HL Deb 13 December 1939 vol 115 cc228-30

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, the general purpose of this Bill is to postpone the coming into force of certain Acts which were passed by Parliament early this year, and which in the normal course of events would have come into operation on January 1 next. I do not think I need expatiate on the fact that the Government regret very much that, owing to the circumstances of the war, they have been forced to postpone any legislation which has already been approved by Parliament, and I can assure the House that there will be no more delay in bringing these Acts into operation than is warranted by the circumstances of the day. I think it will probably save your Lordships' time in the long run if at this stage I go in some little detail into the various Acts which are being postponed.

Clause 1 postpones the coming into force of these Acts to a date to be prescribed by Order in Council, and the first of them is the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act, 1939. The reason for the postponement of that is fairly obvious. Its operation would place upon local authorities, upon welfare authorities and upon central Government Departments a burden which, at the moment, they are not able to deal with, and for that reason, reluctantly as I say, we do not feel that it is desirable to bring it into force until the end of the war. But this decision does not apply to Section 8, which makes certain substantial Amendments in the Adoption of Children Act, 1926, Amendments which experience has shown to be clearly necessary, and for the postponement of which there is no valid reason.

The second Act whose operation will be postponed is the Marriage (Scotland) Act, 1939, which, as your Lordships will recall, was passed to do away with a certain form of irregular Scottish marriage of which the anvil of Gretna Green is the standard example. The Government have not changed their minds in the least about the desirability of that reform, but we also recognise that it would have some considerable effect on Scottish social customs, and we feel that it is essential that the ground should be adequately prepared before we embark on an Act of this character. There is always the danger of misunderstanding When you begin tampering with what has hitherto seemed to be the normal social convention of a people, and we desire to avoid in the confusion of war the contraction of marriages which are, in fact, invalid, by people who have not appreciated that the law has been changed. I think your Lordships will agree that that is both good sense and common sense. We have not fixed any particular date for the coming into force of that Act, but we have in mind that by July 1, 1940, the ground should be sufficiently prepared for the Act to come into force.

Finally, there is the House to House Collections Act, 1939, which, again, as your Lordships will recall, involves certain complicated regulations which were left to be dealt with by the Secretary of State. There has been a great deal of preliminary discussion and preparatory work, but the ground has still not been covered, and we therefore feel it would be better to postpone the coming into force of that Act from January 1 to March 1. It was originally proposed that the Act should come into force on April 1, but in deference to wishes expressed in another place, and in view of the obvious fact that this Act is as necessary in time of war as, or probably more than, it is in time of peace, we are hastening as fast as we can over the preliminary work, and we have advanced the date by one month.

I do not think I need take your Lordships through the other clauses of the Bill in any detail. Clause 2 makes quite clear the purpose of certain Amendments to the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act, which, unfortunately, has hitherto been rather ambiguous owing to faulty draftsmanship. The final clause deals with a rather technical subject—namely, Section 140 of the Law of Property Act, 1922, which provides that lords of manors and owners of land out of which manorial incidents formerly issued have the right to apply to the Minister of Agriculture for an award determining the amount of compensation payable to the lord for the extinguishment of these incidents. That is a technical matter and it is quite clear it would not be fair to press on with it in time of war. Therefore I commend this Bill to your Lordships for Second Reading, quite confident that your Lordships will appreciate that no one regrets having to put off this legislation more than the Government.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.)

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to hear that the House to House Collections Act is not going to be postponed indefinitely. I was present yesterday at a meeting of a great many mayors and ex-mayors of London who have been consulted by the Commissioner of Police on the question of dates and the machinery of the Act, and considerable apprehension was expressed at that meeting because of this Act being postponed. I am delighted to hear it is coming into force on March 1.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.