described this afternoon, the small family home in which one or two people look after a dozen or so children. Like other hon. Members who have visited this kind of smaller institution, I know that some children benefit far more by being there than they would from remaining in some of the deplorable homes we have come across from time to time.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) when he urges the need for insisting upon good standards of health for foster parents and adopters of children, although, as I tried to point out to him, I think that Clause 7 covers that. Evidently, my hon. Friend does not consider that it does, and I hope that the point will accordingly be taken up in Committee. I suggest, nevertheless, that 807 stipulations can sometimes be taken too far.
I have known of applications for children to adopt or to foster from people who desire to have children and who have been refused because the applicants have not professed some traditional theological doctrine. I notice that there is nothing said in the Bill about that, and I hope that we can bring the matter up in Committee. I merely mention it now, however, because I feel that, when one starts imposing health tests, highly desirable though they may be, one must be careful to avoid going too far lest one also starts imposing dubious psychological tests. If that is done it is not long before certain parents, excellent in every way save that they may have, perhaps, an ethical or humanist faith or some unorthodox variant of the Christian religion, are turned down purely on that ground. I should like an assurance that something will be done about this in the future, if not in the Bill itself.
Foster parents and adopting parents, once they have taken the children and everything has been cleared up legally, once the children have been put into their care to the proper satisfaction of the local authority, should then enjoy the same responsibilities and rights as natural parents. It is quite unfair constantly to harass them with the suggestion that, in some measure, they are less responsible or have less sense of moral obligation and affection for their children than have natural parents themselves. I believe that everything must be done, of course, to make sure that they are desirable people to have the care of children, but, once that condition has been satisfactorily fulfilled, the less interference with them there is, the better.
There are, of course, occasions when foster parents or even adopting parents fail in their duty, but that can equally be said of some ordinary natural parents. We should encourage the belief that foster parents and adopting parents are just as capable of pouring love, care and thought upon the children in their charge as are the natural parents themselves. Indeed, I know that that is so.
There is another aspect worth remembering. Not only is the adoption or fostering of Children good for the children, 808 but it is good also for those who look after them. I quite agree that the interest of the child is paramount, but it is true to say that many a childless couple particularly the woman, on being able to adopt a child or children has been saved from serious psychic or psychological disorder. I am certain that many biologically frustrated women have an inner sense of gratitude to some unforunate girl who has given birth to what is called an illegitimate child. There is, in other words, gratitude for the so-called illegitimacy; what has been a misfortune in one case has proved a great fortune in another.
Many references have been made to Clause 24. Although I agree that the matter must be very carefully scrutinised, I hope that there will still be the opportunity, in proper circumstances and with all due safeguards, for children to go with their adoptive parents to other parts of the world. I believe that there is no great psychological harm done to a child under the age of 3 or 4 years by such a move. One can easily transfer a young child from one place to another or from one parent to another person, and, provided that the child has real affection and care, it suffers little if any harm, in my view. Beyond that age, there may certainly be harm.
All these things must be borne in mind, but what I am emphasising is that, although we may wish to tighten up Clause 24—it deserves the close scrutiny it has received today—I hope that provision for the opportunity to which I have referred will not be removed altogether. There are many children who can benefit, perhaps substantially, from going overseas with an affectionate adoptive parent or guardian and who would not come to any harm whatever. Children who go overseas can find themselves in homes as happy as the homes in this country. This is certainly true of parts of the Commonwealth and it is true also of many, though perhaps not all, countries outside.
I commend the Bill to the House and I hope that it will be considered in no partisan spirit, when, in Committee, we deal with all the criticisms which have been raised and the dangers which have been pointed out today. In any case, I hope that we shall all welcome it as one more means of establishing the principle that all children are our children who 809 should be guaranteed the very finest opportunities in life which we can provide.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and one or two other hon. Members have spoken of the importance of preserving a balance in the Bill. When statesmen talk about preserving a balance, they usually mean that they are torn between two incompatible principles and do not know which to adopt.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker indicated assent.
§ Mr. MacColl
As my right hon. Friend will agree, that is precisely the difficulty with which we are all faced in a Bill of this kind.
So long as we allow the Englishman to turn the key in the door of his castle, we endanger the welfare of children and we increase the risk that children will suffer cruelty and neglect. From time to time, when members of the public—the public in this context including hon. Members of the House of Commons—hear a desperate story of ill-treatment of children, they immediately express very strong views about preventing such things before they can occur. Equally, when they hear about a shocking case of bureaucratic intervention when an official has interfered with the rights of parents or adopting parents, they become extremely angry about the importance of safeguarding the sanctity of the home.
We must make up our mind about which way we want to go. If we really want to prevent—I emphasise the word "prevent"—cruelty to children, we must be prepared to interfere with the liberty of the subject. Therefore, I should like to see, in Clause 2 (1), an extension of the powers under the Bill regarding those people who do not take children into their homes for reward. I think that this limitation of the duty to give notice to the local authority to those who take children for reward is a survival in the Home Office of people who have been brought up on Dickens. The idea that people who are paid to look after children are likely to be more cruel than the people who do it without payment is a highly romantic and emotional picture of the wickedness of baby farmers. I do not believe that there is 810 any evidence of that and I do not believe that it is true.
Most cruelty stems from ignorance, bad temper and possibly economic pressure. Those are the kind of things that arise, unfortunately, too often in the homes of natural parents. Our record of cruelty to children is not something of which we can be proud. It is inevitable that the risk of it happening where there is not the natural bond of parenthood is greater than where there is a natural bond. When we have an opportunity like this Bill to deal with the situation, it would be a great mistake not to extend it to cover all cases where people are taking children into their homes. All that is required is to give notice to the local authority so that it is in a position to know what is happening.
It often happens that children are pushed about from home to home, from uncle to aunt, from one divorced relative to another branch of the family, and it is often extremely difficult to track them down. In most cases children are not adopted for money, and these people act with the best possible motives. I do not believe that the main cause of cruelty is greed. I think that it is stupidity and often some mental instability. Those things are just as likely to arise if the children were not fostered for reward, and we are living in a fool's paradise if we accept the limited view.
I welcome Clause 21 of the Bill, which extends the right of appeal. Magistrates are only human and do not like appeals against their decisions. On the other hand, it is highly desirable that there should be a free appeal, and I much welcome the provision.
I should like to ask one question of the Joint Under-Secretary about medical examination. What will be the effect on the discretion of the court of passing a Bill in which a medical examination is not made a condition that can be imposed. I have said more than once that I would not make an adoption order unless the adopting parents can produce a medical certificate to the effect that they are mentally and physically suitable to look after the children. That is a reasonable exercise of the judicial discretion, subject to appeal. If this power is explicitly excluded from the Bill it may have an unfortunate effect, implying that a condition of that sort would 811 be regarded as improper for a court to impose. It would be wrong to expect the court to make an adoption order in a case where there were obviously grounds against it, such as the people being too old or there being a record of sickness, or mental illness, in the family.
I want to resist the temptation, because it is unfair to my hon. Friends, to chase some of the matters raised about adoption and the value of foster homes, except to say that I have never accepted the view, which is so popular, that foster homes are an answer to these problems. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) has left the Chamber. On the whole, I often wonder whether the Curtis Committee did not do more harm than good.
I should like a statement from the Joint Under-Secretary about the attitude that she is adopting towards the recommendation contained in paragraph 112 of the Hurst Report. Perhaps I might assist the House by reading that paragraph:We think it right, however, that the closest relative of a deceased parent should invariably be consulted"—this is, about adoption.We have heard of cases in which a father of a legitimate child has been killed on active service and his child has been adopted without the knowledge of the father's family. We recommend that provision should be made for the wishes of a deceased parent's next of kin (if he can be traced) to be taken into consideration before an adoption order is made".When I had the honour of giving evidence before the Hurst Committee on behalf of the Magistrates' Association, I gave two illustrations from my own experience. I think that it was that evidence which had some influence on the views of the Committee, and, therefore, I am anxious to know what attitude the Home Office is adopting. I have had experience of two cases, one, to be impartial about it, the case of a Lancashire child which occurred in a juvenile court in South England, the other the case of a London child which happened in a juvenile court in Lancashire. Therefore, it does not appear to be a difficulty that arises in any particular part of the country.
What happened in each of these two cases was that the father of the child was killed on active service. In the 812 course of the general confusion as a result of the break-up of the matrimonial home, in one case the child was evacuated and in the other the child went to the "in-laws" of the mother. The mother died, so that there were no parents alive. In both cases the paternal grandparents suddenly discovered, without any notice, that the child had been adopted and that they had lost all rights of access to the child. The child had lost the name of the father who had died on active service, because under the adoption order he took the name of the adoptive parents. It meant that not only had their line been blotted out, but that they had lost a son and, in addition, the only heir to the family.
In my own experience, where there is a family row about an adoption, one gives notice to as many people as possible to come along to the court to have the matter fully discussed in order to come to a decision based on giving everybody a say in the matter. In these two cases no effort was made to find the grandparent of the child. I reported this case to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) when he was at the Home Office and, therefore, it is something which is known to the Home Office. I saw him about it and he said that nothing could be done. I hope, in view of what the Hurst Committee said about that sort of case, and the records which are in the files of the Ministry, that something will be done to prevent that sort of thing happening.
I shall resist the temptation to deal with any of the other points. One's good resolutions about short speeches are much easier to make when one is trying to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, than after one has caught your eye, but I will try to keep to my good resolution. With those few remarks, I welcome the Bill in general.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I do not want to delay unduly the appearance of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) at the Dispatch Box. I felt, however, that I should say one or two things about the Bill, because I am interested in the subject. I must apologise to the Home Secretary and Lord Privy Seal for the fact that I was 813 absent for a short time during his speech, but I was taking a school party round the House.
The remarkable feature is the amazing change in the attitude of the community towards the welfare of children. When I was a boy, for example, it was a common assumption that children were unhappy, poor or the victims of broken homes either because their parents were improvident or because of a dispensation of God: in other words, that the place they were in was the place to which they had been assigned by God.
All that has disappeared. The State has recently recognised that unemployment is not a visitation of God, but is an economic disability in society. As a result, there has been a complete change over the years in the approach of the community towards unfortunate, unhappy children and that is all to the good. Quite contrary to the ethics of other days, the correct assumption now is that from whatever nursery a child springs, in the interests of good society it is essential that the State should extend a positive hand and rescue the child from an unhappy environment and put it in an environment where it can develop and prosper and become ultimately a good citizen.
That is why I am certain that the Home Secretary, who introduced the Bill today, was quite happy, because it is in accord with his own disposition towards this important social question. None of us need use words to emphasise the importance of the social dividends that will be paid to society by the kind of investments that we have made in legislation such as the Acts of 1929 and 1933 and the famous Act of 1948. Now, the Bill is virtually putting the coping stone on the whole of that legislation and bringing into public accountability in a good sense the children who will be made foster children and those who are subject to adoption.
The Bill is a good Bill, but there are one or two features that I should like to emphasise. Perhaps the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary will note them and in turn draw them to the attention of her right hon. Friend. First, I am not at all happy about the provision in Clause 12. I can hardly see the need of it. I hope that in Committee the Home Secretary may enlighten us a little 814 more. It is a comprehensive Clause and it deals with children who are assigned to a private school during periods of holidays in excess of one month. It seems to me that the only obligation upon the people concerned is to give advance notice of their intention to the local authority.
I do not want to weary the House about the unhappy experiences that we have had in certain institutions concerning interference with children. I should have thought that the obligation upon those who will provide for these children during periods of holidays, particularly summer holidays, would be a little more stringent than is laid down in the Clause. For example, if I were a local authority, I should want to know what kind of staff would be employed to look after the children, the record of each individual member of the staff and whether they had ever been to prison or convicted of an offence. The Clause needs to be tightened up. I hardly see the necessity for it, but possibly this arrangement may help certain private schools to overcome financial difficulties. If I am a member of the Committee which deals with the Bill, I shall return to the charge, for I consider that there is need to tighten the Clause concerning the obligations which should be imposed upon people who will be responsible for the care and welfare of the children during those periods.
My next point concerns Clause 24. I know that both the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor have anxieties about the provision which deals with children being sent abroad. The Lord Chancellor was frank about it and said that as far as he could arrange he would provide for the most stringent legal safeguards against the dangers of which some of us are only too conscious. What guarantee is there that people seeking to adopt children with a view to bringing them into the family and then having to return to their permanent domicile—it may be America, Canada or many other parts of the Commonwealth or elsewhere—will follow the provisional order for adoption, by a permanent order in a country in which we have no jurisdiction? That seems to me to be a weakness in the Bill. It may be a weakness that we cannot overcome by law, but it is a point which needs to be considered. I can envisage people making application for 815 a provisional adoption order in respect of a child without the slightest intention of pursuing its terms on their return to their permanent home.
There was real point in the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), when he asked the Home Secretary what representation a child would have in the High Court. I want to pursue that further and to ask the Joint Under-Secretary in what way the interests of the child will be safeguarded. Who will inform the judge? Will his information be on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parents? Will it depend solely upon the evidence submitted by the prospective adopters? If so, I regard the position as wholly unsatisfactory. There should be some method of safeguarding the interests of the child and of knowing something of the background of these people, as is the case in other connections, so that when the judge decides in favour of adoption and embarkation to another country, his judgment will have the guidance of something much stronger than the evidence of the people seeking the adoption.
It might be useful if, in that connection, the probation service of the Home Office could be brought to the assistance of the judge, so that he might be informed of the background of these people's lives, their characters, their religion and every material feature in deciding, in the interests of the child, whether it should be sent abroad as part of a family whose permanent domicile was outside this country.
Those are the observations I wish to make. I welcome the Bill and shall give it my wholehearted support. I trust that the observations which I have made will be borne in mind when the Measure is considered in Committee.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
Those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who speak from this Box very seldom have the pleasure of congratulating the Government upon their legislative programme. Those of us who have a special Opposition responsibility for home affairs, however, have that occasion rather more frequently than our colleagues. The Home Secretary was good enough to refer to a recent remark of 816 mine about pigeon-holes in the Home Office. As an animal lover, I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the greater the progress he can make in extracting the Wolfenden Report and the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gambling from the pigeon-holes to make more room for the birds the happier we shall be on this side of the House.
The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley), who was, I think, speaking as a Yorkshireman rather than as a Conservative, reminded us very properly of the great progress which has been made in these matters and paid a very proper tribute to the work of those people who are engaged in child welfare, but I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was right to remind us how much of the progress which has been made has been made during the last few years. We tend to think of the days of Dickens and Octavia Hill and other pioneers and to forget that so much has been done even since the end of the war in 1945.
In 1945 I was working as personal assistant to Lord Monckton on other matters when he was appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who was then Home Secretary, to conduct an investigation into the circumstances in which two small children called O'Neill had been treated in a part of the country. One of them had died as the result of violence and neglect. Both of them had been committed to the care of a local authority and then boarded out in the area of another local authority. I remember that at that time I was appalled to learn that even in 1945 neglect could reach the sort of degree which it had done in that case.
§ Mr. MacColl
Would my hon. Friend deal with the paradox that although the O'Neill children had been boarded out, as my hon. Friend said, the result of the Curtis Committee's deliberations was the conclusion that boarding out ought to be extended?
§ Mr. Greenwood
If I had rather more time I should be very happy to enter into a discussion with my hon. Friend upon that, but I was really leading up to the fact that it was partly the circumstances which were revealed by the 817 O'Neill case which were responsible for the setting up of the Curtis Committee. I think that all of us are indebted to my right hon. Friend for the speed with which he implemented the general recommendations of the Curtis Committee.
This, broadly speaking, is an excellent Bill. One of the most interesting features of it is that we have now been able to drop the word "life" from the phrase "child life protection" and we are now concerned not only with protecting the lives of children—which we hope to be unnecessary—but also with protecting them from what perhaps are the greater evils which can come to them, the killing of a child's soul and spirit. I want to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State on closing up some of the loopholes which have remained in the law.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) referred to the numbers to be affected by the Bill. The number, of course, is not very great viewed against the total number of children in the country, but it is not the less important for that reason. From the Report of the Hurst Committee we learn that there are now about 14,000 adoption orders made every year and that the number of children in the care of local authorities is about 60,000. The hon. Lady, in a speech at what I think was that very impressive conference on child care which was held at Worthing at the end of April, has told us that it looks as though the figures will be fairly stable at about 62,000, with, as she put it,an equally steady annual turnover of children coming in and going out of care at about 39,000.One point that interests me is that only 45 per cent. of these children are at present boarded out. I hope that it will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) to hear that I subscribe to the general proposition that an institution, however good, is not a real substitute for a proper home life for the child, whether it is in the home of his own parents, or of adoptive or foster parents. I realise the difficulty of boarding out handicapped or backward children, or of boarding out a whole family so that it will not be split up. Indeed, we all appreciate the difficulties 818 of increasing the number of children boarded out, but I hope that we shall hear from the Joint Under-Secretary what progress is being made towards raising that percentage. The hon. Lady told the Child Care Conference that the Central Office of Information had conducted a survey on the question of foster parents, and if she can tell us something about the findings of that survey we shall all be grateful to her.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) suggested that we should increase payments to foster parents. Looking at the figures given in the annual Report of the Home Office on Children in the Care of Local Authorities in England and Wales I was surprised to find that the cost per child per week when boarded out was £1 15s. 2d.—according to the last estimated figure—as against £7 1s. 4d. in a local authority home and £5 8s. 6d. in a local authority hostel. I very much doubt whether many hon. Members would find themselves able to keep their own children in the way they would like at a cost of £1 15s. 2d. a week. At the same time, I appreciate the great dangers of making the rewards too high and perhaps attracting the wrong sort of foster parents. I know that the Joint Under-Secretary has been giving a good deal of thought to the problem, and anything that she can tell us about her conclusions and those of her Department will be of great interest to all Members.
The Bill could be described as two Bills in one. The then chairman of the Children's Committee of the London County Council, Mrs. Hilary Halpin—who has since been replaced by Mrs. Serota—speaking at the Child Care Conference, said that she hoped that the fact that provisions concerning child care were now included in one Bill would be the first step towards a general consolidation of legislation relating to children. On the other hand, the Association of Municipal Corporations has expressed doubts as to whether it would not have been better to have two separate Bills.
That point was touched upon by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Body) and it is one upon which it is difficult to make up one's mind. My view is that whatever may be the merits or demerits of consolidation the time has 819 not yet come for it, and that it would be better to wait for the report of the Ingleby Committee. In the meantime, in order to deal with some of the points raised in our discussion today, the Home Office might consider issuing a handbook on adoption for the guidance of the general public, magistrates, the police, citizens' advice bureaux, and other bodies.
Whether we favour one Bill or two the fact is that we have one, and I was interested to discover that we have had general agreement as to what are the major points of controversy included in it. When the Bill was first published the Press as a whole concentrated upon the fact that it would permit foreigners to adopt British children—and we are all grateful to the Press for drawing our attention to problems of this kind. The criticism expressed by it reached a crescendo in this week's Sunday Pictorial. This is not an easy problem for any of us to decide, but I would ask those of my hon. Friends who have expressed doubts about the wisdom of the two relevant Clauses as they stand not to be too influenced by the campaign in the Press. I should be the last to underestimate the importance of having a British birthright, but that does not justify our being self-righteous about this country.
It is wrong to give the impression that any child which is adopted and goes overseas is in for a fate much worse than death. When we remember that last year the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children dealt with 38,081 cases of cruelty, involving 102,461 children, and that 45,000 of those children were under five, we realise the dangers there are in this country upon which we might concentrate, rather than getting too emotionally excited by what happens to British children going overseas. There is obviously a great deal of valuable work which can be done through inter-country adoptions. The International Social Service of Great Britain has done a great deal of useful work in co-operation with its United States branch by enabling children of mixed racial origin to be adopted by families overseas.
At the same time, it would be wrong for us to ignore the misgivings of my right hon. Friend the Member for South 820 Shields, which are shared by bodies such as the International Social Service of Great Britain, the National Children's Adoption Association and the Church of England Children Society. All of them are disturbed at the apparent lack of safeguards in the Bill. When we remember the case which was very properly brought to the attention of the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), we must agree about the importance of ensuring that the necessary safeguards are included.
In my submission, it is especially necessary for a court to satisfy itself about the conditions and circumstances in the home of the adoptive parents overseas, and perhaps still more, about the legal position in respect of adoption in the country to which the child is going. These are matters upon which I hope we shall have full discussions during the Committee stage, and I hope that the proper misgivings which some of my hon. and right hon. Friends have will be removed by the Joint Under-Secretary during our discussions at that stage.
Subject to the criticisms that were made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), I welcome Clause 18, although we shall seek to amend it on the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) very fairly paraphrased the provisions of the Clause and told us under what circumstances a parent's consent could be dispensed with under existing circumstances; that is to say, because of abandonment, neglect or persistent ill-treatment.
Those provisions sound quite adequate until we remember the cases which have not been covered by them. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall), who takes a keen interest in these matters, told me about a father who had failed either to visit or to maintain his child until it had reached the age of six, and that he continued to refuse to agree to the adoption of the child after that age by its foster parents until he discovered that the would-be adoptive father was a professional footballer. When he heard that, he consented to the child being adopted, but, of course, many years of anxiety could have been 821 avoided if the court had had the power which the Home Secretary is now proposing to give it.
Sometimes, too, as Mrs. Ellison has pointed out in her admirable book, the mother turns up at the end of the three months' period and claims the child back, having used the machinery of adoption to provide a good and cheap home for her child in the meantime. It is true, as the Manchester Guardian pointed out, that what it called "abortive adoption" could be avoided if society were a little kinder to the unmarried mother. However, it may be that we still have a little way to go before society takes the civilised view which the Manchester Guardian has urged upon it.
There is, too, the other side of the picture, and that is the side of the adoptive parents who refuse to make up their minds. In 1954, there was a case of a girl of 14 who, for two years, lived with foster parents. During that time they wanted to adopt her. Then they changed their minds and when she came before the juvenile court as being in need of care and protection, Mr. Basil Henriques criticised the Adoption Act and said:There is a minimum period of three months before foster parents can adopt, but there is no maximum period and people proposing adoption can 'dangle' the child without coming to a decision.That is obviously a matter to which we should give very careful consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) expressed some anxiety about the proposals for guardians ad litem and I know that the National Association of Probation Officers is also concerned that adequate provision should be made for guardians ad litem. I expect that this is a matter which will be covered by the rules which the Home Secretary proposes to issue and I hope that the hon. Lady will perhaps touch on the problem of whether the children's officer would be the right person to be a guardian ad litem in the case where children were in the care of the local authority to which the children's officer was responsible. I know that there are strong arguments of administrative convenience in favour of that, but bodies like the National Association of Probation Officers are insistent that in the interests of independence the court should use its 822 own officer, or perhaps a probation officer.
The scope of probation officers is being constantly widened, and it was recently widened by the Measure which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). They are becoming less and less associated with delinquency and, if I may "pull a fast one," I hope that the Home Secretary will soon agree to set up a committee to inquire into the scope and future of the Probation Service.
That brings me to the end of the points on which I wanted to touch and to which we think careful consideration must be given in Committee. Before concluding, however, I want to refer to one remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick. Some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have questioned his remark about the welfare of the child not being paramount. My right hon. Friend was using the word "paramount" in a rather technical sense, meaning that the welfare of the child should not be the sole and only consideration. Certainly, my right hon. Friend would not want to minimise the importance which should be attached to the welfare of the child, but we must not overlook the fact that the parents themselves have interests which should be respected.
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes does not like the term "striking a balance", I conclude this debate as I came into it, holding the view that in this matter we have to strike a balance between closing the present loopholes in the interests of the child and, at the same time, avoiding undue interference with the liberty and freedom of the parents or the adoptive parents.
With certain reservations, I believe that the Bill does strike a proper balance. I believe that to safeguard the happiness of children and to promote their security and well-being is one of the most important obligations which rests upon any of us. Because I believe that the Bill does that, I am happy to give it support today, and I hope that it will be given an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)
Few subjects excite the warm sympathy of the House more than 823 the plight of children denied the affection, care and protection of a home with their natural parents. Today we have seen that fact amply demonstrated in what has been a most heartening, constructive and helpful debate, one which, with a minute exception, has been wholly non-party political and on a subject on which hon. Member from both sides of the House have sincerely expressed their views.
I repeat what my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, that we shall welcome the co-operation of hon. Members in Committee in considering how we can make this Measure as good a vehicle as possible for the protection and happiness of the children it involves. I thank the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) for the admirable and most co-operative way in which he welcomed the Bill and promised us support and constructive criticism in Committee.
He and others have complained that the Bill is rather difficult to understand when one has to refer to the major Act of 1950. The first part of the Bill which deals with the children cared for apart from their parents—but not by local authorities or voluntary organisations—a limited field of those fostered far reward, is statutorily complete in itself so far as we can make it. The second, and perhaps major part, deals with adoption and I agree that it is annoying to have to refer to the parent Act too frequently but we hope that it will be possible to have a consolidation measure before long to obviate that necessity.
Legal adoption in this country is only 32 years old and in Scotland it is only 28 years old. In those few years, aided by amending Acts in 1939 and 1949, we have seen the process of legal adoption grow into a considerable—I hesitate to say problem—part of the social welfare structure of our country.
I was asked for figures. In the first year of legal adoption there were 2,943 and in 1956, the last year for which we have the complete figures, there were 13,198. Although these figures appear small in relation to the vast millions with whom we deal in other spheres of social welfare, I believe that in the development of human life and individual happiness this process represents a very important 824 contribution to the security, the education, and the happiness of young people denied their natural homes. With all the kindness and care lavished by local authorities and voluntary organisations and their devoted staffs on children in care, I agree whole-heartedly with hon. Members, particularly the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), when they say that no communal home, however good, can wholly replace the security, the education and the warmth of good family life.
On a personal basis, I should like to add my tribute to that paid by my right hon. Friend to the work done by the late Sir Gerald Hurst and his distinguished colleagues on the Committee for their searching inquiries into the law of adoption and for the most able Report which they produced. I knew Sir Gerald well as a friend and a most kindly adviser. He was one of the most beloved and respected of my constituents. Only a few weeks before his death he entertained me at Lincoln's Inn and, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, "There seem to be a great many 'to-ings and from-ings' and inquiries about the Adoption Report. Could I anticipate from this that perhaps at last it will be appearing in the Queen's Speech?" I was indeed saddened that a very short time afterwards, and after a very short illness, he died only a couple of weeks before realising his ambition to see what had almost become his child incorporated in the Queen's Speech.
Very many points have been raised in the debate today, and I know that hon. Members appreciate that many of them are Committee matters and that we shall go into them in great detail upstairs, but perhaps I might single out one or two which have been of common concern to most hon. Members who have spoken. First, may I answer a question asked by the right hon. Member for Smethwick, who inquired about the future of the Bow Street licence. If he looks at lines 19 and 20 on page 31 of the Bill he will find that that procedure is repealed and that the new procedure under Clauses 23 and 24 will replace the Bow Street licence.
Many hon. Members discussed Clause 24, which had received criticism from certain quarters, and perhaps I could deal specifically with that in my reply. 825 The first consideration must be the interests of the child. I do not think we should allow an understandable reluctance to see a child taken overseas to stand in the way of that child having a good family life, possibly in most cases as distinct from spending the whole of its young life in a communal home. The crux of the problem must surely be to identify the good adopters.
Subsection (3) of the Clause provides that a provisional adoption order may be made only when the adopter qualifies, apart from his domicile, for an adoption order. In other words, the same tests will apply to those Commonwealth or foreign applicants as apply to applicants resident and domiciled in this country. The adopters must live here at least long enough to undergo a probationary period under supervision. Inquiries will be made about them in their country of domicile and they will usually have to appear before a court before the application can be granted.
The right hon. Member for South Shields asked who would watch the interests of the child during the proceedings. In Clause 24 cases, as in others, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem to inquire into and to report to the court upon the merits of the proposed adoption from the child's point of view. The guardian ad litem will also have to make inquiries in the applicant's country of domicile and, as at present, it will be open to the court to call for medical evidence.
In this latter respect there will be no alteration of the provisions which apply at the moment. While it is not compulsory that the court should call for medical evidence, it is within the powers of the court to do so, if it wishes, as at present.
Further, in relation to adoption generally, I should like to deal with a point raised by three hon. Members about Recommendation 112, that the close relatives of the deceased parents should be consulted. The Government accept this recommendation in principle and as far as practicable it will be implemented in the rules, as was explained by the Lord Chancellor in another place.
If I may return to Clause 24, the test is one of domicile and not of nationality. It is too commonly assumed that under the present law no one who 826 is not a United Kingdom citizen could adopt a child. In point of fact, domicile is the basis, and if a foreigner or a Commonwealth-born resident is domiciled here then under the existing law he could adopt a child.
We have had it said that, on the one hand, there is a long list of adopters wanting children and, on the other hand, a large number of children in care who cannot be adopted. The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) challenged me to provide the figures. I cannot give him the figures for the whole country, but there are 2,570 Roman Catholic children and 569 coloured children in the care of the London County Council alone, who, on present trends, are unlikely easily to be either adopted or provided with foster homes.
In one respect, the qualifying conditions for overseas applicants will be more stringent. Whereas the ordinary period of probation is three months, the probationary period for a provisional adoption order under Clause 24 will be six months. This provision was the outcome of discussion in another place which resulted in general acceptance of the principle of Clause 24, though it was felt that this additional strengthening safeguard should be added.
The courts will thus be provided, through the guardian ad litem, or through any other agency they may wish to use, with full information as to the age, the fitness and the religion of the adoptive parents and the adoption laws of the country to which the child is to be taken. I do not believe that anyone in the House would suggest that either our county courts or our High Courts, which will deal with these matters, will not take fully into account all the implications relevant to allowing a child to be adopted by a family overseas, or that, indeed, they would lightly give their permission unless they were satisfied, to the best of their ability, as to the child's future——
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I regret that the hon. Gentleman has not listened to me. I have just explained at great length that it will be the task of the guardian ad litem to make all those inquiries and furnish all the information to the court, apart from that supplied by the parents.
It has been said that it would be wrong to allow foreigners to have British children for adoption when there is already a waiting list, but we have to consider the type of case that will benefit. Nobody suggests that there will be a vast number of these cases, but the fact that they are small in number should not deny future happiness to the children who may be affected.
Suppose a French-Canadian Catholic family want to adopt one of the many Catholic children who are in care in this country, and who are at present unlikely to be adopted here. They must face the cost of return fares for both the prospective parents. They must stay in this country for at least six months—and probably longer, because, first of all, they have to find a child, and have it allocated to them. Having gone through the six months' probationary period here, they must establish before the High Court or county court their fitness as adoptive parents, their ability to provide a good home and their willingness to give that child legal protection in their own country.
All those are matters that will be gone into by the court before an order can be made. I do not think that any two people who are not in earnest and likely to qualify will undertake such a costly and lengthy absence from their own country lightly or wantonly. I believe that they will do so only if they have a genuine and sincere interest in providing a home for the child.
We have had other cases brought to our notice—and these, I think, are important—where coloured American Service families, stationed in this country sometimes for years, have befriended coloured children in the care of local authorities, and have indicated their wish to adopt them and take them to the United States for adoption in that country. On the face of it, they have appeared to be eminently suitable people. As I say, in some cases they have been in this country over a period of years, where their standard of family life and 828 good living has been seen and established. The prospects of the children were good, but, under the present law, they could not be taken abroad for adoption.
There is a further type of case. Occasionally, we have a foreign girl who gives birth in this country to a child which she conceived in her own country of a foreign father. The child is British born, but of wholly alien parentage—maybe Italian, maybe German or Spanish or some other nationality. The mother may have friends in her own country who wish to adopt the child. At the moment, if the mother takes the child out of the country we cannot legally stop her, and we cannot do anything to protect the child. By using the provision in the Bill, the mother has an opportunity to protect that child whom she is prepared to see brought up in the country that, because of its parentage, she regards as its natural home, but whom we, because of geography, do not regard as being anything but British born. If she happens to abandon the child or it is taken into care, equally the authorities can arrange for an adoption if suitable applicants appear and can satisfy the courts.
We believe that the Bill will help to prevent abuse, because it is not easy to check the natural parents if they take their children abroad and make private arrangements without any legal sanction. That point was made by the hon. Member for Brixton, but we believe that most parents, even of unwanted children, feel a sufficient sense of responsibility to wish to secure the future of the child, and we believe that this Clause will help to prevent, in some cases at any rate, an abuse which today exists in a limited field.
§ Mr. Lipton
Does the hon. Lady agree that even if parents have regard for the welfare of their child, rather than go through all this rigmarole they will prefer to send the child away for a month or two and easily evade the whole purpose of the Clause?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
The hon. Gentleman is saying that although an evil exists we should not do something to try to prevent it. I believe that the Bill will help Ito prevent it.
It has been suggested that British children would lose their nationality on 829 being adopted by foreigners on the assumption that a British-born child who acquires the nationality of a foreign country loses his British nationality. This is not true. Under United Kingdom law as it has been since the British Nationality Act, 1948, the acquisition of another nationality by a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, of whatever age, makes no difference whatever to his status as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and, therefore, he remains a British subject.
Moreover, it is not possible, under United Kingdom law, for the nationality of a child who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies to be changed by the decision of his parents. Only the child, when he reaches the age of 21, can renounce his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies if he is then in possession of another nationality, but during the child's minority neither the child nor his parents can do anything to forfeit his birthright of British nationality.
I am afraid that time does not permit me to go into one of the most argued Clauses, the one which relates to the question of consent. I should like to say that as this was considered and many alternative suggestions were made in another place, where it was amended, we shall be very happy to consider the representations in Committee to see whether we can ensure a proper balance between the rights of the parent and the best future for the child, and at the same time meet some of the criticisms that have been made in the House on the question of consent. We think, however, that due consideration should be given to the recommendation of the Hurst Report and to the type of case which was illustrated by the hon. Member for Rossendale.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) raised the question of wills and settlements. The right of an adopted child to inherit is not confined to wills made by the parents, and the effect of Clause 22 (1) about which he inquired and the 1950 Act together is that a person adopted before the date of the death of a testator or a person dying intestate benefits as if he were born in lawful wedlock to his adoptive parents. It does not matter what relationship, if any, there is between the testator or the 830 intestate person and the adopting family. This is again a question of two Measures being taken together.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet) raised the question of a British woman married to a German husband. That particular case has not come to my notice yet, but if the husband is domiciled and resident in this country he can adopt a child under existing law. If he is not permanently domiciled in this country, the new Bill will provide conditions under which he can do so.
Many other questions have been raised, but I am aware that hon. Members are anxious to discuss further business and I hope it will not be considered that I am evading the many other problems that have been raised if I say that we shall have ample time to discuss them in Committee.
There is only one point which remains to which I should reply, and that is the problem dealt with in Clause 33 (4) in regard to the Republic of Ireland and children taken there. I agree that, at first sight, the Clause looks a little odd, but I venture to suggest that this is, not the only administrative difficulty that results from the special position and independent rights of the Republic of Ireland as a sovereign State and in regard to citizenship of the Commonwealth. I can only say that we are prepared to look at the matter again, but it is not without its difficulties.
May I again thank the many hon. Members, about sixteen, I think, who have contributed to this debate today, and say how much we welcome their co-operation in strengthening the Bill and making it the best possible Measure we can? We firmly believe that this is a matter of great human importance, and that it is a Measure which can do much for the future of our young children. It has been a very real pleasure indeed to find hon. Members on both sides of the House so whole-heartedly anxious to put it on the Statute Book, and I hope that we can expedite its passage through its Committee stage.
§ 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).