HL Deb 20 April 1863 vol 170 cc379-81

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a: (The Duke of Newcastle.)


said, that in the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act of last Session a clause was introduced to enable the guardians of the poor to recover from putative fathers the cost of maintenance of illegitimate children. That was the 10th clause. It was not clearly expressed, but he thought no doubt could he entertained of the intention of the Legislature. The clause provided that when oath should have been made before any two justices of petty sessions by the mother of any illegitimate child, and the same should have been supported by corroborative evidence, it should be lawful for the boards of guardians, by an order of affiliation, to recover the cost of maintenance of the child during the whole time he had been receiving relief, and such cost should be recoverable by process before the quarter sessions. Now, there could he no doubt that the intention of the Legislature as expressed in that clause was, that the order of affiliation should be made by the justices in petty sessions, and that the boards of guardians were to go to the sessions and then and there recover the cost of maintenance from the father of the child. It happened, however, that the Law Adviser of the Crown in Ireland took a totally different view of the matter, and he expressed his opinion that the order of affiliation was to be made, not before the justices who were to take the oath of the woman, but at the quarter sessions, and a circular had been issued to the various boards of guardians directing them to take this course. That was an erroneous construction of the Act; and it was to carry out this erroneous view of the law adviser that this Bill had been introduced. It was quite a novelty in the annals of legislation that there should be something like a declaratory Act to give the effect of law to an erroneous construction of a clause in a previous Act.


said, he could not agree with the view taken by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford), that there could be no doubt of the meaning of the clause in the Act of last Session. On the contrary, it was because there was a doubt, and a substantial one, that the Bill had been introduced. It was all very well for the noble and learned Lord, in his place in Parliament, to say that the view of the Law Advisers of the Crown in Ireland was plainly erroneous. But when the opinion of the Law Officers was quite clear, the Government had nothing to do but to endeavour to settle the question by introducing a declaratory Bill. [Lord CHELMSFORD: The opinion of the Law Adviser.] He believed the opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General had been taken upon it. He would nut be positive, but he was strongly inclined to think so. Under those circumstances, there was nothing either irregular or un-Parliamentary in the Bill.


said, that the Select Committee on this Bill was composed of five Members of the Government, three of their supporters, and only four noble Lords from the Opposition side of the House. Their Lordships were told that lawyers were the best persons to decide the questions at issue under this Bill. But these questions were not questions of law, but questions of fact depending on the value of evidence and character of the witnesses. The chairman of quarter sessions in Ireland was a very different person from the same functionary in England. He was a barrister appointed by the Government, who could, and usually did, sit alone, and decide the matters before him. He saw no reason for removing these cases from those magistrates who, from their local knowledge, could weigh the evidence, in order to saddle the boards of guardians with additional expense, He would move that the Bill be read a third time that day six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this Day Six Months.")


said, that having served on the Committee, he was so far from approving the original provision that he had suggested an Amendment which had given it a different character. The judgment of the Law Officers of the Crown was, however, established in Ireland, and the present Bill had become necessary to declare the law.

On Question, That ("now") stand Part of the Motion? Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 3a accordingly, with the Amendments, and passed, and sent to the Commons.