HL Deb 20 February 1924 vol 56 cc229-46

LORD GORELL, who had given Notice to call attention to a recent case of cruelty to a child and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will not consider amending the law in respect of such offences, said : My Lords, the subject I venture to raise in your Lordships' House is different in all particulars from that which we have just been discussing. It is, I venture to hope, in no sense of the word political. It is extremely simple, and it is exceedingly painful. But I think it is time that the attention of your Lordships' House, and of the public in general should be called to the present state of affairs. The particular case to which I wish to refer, and of which I have given the Lord President of the Council private notice, is contained in a very short paragraph which appeared in the principal journals of the day. That in itself, is significant. I know of no people who are better able to estimate public interest in any subject than the editors of great newspapers, and they cannot be blamed if they do not make much of subjects on which there is so much public inertia at the present time as the treatment of children.

In this matter the public are really behaving like the traditional ostrich. They know that horrible things are going on; but it is nobody's business in particular, and the result is that very little attention has been paid to them. I think it is time that the conscience of this country was awakened and it may be that a discussion in your Lordships' House will do something towards that result. I venture to read the paragraph because it is very short—there are only fourteen and a half lines of small type in all—and contains the facts of the case to which I wish particularly to refer. By so doing one will avoid any trace of exaggeration or over-statement. The paragraph is headed "Cruelty to a Child," and it runs as follows: The maximum sentence, of six months' imprisonment with hard labour was passed at Chatham yesterday "— that is, on Friday last, February 15— on Harry Hickman, a young sapper in the Royal Engineers, and his wife, Edith Hickman, for cruelty to an infant child they had adopted. It. was stated that the child was strapped round the arms and legs and trussed up like a fowl, and wearing only one slender garment; it slept on a sack on the floor. It almost lost the power to walk, and crawled about on all-fours like a dog. One witness stated that she never saw such a sight before. The child did not appear to be human, except for its eyes. Is there anybody in this country who would have his attention directed to a thing of that kind without being made to feel perfectly sick? It is a horrible case, and that it can have taken place is almost an outrage on our civilisation. The names of such people ought to be pilloried throughout the length and breadth of the country.

There are two aspects of the case to which I specially invite your Lordships' attention. The first is the status of the offenders, and the second is the status of the child. With regard to the first, it is not a ease, like that we sometimes see, of a drunken never-do-well wastrel. The man, at any rate, is sane enough and responsible enough to have been accepted for enlistment in a very honourable and distinguished corps of the Army. and that such a thing can have happened will, I hope, be taken by that corps as a slur upon them. When the offender comes out I hope they will make him realise that fact. What happens? The man and his wife get the maximum punishment of six months' imprisonment with hard labour. It seems to me that people who can do such things are either in the category, unhappily known to medical science, of those who have a lust for cruelty, or are almost unreasoned and demented beings. If that is so, they ought to be locked up and taken care of for the rest of their lives. But they are not, and what has happened? They have received six months' imprisonment with hard labour. Are they, on coming out, to be put in the position of having control of a child ? They are not fit ever to have control of a child or an animal again, and some steps ought to be taken, in my view, to make a punishment more justly fit the crime. I feel very strongly that for offences of this brutal character the only real remedy is to treat the offender as he has treated his victim. If that were done, of course, it would end such a horrible state of things. But one recognises that that is impossible. At any rate, the law ought to be strengthened so that some more adequate punishment can be dealt out for offences of this vile description.

I am afraid that, though in some of its features this case seems to mo the worst that I have seen, it is not by any means a completely isolated one. Not very long ago there was another case reported in the newspapers of a father who beat his infant child in the cradle with n leather strap with a buckle on it. He got a few months' imprisonment. He ought to have had the strap and the buckle himself. These punishments belong to a day when offences against property were regarded as much more severe than offences against life. It is a crime infinitely worse than the crime for which men get many years' imprisonment in penal servitude. I would go even further, and say that in the heart it is worse than many a murder committed in hot blood. I am told that if the punishment is increased one result will be that justices will not convict. I cannot believe that any man, having in his heart the least spark of kindness or appreciation for children, when any of these cases are brought before him, would not desire to inflict the maximum punishment that he legally could. But it is entirely a matter of the rousing of the public conscience. I am specially glad ; to see in his place the most rev. Primate, because I feel that of all doctrines nothing is more clear in Christian Scripture than the case of the care for little children, and I hope that he will use the whole of his great influence to arouse public attention to this terrible matter.

We have had, in the past months, a great deal of discussion about the protection of our industries. It would be well if we had a little more discussion about the protection of small children. I say that particularly, because it leads me on to the second half of the case to which I have referred—that is to say, the status of the child. This was not the legal child of the offenders, or even the natural child. It was a child they had adopted. One may ask for what possible reason could people who intended to treat a child like this adopt it. One answer may be— have referred—that is to say, the status of the offenders—that this was a demented pair who had a lust for cruelty. That is rare. But the other reason why people do in such circumstances adopt children is not so rare, and that is for money, with the intention of putting out of the way an unwanted child. Here I should like, specially to say that. I would be very sorry to utter any word in disparagement of the excellent work which is being done by some of the reputable, good adoption societies. There is very much to be said on their side, and there have been many cases of great and beneficent kindness done under adoption ; but, when all is said and done on that side, there still remains a very dark side, and a case like this brings it pointedly to the fore.

There are two main reasons why people, who afterwards brutally illtreat children, adopt them. One is that adoption affords them the means of getting a cheap form of labour, employing a small child as their slave—by no means, I am afraid, uncommon—and the other is that money passes, usually in the ease of an illegitimate child, and the people who adopt know perfectly well that they will be carrying out the wishes of those who place it in their hands if they get rid of it. And it does not take very much neglect, or even cruelty, to get rid of a very small infant.

In that connection I would bring to your Lordships' attention some evidence that was given before a Committee which was appointed in August. 1020, and reported in February, 1921—three years ago. That was presided over by Sir Alfred Hopkinson, and had upon it one of the most prominent members of the late Government. Mr. Neville Chamber- lain. Their Report was unanimous, and they reported also that the matter was urgent. Three years have elapsed and so far nothing has been done to remedy this state of things. This is a case taken from the evidence of one of the Directors of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children given before that Committee : — It is not unusual to find persons of known bad habits adopting children. A child, eleven months old, passed through several hands until it came into the charge of a young married woman, the wife of a sailor. She adopted the child with a payment of £16 10s. The woman was of loose character, and on more than one occasion had been in hospital suffering from venereal disease. The witness then goes into details, of a horrible character, with which I need not trouble your Lordships, but he quotes this incident: — Though the child was removed to a place of safety, it died as the result of the neglect of the foster-mother who, when prosecuted, was sent to prison for two months. And presumably, on coming out of prison two months later; she could do the same thing to another child.

I venture, therefore, to ask how long this country is going to be supine in this matter. The late Government, in spite of the fact that Mr. Neville Chamberlain was a member of this Committee, took no action. I hope that we may have some more definite assurance of action from the present Government. The Committee of Sir Alfred Hopkinson made three definite recommendations—namely, (1), That there should be some form of adoption made legal ; (2), that there should be notification and supervision in cases where full legal adoption was not desired ; and (3), that illegitimate children should be legitimated by subsequent remarriage of their parents. This last point, no doubt, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, will mention to-morrow. It is the only case in regard to which immediate legal action is intended, and it was projected before.

I am not ignorant that a private Member in another place has brought in a very large Bill dealing with the whole consolidation and reform of the Children Act, and that Clause 22 of that Bill strengthens the power of the law to inflict greater punishments, and that Clause 46 deals with the question of supervision of those who adopt children. That is not the whole of the matter covered by Sir Alfred Hopkinson's Report ; still, it goes a long way. But the Bill is one of 184 clauses ; it, is very long and very elaborate, and no doubt highly controversial in some of its aspects. I do not know, but I should imagine, that as long as it remains a private Member's Bill it has very little chance of becoming law. It is not a matter to be left, as I submit to your Lordships, in private hands. I hope that the Lord President of the Council—if he is the member of the Government who will reply to me—whose sympathy with many forms of human suffering and whose broad humanity is well known, will be able to give us some reassurance that this is a matter which the Government mean to take up without delay. After the three years' delay that there has been after inquiry, I hope the Government will now bring legislation definitely before Parliament to remedy the state of things to which I have drawn attention.


My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships' House for the first time, I must earnestly crave your indulgence. I do so for a reason somewhat greater than that this is my first speech. Before you stands a young man of but little knowledge, of but little experience, and he stands, not perhaps where he should be at the back of the House, but at the Box from which some of the greatest statesmen of this country have addressed your Lordships. May I assure your Lordships that it is in no sense of presumption that I undertook the responsibility of even a junior Office in the present Government, but from a very real desire to serve in any way possible a Government which commands so much enthusiasm amongst the youth of this country and to whose policy I so whole-heartedly subscribe. Now let me proceed to answer the Question of the noble Lord.

Under the present law which is contained in the Children Act, 1908, any person who is convicted of cruelty to a child or young person by ill-treatment or neglect or otherwise, directly or indirectly, is liable on conviction by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction to six months' imprisonment with or without hard labour. It is open, however, to the magistrates in any serious case to commit the offender for trial, and if convicted on indictment the offender is liable to im- prisonment for two years with or without hard labour. Further, in cases where grievous bodily harm has been inflicted on a child, the offender can be tried on this charge and, on conviction, may be sent to penal servitude. The House will recognise that cruelty to children is a crime which is abhorrent to the minds of all decent people and is rightly made punishable by the law of England as a grave offence for which severe penalties are provided. Fortunately, statistics show that offences involving cruelty to children have markedly decreased in recent years. The number of cases which are brought before the Courts is not always a certain indication of the number of offences, but, in view of the increased attention given to the welfare of children, both by education authorities and voluntary agencies, instances of ill-treatment are less likely to remain hidden than might have been the case some years ago, and the number of persons proceeded against may therefore be taken as affording fairly conclusive evidence of the extent of the evil.

In 1900, 4,106 persons were prosecuted for cruelty to or neglect of children. In 1910, although the Children Act of 1908 extended the range of offences, the number of prosecutions fell to 3,695. During the war years the number again decreased to well below 3,000, and reached the lowest point in 1919, when the number was 1,642. In 1921 the number was 2,052. His Majesty's Government are not aware that the present penalties for offences of this character are insufficient, but they will be prepared to consider any evidence on the point that may be laid before them. I have only seen a newspaper report of the case to which the noble Lord has drawn attention, but I presume that before deciding to deal with the case themselves, seeing that their powers were limited to a maximum sentence of six months' imprisonment, the magistrates considered the question of committing the offender for trial so that the man might have got penal servitude or a longer term of imprisonment. The noble Lord has also drawn attention to the fact that this unfortunate child did not suffer at the hands of its natural parents, but was ill-treated by a young married couple who had adopted it. This raises the question of the present state of the law on the subject of the adoption of children, and your Lordships may be glad to learn that my right hon. friend has decided to appoint a strong Committee to consider this question.


My Lords, the mere fact that even with all the various societies now at work there should be over 2,000 cases of cruelty to children must strike everybody with horror. The man, and apparently there are a great many such men, who can commit a hideous crime upon mere babies and inflict cruelty on inoffensive children, places himself outside the pale of humanity altogether and should be dealt with in such a way that he becomes marked indelibly with disgrace wherever he may go amongst his fellow creatures. A man who commits such an offence is not dealt with, in my opinion, sufficiently severely at the present time. I have noticed great inequalities in sentences on those convicted of cruelty to children, as I have noticed also great inequality in sentences inflicted on those convicted of horrible cruelty upon dumb animals. Speaking for myself, I believe nothing but corporal punishment, bringing home to the brute himself the punishment he ought to undergo, will ever have a lasting effect upon the wretches who commit these crimes upon children. I am aware that such a proposal would require fresh legislation; and there are always people who talk about the degradation of the man upon whom corporal punishment is inflicted. But how can you degrade a man who is already a brute and who, by the act he has committed, has earned the contempt of all his fellow creatures? I wish the Government, or some private Member in the other House, would bring in a Bill which would render the corporal punishment of these people not only possible but very probable.


My Lords, this discussion raises once more the old and difficult question as to what is the best method that can be adopted for the repression of crime. The noble Lord who has just sat down spoke in terms that were not unduly severe of the brutality and inhumanity of a man who illtreats either inoffensive children or inoffensive beasts. The infliction of cruelty on those unable to protect themselves is surely one of the greatest crimes of which a man can be guilty. Let us accept that. The next thing is to see how such crimes are to be rendered more and more rare. I have grave doubts as to whether the infliction of increasingly severe punishments is the best means of effecting that object. The history of the development of our criminal law shows that what really stops crime is the growth of a strong, healthy public opinion against the criminal and not the severity or the brutality of the sentence you inflict. Above all, I think it is of the utmost consequence that we should not let our feelings betray us in the anxiety to make the person who has caused a child to suffer himself to suffer in retaliation under the idea that by some such specie of retaliation we can make the balance equal. I do not believe you will effect anything of the kind by any such means.

I agree with the critics to whom Lord Lambourne has referred, that the flogging of a man is a brutalising thing, brutalising to the man, brutalising to those who flog him, brutalising to the people who look on and to everybody concerned in the transaction. It is easy to say that the man is such a brute that you can do no more to degrade one who is already sufficiently degraded. I do not think that is the right view to take of the matter, and I myself should regard with great regret any attempt to extend in any way the offences for which corporal punishment is at present inflicted. My own firm belief would be that you would better attain the standard that you desire to set up of increasing humanity and of finer feeling among all classes by removing the present punishments which permit of flogging rather than by adding to their number.


My Lords, the noble Lord who introduced this discussion—a discussion which, I think, is likely to be of real use—referred to myself, and gave an assurance which, I hope, was not necessary of his conviction that in a matter like this I should be with him in desiring to see the law amended, if it needs amendment, in any direction which would render less possible atrocious things such as the incident which he described. I know nothing of this incident beyond the words quoted by the noble Lord from a newspaper. Presumably something more was said on that occasion, but I imagine that no evidence could have been forthcoming on such a matter which could have relieved the man and woman convicted from the opprobrium which everybody must feel at so horrible, so disgraceful and revolting an act of cruelty as that which was there described.

I understood from the noble Lord who spoke so well and so clearly on behalf of the Government to-night, that the question of whether or not some legislation is now necessary for the protection of children who are not under the care of their own parents but have been transferred to that of others is in contemplation, and that a Committee is to be appointed to consider it. It seems to me that this proceeding is eminently desirable, and the horrible case to which the noble Lord referred in opening this discussion should draw general attention to it. I suppose it is some twenty-five years ago that I was a member of a Committee of your Lordships' House which sat for a long time to consider what was described as infant life protection, that is to say, the means of safeguarding little children who were under the charge of people other than their own parents. Suggestions were then made which subsequently took the form of legislation for the protection of those children.

A case such as this would, I imagine, come within the limits of what was there prescribed, and one would like to know what were the circumstances of the adoption in this case, whether the child was taken for a monetary consideration received, or whether there was some other motive which led to the adoption. I agree with the noble Lord that it is difficult to understand what consideration other than a monetary one would be likely to induce people capable of perpetrating the horrible offence described to adopt a very small child, but I should like some information on that point and I should be most anxious, as I need hardly say, if such information is forthcoming, to support any measure that the Government may feel to be desirable for rendering severer the responsibility of those who have under their care children who are not their own, or even of parents upon whose own children wrongs of a horrible kind are inflicted.

The noble Lord suggested that it would be impossible to think it right that those who had been convicted of a crime such as this should ever again be allowed to take little children under their care. I should entirely agree with that, and I believe it to be the law at this moment that any one who has taken a child for a money consideration—a child, that is, who is not their own—has to submit to some supervision as to the grounds upon which a child is received, and to some inspection of the manner in which the child is cared for. Any of us who have not been familiar with the working of the law designed to prevent cruelty to children and who have not followed the great progress which the admirable society that devotes its energies to that end has been making for years, will be startled by the amount of evidence that exists to the effect that it does appear to be the case that parents who are convicted of wrongdoing to their children, and who, after coming out of prison, have the children again under their care, are proved to be particularly liable to fall into that error again. The effect of the evidence that was abundantly brought before us was surprising. In a case of this kind, of course, where the child was not the child of the culprits who thus offended, the case is different, but one would imagine that such a recurrence ought, if practicable, to be rendered impossible in the case of people who have thus offended.

All I need say to-night is that it goes without saying that every one of us is repelled and horrified by such an account as has been given, and probably we should all be ready to support such legislation as may be found to be necessary to render the recurrence of this kind of crime less possible than it is at this moment. I am not desirous at this moment of entering upon what I know is a highly controverted point, the question of the good or evil of corporal punishment. But the noble Lord may be assured that all those of whom I have any possible right to be regarded as directly or indirectly a representative, would be entirely with him and with others who would desire to support any action taken by the Government to render impracticable the perpetration of crimes like this, and to deter the offenders by the gravity of the penalty which would be imposed upon them.


My Lords, the very painful case which has been brought before the House by the noble Lord below the gangway raises, it seems to me, three different issues. The first is the adequacy of the sentence and the existence, or supposed existence, of circumstances in which that sentence was the maximum that could be inflicted. The first question that one feels inclined to ask oneself is : Whose was the discretion which chose that minor charge as the charge which should be brought forward ? This is a case of the infliction of grievous wounds, the creation of grievous bodily harm, and such a crime, right down to the most insignificant kind of assault, is none the less a grievous bodily harm, or a grievous wound or an assault, because it happens to be committed against a child. It was in the year 1864 that a codification took place—and this was not by any means the first enactment or the first creation of very severe penalties—in respect of Statutes which already provided ample punishment for crimes of that kind. Consequently it does suggest itself to one to ask why it was that the minor charge was the first charge chosen to proceed upon in this case.

In the second place, the noble Lord raised the question whether it is possible to conceive that such parents could again enter into the legal charge of a child whom they had so brutally misused after the inadequate term of imprisonment had expired. If I remember aright, in the Act of 1908 the whole scheme of Industrial Schools Acts was consolidated, codified and re-enacted, with, I think, some amendments tending to make them stronger, under which, in any case of cruelty, in any case even of moderate neglect of a child by parents, and a fortiori in any case of actual cruelty, you could proceed against the true parents and absolutely divest them of the status of parents of such children for a considerable number of years by putting the child into an industrial school or some kind of analogous home where it received kind treatment. Not only that, you could divest the parents of their rights, but leave them subject to the obligation of parents to make a contribution to the maintenance of the child whilst in the industrial school. Therefore I suggest that, unless some very serious defect in the law has been since discovered, of which I have not heard, there ought to be very effective protection—a fortiori in the case where persons are not the real parents of the child—to see that they are not in a position again to enter into the status in which they would be again able to commit such a crime.

The third point is as to the circumstances in which persons, authorised or unauthorised, inspected or uninspected, registered or unregistered, enter upon the care of a child for reward in that behalf. The House will understand that there must be a large number of cases in which that relationship is entered into for bad reasons, or for reasons which give rise to the gravest suspicion, and I think legislation has been recommended in past times, to draw a sharp distinction between a lump sum paid to the persons who take the child, as compared with, and as contrasted from, a weekly payment for the maintenance of the child. In the first case it is obvious that the persons acting in this way—it is baby farming—have an interest, just as much as the person handing over the child to them, in the final disappearance of the child, from some cause, violent or otherwise. There has been a recommendation to Parliament that an alteration should be made in the law, but I confess I cannot remember whether proposals for legislation of that kind have received the sanction of Parliament, and I hope that the noble Lord who replies further for the Government will address his mind to that point, or will see that it is made the subject of possible legislation in the future.


My Lords, I do not desire to intervene for more than a moment. I share, as I suppose the whole House shares, the feeling of indignation which is aroused by these cases, and particularly by the kind of case brought to the notice of the House by Lord Gorell. I suppose we all agree with the, most rev. Primate in, his anxiety to see anything done which can be done, which will secure the happiness of these unhappy children, whether by an alteration of the law with respect to cruelty or by an improvement of the law with respect to adoption. The question of adoption is an extremely difficult one, and while entirely sharing the view that every precaution should be taken, the only anxiety I have felt is lest, in trying to provide for these cases of cruelty, we should make more difficult the lives of a number of children who are not subject to cruelty at all. The danger of substituting institutions for homes has always appeared to me to be a very considerable danger in dealing with child life, and I am sure that that will be fully considered by those who conduct the Inquiry which the Government has promised, and I will say no more about it now.

There is one question that I should like to ask, and that is with reference to the two thousand cases which are said still to exist. I am not quite sure whether those are convictions, or charges to be dealt with. I suppose they include every possible case, even those of minor neglect, which has been brought before the Court. It would be, I imagine, an entirely wrong impression to suppose that there were two thousand cases in any way resembling, however remotely, the case of horrible cruelty to which Lord Gorell referred. As to that particular ease, of course it is one of those strange examples of cruelty which do occur in every society, under every condition. Cruelty is unquestionably one of the most powerful passions of human nature, giving rise to some of the most terrible crimes, and I quite sympathise with the noble Lord in thinking that a punishment of six months' imprisonment seems grossly inadequate to an offence of that kind. I am glad to know from the noble Lord opposite that by taking a different course the magistrates might have, exposed these criminals to a much severer penalty, and I trust that this debate will have done something to call the attention of magistrates throughout the Kingdom to their powers in that respect, and make them more vigilant to exercise those powers in cases of this sort.

As to the question of flogging, I sympathise with a great deal that was said by noble Lords behind me. I agree that there is much to be, said against the punishment of flogging. There is much to be said against all punishment, when you come to look into it. I have often thought there is a great deal to be said against imprisonment with hard labour, when you remember all the incidents of imprisonment with hard labour, at any rate in the first months of that punishment. All punishment tends to be brutal and brutalising. I am afraid that is true of other punishment besides flogging, and I always remember what a learned Judge, who was then Mr. Justice Hawkins, a great authority on crime and its punishment, said to mo many years ago. He said : "When I am asked to award Hogging I look through the list of prisoners to be tried, and I feel this difficulty, that I shall have to try other prisoners for crimes even more serious, and if I award flogging in one case there is great danger of creating in the public mind an impression that I am not preserving equality of, punishment. "I think there is that danger in dealing with a particular crime like this, and saying that it is a brutal crime and we must enact flogging for it. I think you must, before you do that, survey the whole scale of crimes which involve brutality and cruelty.

Before you imitate our ancestors, who were, in the habit, whenever they felt particular indignation against any offence, of making it a felony without benefit of clergy, until they had produced the frightful results with which we are all familiar—before doing that, I think we should be careful to remember that, though flogging is, at any rate in my judgment, a proper punishment in certain cases, it should be used with the greatest care, because undoubtedly it is a very severe punishment and is open to the criticism which Lord Buckmaster made against it—namely, that it is liable to excite sympathy with the prisoner, and liable also to create an impression of brutalising, which is a very serious one. Therefore, although I am sympathetic with my noble friends, I shall not be able to support any proposal to add flogging for any particular offence, without also a proposal to consider the whole criminal law.


My Lords, so far from remaining confined to a particular case this discussion has developed into a consideration of principles of very general application and of the deepest importance. I think that the noble Lord who drew attention to the case may well congratulate himself upon having brought this matter forward, because if he has done nothing else he has called public attention to a very grave matter. In large measure the question must be one depending upon public opinion. If there is a high standard of public opinion, not only will these things be less likely to occur, but they will be severely punished when they do occur and are found out.

How extensive the evil is to-day it is impossible to tell. The 2,000 cases to which my noble friend Lord De La Warr alluded were 2,000 cases of prosecution—prosecutions for one year, I think, 1921. What happened to those prosecutions, how many of them succeeded, how many of them failed, what the degree of guilt was, it is impossible to tell without a great deal of investigation, which probably could not successfully be made. But undoubtedly there is an evil, and the remedy for the evil docs not seem to lie so much in an alteration of the law itself as in the mode of enforcing it. It is open to the magistrates in any case, instead of disposing of it, to commit for trial, if they think it sufficiently serious, and then there may be not only a long term of imprisonment but a still longer term of penal servitude. That is in the power of the magistrate. On the other hand, it is open to take steps to transfer the guardianship of the child from its parent to another person. As to that, no doubt the machinery is more difficult to put into operation than the machinery of prosecution, and I think, on that, the Government will have to consider whether the law relating to children —because it is not only the Children Act, but other Statutes which deal with this matter—is sufficiently drastic to enable an easy remedy to be adopted. I am not sure that it is an easy remedy.

Another question developed itself. I found myself in entire agreement with the misgivings expressed by my noble friend Lord Buckmaster and by Lord Cecil of Chelwood about the utility of vindictive punishment. No doubt when you get an abominable offence, either against a helpless child or an animal, it seems as if corporal punishment, the punishment of flogging, were not un natural, but we know that that punishment is one which has come more and more into disrepute, and justly so. It is a punishment that does not reform. It is a punishment that brutalises. And, while I am far from being one of those who think that the only object of punishment is reform, still the reforming element must never be left out of account. Punishment, to my mind, is the assertion of the will of society against the offender, but although it is punishment in that sense, it is also something more. It ought to aim at making the offender a better man than before he was punished, and not to leave him a worse. Corporal punishment of the kind we have heard of almost invariably leaves the offender worse than he was, and therefore it is not a punishment upon which one can look with much faith.

As I have said, the difficulty is very much move one of public opinion. This debate, I hope, will have done something to raise the level of the public interest. I was struck with what the most rev. Primate, said on the subject. He directed attention to the whole question from another point of view. If only the standard of public opinion continues to rise, the standard of the legislation and the improvement of the remedies will continue to progress. There has been an enormous improvement, in these matters during the last fifteen years. To begin with, there is the Children Act, then there are the other Guardianship Acts, and there are increased powers given to the magistrates to commit for trial. Why are these powers not used ? Because people are coo often not awakened to the gravity of the situation. All I have to say, on behalf of the Government, is that-we will give attention to the question of whether the machinery needs to be strengthened, but I am confident of this, that it is in the wider aspect of the matter, the awakening of the public conscience, that the real remedy rests.


My Lords. I am very grateful to noble Lords who have taken so much interest in this matter, and who have made such valuable contributions, but in two respects I must say I do not find the answers made by the noble Lords who have spoken for the Government entirely satisfactory. I gave notice of the particular case I was going to raise three days ago, and I think I was entitled to hear something more than I did. I knew nothing more about the case than I saw in the papers. I still know nothing more. The noble Earl who replied for the Government said he knew nothing more. But there are various features about it which definitely require looking into. It is well known that the magistrates had power to arrange, by moving it to a higher tribunal, for a greater punishment, and the noble Earl who replied for the Government said that in grave cases they did so. But is it possible to imagine a worse case than this? Why did the magistrate take this view of it? We know nothing; we have not been told. Secondly, how did the child come into the hands of these people ? Lord Stuart of Wortley referred to the fact that it was possible to proceed against the parents in some cases, but the difficulty very often is that the child passes through several hands, and there is nobody who knows who the parent is.


You can proceed against the de facto guardian.


I do not wish to go into the point. The noble Earl told us that the Government were going to appoint a Committee to inquire into the question of adoption—a statement which was received by noble Lords opposite with some applause. But the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, in his contribution, made no reference to that, and I should like to know what they are going to inquire into, and how much further are we than we were in February, 1921, after the subject had been very fully inquired into by a Committee composed of a number of distinguished people under the Chairmanship of Sir Alfred Hopkinson, with Mr. Neville Chamberlain as one of the members? They went into this whole question of adoption. I think in about 27 clauses of their Report they gave details of the way in which they thought it should be supervised and safeguarded, and I ventured in my first remarks to call attention to the fact that they unanimously decided that the subject was urgent. All we get now is exactly the same thing. The Government promise to appoint a Committee. What is it going to inquire into? How much further is it going to take a review of the matter I think we are entitled to hear a little more about it.