HL Deb 24 August 1907 vol 181 cc1528-31

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


As your Lordships will be aware, this Bill has not yet been circulated, not yet having been returned from the printers. Of course, if any noble Lord objects to my proceeding with it to-day, I am entirely in the hands of the House, but with your Lordships' approval, I respectfully submit that you give this Bill a Second Reading, and I will not ask your Lordships to take any further stages, so that there should be an opportunity of moving Amendments on Monday, or whatever day the further consideration of the Bill is put down for. If your Lordships will agree to that, I will just say a very few words in moving the Second Reading. This Bill was introduced into the House of Commons by a private Member on the Opposition side of the House, and has since been taken up by the Government and starred with the object of trying to get it through this session. The object of the Bill is the early notification of births, so as to prevent, as far as possible, infant mortality, and it is believed that it would tend to prevent this mortality if, in suitable cases, the medical officer of health, under efficient supervision, were enabled to visit the home as soon as possible after the birth of the child, and to give advice as to the nurture of the child. The attention of the Local Government Board and of the public generally has been directed lately to the subject of the very great infant mortality, and it is with the object of preventing this by notifying as early as possible the birth of the child that this Bill has been proposed. Voluntary arrangements have already been made with this object in some places, and in other places Parliament has given powers for the purpose by local Acts. I do not know that I need go into the Bill, although it has not been circulated. It is a short Bill, and I think probably most of your Lordships will know the general object of it. The notice can be given either by letter or postcard within thirty-six hours after the birth. It is to be given both by the father (if he is resident in the house) and by the person in attendance. But a person will not be liable to a penalty for not giving notice if he satisfies the Court that he had reasonable grounds to believe that notice had been given by some other person. Stamped postcards containing the form of notice are to be supplied by the local authority to any medical officer or midwife who applies for the same. The Bill will be adoptive, and will only be enforced where adopted by the local authorities, and the consent of the Local Government Board is to be necessary for its adoption. The Local Government Board, however, have powers in addition to this to put the Act in force wherever they think it is necessary, although the local authority may not have proposed to adopt it, and to meet such cases, Clause 3 will empower the Local Government Board to put the Bill in force in a certain district. The local authorities under the Bill are in London the Common Council and the Metropolitan Borough Councils, and outside London town councils and urban and rural district councils. It is, however, provided that county councils outside London may adopt the Bill either for the whole county, or for any district in it. The Bill, as I say, was introduced in another place by Lord Robert Cecil, and has been favourably received by both sides. It passed its Second Reading without opposition there, and the Government, as I reminded your Lordships just now, have been endeavouring to render it assistance, first in the Standing Committee, and now by having starred it in the hope that your Lordships will pass it this Session, although, of course, I am aware that it is late for a Bill to be introduced into your Lordships' House. As I said, I am entirely in the hands of your Lordships, if you prefer not to give the Second Reading to-day, but I submit that the Bill be now read a second time.

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


The noble Lord is good enough to ask us not to put the Bill through any further stages to-day, but I contend, with deference, that he is asking us a good deal in asking us to read a second time a Bill which has not been printed, and which we have never seen. I have not a word to say against the Bill. I have no doubt it may be a most admirable Bill, but even in the times of stress through which we are now passing, we must have some regard for the common decencies of procedure. I therefore venture to appeal to the noble Lord that he will agree to the adjournment of this discussion to Monday, when we can proceed to read the Bill a second time, and then, if it turns out to be that blameless measure which he has sketched, we can consider whether we can expedite its progress.


I stated in my opening remarks that I was entirely in the hands of your Lordships, and that I did not want to press the House to take the Second Reading to-day, but as no noble Lord contested my going on, I ventured to proceed with the few remarks I had to make. I have, of course, no wish to go on after what has been said by the noble Marquess.


I recollect a case of this kind occurring when I was in Opposition, and on that occasion I remembered taking exactly the same objection that my noble friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne) has taken.


Was the Bill not printed on that occasion?


It was not printed and circulated. I think what my noble friend suggests is, that this debate should now be adjourned, and that the Bill should pass through all its stages on Monday.


I did not say that. I said we should be able to consider on Monday whether the Bill was one which should be expedited.


But it could pass through all its stages on Monday, so that the adoption of the course suggested by the noble Marquess would not necessarily lead to delay, and would not prevent the passing of the Bill. I have, therefore, no objection to that course being taken, because I feel that the proceeding is open to very serious objection, although I do not think it is altogether the fault of the Government, because we expected the Bill would have been—and I think it ought to have been—on the Table of the House when these proceedings began. But we can take the Bill on Monday, and I hope it will then go through all its stages.

On Question, further debate adjourned to Monday next.