HL Deb 09 March 1896 vol 38 cc414-8

in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, that it was promoted on behalf of the London County Council; and, before dealing with the particulars of the Bill, he thought it would be well to direct their Lordships' attention to the legislation both accomplished and attempted in this matter. In consequence of the terrible evils disclosed in connection with baby farming, the Act (principal Act) passed in 1872 made it illegal for any person to retain or receive more than one infant of under 12 months for hire or reward except in a house duly registered and approved. Such houses were then liable to inspection by the local authorities. Every death had to be reported to the Coroner, and there were in the Act provisions as to penalties and minor details. As the result of the working of the Act, it was found possible to evade it and render it practically useless. A Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in 1890 by the Home Office, when presided over by Lord Llandaff, and that Bill was referred to a Select Committee, which introduced various Amendments, including one affording facilities for further evasion. The Bill was dropped and proceeded no further. The present Bill was identical with Lord Onslow's, the Second Reading of which was prevented by the Dissolution last year; and the noble Lord then pointed out that, owing to the action of the inspectors, working for some years first under the Metropolitan Board of Works, and latterly under the London County Council, it had been shown that those engaged in this often abominable traffic fully availed themselves of the fact that the Act did not apply to those keeping one child of less than 12 months, or any number of greater age. Consequently, the Act only reached a small proportion—about 5 per cent. or 10 per cent.—of children who, in the words of the Act, are taken in for hire or reward; for example, only 38 houses were registered in London in 1894 to 1895, and these contained 121 infants under one year. Consequently, the Act during that year was operative only in providing for that small quantity of children in London; and as soon as these came above one year of age they ceased to be under the supervision and protection provided by the Act. Here was a summarised extract from the Report of the Inspectors:— We beg to submit the following facts relating to cases affecting infants kept for hire or reward, and traffic carried on by persons under the pretence of adoption, and also Statistics from 1st April 1889 to 1st April 1895. 4,127 cases investigated. 2,372 children, under 5 years, kept at unregistered houses, to whom Act did not apply, except in 100 cases where Act was infringed. Of these, 323 died, and 253 of these were under one year. 135 inquests held. 30 deaths accelerated by improper feeding and surroundings. In 5 cases nurses committed for manslaughter or wilful neglect. 3 of these convicted, and 2 more summarily convicted. 1889–1895:— 189 houses registered. 836 infants received. 107 deaths. 6 inquests held, and only 1 unsatisfactory verdict. The deaths were more frequent at unregistered houses, and the necessity for holding inquests more frequent, and verdicts more unsatisfactory. Also, whilst at registered houses every death had to be notified to the coroner, at unregistered houses there was no such obligation; consequently, probably, there were many bad cases which never came under the coroner's notice at all. Coroners' Juries and Juries at Sessions often added riders as to necessity of amending the Act. Their Lordships would see the truth of what was said re the inadequacy of the Act, and he urged that if the law was not to remain a dead-letter as now, it was most necessary to extend its scope so as to include all up to, say, five years of age. Clauses 3 and 4 were for the purpose of assisting inspectors to trace persons engaged in the traffic, and to follow children after removal from registered houses. What often happened was this. Some individual took charge of a child from the parent or other person. and received a lump sum down, sometimes £150. This person then arranged for its adoption by another, and promised monthly payment. The child was handed over, and, perhaps, a first payment was made; but the payments ceased, the intermediary vanished, and no trace was left. The person who undertook the charge of the child, and who was sometimes honest and respectable, but often much the reverse, was left with alternatives of bringing up the child for nothing, or handing it over to the, parish, or making away with it by some process of starvation or improper treatment. These clauses were drafted to put a stop to this practice, as to which investigations of inspectors have brought out startling facts; 24 children traced to one person, 34 to another, 30 to another, and so on, for so-called adoption, for which considerable sums were paid down, and all children passed on as described. Clause 6 was for the purpose of giving additional powers to the inspectors, at present much hampered by refusals to afford admission to houses where children were believed to be kept, and to remove some of the difficulties now experienced in proving offences against the existing Act. He thought that, possibly, objections would be raised on this clause, on the ground of giving power of inspection contrary to the general practice. He had, therefore, no objection to limiting the powers of inspecting unregistered houses to cases where a Justice's warrant had been previously obtained, as was now the case under the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act. Another objection had been raised, in that it might interfere with the good work done by the Foundling Hospital, the Children's Country Holiday Fund, &c. There was no intention or desire on the part of any interested in this Bill to go beyond legislation necessary to stop the acknowledged iniquities of baby-farming. He was prepared with an amendment which, if introduced in Committee, would effectually protect the work done by recognised and well-managed institutions, and exempt them from the Act, even though the Bill, if it became law, might exercise a wholesome supervision over places which masqueraded as charitable institutions, but really were carried on for purposes of private gain, and in a manner not always satisfactory. He had dealt with all the main features of this Bill, and he would only remind the House that this subject, though it did not excite much public interest, and was not one which was widely known, was, nevertheless, in the cause of humanity, deserving of sympathy. The lot in life of most of these unfortunate children was, through no fault of their own, bad enough without the neglect and ill-treatment from which this Bill sought to save them. The evils attending this traffic were, unfortunately, not too widely known, and if only the law, so far as it went, was administered in our large towns and country districts in the admirable manner which prevailed in London, many of these evils would be greatly mitigated. He trusted that this Bill might become law this Session, and mindful therefore of their Lordships' sympathy with suffering children in the past, and confident of their present sympathy with children who were destined to grow up not knowing the meaning of parental care, he begged to move the Second Reading of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]


I am sure that no one in this House will be inclined to object to the noble Lord's Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill, but I may say that the details of the Measure will deserve the most careful attention of your Lordships. In sanctioning the Second Reading of the Bill we must not be taken to assent to all its clauses. A desire to see that the clauses of the Measure are framed in conformity with the spirit that has hitherto governed public legislation on this subject, with the liberty of the subject, and with the rights of persons who are acting in perfect innocence, will, doubtless, induce your Lordships to examine the Second and Sixth Clauses of the Measure with considerable care. I fear that the provisions contained in the Second Clause might have a very injurious and oppressive effect, and, though they might save some children from ill-treatment, they might on the other hand prevent other children from being succoured by those who might be inclined to prevent them from perishing from want. As far as I understand the Measure, even hospitals, unless registered, might be exposed to penalties under the provisions of Clause 2. I believe that it is common in this country for those who have no families to adopt or to receive a child from those who have large families gratuitously or for a small charge, and under the provisions of this Bill such persons would have to be registered and their homes inspected. But people do not like being registered or to have their homes inspected by a Government official by day or night, and the result would be that such people would not receive or adopt children under the circumstances, and many beneficent transactions would thus be prevented. I merely enter this caveat lest it should be understood that the Government will support all the clauses of this Bill. I shall, however, be glad to support the Second Reading of the Bill, that certainly contains much that is good, on the understanding that certain of its clauses will have to be modified in Committee. ["Hear, hear!"]


said, that when the Amendments he should propose were seen it would be found that hospitals and other similar institutions would be fully protected.


thought that any objections to the details of the Measure had better be deferred until the Bill got into Committee.

Bill read 2a, and referred to a Select Committee.