HL Deb 24 November 1884 vol 294 cc223-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, reminded their Lordships that it had been brought before them on the 4th of August last, when he had fully explained its provisions, but, in deference to the views of the noble and learned Earl opposite (Earl Cairns) and of his noble and learned Friend behind him (Lord Bramwell), it had not been proceeded with. He explained that the object of the Bill was to amend the law relating to the custody and guardianship of infants, and to amend it in points which were a discredit to the present state of their law. Its main object was to constitute the wife, if she survived her husband, guardian of her children. It too frequently happened that the husband was not a person who ought to be intrusted with the custody and guardianship of children. It also frequently happened to the wife that the knowledge of her husband being wholly unfitted for the guardianship of her children, had caused her last hours to be embittered by that reflection. This Bill, therefore, sought to provide a remedy, and to enable the wife, on an application, to obtain the sanction of the Court to the appointment of a guardian to her children to act after her decease in conjunction with the husband. The mother of any infant might apply to the Court for the appointment of some fit person or persons to act as guardian or guardians of such infant after her death jointly with the father of such infant; and the Court, if satisfied that, having regard to the character or habits of the father, or other grave cause, such appointment was necessary in the interests of the infant, might appoint a guardian If the guardian or guardians were unable to agree on a question affecting the welfare of the infant any of them might apply to the Court for its directions. The Court might, upon the application of the mother of any infant, make such order as it might think fit regarding the custody of the infant, having regard to the welfare of the infant and to the conduct of the parents and to the wishes as well of the mother as of the father, and might alter, vary, or discharge such order on the application of either parent, or, after the death of either parent, of any guardian. The Bill now before the House was in terms the same as it had come from the Commons. It had been carried last Session by very large majority in the House of Commons, being supported by many leading Members of the Conservative Party. Since last Session, his having charge of the Bill had brought him into communication with a large number of persons interested in the question. If the present Sittings ended by Prorogation, his introducing the Bill at present would be useless; but if they ended by an adjournment, its chance of becoming law would be increased by being proceeded with now. He had presented a large number of Petitions in favour of the Bill, and it was certainly considered to be a subject of the greatest importance. It had excited more passionate interest among ladies than even the great subject of including them in the Franchise. If their Lordships desired that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, with the view of examining its details and making it as perfect a measure as possible, he had no objection.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Fitzgerald.)


said, he desired that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. He did not object to the principle or to the intention of the Bill; but it required very careful consideration and very careful guarding against possible mischiefs which might result from its provisions. He had been written to by a distinguished legal Member of the House of Commons requesting that he should watch this measure and take care that no harm would come of it. He might mention another name connected with the House of Commons, a solicitor who probably knew more about this matter than a barrister did, because he came much more into contact with the persons interested. This Gentleman also very much objected to the Bill in its present shape without some guard or qualification being introduced. He, therefore, thought the Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee.


said, it would be in their Lordships' recollection that many of those noble Lords who addressed the House in the last Session agreed as to the importance of the Bill, and the impossibility of insisting that those were unreasonable, who thought it necessary to examine its provisions with care, in order to see that they were such as were right in themselves and productive of no mischiefs. He was not really aware of any mischief which would be likely to result from the passing of the Bill exactly as it at present stood; but he agreed with his noble and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell) in saying that this was not the time for going into details, and the course which had been mentioned was one which their Lordships ought to accede to.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a, accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.

And, on December 1, the Lords following were named of the Committee:

L. Chancellor. L. Watson.
D. Bedford. L. Brabourne.
E. Cairns. L. Bramwell.
L. Sudeley. L. FitzGerald.

The Committee to appoint their own Chairman.