§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.9 a.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before I commend the Bill to the House, I would like to thank the Members of all parties who have lent their names as sponsors of the Bill so as to clothe my own notoriety with all-party respectability.
It has been said that Private Members' Bills should be of one of two classes. Either they should be important and urgent things which are not likely to excite much controversy, or important things which the Government and the Front Benches fear to touch but which, none the less, need handling. My Bill falls into the first class, I hope, because I trust that it will not excite a great deal of controversy and the last thing I would like to do is to prolong discussion on it in such a way as to interfere with the other interesting legislation on today's Order Paper.
In addition to thanking the kind sponsors who have lent their name to the Bill, I should like to thank the Government for the assistance they have given to me. At an early stage, I submitted my own draft to the Home Office, which kindly submitted it to the Parliamentary draftsmen. I hope that this means that it passed through the various committees in the Government machine—the Home Affairs Committee and the Legislation Committee, if my recollection serves me aright—and that they have given it their blessing, because the draft that is now before the House is a thorough job. I can say this without immodesty because it is no longer mine, but that of the Parliamentary draftsmen.
Largely, perhaps, because of the way the Bill was suggested to me, and partly from my own fault, the Bill has the reputation of being a Measure to help unmarried mothers and their children. This is not the case, as the House will see. It is designed to help all children of a particular class. It is designed to help all children who have the misfortune to be the subject matter of a maintenance order obtained in a magistrate's court, 1838 and these, of course, can be the children of separated spouses, who are normally legitimate; children affected by affiliation orders, who must, therefore, be illegitimate; and children who are under guardianship, who may be either the one or the other.
The history of the present law with which the Bill seeks to deal is not altogether happy. The present Orders are governed by a maximum of £2 10s. a week fixed in 1960 as the result of the amending legislation of that date, and it must be obvious that if £2 10s. was enough in 1960 it is manifestly not going to be enough in 1968, by which time I hope the Bill will have become law if Parliament approves.
In Clause 1, I propose very little more than the first aid operation of raising the maximum of £2 10s. to £5. I fixed this figure, as a matter of history, before devaluation. I fancy that it is too early yet to know what effect devaluation will have upon it and if I were to stray into such speculation I might wander into party politics. However, it is clear that what was enough in 1960 is not enough today.
As I was saying, the history of the matter is not happy. If I recount it, it will explain Clause 1(2). My recollection is that the orders were about 5s. in 1917. This represented at the time about one-quarter of the average male weekly earnings in the United Kingdom. They were raised very quickly to 10s. in 1918 and remained there until 1923, when they were raised to £1. They stood there until, I think, the 1950s, when they were raised to 30s., being raised to the present level in 1960.
From this it appears that the raising of the maxima has not kept pace either with the average male weekly earnings or with the general standard of living. As an example of that, I cite just one figure—that whereas 5s., in 1917, was a quarter of the average male weekly wage, according to the lastest figures I have been able to obtain, in 1966 the sum of £2 10s. was only about 12.7 per cent. of the average male weekly wage. So the children have been losing ground.
Perhaps I should also say that probably 50 per cent. of the unmarried mothers who have affiliation orders taken out are on public assistance of one form 1839 or another. This is about twice the figure which existed in 1959—as recently as that.
§ Mr. Hogg
About 50 per cent. At any rate this shows again that the children are losing ground.
Therefore, quite apart from the first-aid provisions contained in Clause 1(1), I thought it necessary to introduce an escalation Clause so that the children would not have to wait for Parliamentary time, to which they have had to be beholden ever since 1917, for a full Act of Parliament to be passed to raise the maxima. The dates I have mentioned show that this process has resulted in a haphazard growth in the maxima and their never quite keeping up with the standard of wages, the standard of living or the level of prices. It is not satisfactory that they should continue to be so beholden.
I have, therefore, put in Clause 1(2), the point of which is to effect future increases—which will, I hope, be soon when we know what limits the Jean Graham Hall Committee recommends—by Statutory Instrument, subject to the positive approval of both Houses. This will enable fairly regular reviews to take place and enable the Home Secretary, with the approval of Parliament, to do what is necessary without waiting for the Parliamentary time needed for a Government Bill or for a private Member who is willing to undertake the work.
Obviously, if we are to alter the maxima for children, legitimate and illegitimate, we must also affect the maxima available to wives, at present standing, by the same legislation, at £7 10s. In choosing the figure of £5 for my first-aid provision, I do not immediately affect the level for wives because I have selected a figure lower than the £7 10s. in the present legislation. But clearly, if it is to escalate further than that, we must look immediately at the limits available to wives and, therefore, in Clause 2, I provide for a similar escalation of the maxima for wives as that allowed for children in Clause 1(1). Clause 3(3) also contains a specific provision which makes the new maxima in each case available to the holders of existing orders.
1840 I am, of course, aware that only a proportion of orders hit the ceiling of the maxima allowed by the existing legislation. I imagine that this will continue to be the case when the maxima are raised. My own experience is that matrimonial orders in magistrates' courts tends to be on the low side. This has been stated publicly in the case of Kelly v. Kelly, by the Divisional Court. Why this is so is a little difficult to see but there are two explanations. One is the difficulty of collection, to which I will refer in a moment and one is the fact that magistrates are accustomed, in their other activities—in their criminal jurisdiction—to take a maximum penalty, as it is in the criminal jurisdiction, then to take a good deal off it before they arrive at an answer.
I hope that magistrates will review this, if I am right in suspecting that this may enter into their minds, because affiliation and matrimonial proceedings are different in character from their other activities and if this, even unconsciously, influences them, it is a mistake. I have been asked: why have maxima at all? This is an important question. If wives and guardians find that the maximum is irksome they can go, with legal aid, to the High Court, where there is no maximum.
Unmarried mothers who are confined to the affiliation proceedings cannot do so. This is a very difficult question, and I would have liked to have discussed giving unmarried mothers access, either to the High Court (Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division), or to whatever family courts Parliament may afterwards create. I still think that this is probably a desirable change.
I would not favour the abolition of maxima in the magistrates' courts as such. Anyone who has practised in the divorce courts knows the extreme difficulty of fixing figures for maintenance if they rise above a certain level. One has to look at bank accounts, study commitments, examine leases and mortgages, list and value shares, value houses, look at employment and consider its security. What is done in the higher ranges of income is to make a special appointment before an official, the registrar and to discuss the matter in completely relaxed circumstances, in con- 1841 siderable detail, with a large number of accountants and others present.
I have the greatest respect for magistrates—I do not practise before them very often now, but I have practised before them very frequently in the past. Both lay and stipendiary magistrates command my great respect, but no one can pretend that the amosphere in a magistrate's court is good for arithmetic. There is a long procession of cases of very varying kinds and I do not think that magistrates, unless the whole of the equipment with which their courts are furnished is changed, would be able to handle cases involving large sums, and therefore, if maxima are to be abolished they should not be abolished in the magistrates' courts.
There are a large number of other questions affecting the family, both legitimate and illegitimate, which Parliament ought to discuss in the fairly near future. When I researched this particular subject, in circumstances which I will describe, I was in doubt as to which of a variety of points I would select for my Bill. There are three main complexes to be discussed. There are the financial limits, which I have selected, and which are being currently examined by the Jean Graham Hall Committee. I have deliberately drawn my Bill in co-operation with the Home Office, so that even if I do anticipate its reports in point of time, the Bill can be seen through Parliament in the knowledge that it will not interfere with the Committee's requirements. If the full report comes out, as I hope it will, during the course of the passage of the Bill, any necessary amendments can be brought in, here or in another place.
There is the complex subject of collection which is probably the most urgent of the questions relating to matrimonial and affiliation cases. In affiliation cases something between a quarter and a third of current orders, as far as one can judge, are to some extent in arrear. We all know the problem of collection in matrimonial cases is parallel, although I could not give a figure of proportion for it.
The difficulty about dealing with that lies in the fact that now that we have attached earnings, thanks to the devoted work of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), who has kindly lent her name 1842 to the sponsorship of the Bill, the effective methods of collection will involve charges on public funds in one way or another. As the House is aware, although I do not think the public is, no Private Member's Bill can deal with anything involving even the smallest charge on public funds. Such a proposal must come from the Government, who are responsible for raising taxes. The other thing is that it is an extremely complex matter and is currently being considered by a committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Payne. I certainly would not care, without knowing to some extent what was in the committee's mind, to propose concrete changes in this area.
I hope that nothing that I say today will create the impression that it is not an extremely urgent subject, demanding the attention of Parliament in the near future. The same sort of consideration led me, reluctantly, to abandon family law, which is highly complex and technical. It was wholly beyond my capacity as a private Member to tackle this effectively with a draft and I therefore did not do so.
I am happy to know that it is being considered by the Law Commission and I trust that its decisions will be known soon. It would be wrong to delay this simple and effective weapon to increase the maximum provision available for children until we arrive at some constructive solution to the problems of family law.
I want to make it clear that, in sending my draft to the Government I told them that I would lend myself to any constructive proposals in this direction that they cared to make. My judgment had been that a Bill with exactly this scope would be the only practicable course for me to take. I made it clear to the Government that, should they want me to adopt a wider long title, or other provisions in addition to those I had in mind, or in substitution for them, I would lend myself to it. I learned after I had done so that their judgment happened to coincide with mine. This unlikely coincidence rather confirmed my original judgment, but I want to make it clear also that I take full responsibility, both for the contents of the Bill, apart from the draftsmanship, and the omissions from it.
1843 The circumstances in which I came to propose the Bill should be placed on record. Rather less than two months ago, a young woman who was totally unknown to me came to my chambers and asked for an interview. I told her to write a letter. She wrote me a long letter about the condition of unmarried mothers, of whom she was an example, and one thing she said struck me. Referring to the limits imposed on affiliation orders, she said, "Do you realise that if a man is a millionaire, the most that he can be made to pay is £2 10s.?" I had realised it, but, like so many other things which one knows at the back of one's mind, its human significance had previously escaped me, so I wrote to her to say that I would research the subject and see whether I could not do something about it.
So it comes about that, within two months of a totally unknown woman—who was not even a citizen of this country, I believe—coming to see a Member of Parliament, a Bill drafted by the Parliamentary draftsmen, sponsored by hon. Members of all parties and proposed from the Opposition Front Bench, is placed before the House of Commons. I hope that it may have an easy passage from now on.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I wish to deal shortly with affiliation orders, which, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said, form only a part of the Bill. It is difficult to get statistics on this subject, partly because neither the Hall Committee nor the Payne Committee has yet reported, which perhaps makes the Bill a little premature, but I have tried to discover them, mainly from sample researches.
Before the war, I practised a good deal in magistrates' courts and, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I have a great respect for them. I do not say that they are a good tribunal for accountancy questions and cross-affidavits as to means and so on, but the actual payment which may be made in the local circumstances, which may do as much good and a little harm, is what they do very well. If the High Court says that their payments tend to be low 1844 on the whole, within their province they are more likely to be right than the High Court.
There are, of course, hard cases with regard to affiliation orders, but none of us, as legislators, can every hope for more than that anything we do will achieve more good than harm. Anything we do will certainly harm someone and, with regard to affiliation orders, I think the balance is that it will do harm. I would be inclined in Committee to reduce the £5 to 5d.
First, do they do the woman or the child any good? About half of them are on National Assistance or supplementary benefits, and, of course, they do not do the woman any good. They are simply collected by the State. As to the other half of them, although a third of the totality of orders are in arrears, the Ministry is better at collecting than the wife, so the proportion collected by the Ministry which are in arrears is smaller than the proportion collected by the wife.
Of those collected by the wife about half are, on the samples which I have been able to consider, in arrear by over £20 in the first year. I cannot trace them much after the first year, but my own guess is that the percentage goes up and up.
Therefore, we have a picture of something involving a great deal of effort and collection, which, in the end, does the girl very little good. Apart from doing her good, in many instances it does the man great and serious harm. It may be said that he deserves it anyway. I am personally not a moralist on this kind of issue. I look at the problem, how can one do a minimum of harm and injury in these cases? I do not think that this is the sort of method by which one should seek to punish people.
My samples show me that about 80 per cent. of putative fathers, against whom affiliation orders have been made, are earning under £14 a week, and of those about half are married. That wage is pretty close to the bone for a married man with a family. It may of course be said that a married man with a family should not get into this trouble, but the one who suffers in the circumstances is generally the wife. Of course, her hatred 1845 of the girl whom she regards as the hussy who has created this liability on the family purse becomes formidable.
If one favours family life going on, even after there has been a slip, these affiliation orders do not contribute to that end. It can be far more difficult due to the continuing irritation of the wife who has forgiven her husband. It is a very bitter thing. I go down to my constituency regularly to see people and get quite a lot of visits from bitterly indignant wives about the burden of this kind of payment. Also, of course, a married man has an anchor and it is thus much more easy to collect from him. Of the people who are actually paying, probably the greater proportion would turn out to be married men.
Not only in the wife but in the man there is often a tremendous sense of injustice, which rests to some degree on the fact that it is no longer easy to say that these are unwanted babies. Contraception has been made inifinitely more available to the woman herself than it was in the old days. We have had the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill which I think probably does not do much more than give form to what was already a practice—if my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will forgive my saying that.
But we probably know, if we keep our eyes open, that there are enough doctors today who take the view that this island is already sufficiently full without imposing unwanted illegitimate children on girls. To say that that is not available——
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
As a supporter of the abortion legislation, I understood that there was nothing in it that would make the marriageable status of the woman a proper reason for any doctor performing an operation. I think that my hon. and learned Friend will be doing many women a great disservice if it goes out from the House today that the fact that a girl is unmarried predisposes her towards a therapeutic abortion.
§ Mr. Paget
I have not the slightest doubt that it does. To doctors, this is a perfectly human condition. When the mother takes the girl to the doctor and says, "Her nerves are in an awful state. She is so afraid and ashamed. She has 1846 been crying for a week", and that sort of thing, today the request is often complied with. I am not saying that that is always so, but it is the practice. It is no good closing our eyes to it. It is a factor which may not be in the Abortion Act but it operates in the practice in which the Act works, and it is no good kidding ourselves that it does not.
The third factor is that the demand for adoption vastly exceeds the supply. There are long lists of people wanting to adopt children. So one starts with the fact that the baby is one which the girl wants but the man feels that it is an imposition to charge him for something that she has chosen to have and keep.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Is my hon. and learned Friend seriously putting forward the view that we should have social legislation designed to make quite certain that the unmarried mother cannot keep her child? If so, that is a disgraceful proposition.
§ Mr. Paget
I am not saying that for a moment, and my hon. Friend knows that perfectly well. This is not what enables the woman to keep the child; of course it is not. Only about one-fifth of the women who keep their children have effective orders. No unmarried woman is enabled to keep a child she would not otherwise be able to keep because of a paternity order. If she cannot keep the child, she can obtain a supplementary benefit which will be at least equal to the paternity order. This is what it comes to.
Therefore, while an unmarried mother should have the opportunity of keeping the child, I am extremely doubtful whether in practice it is socially desirable that the means of enabling her to do so should be the putative father, and often "putative" is a very real word in these cases because who actually was the father is often bitterly disputed.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)
Is my hon. and learned Friend suggesting that the child should be kept by the National Insurance Fund? That seems to be the ultimate object of his argument.
§ Mr. Paget
I would certainly say that that is what happens now in the majority of cases. I certainly believe that it is much less socially objectionable than to try to get it from a particular man in 1847 circumstances which build up a mass of bitterness. My view for what it is worth on the basis of my experience of the present practice—the history of bastardy and affiliation orders is not a very long one—is that it is unsatisfactory, and I think that it is one of the occasions on which our legislation on balance does more harm than good.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) upon his excellent speech and upon selecting this subject for his Bill. He was right to say that I was previously interested in the subject and tried to bring in the Attachment of Earnings Bill. It was taken over by Mr. Butler—now Lord Butler—because I failed, and it eventually became the Maintenance Orders Act, 1958. The reason I failed was that six hon. Members, on purpose, sat outside in the corridor to stop me from getting a quorum. After the speech that we have just heard from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend does not have a similar experience.
I should first like to reply to one or two of the points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, though I had intended to confine my remarks entirely to the unmarried mother, the subject in which I am interested today. I thought it very surprising for him to suggest that a man ought to be able to opt out of all his responsibilities towards the child that he created. I believe that it is far better for a child to be brought up by its mother even if it has not a known father than that it should go into an institution or foster home. There is a tremendous mother-child relationship, and I think that a great many women who decide because of their financial circumstances not to keep the child regret it all their lives. Consequently, suggestions such as the hon. and learned Gentleman has made are very harmful to our society and the concept of our society.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman and I rather differ about this. Surely the father with another family or the unmarried man will be taking life extremely lightly if there are to be no consequences for him. The fact that a man may have to pay up in the future is a deterrent, and because of this he probably thinks—and for other reasons—before he has a relationship. First, he thinks of the circumstances that he may create, and, secondly, he thinks—in many cases I hope—of the feelings of his wife. So if the need for him to face up to his responsibilities was taken away it would be very wrong in our present society.
It is interesting to realise that sometimes putative fathers eventually accept their responsibilities. I know of a woman who had an illegitimate child by a man and subsequently married him. The child was then two years old and she had had two further children by him. When she was unmarried, she had given the parental rights in respect of the child to the local authority. However, the father, having married the woman, applied to have the child back, and was allowed to do so because, having married the woman, he had legitimised the child and become its guardian. For reasons of this sort I hope that the views of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton will not prevail.
I was grateful for the two points that were called to our attention by my right hon. and learned Friend—the financial limits and the difficulties in collecting the money. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, this may not be a great Bill in Parliamentary language, but it is an extremely human one, drawing attention to a section of our citizens who are grossly neglected.
I want to express my views as a member of the Council for the Unmarried Woman and her Child. We have a permissive society, and it is very strange that in it there seems to be one type of person still not tolerated—the unmarried mother, and certainly her child. It is regrettable that from the very moment that it is born the child is regarded as illegitimate and, therefore, a second-class citizen. I am glad to realise that these mothers are showing great spirit at the moment. There is an organisation called Mothers in Action which is taking cognisance of this fact.
1849 I believe that the Bill will give children a little more chance to have what we describe as worldly goods. This will not compensate them for their lack of status, however, and 10 per cent. at least of them have a very bad start. It is interesting to notice that despite the fact that the birth rate has fallen the number of children born out of wedlock has increased. The ballad "Smokey" tell us thatThere is only one man in 100 that a poor girl can trust.I admire the the unmarried mother who has strength of character to carry her great burden of responsibility for the child, in many cases unaided by the putative father.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton mentioned the Abortion Act. In my "surgery", I see a considerable number of unmarried mothers who request help either in tracing the father of their child or in getting financial assistance to bring up the child. In the 12 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, not one unmarried mother has come to me for help in getting an abortion.
In the last 11 years, the number of illegitimate births has doubled. In 1955 the figure was 31,445, and in 1965 it had grown to 66,780. In 1955 the number of unmarried mothers under the age of 20 was 5,540, but in 1965 that number had risen to 19,521. One-third of the illegitimate children are born to married women.
The hon. and learned Member referred to birth control and family planning clinics. Only recently, the London Borough of Camden has said that it will not give help with contraceptives to the unmarried mother. Until there is a perfect contraceptive, there will always be children born out of wedlock, and only the other day I read in the paper of a woman who had been sterilised having a child. Therefore, despite all the modern methods, it is still difficult although action is taken for a woman to be certain she will not have a child.
The fact must be faced—and this will, I hope, to some extent answer the hon. and learned Member—that when a woman is in love with a man, she wants to give all she has to him. She needs to keel) him. Very often, the only way 1850 that she can keep him is by giving herself to him, sometimes with unfortunate results for herself. One should not cast any aspersions, because there are many women who could say, "There, but for a little luck, go I". We should remember these things when considering the Bill, and until contraceptives are perfected we must be sympathetic to the woman and the illegitimate child.
My right hon. and learned Friend's Bill has great value. Society should, and must, accept both the child and its mother. One of the special features however, is that the voluntary organisations, particularly the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, which has an adequate Council, have particular difficulty in collecting voluntary contributions; this is one proof of the difficulty of getting sympathy for these people.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that in many ways the Maintenance Orders Act, in the introduction of which I was interested, has failed. I gather that in the first year of its application, it saved £2 million of the taxpayer's money. Since then, however, the Act has failed because men against whom maintenance orders have been made—and sometimes women, too—have found flaws in the law. I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend can do anything to put this right.
For example, the Bill which I tried to introduce provided that if a weekly wage earner against whom a maintenance order had been made failed to pay for four weeks, he could be taken to court for attachment of earnings. It has now been discovered that if a defaulter makes payment in for example the third week, he can get away without an attachment. The net result is that instead of making 52 payments in the year, a man can make simply 12 payments and the law is unable to touch him. Similarly, in the the case of a salary earner a period of two months must elapse before the woman can apply for an attachment order, so if the man makes payment into court simply six times a year, the law cannot touch him. I had hoped that we might be able to close this loophole.
Particularly in a time of full employment, men frequently change their jobs and it is difficult for the courts to catch up with them. I have a suggestion which I do not think would cost anything to 1851 put into effect, as I appreciate the difficulty concerning a Money Resolution. I suggest that when a court has made an order and a man has failed to pay—not necessarily on the first occasion, but when he has missed, say, twice and been taken to court for the second time, then, in the same way as one's driving licence is endorsed for a motoring offence, his National Insurance card should be endorsed with the amount of his payment. When I made this suggestion previously, I was told that it would be detrimental to a man's chances in getting another job. Surely, that is not so, because if the court did its job properly, when a man against whom an order has been made, moves from one job to another, the next employer should be notified. Although I appreciate that there may be difficulties, I hope that something like this might be done.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that men have difficulty in keeping two families. It is extremely awkward for a man who is sitting down to breakfast with Betty to tell her that he cannot give her as much housekeeping money as usual because he has to pay Mary. That is another reason why I would like attachment of earnings to be enforced. The money would then be taken straight from a man's pay or salary, put into court and supplemented, if necessary, from Social Security sources. If, for example, the order against him was for £2 and his pay was, say, £14, he would be able to turn the remainder straight over to his wife. Many women do not know what their husbands earn and, therefore, they would be much happier if the money could be paid direct to them, with the amount deducted. Many men mean to pay, but it is difficult to have to tell the wife.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the Measure he has introduced. I hope that he may be able to draw to the attention of the appropriate quarters the question of affiliation payments overseas. I understand that this important question was raised at a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and that it was decided to try to work for reciprocity with a view to enforcing payment by fathers coming from, say, Jamaica or India to this country, and vice versa. I hope that this debate will highlight these 1852 matters so that we may get reciprocal arrangements in the Commonwealth.
A similar difficulty applies in the case of men from foreign countries. I have two cases at present involving American putative fathers. In one case, although the man admits that the child is his, he has now been sent back to America and although he has made a small lump sum payment, there is no way of making any attachment against him.
I should like to know whether, in the Bill, it will be possible to raise the age of children from 13 to 16 years. This would be a reasonable requirement and would help to cover the time that a child remains at school.
My right hon. and learned Friend has done a great service to a number of people, particularly in Human Rights Year. in drawing attention to this problem and I hope that he will have his reward in getting the Bill quickly on to the Statute Book.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
I am glad to be associated, as a supporter of the Bill, with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), but as I heard him speak—in an uncharacteristically apologetic tone—I was surprised that he, of all people, should put forward the view that politics is the art of the possible. I always thought that, by temperament, he agreed with me that politics is the art of the impossible.
Unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman I was brought up as a Socialist, and was always taught that I should beware the aristocratic embrace. In the days when I was a very young boy this warning from my parents was very real—I sometimes think that it is a warning that should be repeated to some Socialists today. But I fear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, too, has not only received great encouragement from the Home Office but has been almost smothered by the embrace he has received.
Bearing in mind the legal and social disabilities that attach to illegitimacy, and bearing in mind, too, the undoubted fact that there is still in-built in our law a savage condemnation of the unmarried mother, the House must ask itself whether the increase proposed by the Bill 1853 is enough. In coming to its conclusion, the House will have to take into account the humiliations such a mother will have to endure in order to prove her case for an order, or to have the order varied or enforced—and, as the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) has pointed out, for how many years the order will endure, because one must almost take that factor into account in deciding whether the suggested increase is adequate. I doubt whether, if hon. Members have considered all these aspects, they will regard the contemplated increase as satisfactory, but will regard this Bill, though worthy of support, as unambitious and inadequate.
The fact is that the majesty of the law insists that even if, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out, the child is the result of a passing whim of a millionaire, a court must only order the father to pay no more than 50s. for the child's keep. I remind my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that only last year we had the case of a pop singer who was boasting of his earnings of £500 a week but who nevertheless decided to rid himself of his parental responsibility by submitting to an order for 50s. a week. I cannot follow my hon. and learned Friend when he suggests that such a person should be free from any responsibility.
It is not only the paucity of the amount——
§ Mr. Abse
I will leave the House to judge the validity of that argument.
We must consider, too, not only the paucity of the amount but all that flows to the person who pursues even the amount that is available. She must speedily humiliate herself in a court where, because there is as yet no family court, there is always an aura of criminality; an aura of criminality which surrounds every stage of proceedings, and an aura that is such a deterrent that only one unmarried mother in seven dares to apply to the court at all.
She goes into a court where, as matters now stand, only one unmarried mother in 1854 13 obtains an order for the present maximum of 50s.——
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "an odour of criminality"? I am not sure that I follow him.
§ Mr. Abse
The burden of proof is exactly the same as would be needed in a criminal proceeding. The woman is in a court where the evidence is measured and judged in exactly the same way as if someone was being charged with a criminal offence. I will later elaborate where the aura of criminality is otherwise imported.
The present maximum order is for 50s., but last year the average award was 33s. a week, with one unmarried mother in three being awarded a derisory sum of less than 25s. a week. Moreover, and the House must appreciate this, although under the Bill there is the beginning of the possibility of a wife receiving in the magistrate's court even more than £7 10s. for herself, the order awarded the unmarried mother is for her child, and she herself receives nothing at all for her own needs. There is, therefore, no comparison between the position of an unmarried mother who asks the court for an order and that of a married woman who asks for an order for herself and her children.
If I may gently reprove the sponsor of the Bill, I was very unimpressed by the suggestion that magistrates' courts cannot be trusted—that was the implication—to investigate the very complex financial matters that might arise if an order were to be made for an amount very much larger than that proposed in the Bill. Even now, when a married woman with four children seeks an order the magistrates are already adjudicating on an amount that can be £7 10s. for the mother and may, under this Bill, be as much as £20 a week in respect of the four children. It is therefore illogical to argue that while we are giving the court the power to adjudicate on amounts that could easily be £30 a week we dare not fix a greater maximum for the unmarried mother.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Does my hon. Friend also appreciate that the case is very different from that in the old days 1855 when the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) worked, as I did, in the magistrates' courts? Domestic courts now take many hours in dealing with the affairs of women under the affiliation proceedings.
§ Mr. Abse
My hon. and learned Friend anticipates me—that was to be my next point—and what he says accords with my own experience. Although I would never call the sponsor of the Bill a dated man, in this respect he has left his experience of magistrates' courts a very long way behind. He under-estimates their present degree of sophistication when he says that men who are having to live, as many magistrates do, on small amounts, often give a good deal more attention to orders that are comparatively small than do those who may not have to count every copper.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am not anxious to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's excellent speech, but when I consider his argument it seems to me to cut the other way. If magistrates' courts have a limit which can, under this Bill, amount to a weekly order for £30 in the case of a married woman, and if we accept that the maximum for a child, whether it is legitimate or illegitimate, must be the same, this is an argument for keeping some limit and not for abolishing it.
§ Mr. Abse
I do not follow that argument. Because there is an anomaly in the law, whereby an unmarried mother receives nothing for her own needs, although everyone knows the enormous difficulties that must face her if she is unable to go out to work—and one knows the terrible cost in economic terms that can be to her—it must be if the maximum is £2 10s., or £5, for the child—it is an additional reason why, if we still withhold from the unmarried mother the right to an order for her own keep, we should make the maximum higher. I am quite certain that some proportion of the present 50 per cent. of unmarried mothers now in receipt of social security payments results precisely from the fact that the woman is immobilised and quite unable to go out to work. Therefore undoubtedly her working capacity is destroyed. It is wrong that this Bill does not take that factor into account.
1856 It is even worse than that. If she goes out to work—she may be a very successful woman—the miserable award she obtains against the father will be added to her earnings, and I understand it can be severely taxed as unearned income. This is an absurd and quite shameful position. After going through the whole ordeal and obtaining the award, she will know too that she is unlikely to obtain the money regularly because, so febrile are the means of enforcement that almost half the fathers immediately fall into arrears. A third of the application orders for affiliation last year were in arrear for amounts over £20.
That is not always because of the incapacity of the man to pay. Much of it is due to the impossibility of enforcing the order because of the burden placed on the collecting offices, the undermanned collecting offices, attached to the courts. So ineffective were the affiliation orders made for attachment of earnings that last year three-quarters of them did not result in a single penny being collected in arrears. That is an indication of the ease by which, with such devices as changing a job, dodging fathers simply avoided payment. As the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport, pointed out, if the father bunks to another country in the Commonwealth, unlike the deserted wife, the unmarried mother cannot pursue the order.
The woman may be given an order for payment until the child is 13 unless the court directs that it shall be paid until the child is 16. The lamentable position is that it is not possible for a court to award a sum for a child over 16 when that child is mentally or physically ill or for any other reason is unable to be self-supporting. This is why I suggest that embedded in the law are Victorian attitudes towards the unmarried mother. I do not think I am exaggerating.
I go back to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) about the aura of criminality. If any woman is receiving payments now under a maximum order, under the terms of the Bill she may wish to return to the court to vary that order and increase it from £2 10s. to £5. Is it appreciated that she has to do that in open court and that 1857 it can be reported and done publicly? This is most unsatisfactory. It is a public humiliation for an unmarried mother to have to go to the courts to vary an order. I hope that thousands of them will, but this public procedure is not altered in this Bill. I tried to woo the right hon. and learned Gentleman not to yield to the idea that he should try to bring in a narrow Bill but that he should draw a wider one, but it was in vain.
When we consider whether this amount is sufficient, we should too bear in mind that if the father dies careless of his responsibilities and if he is a wealthy man leaves a fortune to others, the maintenance of the child ceases completely. Not a single penny of the father's estate can the woman obtain, not even any outstanding arrears under an Order. It is therefore not surprising that we live in the land where most unmarried mothers do not—indeed cannot—keep their children. In Denmark 93 per cent. of unmarried mothers keep their children because of the help and support the mothers receive in specially created centres and from the community. We realise how far we lag behind. It is not enough to speak words of sympathy or praise to the unmarried mother. In Denmark because of the help and support she receives there is that percentage of mothers who keep their children.
§ Mr. Abse
I have not been able to ascertain it. Certainly it is nowhere near that percentage. Nor do I believe, since my hon. and learned Friend has reminded me, that it is right that in any way the law should be so framed that we should seek to incite unmarried mothers to give their children for adoption. That is not what we should aim at. It is quite naive and lacking in psychological insight to believe that unmarried mothers have children generally because of mistakes. Despite the increase in contraceptive knowledge more and more illegitimate get born.
Anyone who has had experience either on the National Council for the Unmarried Mother or elsewhere fully understands the psychiatrists who say that if we look at the background of a typical unmarried mother we find that she is the 1858 person who has lacked love and needs to receive it and to give it back. One of the cruellest things to do for an unmarried mother is to create legislation which will encourage her to give her child away in adoption. Is it desirable that we should see to it that there are no affiliation orders so that those who wish to adopt should have easy access to their children? Even after this Bill the victory will still remain with yesteryear Victorian puritans for our outmoded laws ensure that the desire for vengeance even into the next generation is relentlessly pursued. That is why a grim proportion of children are wrested from their mothers, put into care, and then onwards to placements with ever-changing foster parents.
Does this amount we are considering take into account other slights which insensitively we impose on the child? To ensure throughout the lifetime of the illegitimate that they have regular reminders of their bastardy when applying for a job or a post, we provide shortened forms of certificates which omit the father's name. But these certificates prompt questions, overt and unspoken, every time they are presented. In Scotland, unlike the position here, such shortened forms of certificates are in general and not exceptional use. The shortened certificate in Scotland is deliberately provided free. Out of cupidity comes good, for almost everyone in Scotland uses the short certificate and no one knows the legitimate from the illegitimate there.
The order should not be limited as it is now. It should take account of the means of the man. It should take account of his station in life and his occupation. The culprit in this is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the Home Office. The Home Office knows that I have been saying this for all the years that I have been in this House. I have repeatedly put down Questions to past Governments and to this and I have always been told that "It is being considered." Dust gathers on the recommendations of the Russell Committee. This matter was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, and on my files and references dust gathers too. I am always told that these matters are under consideration. Again if under the Bill anyone wants to obtain an order the matter 1859 must come to the courts within 12 months. If the mother does not go speedily, and unless she has other evidence that he has acknowledged the child, she cannot at the end of 12 months obtain an order.
This is a serious matter. It means that, if a woman is so disturbed or decides at one point that she will make an effort to keep the child alone and not bother with the man she believes has betrayed her, the child may have lost the opportunity of support from its father for ever. That is not good enough. The Home Office argues that evidence must be fresh. But nevertheless it makes an extraordinary exception to that rule in the case of the Ministry of Social Security, for they are able to pursue such an order for three years from birth. The Home Office argument, therefore, is invalid.
I do not want to take up an excessive amount of time categorising the weaknesses of this Bill, which I support, and I shall not suggest that there is any malice in the present Government being as tardy as the last Government on this matter. I shall come instead to certain questions. For example, how many grandmothers or aunts have taken in a child who has been abandoned by its mother because she has, perhaps, gone to London and simply disappeared? They cannot obtain any support at all for the little one. The fact is that affiliation rights belong only to the child. The only person who can go into court for it is the mother. The grandmother cannot. The aunt cannot. Is that satisfactory?
I will quote a case from my own personal experience. The unmarried mother died shortly after the birth of her child. The grandparents took the child in, but were unable to obtain any order against the father, whom I knew to be comfortably off but totally indifferent. Is that good enough? It cannot be. Many of these things could have been dealt with by the Home Office if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had, perhaps, been a little more insistent. I believe it is high time that affiliation rights were vested in a totally different manner.
The anomalous position whereby these women have to go into court to pursue their case in this unfortunate way could easily be ended if private agreements 1860 could be registered within the court. It could be done and it would be of great help. It is done in many other countries and it is time we looked at the problem.
It is also time that we looked at the whole position of the unmarried father. The talk is usually about the unmarried mother but this is, after all, a problem of two people—the unmarried mother and the unmarried father. Yet people do not often talk about the unmarried father. It is very sad that we have no procedure in the magistrates' courts whereby, when a girl comes to take out a summons, a probation officer or other suitable officer of the court can contact the alleged putative father and see whether it is not possible to bring the two parties together.
If one has experience, as I have had, of dealing with affilation orders, one finds again and again that one proves an affiliation order by showing that there has been a gesture by the father after the birth. Perhaps he has sent flowers to the hospital, or a note of concern. But because, perchance, he is somewhat immature, or because his family says, "What sort of a girl is it who lets you sleep with her before you are married?'', or because the girl's parents say, "What sort of man is this who has let you down?"—because of all these circumstances, the two do not come together although he could as well marry her as anyone he may marry in a year or two. He has liked her, has slept with her and would probably be agreeable to marrying her.
§ Mr. Abse
Perhaps not. But most people like the parties they sleep with enough to marry them. I want to quote to the House a law:Children born out of wedlock shall enjoy the same rights as children born in lawful wedlock. No person shall be allowed to harm or discriminate against children born out of wedlock.That is the marriage law of barbarous Red China, not that of twentieth-century Britain.
Now we have a new Home Secretary who has announced that one of his main interests will be that of child care. That is not surprising for he is fortunate in having a wife who has given a great deal 1861 for child care in London, through both public and private activities. I hope that he will take note of some of the things said in this debate so that we really can have a charter for children, so that the laggard attitude of the Home Office and its Children's Department may no longer be regarded as tolerable in a civilised community.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
It is always pleasant, albeit sometimes surprising, to find myself almost wholly in agreement with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). Judging by his last remarks, it is an even greater surprise to find myself in sympathy with the thoughts of Chairman Mao. My interest in this Bill is primarily concerned with the children. We hear a lot about the unmarried father and the unmarried mother, but I believe that our prime consideration at all times should be for the child.
I have always found it repugnant morally that, in our society, illegitimate children should be treated as second-class citizens or differently from other members of the community. They are innocent of any moral defalcation and society should bend over backwards to see that they have precisely the same chance in life and the same future prospects as legitimate children.
Therefore, limited though it is, I am pleased to be a sponsor of the Bill. I believe that it was reported in the Press that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said that he had a premonition that he would be successful in the Ballot. Possibly I, too, played a small part in this, because it was my duty to remind him that the list for the Ballot would shortly be closed and that he could put his name in. He immediately announced to me what was to be the Bill of his choice and was fairly certain that he would be first in the Ballot and ordered me to be a sponsor.
My right hon. and learned Friend's description of the Bill he was to introduce was rather more vivid and robust in language than that of the Maintenance Order Bill. This enables me to say that the subject of his choice demonstrates what those of us who know him well appreciate—that his humanity and com- 1862 passion are as much a part of his character as polemics and controversy.
I have said that my prime concern is with the interest of the child, but, nevertheless, we should all have in mind the situation of the unmarried mother. Very often, unmarried mothers are desperate. They are often entirely alone in the world because of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Anyone who has read "The L-Shaped Room", by Lynn Reid Banks, which I enjoyed very much, realises the degree of desperation in which these unfortunate women find themselves.
Very often they have not access to legal advice to see what their rights are unless they are helped by a worthy charitable organisation. My experience of the magistrates courts' is not so recent as that of the hon. Member for Pontypool, hut, nevertheless, in the early days of my professional career I appeared frequently in the old Harrow and Weald-stone court and others in that area, without remuneration, at the request of various charitable and religious organisations which looked after these unmarried mothers and encouraged them, because they did not appreciate their rights, to make application to the courts.
I was struck, in those cases, not only by the human hopelessness of the unmarried mother, but also by the remarkable devotion and the way in which these mothers looked after their illegitimate children. I was also struck by the remarkable degree of luxury very often of the putative fathers when they took the trouble to appear. I appreciate that the vast majority of these fathers are of very low means; I think that the hon. Member mentioned that the average earnings were £14 a week.
Nevertheless, a large number are much better off and, indeed, in my experience it was nearly always those who were better off who went to the court to fight the case, who had to be cross-examined and fought against the measly order which, in those days, was £1 a week. This appalled me, and from that day onwards I could see no justification for having such a ludicrously low maximum figure. In that sense I think that the Bill, limited though it is, goes some way to creating a sense of justice.
1863 I must express my almost entire disagreement with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who has now left the Chamber. One of the greatest nonsenses in recent years is the notion that when something goes wrong, and there is a misfortune between two persons, in some way we are all responsible, that the community and society are responsible. This is an absolutely nonsensical view. The person primarily responsible is the individual himself, in this case primarily the putative father. It is the individual who is responsible, not society. We are always hearing that the individual has rights. So, also, does he have responsibility. This debate and, indeed, the Bill will do something to make it clear today where that responsibility lies.
A number of omissions have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and the hon. Member for Pontypool, with which I agree. For my part, I have great difficulty in imagining why there should be any maximum limit at all. It is absurd that a married woman can go to the High Court and subject her husband's means to investigation, whereas a limitation is to be placed on the unmarried mother. I am impressed, on the other hand, by the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone that the magistrates' courts are probably not geared to making the detailed investigations into the means of the husband which would enable them to make an unlimited order.
Therefore, although I am by no means certain, I am probably more attracted to my right hon. and learned Friend's suggestion that whereas there should still be a limit on the magistrates' jurisdiction—though I am not certain whether we should not increase the maximum a little—the unmarried mother should have the right, in the same way as the married mother, to apply to the High Court which would not have any limitation at all.
As I say, the magistrates fulfil their functions with the greatest degree of rectitude, but I do not believe—my recent experience confirms this—that they are geared to making the meticulous examination of means and all the com- 1864 plications of a person's mortgage, rent and other obligations which the High Court can do.
Having said that, I agree with the hon. Member for Pontypool that it is most unfortunate, in any event, that these proceedings have to be brought in the magistrates' courts. I think that there is in those courts an aura of association with crime. There are worthy policemen standing around. Very often there is a large number of villains, thorough scallywags, lurking about the courts, and it seems appalling that people who are concerned not only with affiliation orders, but with matrimonial proceedings, should have to attend with these sorts of people in the magistrates' courts. Therefore, I am very much in favour of the family court. As an alternative for dealing with the financial complexities, I do not know whether the services of the county courts, and particularly of the registrars, could be used. They very often have to investigate means in order to deal with judgment summonses and debtors.
One of the major defects of the system are the complications and difficulties of collection and enforcement. This has been highlighted in the debate, and it is something with which I hope Mr. Justice Payne and his committee will get to grips. I am attracted by the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport that a person's National Insurance card should be endorsed. This sort of thing used to happen when I was in the Army, when the records of soldiers often had a note of an affiliation order stamped in bold letters.
I am not certain whether, in those days, the people concerned were particularly worried about it as being something of which they should be ashamed, or whether it was the subject of pride amongst virile soldiery. Nevertheless, something should be done to improve the method of collection and enforcement. The mere fact that the enforcement of collection is difficult is no reason for saying that we should not do justice and raise the limits of the amounts which can be obtained from the courts.
The limitation of age of the children is also absurd. It is quite ridiculous that the age of 13 should mark the automatic ending of an order unless special application is made. I suppose that its goes back to the days when people left school 1865 at the age of 13. In this age it is quite absurd. It should be possible for the payments to continue after the age of 16 in cases of serious ill-health or when children are engaged in further education.
Limited though it is, I support this Measure. It relates justice to a most unfortunate section of the community. If we get this matter of enforcement right, it will relieve the community of a considerable financial burden. If we can raise the limit and make it clear that people can collect the money due to them from those who are responsible in order to maintain the children, this will relieve the National Insurance Fund.
Lastly, I believe this debate and the Bill will demonstrate to people that there is a responsibility for the misfortunes that flow from illegitimacy, and that that responsibility lies not with society but very much with the individual.
§ 12.39 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)
I think that it may be convenient if I intervene at this stage. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has introduced a Bill on a matter of great social importance, a Bill which has given rise to a large number of speeches of very high quality. It is clear that all hon. Members share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concern for the difficulties of the unmarried mother and her child or children, and also of the separated woman with children to support. Again, outside the House it is clear that there is a wide and growing interest in ways of improving and extending help to fatherless families.
I should like to sound a note of caution at the outset. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, only a minority of cases will be affected by the Bill. It may well be, as he and others have stated, that magistrates sometimes make orders which are lower than they should be, but very many of the orders made are low because the defendant does not have the means to pay any more. It would be wrong to a raise false hopes.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
Many magistrates make orders that appear to be low because they want to ensure that the man is willing to pay. It is no good making an order if it is known that the man will not pay. So 1866 it is better to make the order for a low amount—whether magistrates are right or wrong, I am convinced that this happens—in the hope that the man will pay.
§ Mr. Taverne
Low orders are fixed for a number of reasons. It is important for the House not to be misled and to realise that very many of them are low because the defendant cannot pay any more. Therefore, it would be a great mistake to give the impression in the country at large that in future most of these mothers will now get higher orders.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I do not want a wrong impression to be gained. I have spoken to magistrates about this matter and many take the view that, although there is a maximum, only in very exceptional circumstances will they award the maximum amount. They award less, although the man can pay more.
§ Mr. Taverne
I appreciate that point. Of course, this is what happens, but it is also true that in many cases there simply would not be any possibility of extracting higher weekly payments from the defendant concerned.
In its first programme, the Law Commission considered several aspects of family law, with a view to the eventual enactment of a separate code of family law. It singled out the financial limits on magistrates' orders in domestic and affiliation procedures as a matter which it thought required separate and immediate examination. It suggested that a committee should be set up.
In June, 1966, the former Home Secretary set up a committee under the chairmanship of Miss Jean Graham Hall, one of the Metropolitan stipendiary magistrates. The committee has, I understand, completed its examination and is now drafting its report, which it hopes to submit within a few weeks. It is, perhaps, a little unusual that we should be dealing with a Bill on a subject which has been examined by a committee before the recommendations of the committee are known. I have already explained to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as I must make clear to the House, that the Government's final attitude must be reserved until the recommendations of the Graham Hall Committee have been received and considered. It may be that, in the light of these recommendations, 1867 we shall wish to support Amendments to the Bill at a later stage.
Before the report is out I clearly cannot say what those Amendments may be. But if, for example, the Graham Hall Committee were to recommend that a maximum limit on these payments should be entirely abolished, we may well wish to support that. The way the Long Title has been drafted makes it possible. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he himself saw objections to the maximum being abolished in magistrates' courts. I am not sure that I agree with him in the arguments, but it would be quite wrong to start debating now a hypothetical case. We must wait to see what the committee says.
Subject to this general reservation, the Government's view is that the Bill represents a step in the direction which the Law Commission indicated and, although I cannot, for the reasons I have given, say that the Government regard it as a final step. I can certainly say that we support it as far as it goes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), in a speech of characteristic eloquence and humanity, has expressed disappointment at the way in which the Long Title has been drafted, because it precludes many Amendments of the type which hon. Members have spoken of. Many of the points which my hon. Friend and others have raised and which, indeed, have been raised by the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, are points which seem to have considerable merit and which certainly require very careful consideration. They are excluded by the nature of the Long Title, on which, as he has said, we consulted the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Perhaps I should explain why the Long Title has been drafted in this restricted way. First, it would seem a somewhat odd Bill, which, on the face of it, is concerned with a limited purpose as envisaged by its sponsors, but which, by virtue of a very Long Title would seem to be an open invitation for all sorts of different Amendments and extensions in a very wide field. There might be some doubt, indeed, whether some of the points raised and some of the suggested Amendments would be allowed whatever the Long Title said, because one can 1868 hardly enact all the points which have been mentioned, for example, by means of Amendments to the Bill. However, this is a minor point.
The second consideration is clearly much more important. This is a very important field of law in which, as I see it, a major Bill would be desirable in the fairly near future. It is possible that before a year is out there will in any event be a need for major steps of reform because of the nature of Bills now before the House. Suppose, for example, that the House were to pass the Divorce Reform Bill which is promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. William Wilson). If it is passed, it is very likely—indeed, it is almost certain to be the case—sthat there would be a quite different law about the grounds for divorce in the High Court or in the county court from the law about grounds for separation and maintenance payments in magistrates' courts. That would clearly be an anomaly which would have to be remedied, and the whole question of maintenance payments in magistrates' courts would have to be looked at.
Again, there is the question of enforcement, which the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred. Here we are waiting for the report of the Committee under Mr. Justice Payne on the Enforcement of Judgment Debts. The Committee is looking at the enforcement machinery of the courts and, in particular, at the provisions for the attachment of earnings, about which there is, quite rightly a great deal of dissatisfaction. Obviously, this, again, is a very important report when it comes to dealing with this branch of the law. The Law Commissioners have under way their general review of family law to which I have already referred.
I am in no position to commit the Government on future legislation, but it seems to me that we will shortly have to have a wider look at the law concerning fatherless children; and, indeed. I suspect that the need for major changes may well have to be faced before the whole review by the Law Commission on family law is complete. However, to pick out arbitrarily at this stage one or two, or some, of the many points which require examination—say, the many points raised by the National Council for 1869 the Unmarried Mother and Her Child—would, I am sure, be a mistake, because already the law in family courts is scattered amongst almost a dozen Statutes and further piecemeal amendments would not be helpful or appropriate.
For these reasons, which I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool will understand—it is the Government's view—we share this view with the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that the scope of the Bill should not be extended. We reserve our position only as regards Amendments which it may seem right to bring forward in the light of the Graham Hall Report.
I turn now briefly to the Bill. The main provision is that contained in Clause 1 for increasing the limit in respect of children from 50s. to £5 a week. We do not in any sense oppose an increase of this amount, but whether it is the right amount or the right way of dealing with limits is, again, a matter on which we await the views of the Graham Hall Committee. Clause 1(2) and Clause 2 give the Home Secretary power by Order to increase not only the new limit of £5 a week in respect of children, but also the £7 10s. a week limit in respect of wives, which is not in itself increased in the Bill. This is a power exercisable by Statutory Instrument, subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure. If statutory limits are to be retained, the Home Secretary welcomes the grant of this power, which will in future make it possible to increase the limits without the need for further legislation.
When Parliament makes a change in the law of this kind and, at the same time, gives a Minister delegated power for increasing limits in future, or for making changes in future, one would not normally expect this power to be exercised until there had been a change in circumstances calling for a change in the law. But here the circumstances are unusual, because the committee has already studied this in detail but has not yet reported. It wishes to report as soon as possible, but I cannot say exactly when, or when the Government will have reached decisions on its recommendations.
The progress of the report is one unknown factor; the progress of the Bill is another. It is possible, though I hope 1870 that this will not happen, that a Bill might pass into law which did not necessarily reflect Parliament's views on the recommendation of the Graham Hall Committee. If that happened, and if the committee's recommendations—if they commended themselves—could be more closely implemented by the exercise of this power by my right hon. Friend, he might want to consider such an exercise much sooner than would normally be the case. It would be reasonable for such an unusual course to be followed.
§ Mr. Taverne
I have had a discussion with the chairman, and the Committee understands that we hope it to be possible to put into the Bill before it becomes an Act any recommendations which the House might wish.
I want to draw attention to one minor point. Clause 3(3) will ensure not only that orders in the future can be made up to the new limits, but also that the parties to existing orders can go to the court to apply for them to be varied by an increase up to the new limits in appropriate cases. That might deal with some of the problems to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) referred, but it would be a mistake to raise too many hopes.
I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on introducing this very useful Measure. I am sure that the whole House shares my gratitude and that of the Government.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I will start by mentioning a minor point made by the Under-Secretary of State while it is fresh in our minds. He referred to the possibility of an advisory committee reporting at a time when it was too late to incorporate its proposals in the Bill by Amendment, and indicated that if that happened his right hon. Friend might seek to exercise the powers in Clause 3 almost immediately, and without waiting for a change of circumstances. I should think that that was not a proper procedure and if it happened I should object to it on procedural principle.
1871 Advisory committees can be very helpful to us by making particular inquiries, reporting on the facts, expressing their conclusions, and so helping to clarify the minds of Members of each House of Parliament. But Parliament is the legislature and the advisory committees are not. If a Bill is introduced rather before a committee reports—and I see no reason why my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) should not take that step—the Government, if they have views on its subject matter, should make up their mind when it is going through Parliament, getting such advice and sustenance as they can from an advisory committee, informally or formally, and embody their proposals in the Bill by Amendments.
The Amendments can be considered under the proper machinery of a Bill and the Government can take responsibility for their proposals. I see this not as a barren point of procedure, but a real point.
§ Mr. Bell
May I finish, and then I will, of course, give way.
I realise that the power in Clause 3 is by way of affirmative Resolution, but, in practice, it comes to the same thing: the Government decide on a course of action and produce a draft Statutory Instrument, it is considered on the Floor of the House, and the Whips are on. I cannot remember, during my time in the House, which is getting a little long, any occasion when a Government have been defeated on an affirmative Resolution. Under that procedure the House is not really consulted as it is over the introduction of a Bill, because a Bill goes upstairs to Committee and individual Members on both sides press their arguments there and Amendments can be moved. Quite often hon. Members join forces across the Committee and the Government must change their view. Members may agree with the principle, but, perhaps, think that a figure is wrong.
§ Mr. Taverne
I do not want to mislead the hon. and learned Gentleman. If it is possible to put in the committee's recommendation by way of Amendments, it will be done. I was really referring to the eventuality, which I hope will not 1872 happen, of the Bill being through all its stages before the report is available or consideration of it has been possible.
§ Mr. Bell
I understood that, and what I said was based on that assumption. If the committee's report were available the week after the Bill received the Royal Assent and then the Home Secretary presented an affirmative draft Order under Clause 3, I should say that that was wrong Parliamentary procedure, because the House would then lose its power of amendment. It is the responsibility of the Government when a Bill is presented to make up their mind and put their views before Parliament, when we can discuss them under the procedure for Bills. If the Home Secretary does not take notice of what I say, I shall be making another speech on the affirmative Order, if there is one.
I support the Bill and am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has introduced it, for I see it primarily as a Bill to deal with the decline in the value of the currency, and, therefore, it is very simple. The figure of 50s. was not unreasonable when it was fixed, but it is unreasonable now.
I should like to say a little more, because it would be a pity if some of the statements of those who think that the Bill should go wider were left unquestioned, especially since the Minister has suggested that there might be legislation falling outside the long title. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) used a phrase with which I disagree. He said that he was placing the interest of the illegitimate child first. I understand that, but I think that it is wrong. We must place first the interests of the community as a whole. Where I think that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and others who think like him go wrong is in forgetting the interests of the main body of the community.
I take the view that matrimony is a good thing, and that the greatest opportunity for happiness and self-fulfilment is inside a sustained matrimonial bond. I very much regret the extent to which that bond has been weakened since the end of the war and I regret very much—I was not sure whether the hon. Gentleman regretted it—the increase in illegitimate births which has occurred. I believe that the weakening of the bond and the 1873 increase in the number of illegitimate births is due in considerable part to corrosion of the faith or belief that people have had in formal morality, and which has been brought about by the entirely humanitarian activities of those who felt sorry for people who broke the moral law and fell short in some way.
It is hard if there is a stigma on an illegitimate child or on the mother, but if we remove all stigma and all legal consequences from illegitimacy, are we quite sure that we are not lessening the chance that people might be happy inside the sustained bond of matrimony? How can we help weakening marriage if we abolish all the consequences, legal and social, of breaking or ignoring the matrimonial link?
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have listened to what I said. I was dealing with consequences. I said that I understood the humanitarian urge of those who ask that question, but I was pointing out that the happiness of the main body of the community has also to be taken into account and that it is injured or damaged by an excessive attitude of pity for those who are tainted with breach of the moral law. I will not go into the division between the illegitimate child and the mother and father. There are interesting arguments there into which people do not bother to go. Second Reading is not the occasion to discuss to what extent a child is, after all, the physical continuation of its parents and to what extent it should be regarded as a separate person.
The putative or natural father and mother are guilty, let us make no mistake about that. They have done wrong. If one obliterates all sense of guilt, every stigma of shame and every legal consequence, how can we ensure that marriage is not having withdrawn from it some of the support that it ought to have?
§ Mr. Grant
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend about the sanctity of marriage and family life—I believe in it profoundly—but I cannot follow his argument that a measure or steps to make the putative father accept more responsibility for a child, which 1874 after all is innocent, will discourage people from engaging in matrimony.
§ Mr. Bell
I think I have slightly misled my hon. Friend by challenging a phrase that he used. I was not challenging the rest of his argument. I was challenging the argument of the hon. Member for Pontypool. I agree about the responsibility of the father. That is all right; that is the Bill. However, the hon. Member for Pontypool wanted the Bill to go wider. He wanted to abolish the whole aura of shame which surrounded the illegitimacy.
I will move on at once to the next point. He said that it was absolutely wrong—and that I challenge—that these proceedings should take place in what he called an odour of criminality.
§ Mr. Bell
It is no doubt a matter of pronunciation—an aura of criminality.
When I asked him about it he explained that it meant that the woman had to prove the guilt of the man up to the standard of a criminal offence. He felt that that was wrong. But is it wrong? It is a very serious matter for a man to be found to be the father of an illegitimate child. If he wants to say he is not the father, is it not right that the woman should have to go into court to prove that he is? Does the hon. Gentleman, or does anyone, suggest that it should be proved only on the balance of probability, as in a civil action? Is that enough for this blow to be struck at the man? If the magistrates are not sure, they may say, "We do not know, but, on the whole, we think that probably he was". Is that what the hon. Gentleman wants? That is the civil criterion, of course. Somebody has to win, and the one who puts up the better case wins. But in a criminal court matters have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. I have not the least doubt in my mind that the right standard of proof is beyond reasonable doubt, and if there is a reasonable doubt the magistrates ought to find in favour of the husband, as I hope they do.
This attitude, which was put forward by the hon. Member for Pontypool and which seemed to be supported by one or two other hon. Members on the benches opposite, makes me feel a little unhappy 1875 about the whole debate that we have had on this subject. Those hon. Members practising at the Bar who have spoken in this debate have been anxious to say that they had left the magistrates' courts behind. I appeared, some years ago, in a great many such cases, usually for deserted wives or women seeking affiliation orders against men. Just after the war, I appeared, as no doubt others did, for charitable bodies like the Mary Ward Settlement and others who took up the cases of these women. I sometimes felt very sorry for their husbands. The wife was always represented—usually by counsel—and the husband was almost never represented. He was always, in the nature of things, the defendant. He has to be in a magistrates' court in these matrimonial matters. He cannot be the complainant; he can only be the respondent. He can only go there to lose. He may succeed in not losing, but he can never win.
I had great doubt in many cases—I suppose I appeared in hundreds—whether justice had been done. In particular, I often found it hard to believe that the evidence had been such that the magistrates should have been left in no reasonable doubt. I remember very vividly a conversation between myself and two magistrates who often sat together as a bench. They said to me, "Well, in one of these cases if the girl says he did it, we reckon that she knows best and he did it". I see what they meant, of course, but I should not have liked to be an innocent man appearing before those two magistrates.
There is a real aura of opinion in all this subject-matter that the man ought not to escape his responsibilities—that he should not get away with it—and this tends to overlay the crucial question whether he is the man at all. This is what is so unsatisfactory in the whole of this jurisdiction. I, therefore, react very strongly to what the hon. Member for Pontypool was saying about how monstrous it was that the criminal criterion should apply and that there should not be all this fuss and bother about whether the man did it.
§ Mr. Abse
I would be most distressed if any view that I put in the House was not challenged by the hon. and learned 1876 Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), because I would know that I was going wrong. Is he really satisfied with the rule of criminal evidence now applying to the blood test, for example, or the rule which means that if two or three people say that they have slept with a woman, it is not possible to make an order against any of them, as in other countries? These are the sort of things I mean when I talk about the auru of the criminal law in the court which, in any event, should be a family court.
§ Mr. Bell
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meets a serious argument by merely saying that as long as he differs from me he is on the right side. I am far from being alone in this. After all, the existing law happens to coincide with what I am saying. I am defending the status quo, which I think most lawyers would defend. I would unhesitatingly answer the question he has put to me. If it is shown that a woman has had intercourse with three men and that any one of them might be the father—if, indeed, she has been sleeping with three, there might be four or five—if she cannot prove that the man who is charged is the father, I do not see why he should have an affiliation order made against him. It seems to me to be highly relevant to prove to the court that a girl is sleeping generally around the neighbourhood and that she is not entitled to an affiliation order against a particular person. I see no injustice in that, and I am certain that the criminal test is the right one.
The question of the attachment of earnings has been raised. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) is not present. She and I have fought long battles about this in the past. She will remember how I kept one of her Bills about attachment of earnings going all through a Session, until it was made a Government Bill and passed. I can claim that on that Bill I forecast precisely the present difficulties. It was obvious that husbands would move jobs, that there would be extreme difficulty in endorsing orders, and that there would be a monstrous burden on employers in seeking to enforce orders.
All that turned out to be true, and here we are today with the present Measure before us. I do not want to be 1877 unjust to the Front Bench, but there is a slight soupcon of a hint that something may be done. What may it be?—a diminution? No. It will be a further turn of the screw for control and complication I am sure. This is how things go on: we start modestly, and then stage by stage we go on. Everyone thinks it is absolutely scandolous and disgraceful if the basic law that the loss should lie where it falls has any expression at all. Every degree of interference with the individual becomes acceptable. Our desire for administrative neatness and a lack of care for the overheads of industry combine to justify what is done in a chase for precision in adjusting responsibilities between one member of the community and another.
I have taken a great interest in this subject over the years. The hon. Member for Pontypool asked us to sweep away what he called the Victorian attitudes about this matter, and he compared the situation here with the situation in Denmark. He could with equal validity have compared it with the situation in Sweden.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Lady says that it is a nice place to be. We know where she is in politics.
The hon. Member for Pontypool began his speech by saying that he had been brought up as a Socialist. He may go to Scandinavia for his argument on the Bill, but the riposte is obvious. What has happened to marriage and to illegitimacy Scandinavia? Would he be happy to see in Britain the illegitimacy rate in Stockholm? I wonder.
§ Mr. Bell
That is why I did not want to get involved in this subject. It is a subject of enormous complication. If certain reforms in this context are introduced and abortion is legalised at the same time, the matter becomes extremely complicated. By the time one has unwoven all the strands, one is in very deep water. However, if I may be so incautious, taking into account the effect of the various provisions in Sweden, the law on abortion, the shortening of the time for getting a divorce and remarrying so that divorce and remarriage may be undertaken before the baby is born—the most common course of all in Sweden now—I would say that the illegitimacy rate in Sweden rose by 50 per cent.
I am being very incautious now, but I should not be a bit surprised if it were 50 per cent. in Stockholm, taking into account all the matters which I have mentioned. I am speaking here of children conceived out of wedlock. Anything anywhere near that is horrifying, and I hope that we shall not introduce a Scandinavian society here. I do not believe that it gives personal fulfilment or creates happiness.
I unhesitatingly say, therefore, that I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has chosen the Bill he has and not the Bill which the hon. Member for Pontypool would like him to have chosen. I am glad that he has been sustained in that choice by the Home Office and sorry that the Home Office looks like weakening in its good resolution. I serve notice on the Minister that, if it does weaken in its resolution and he introduces a Bill to upset the matrimonial concepts on which life in this country is based in order, perhaps, to bring it more closely into consonance with the law of Red China, which was cited with approval by the hon. Member for Pontypool, he will find me once again making a speech on that Bill, and it will not be one confined within the compass within which this speech, reluctantly, has been kept.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I can only remind the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) that it is one of the concepts of the United Nations, which we shall bear in mind as we enter International Human Rights Year, that children should be regarded as being born equal. If the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that stigma, shame, disgrace and difficulty act in any way as a deterrent to illegitimacy, the figures of illegitimacy in this country ought, if he is right, to be going down instead of going up, as they are.
Sadly, there are many young marriages which collapse in the early years because those marriages took place when the girl was pregnant and she felt that she must get married, for reasons of respectability and not for love. Though, of course, sometimes there was love and an intention to get married anyway. But there are compulsions on many girls to get married in this situation because of the very pressures of society which the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think have been abandoned.
Of all sections of the community in the country who are aware of oppression, difficulty and practical problems, unmarried mothers living alone are, perhaps, pre-eminent. The unmarried mother living alone is in many cases in a new environment, having left her home; she is paying a high rent; she goes out to work at low wages, and has not enough support from the local services in the way of day nurseries and other help. To suggest that our permissive society is giving the unmarried mother too good a time is to be quite out of harmony with the realities of many of these cases.
§ Mrs. Jeger
No—I am sorry. I have been asked to hurry up.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg)—I hope that he will take it as a compliment—reminds me a little of Ellen Wilkinson today. That might appear rather farfetched, but I recall her saying once, when she was lucky in the Ballot, that a Member in that situation had two choices—either to pick a little Bill that he was pretty sure of getting through, 1880 or to pick a big Bill which was so important that he stood no chance of getting through as a private Member.
The division is not quite so sharp nowadays as it was when Ellen Wilkinson was talking, but I could not help thinking that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had chosen almost too little a Bill. It may seem churlish to say this when the whole House is deeply grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to discuss a most important and difficult subject.
I want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to realise that we are speaking of only a very small fraction of the population. Only about 14 per cent. of unmarried mothers are awarded court orders, and of that number only about 8 per cent. get the present maximum of £2 10s. How many of those would be regarded by the magistrates as coming up to the new maximum, we do not know. At present, the average order awarded is for 33s. We are talking about a very small number.
I am grateful that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has brought in a Bill which will do something, but it is essential that we widen its application. We must show our equal concern for those thousands of women who are not receiving anything near the present maximum. I know that part of this is due to the sense of reality in a magistrates' court. About 80 per cent. of those men concerned, many of them very young, earn less than £14 a week, and it is unrealistic to impose upon them a figure that they could not meet.
The problem of a man trying to keep two families will have to be examined and action taken in future legislation, especially if we are to amend our divorce laws. It is one of the most urgent questions we have to face—whether there is any sense of realism in pursuing this attitude, or whether we should realise that even our very attempt to make one wage packet support two families is serving only to contribute to spreading family poverty wider.
I have one or two suggestions to make to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I would like to see the maximum go out of the Bill altogether. I have great respect for my old friend, Jean Graham Hall, and the committee which has been 1881 working on this subject, but I should be very inclined, whatever the committee suggests, to suggest that the House must go forward in removing the maximum, if necessary over-riding any report made to us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has referred to a whole list of reports of which the House has taken no notice at all. I hope that we will find ourselves in agreement with this Committee in having the maxima taken out. Why should there be a maximum of £5 if the man is earning £500 a week? I see no sense or reason in that. On the other hand, if the man is earning a minimal wage, or has another family to support, we know that the social security system has to underpin the unmarried mother and her child, the divorced, separated or deserted wife.
Although the debate has had to be drawn rather narrowly, I hope that both sides of the House will try to think more widely, in the context of the whole problem of the fatherless child. Whether fatherlessness comes from being born out of wedlock, desertion, divorce, separation or death, it is for the whole of society to see that whoever else suffers, it is not the child.
This whole business should be discussed with the Ministry of Social Security and brought much more within the framework of the provision we make through social insurance. We do that in practice and we might just as well look at the whole pattern and principle and try to provide that the fatherless child is not financially disadvantaged, whatever the cause of its fatherlessness.
Because I am anxious that the child should be protected, along with the unmarried mother, it is essential to take the collection of these amounts away from the courts. It is intolerable that a woman who has been awarded some payment by the court, whether in circumstances of divorce or separation, or through an affiliation order, should have to go to a court to collect the money. There is an air of criminality about police courts. Many of these women try to go out to work. Courts are not open outside of normal working hours and many of them are so over-crowded—and I do not blame the officials at all for this—that a very large number of them will 1882 not accept a telephone call from the mother asking whether her money has come in.
As a result, she has to take her children on the bus and queue up at the court with people paying fines for offences. Why should she have to be in the same situation? Then she may find that the money has not come in, and be told that she may wait to see if it arrives in the second post. If it does not she has to take another bus ride, to the Social Security office, otherwise she will have no money for the weekend. Sometimes she is told to go back again to the court in case the money has arrived in a later post. Once an award has been made, why should not a woman have a book of orders, something like our Family Allowance or Social Security pension books, that can be taken to the Social Security office or a post office, so that the woman can collect this money as a right? The court has awarded it to her.
The whole question of these allowances ought to be looked at much more as a kind of extended family allowance for the fatherless child. We should treat it more in the way that I have outlined. The Ministry of Social Security feels that it does not want to be involved as a debt collecting agency. This is playing with words, because to a large extent it is doing that at the moment, and proving infinitely more successful than these poor women in finding and getting back money from men against whom orders have been made.
It would be a big step forward if we could remove the atmosphere of the courts once the order has been made. If a woman wants it varied she would go back to the court, but I hate the sordid, time-consuming, humiliating queueing up to collect these few shillings, or to find that the few shillings are not there, week after week. I hope that this will not be considered to be beyond consideration at later stages in the Bill.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks. I was hoping that my hon. and learned Friend 1883 on the Front Bench was listening even more attentively to the remarks that I was making, as this would be his responsibility.
§ The Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)
§ Mrs. Jeger
The other point on which I hope we can get agreement is that of age. It is absurd to have the orders expiring when a child reaches the age of 13 unless the mother takes special action. I hope that this is the kind of amendment which can properly be made in Committee.
It is tempting to wander very widely over the whole subject of our permissive society and debate some of the interesting philosophical points that have been made by various speakers. Although it is tempting, I will, as usual, resist temptation and say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the House and the country are indebted to him for enabling us to give some of our Parliamentary time to this difficult and complicated question. I wish him godspeed with his Bill. May it get better and bigger as it proceeds from stage to stage.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) on introducing the Bill. Apart from the attitude of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), it has received unanimous support. It is a small Bill, no doubt because it was not thought controversial and is likely to reach the Statute Book as quickly as what is virtually an unopposed Measure can.
Everyone will agree that the maximum sum awarded to wives for themselves and for their children, and for children in affiliation proceedings in magistrates' courts is far too low. The Bill will raise the limits for children from £2 10s. to £5 a week, but for unmarried women the allowance of £7 10s. will not be increased, although I gather that the Secretary of State will have power in both cases to increase the amount by order.
The present maximum is far too low, but I am not sure whether the new maximum is enough. As I said earlier, 1884 magistrates tend to award a sum below the maximum and it is not right to say that they measure the amount according to the means of the man. No doubt they do so in many cases and will continue to do so, but if there is a maximum amount, whether it is a sentence or a fine for an offence or a sum such as we are discussing, they tend to fix the award below the maximum.
The amount for the women will still be £7 10s. a week, and I am not sure whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not put too much faith in the Secretary of State's willingness to act expeditiously. I am afraid that that limit will apply for a considerable time. Married women can, of course, obtain an order for themselves or their children without a maximum in the High Court and now that legal aid is available, no doubt many will have recourse to the High Court, but affiliation proceedings are restricted to magistrates' courts.
I agree that there are some advantages in people of small or moderate means seeking their remedy in the magistrates' courts. It is certainly more expeditious, and it might be said that, because there is a maximum on the amount of a claim in the county courts, there should be a limitation in magistrates' courts. However, there is a real disparity here and the remedy in money terms should not be limited but should relate to the circumstances of the case, and particularly to the means of the husband or the father.
I heard with interest the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that magistrates' courts were not fitted to do this as the High Court is. I am not sure that he is right. He knows as well as I that, in the High Court, these matters are dealt with by a registrar in chambers. Is he more fitted to deal with the matter than lay magistrates who spend many hours hearing proceedings in the domestic court? When he thinks of some of the battles which I am sure he has had with the registrars in the past about the amount of awards to wives, I am sure that he will agree that a better decision and hearing might often have been given in the domestic court——
§ Mr. Weitzman
There may be something in that, but, as I said in an intervention earlier, magistrates' courts have changed considerably since the old days. Nowadays, lay magistrates do a tremendous amount of work in domestic courts, spending two or three hours on one case and going into the greatest detail, and they may often give great attention to this aspect of the matter. We should carefully consider whether the maximum limit should not be abolished completely.
I realise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to secure one remedy, an extension of the money limit, as soon as possible, but I wish that he had resisted the blandishments of the Home Office and incorporated in the Bill some of the suggestions in the interesting memorandum of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child. That set out a great deal which should commend itself to the House.
I appreciate that the House set up, in July, 1966, the Jean Graham Hall Committee to inquire into statutory maintenance limits, but that committee, which will report shortly, has very limited terms of reference. They are limited to examine… the financial limits … for the maintenance of wives and children, to consider the appropriate machinery for adjusting such limits to changing circumstances ….That is the same sort of limitation in its way as appears in the Long Title of the Bill.
I appreciate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not waited for that Report and, possibly, Government legislation which may follow any recommendations, but, in spite of what my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary said, this is an urgent problem. It deals with the well-being of separated wives and children, legitimate or illegitimate, and that well being must obviously depend largely on the financial means available to support them and, for children, to educate them. Despite what my hon. and learned Friend said, Governments are very slow to act. The Long Title limits the scope of the Bill 1886 and there will be limitations in the report of the committee.
My only criticism is that I wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had taken the opportunity of the Ballot to go considerably further in his Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister said that we have the Law Commission now, which is doing excellent work, that the forthcoming Divorce Bill will alter the grounds on which a divorce can be given and that, because of these alterations, we should wait and deal with the problem later. But my experience over my many years in the House, tells me that it will be a long time before they tackle some of these urgent problems.
I listened with interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and support a great deal of what he said. I would say particularly to my hon. and learned Friend that many of the points which require urgent attention do not depend on the Divorce Bill or its consequences or on what the Law Commission will say. For instance, there is a time limit of 12 months, with certain exceptions, on affiliation proceedings. This may well cause considerable hardship, particularly when women are reluctant to take proceedings. How does that depend on the Divorce Bill and the alteration of the grounds for divorce, or on what may be done subsequently by the Government on the recommendations of the Graham Hall Committee, or on anything else? Why could that not be dealt with immediately in a Bill of this kind? As to the restriction that the proceedings can be taken only by a mother, why could that not be dealt with?
There are other matters that require the greatest possible attention by the Government. There is the question of affiliation orders made in this country and in the Commonwealth. Why are they not made effective in both? There is a need for reciprocal agreements so that an order made here can be effective in a foreign country. I remember the very sad case of a young woman constituent of mine who was left with the offspring of an American soldier and was unable to obtain any financial assistance.
There is also the very important question of the age limit to which an order in respect of children, legitimate or illegitimate, operates and whether it 1887 should not be extended for children who are physically or mentally ill and unable to support themselves, and to provide support for illegitimate children in their education after the age of 16. None of these matters depends upon alterations to be made in the law consequent upon the Divorce Bill with other matters that come along in future.
Some time ago the Government published an interesting White Paper dealing with the creation of family courts. My hon. and learned Friend may say that that should await the Divorce Bill. I pay tribute to the care and attention given by lay magistrates in these cases, but there is a great deal to be said for these problems to be dealt with—problems of separated wives and unmarried women with offspring—by family courts. I hope that this can be hurried up because the problems are very important.
I apprehend that neither within the terms of the Bill nor within the reference of the Jean Graham Hall Committee can any of the matters I have raised be discussed. I touch upon them only for the purpose of expressing regret that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to deal with some of them. Hon. Members spend a great deal of time discussing economic affairs and foreign affairs, subjects which are undoubtedly of paramount importance, but Governments appear to be reluctant to deal expeditiously with problems such as these which affect the lives and future of thousands of women and children. Too often it is left to the necessarily very limited scope of a Bill introduced by a private Member.
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has afforded us the opportunity of discussing these matters. I believe it to be our duty in this debate to draw the attention of the Government to the urgent need for much greater action to deal with many of these vital problems. I again offer my congratulations to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has done to remedy at least some of the defects of the law, and I hope that the Bill will have a quick passage to the Statute Book.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)
Like my hon. and learned Friend the 1888 Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), I join in paying tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). When an hon. Member brings forward a Private Bill he is, unfortunately, often criticised for doing that which he ought not to do or leaving undone those things which he ought to do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has shown the humanity that we all know he possesses by bringing in a Bill of this nature when he had the extreme good fortune to be first in the Ballot. It would have been easy for an occupant of the Opposition Front Bench to use the opportunity to bring in a Bill aimed at harassing the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has resisted that temptation. It would have been easy for him, since he is always in the cockpit of controversy, to introduce a Bill which would put the House in the cockpit of controversy. But he has not yielded to that temptation. It is a great tribute to his humanity that he brought in such a Bill as this one.
Much of the debate has ranged over the problems of the illegitimate child and its mother. It may be forgotten by the House and the Press that the majority of people who will be affected by the Bill are deserted wives and the children of deserted wives. Most of the Bill is concerned not only with maintenance provisions for illegitimate children but with those for legitimate children, and in Clause 2 provision is made to extend the maximum amount for the wife.
On the question of what we quaintly term "illegitimate children", I disagree with the hon. Gentleman who appeared to claim that there should be some aura of shame and stigma attaching to such a child. How can a child be illegitimate? How can a child be unlawful? In the old days we used the word "bastard", which is much more sensible than "illegitimate". How can a person's very being be unlawful? His creation is not unlawful in the criminal law and not unlawful in the civil law. It just means that the child is born out of wedlock.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) spoke about the fatherless family. That is the concept on which we should concentrate both on Second Reading and in Committee—families where the 1889 father does not exist whether through illegitimacy, separation or death. My hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary said that the Government recognise the need for a comprehensive review of family law. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, the Bill is only a step on the way. It is very important that the House should do something urgently about the collection of moneys under maintenance orders for children.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North was right in what he said about magistrates' courts. Many magistrates spend most of their time trying criminal offences, and they look upon an order, whether in respect of an illegitimate child or of a deserted wife, from the concept of the maximum fine. If one drives without due care and attention the maximum fine is £100, but rarely is a person fined the maximum unless it is a very heinous offence or he is a very persistent offender.
The maximum amount here is for wives £7 10s. and for children £2 10s. The courts may consider whether to specify the maximum. Suppose the court has two cases in succession, and in one the deserting husband earns £45 a week and the magistrates make an order of £2 10s. for each child. In the next case the father may be earning only £24 a week. If the magistrates adopt the "fine" procedure, the aura of criminality, they may say that as the man is earning only £24 a week whereas the previous one was earning £45 a week they will order a payment of 30s. or 35s. a week. That is the big deterrent of having a figure in the Bill. I concede, however, to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone that politics being what they are, and getting a Bill through the House being what it is, it was essential to include some sort of limit.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North that the terms of the Graham Hall Committee related purely to the maximum amount of an order and not to the method and means of collection. There is at present a great deal of trouble about this. It is not a matter with which the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone can 1890 be expected to deal in a Private Member's Bill because it involves legislation, the Government machine and the expenditure of public money.
It should, however, be said in this Second Reading debate, and following what my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South said, that the machinery of collection of an order should be removed from the courts and should be a responsibility of the Ministry of Social Security. I do not for one moment support the somewhat bizarre speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). The collection machinery should be such that an order which is made by the court should be an order for the Ministry to pay the money to the deserted wife and her family, and the Ministry, with all its facilities and resources, should collect the money at source from the husband, irrespective of whether he changes his job.
I totally reject the suggestion that the mother of an illegitimate child should be able to obtain her order from the Ministry of Social Security and that the unfortunate father should not be harassed. On an entirely different matter, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said that, unless British industry was prepared to accept and to assimilate technological change, the country would be ruined. Unless the people accept their responsibilities, including their family responsibilities, whether with or without the protection of matrimony, we as a civilisation are finished. The idea that the community should support illegitimate children could be equally carried through to the idea that the community should as of right support illegitimate children. There must be a level of responsibility by the father of a child as well as by the mother.
§ Mr. Oakes
As to the figure of one-eighth, some children are illegitimate in that the parents are not married but live together as a family and in such cases an order is not applied for. Some parents of illegitimate children prefer not to go through the humiliating procedure of a 1891 court order and, therefore, do not apply for one.
Even in cases when the Ministry pays to the mother because the father does not support the child, I do not think that the Ministry sufficiently rigorously enforces collection of the money from the father. Hence, in some cases, but not in all, it becomes a burden. Through the use of its computer, the Ministry has facilities for tracing the father much more easily than the court or the mother can do.
I hope that during the passage of the Bill my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be prepared to give to the Committee the assistance that he has obviously given to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone in reforming, if possible, the whole concept of family law, making life much easier for the deserted wife and her children and for the mother of an illegitimate child, and making the responsible person—the husband or father—pay to the Ministry of Social Security his share of the burden, so that the community does not have to carry that burden because of his default and neglect.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
What I have to say can be said within a very few minutes, as I know that other hon. Members wish to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) on his excellent exposition in introducing the Bill. Following the astounding figures given by my right hon. and learned Friend, I say at once that I support the Bill, that I hope that a correction will be quickly applied by the Home Office, and that the Bill will go through smoothly.
There is one aspect which I should like to introduce and to ask the Home Office to consider. It concerns the immigrant who comes to this country as a pregnant woman, who has her child and is immediately thrown into the hands of the State for social security. This is a very real problem which is bound to continue to arise.
Tribute should be paid to my right hon. and learned Friend for introducing the Bill. Its great importance has been demonstrated by the width of the debate. 1892 I agreed with nearly everything that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) said. I hope that the Bill will be given every consideration and will go through Committee smoothly.
The question of social security and the extra burden which is thrown upon the country at this time is a matter of real importance. Therefore, the country as a whole will be grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for introducing the Bill, which will correct a wrong which should have been dealt with long ago.
§ 1.57 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)
I would like to add my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). With other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome the Bill. I also share the views of those who have expressed a sense of disappointment that the Bill does not go further, both in regard to the amounts to which the existing maintenance figures would be raised and also as to the scope of the Bill in many other matters affecting the parties coming within its provisions.
I am moved particularly to support the Bill to the utmost because it will give undoubted help in the case of a great many children born out of wedlock. The sponsor of the Bill has made it clear that it refers to children born both in and out of wedlock, provided that the circumstances of their case bring them within its scope.
It is clear from the debate that a particular sense of compassion is felt by hon. Members, a compassion which is widespread throughout the nation as a whole, in respect of the difficulties of many illegitimate children. On this point, I must express my disagreement with some of the things that were said by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) with whose views I am normally in agreement.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said concerning the sanctity of marriage. I go the whole way with him in that respect. At the same time, however, I see nothing inconsistent with that view in feeling a great degree of compassion for illegitimate children. Wherever moral responsibility may lie, it cannot possibly attach to such children, and it is the duty of this House and of society to 1893 do everything that is humanly possible to minimise the disadvantages from which such children suffer. I am quite certain that, with the exception of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, the view that has been expressed is agreed with by every hon. Member who has spoken.
Illegitimate children have a special call upon the compassion of everyone because of the circumstances which affect the lives of so many of them today. We know, for instance, that only 14 per cent. of the mothers of illegitimate children apply for affiliation orders. On 1st January, 1966, more than one-third of all extant affiliation orders were in arrears for amounts of over £20. One-quarter of the orders that fall into arrears, do so within six months; half, within 12 months, and three-quarters within two years.
Hon. Members have referred to the apparent smallness of the awards made by many courts in respect of such children, and we must note that in 1961, the first full year after the maximum award was increased to the present 50s., the average amount awarded was only 28s.; and that, by 1966—five years later—it had risen to an average of only 33s. These figures must, by any standard, be regarded as grossly insufficient. Half the mothers get less than 35s. a week, and one-third of them get less than 25s. a week. This is, to an extent, explainable by the fact that, in 1965, 80 per cent. of the fathers had incomes of less than £14 a week, and many were no doubt keeping a second family out of that low wage.
Reference has been made already to what many of us would regard as the unfortunate fact that while the deserted or divorced wife may receive maintenance of up to £7 10s. a week for herself, the deserted unmarried mother can receive nothing for her own support.
I add my support to those hon. Members who think that a great deal can be said for not having a maximum at all. I agree that this is a difficult point. I listened with very great care to what my right hon. and learned Friend had to say about it. Clearly, he had weighed very much the advantages of fixing a maximum as against having no limit at all, but I confess to sharing the doubts of a number of hon. Members as to whether the right solution may not be to do away with the maximum altogether.
1894 There are at least three practical disadvantages in having a maximum. The first, which has been mentioned earlier, is that the courts tend to award less, and very much less, than the maximum even where, because of the man's circumstances, it does not appear to be necessary to limit the amount. A great disadvantage in fixing a maximum is that men who could afford to pay above the maximum may refuse to come to a private arrangement to pay more, simply because they are protected by the fact that the courts cannot award more than a certain amount. It is worthy of mention that, at present, only 8 per cent. of mothers of children born out of wedlock receive maximum orders.
On the question of the difficulty of enforcing orders, I add my plea to that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) that affiliation orders made in Commonwealth countries and in Britain should be made enforceable throughout the Commonwealth by extension of the Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act, 1920. I understand that this matter has been under discussion among the various members of the Commonwealth, and I hope that before long it may pass out of the realm of discussion into that of decision and possibly of action, so that something can be done.
I was called upon to deal with a most distressing case in my constituency, for which I could find no kind of practical solution at all. During the last war a girl was married to a Canadian soldier who was on service in this country. They settled down in a home in my constituency, and three children were born of the marriage. Suddenly, without any warning or explanation, the husband left the home and returned to Canada. His wife was left without any means at all of getting satisfaction against the husband in respect of his undoubted obligations to her and the three children.
This is a deplorable state of affairs, particularly existing within the Commonwealth, where it should be possible to work out some solution. The difficulties are even greater in the case of foreign countries, but I should have thought that, even here, reciprocal agreements for the registration and enforcement of foreign orders could be reached among the various nations.
1895 There are certain defects in the law as it now stands, some of which have already been referred to. It is ridiculous, for instance, that payments made under affiliation orders should cease when the child has reached the age of 13—an age that is utterly unrealistic in the circumstances of the present day. I know that the order can contain a direction that payment shall continue until the child is 16, but it seems to me and, I think, to other hon. Members who have spoken, that if the child is engaged in a course of education or training after the age of 16, the court should have power to extend the period for which the payments are to be made by, perhaps, not more than two years at a time so that the extended period may be reviewed and the child's need assessed as time goes on. This problem will become even more acute when the school-leaving age is raised in, as we hope, the near future.
The law is also clearly deficient in that the order does not continue indefinitely in the case of a child who is physically or mentally ill, or incapable of self-support.
These are all matters that I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend would have been only too pleased to include within the scope of his Bill, but for the limitations he felt were upon him having regard to the rather restricted character of Bills introduced under private Members' procedure.
This House has today appeared in one of its best rôles. We have been able to come together to debate a matter affecting a class of the community that strongly needs the support and help that the House can give. It has been said that no man can rise higher than when he bends down to help a child. That is what the House has been seeking to do today. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to take part in this debate can take satisfaction in having made some contribution to a Bill which, while of limited usefulness, will undoubtedly do something for the benefit of sections of our community that sorely need the help that the Bill can give.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).