§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
* LORD BALFOUR
I ask your Lordships to allow me to move this Bill on behalf of the noble Lord, Viscount Torrington. It is not by any means a long Bill or one difficult to understand. The first clause has reference to making certain provision for the case of children who, having been deserted by their parents, are brought up at the expense of the Guardians of the Poor. At the present time there is no sufficient or adequate protection for the interests of the children against being handed over to the care of their relatives or guardians if those relatives or guardians are obviously unfit to take charge of them. This Bill in no sense goes over the same ground as that which was the subject of discussion in your Lordships' House a few days ago, because before this Bill takes effect it is a condition precedent that the child concerned must be deserted by the parent, or must have been the subject of an immoral assault. The object of the first clause of the Bill is to extend the legal pro- 164 tection of the Guardians in the case of boys until they are 16 years of age, and in the case of girls until they are 18 years of age. There is obvious reason, in the case of girls, why the protection should be extended a year or two longer at that dangerous age. Your Lordships will, I think, see that there is no likelihood of the Guardians being unduly anxious to maintain the children at the expense of the rates if those who would otherwise have to maintain them are of sufficient character to discharge their duty; but, if any dispute arises, there are provisions in this clause whereby a Court of Summary Jurisdiction may decide between the parties upon any case brought before them. The second clause of the Bill codifies, and in some respects simplifies, the conditions under which money can be borrowed for permanent works by Poor Law Authorities, subject, of course, always to the discretion and approval of the Local Government Board. The third clause of the Bill entitles the Asylums Board to receive patients who are suffering from diphtheria. According to the present state of the law, they can receive patients suffering from smallpox or fever, and a legal difficulty has been raised as to whether diphtheria properly comes under the term "fever." Another clause of the Bill entitles the Asylums Board to let for hire ambulances for taking patients who are suffering from fever from one place to another, even although they are not going to the hospitals under the Asylums Board. It is obviously for the public advantage that carriages which are used for fever patients should be used for no other purpose, and the ratepayers will not be in any way put to undue expense, if, as is provided by this Bill, the Asylums Board make reasonable charges for the services which they thus render. The Bill contains no other provisions than those which I have mentioned, and I ask your Lordships to read it a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a,."
§ * LORD NORTON
My Lords, I cannot pretend to know anything about this Bill, which has just come from the Commons, but I think the noble Lord should make a little further explanation. It seems to me that Bills on the same subject are started by different persons, 165 some by Government and some by individual philanthropists or theorists of various kinds in the Lower House, while that House is occupied, or at least excited by more attractive subjects, and passed with very little connection or correspondence one with another. Here is a Bill, the first clause of which gives the Guardians power to deal with deserted children, and to take care of them till the age of 16 and 18. It seems to have occurred to the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading that this stands much on the same ground with another Bill now before us, called the Bill for the Better Protection of Children, which enables a Court of Justice to hand over a child abandoned by his parents to relations or to persons to take charge of it. The noble Lord said the two Bills were distinct, because in the Bill for the Better Protection of Children, or as it was first called the "Cruelty to Children Prevention Bill," the condition precedent was abandonment by the parent, whereas the condition precedent in this Bill is desertion by the parent. So far as there is a difference between abandonment and desertion, I do see some little distinction; but it really does seem to me that the Bills are so much of the same nature that they ought to be embodied in one measure. If the law on a subject of this sort is scattered about in different statutes, it is most confusing to Magistrates. Moreover, I would ask the noble Lord whether the Poor Law at this moment does not provide for Boards of Guardians taking charge of deserted children. I would also ask the noble Lord what would become of those children of whom the Boards of Guardians take charge, when they turn them out of doors? There is no provision whatever for the care of the children, or the placing them out in industries, or the putting them in the way of earning their livelihood. The method adopted by this Bill is similar to that which is contained in the other Bill before your Lordships at this moment—namely, that if there is found out to have been a total mistake the Magistrate may hand the child back to his parents. That is a very rough way of dealing. But what I think most important is for the noble Lord to say why these two Bills are not incorporated together into one Bill. I suppose one has been intro- 166 duced by the Government and the other by some philanthropic individual in the Lower House; but they certainly deal with the same subject, and there is a very great mischief in having two Bills on the same subject.
* LORD BALFOUR
I can only speak again by the indulgence of the House; but in answer to the question the noble Lord has raised, I can assure him that there is really no comparison at all between this Bill and The Adoption of Children Bill to which he refers. That Bill is not before Parliament just now, having been either withdrawn from the cognisance of or rejected by this House. I am not quite sure which; but that Bill proceeded entirely upon different lines.
§ * LORD NORTON
* LORD BALFOUR
This Bill is entirely different from that one, and has nothing at all to do with it, and does not cover the same ground. The noble Lord is under a misapprehension when he says that the law at the present time is adequate. The law at the present time is this: that no matter what has been the condition of the parent, no matter how completely a parent has deserted a child or left it to the charge of the Poor Law Authorities, the parent can at any time come to the Poor Law Authorities and claim that the child shall be handed over to him. Numerous instances occur of this sort of thing happening: a dissolute parent absolutely deserts his child and it is maintained for years by the Board of Guardians at the expense of the ratepayers; as soon as that boy or girl comes to be of an age when his or her labour may be of use to the parent, or when in some way or other the parent can make money out of the child, then the parent comes to the Board of Guardians and demands that the child should be restored to him. Now, I venture to think that that is an obviously wrong and unfair thing in the interests of the child and in the interests of the State. If parents voluntarily discharge themselves of their obligations, and desert their children for a long period of years, and remain of such a character as to make it 167 distinctly against the best interests of the child that it should be handed over to them, I do not think it an extravagant thing that the law should put the presumption the other way from what it is at the present time, and say that that child shall remain under the care of the Board of Guardians. If the noble Lord will look at the first clause of the Bill he will see that every reasonable care is taken to make sure that if the parent or Guardians can make out a proper case in his or their behalf, the child shall be handed over. I think it is almost certain that the noble Lord cannot have read the Bill before he came into the House, or he would not have made the observation which he did with regard to it. I assure him that under the existing law the parent, however unfit he may be, can claim to take care of the child and claim to have it handed over to him. I think the noble Lord will see if a mother deserts her daughter, and for eight or ten years that daughter is brought up at the expense of the Board of Guardians, and the mother remains, as some unfortunately do, of dissolute and abandoned habits, that just at the age of 16 or 17 it is obviously of the greatest possible disadvantage to the girl that she should be handed back to the care of the mother. This Bill does not pretend to cover the whole ground of the powers of Boards of Guardians; it is only an amending Bill, and the Board of Guardians will have the same power in regard to the children that they have under the General Law of seeing that they get situations, and of, so to speak, apprenticing them and of looking after them for the earlier years of their life. The Bill does not profess to cover the whole ground, but what it does do is this—it enables Boards of Guardians to make good their claim to children who have been deserted, and to take of them in the way that they would if they had been under their care in district schools as orphans or without any parental relationship at all. I hope with that explanation the noble Lord will be satisfied and will allow the Bill to be read a second time.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
My Lords, having had many years experience as a Chairman of a Board of Guardians, I must be allowed to say that I think it is very desirable that children should be pro- 168 tected against the evil authority and influence of dissolute parents, who fulfil none of the duties of a parent towards them during their tender age; but who, as the noble Lord has just said, intervene at an age when the child, having almost ceased to be a child, becomes in some way a source of profit or advantage to them. I think that all reasonable precaution is taken against an abuse of this power, because a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, if satisfied on the complaint made by a parent that the child has not been maintained by the Guardians, or has not been deserted by the parent, or that it is for the benefit of the child that it should be either permanently or temporarily under the control of the parent, may make an order accordingly. It seems to me really that all reasonable security against abuse is given in that first clause, and that it is a power which will generally be used by Guardians with advantage to the children, and with advantage to the community to which those children belong.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.