HL Deb 14 July 1952 vol 177 cc1042-5

5.29 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it falls to me this afternoon to ask your Lordships to give a favourable consideration to a very simple measure, one that I think I may fairly describe as non-controversial. It comes here after being piloted through another place by a private Member, having received a very considerable amount of support from members of all Parties and, I think I can say, with a great deal of co-operation and help from the Government. The principle on which it is based can be stated in a single sentence: it is to enable courts of summary jurisdiction to make affiliation orders of the same amount for an illegitimate child as they at present can do for a legitimate child. That seems to be a principle of unexceptionable justice. The illegitimate child certainly requires as much to maintain him or her as the legitimate child—indeed, the circumstances are very often even harsher. Therefore, Clause 1 gives the court of summary jurisdiction power to make an affiliation order up to 30s. a week for an illegitimate child, whereas at the present time, under the Bastardy Acts, they can make it only up to 20s. This puts the illegitimate and the legitimate child on an equal footing.

Clause 2 enables the court of summary jurisdiction, where it thinks fit, to make an order for education or training of the child above the age of sixteen—again putting the illegitimate child and the legitimate child on the same footing. Here I may perhaps interpose a word to say that the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, of which I have had the honour to be President for many years, would have liked to see Clause 2 (2) strengthened so as to impose upon the court a duty to consider whether training is necessary and to see that it is, in fact, carried out. I have considered this point, but I shall not ask your Lordships, at a later stage, to consider any Amendment, not only because it seems to me that the court will do this naturally, in deciding whether or not it is "expedient" that payments should be made after the age of sixteen, but also because I am fully aware that if, at this stage of the Session, I were to ask your Lordships to consider an Amendment it might well imperil the whole Bill. However, I hope that the point will be considered at some future date.

Clause 3 simply applies to Scotland the provisions applicable to England. Clause 4 is a consequential Amendment of the Finance Act, to make these grants free of income tax. I do not feel that I need detain your Lordships longer. Accordingly, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, so far as we on this side are concerned, we shall certainly support the noble Lord in his desire to get this Bill through. I am minded just to say this. I hope the noble Lord will not press the objection which he has raised—namely, that he does not propose to move necessary Amendments because, by reason of time, the Bill might then not get through. I would point out that that principle is the negation of proper legislation. If this House is to be placed in a position in which it is to be said that we "must take it or leave it," then we shall not be able to do that useful sort of work which we ought to do. It is exactly in considering matters of this sort that this House ought to be free—and the timetable must be so arranged that this House should be free—to pass what Amendments it considers necessary to meet the justice of the case.

Having said that, however, for my own part I think the noble Lord would be wise not to press the Amendment which he indicated, not because of any question of time but because, on broad and general principles, I think it wiser not to impose duties on the courts. In my view, it is better to give the courts powers which they can exercise in cases in which they think it is right to do so. I think much harm comes from saying that, in certain cases, certain consequences are to follow; and as a broad and general rule I should be opposed to any such Amendment as the noble Lord indicated. I have nothing more to say, except that it seems to me only fair that, where an illegitimate child is born, the putative father should be called upon to make reasonable payment to support the child; and it seems to me that the payment here indicated is nothing more than is eminently reasonable, having regard to the circumstances existing to-day. Therefore, we certainly support the noble Lord in this Bill.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord said in presenting the Bill, it had the support of the Government in another place, and that support of the Bill in its present form we should certainly desire to extend here. I say "in its present form" because I am very much disposed to share the view just expressed by the noble and learned Earl as to the merits of leaving it in the state in which it is now, rather than to impose upon a court some particular, strict duty which it may not always be in the best interests of the child, or in the best interests of the community in general, to enforce. As the Bill now stands, Her Majesty's Government consider that it is right in principle, and they welcome its introduction.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, whilst thanking the two noble Lords who have supported the Bill, I should like to say only that I stressed that my own view was entirely in agreement with what the noble and learned Earl said about imposing a duty upon the court. That was my major reason for saying that I should not move any Amendment on the point.

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