HL Deb 06 March 1863 vol 169 cc1121-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill, stated that its object was to enable Boards of Guardians to recover costs of maintenance of illegitimate children in Ireland in certain cases. It was an amendment of the Law passed at the end of last Session upon the construction of which doubts had arisen and conflicting decisions had been given. The process against the putative father was to be by civil bill, to be heard before the Chairman at quarter sessions.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, he objected to the measure, as did many Irish Members of the House of Commons whose opinions were entitled to the highest consideration. No doubt these cases imposed a very unpleasant duty on the magistrates; but in his opinion they were far more competent to deal with them than an assistant barrister from Dublin, who could not understand the character of the people or weigh the value of the corroborative evidence. He objected also to the hardship it would inflict on the woman who had to make application under it. The existing law had acted well in Ireland, and he trusted their Lordships would not assent to this unnecessary alteration. He would move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

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


said, that although the Bill had been introduced by the Government, he should not be induced to support the Amendment on that account. It would require some ingenuity to convert a question as to Irish illegitimate children into a party question; his only object was that their legislation should be satisfactory and adapted to the occasion that called for interference. The object of the Bill, as he understood, was to repeal the 10th section of the Irish Poor Law Act, and to substitute other provisions instead of it. He thought, however, that the necessity for the Bill had arisen in consequence of an erroneous construction which had been put upon the Poor Law Act by the Law Officers of the Crown in Ireland. The Bill was, in truth, a declaratory Bill, to make law the erroneous opinion of the law advisers of the Crown. The 10th section provided, that oath having been made before any two justices by the mother of any illegitimate child, and that the same should have been supported by corroborative evidence, it should be lawful for the guardians to proceed by civil bill before the barrister at quarter sessions to recover from the putative father the cost of maintaining the child and the costs of the proceedings. He understood that, in consequence of the opinion of the Law Officers, a circular had been addressed to the magistrates, which stated that their duty was simply to receive the sworn information of the mother, and thereupon to return that information to quarter sessions, where corroborative evidence was to be heard. He did not think that this was the correct construction of the statute. He also thought that the course pointed out would lead to great hardships, and money would be extorted under threat of swearing such information. The noble Lord (Viscount Lifford) who had moved the Amendment to the second reading had himself brought in a measure by which he proposed to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of this country except in this, that proceedings were to be taken by the guardians instead of by the woman; and it was also provided that the money should be recovered by summary process instead of by civil bill. He (Lord Chelmsford) suggested that this Bill should be read a second time, and then that it and the measure of the noble Lord (Viscount Lifford) should both Lo referred to a Select Committee.


agreed that some legislation was absolutely necessary, but the subject certainly required a great deal of consideration.


said, the real question was whether the court of quarter sessions or of potty sessions was the proper tribunal for deciding questions of bastardy. The provision of this measure was in accordance with the recommendation of the Irish Poor Law Commission. He could not have acceded to the Motion of his noble Friend (Viscount Lifford), who wished to postpone the second reading of this Bill; but he thought his noble and learned Friend (Lord Chelmsford) made a very fair proposal in wishing to refer this particular question to a Select Committee.


said, that it was the intention of the Legislature, when passing the Bill of last Session, that the jurisdiction should be vested in the assistant barrister at quarter sessions, and the tenth section embodied the recommendation of the Irish Committee, ipsis-simis verbis, The doubts which had arisen on the subject were in consequence of words which had been introduced in their Lordships' House without any intention of departing from the principle recommended by the Committee on the Irish Poor Law which sat in 1861. There was this strong objection to making the magistrates at petty sessions decide bastardy questions, that the board of guardians were to take the initiative; and as the magistrates were ex-officio guardians, they would be plaintiffs quâ guardians, and judges quâ justices at petty sessions. In addition to such a serious objection, it was to be remembered that the assistant barristers were gentlemen learned in the law; while the magistrates at petty sessions were not, as a general rule, learned in the law. With respect to the proposition to refer the question to a Select Committee, he was in the hands of the House; but after what he had stated, perhaps their Lordships would be of opinion that such a course was unnecessary. His own objection to it was that it would cause delay in the passing of a Bill to render the law certain on the point of jurisdiction.


in reply, said, that this Bill was accepted only as an alternative for the English system.


said, he should earnestly press upon the noble Duke that he should accede to the proposition; and he begged to state to their Lordships his conviction, that while the construction which had been put upon the existing Act, was, he believed, quite erroneous, yet that the measure involved questions very different from mere questions of tribunal. It had been held — quite erroneously, as he thought—that it was the duty of the guardians who made the preliminary inquiry to consider the question who was the putative father in these cases. But that would be instituting an inquiry behind a man's back. All that was required at the preliminary inquiry was, that the mother's oath should be supported by corroborative evidence. Unfortunately, that was not the view which had been taken by the law advisers of the Crown in Ireland, and hence the necessity for the present measure.


said, his noble Friend had no wish to oppose what seemed to be the general wish of the House, and would therefore accede to the Motion for a Select Committee, on the understanding that there would be no unreasonable delay in proceeding with the Bill.


said, that with that understanding he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn: Then the Original Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.