HL Deb 25 March 1952 vol 175 cc924-60

3.20 p.m.

LORD STRABOLGI rose to move to resolve, That this House views with concern the continued number of cases before the courts of gross cruelty to children, and will support any practical measures to bring about a diminution of such cases. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I presume that the Resolution that I have ventured to put on the Order Paper will receive unanimous support from your Lordships, and I hope to show why I believe that some remedy for the present state of affairs can be found. The Resolution has been on the Order Paper for some time, but for various reasons, including the lamented death of the late King, I have had to delay moving it. I apologise to noble and spiritual Lords who may have been inconvenienced thereby. The general position, I think. is that while our society as a whole is more humane, and public opinion is more sensitive than it has ever been before, nevertheless this evil still persists, and the figures of prosecution do not show any diminution (indeed, there is an actual increase), as compared with those before the Second World War. I suggest that that is a very disturbing fact. There remains a hard core of callous, incompetent or grossly cruel parents and guardians which, according to the statistics, does not tend to diminish in number.

Perhaps I may trouble your Lordships with just a few figures. Before the Second World War the average number of convictions in England and Wales for these offences against young children was between 800 and 900 every year. Then during the war there was a sharp rise (which was to be expected, I suppose), when the figures went up to between 1,300 and 1,400 a year. The last year of the war was the worst in modern times, with 1,725 convictions for serious offences against young children. Since the end of the Second World War there has been a diminution, though during last year 1,019 persons were dealt with by the magistrates, and twenty-five by judge and jury. One has to compare that situation with an average of 800 to 900 before the war, so it will be seen that there has, if anything, been a slight increase.

It may be said that more prosecutions are brought, but, again, the figures would seem to show that in recent years there have bee, just as many cases as in the period between the two wars, if not more. For example, only a small proportion of the cases that are dealt with by one body—namely, the N.S.P.C.C.—reach the courts. In most cases their warnings and advice are successful. Only in extreme cases are actual prosecutions initiated. The average number of cases of cruelty or neglect reported every year to the N.S.P.C.C. is approximately 100,000. Then, in addition, a great deal of very fine work is done by other bodies. I have not statistics for the cases with which they deal (indeed, I doubt whether they exist)—I refer to the work done by the Church Army, the Salvation Army, the police, the clergy, doctors, school teachers and others. A great deal of work is done by these people by way of warning, admonishing and advising, and in many cases they take it upon themselves to report grave cases to the police which, after all, it is their duty as citizens to do. Very often these warnings and persuasions are effective up to a point. But there is also reason to believe that there are many other cases where children continue to suffer and where the neighbours know about it but are too timid or indifferent to take action. Therefore. the extent of the evil is very great indeed, and can hardly be exaggerated. The number of cases in a civilised community such as ours that reach the courts, and the number of cases that come to the notice of responsible bodies, is far too large and is really a blot on our society.

In my view, the evildoers divide themselves into two or three categories. To begin with, as your Lordships are well aware, many of these cases, particularly of neglect, a rise through sheer ignorance and incompetence. The incompetence and lack of elementary knowledge of many mothers in the poorer classes of the community is simply appalling, and the causes are very largely dire poverty or, again, a low mental development—and of course drink and gambling also play their part. But there is a great deal of what I may call involuntary neglect—and serious neglect at that—through the unsuitability of the parents to have children at all. Only training and rehabilitation can do very much in those cases. Then there are far too many cases where the parents are quite capable but are so callous, indifferent or stupid as to leave their children alone in the house for long periods. Any young child left alone in a dark house for a very long period can suffer acutely. The parents go out to some amusement or other and simply leave the child. Apparently it has not been recognised that this is a matter for which a criminal prosecution can be initiated.

The third and most appalling kind of case is that where there is direct brutality, either through lack of self-control or, in many cases I fear, through a delight in inflicting pain. These are quite abnormal people of course, but there are all too many of them, and in their case there seems to be no alternative but prison, with the removal of the children to approved homes, away from such influences. Compared to the cases of child neglect, those of direct cruelty and brutality are comparatively few, but even so, there are far too many of them. Your Lordships have only to read the newspapers to be horrified by the details which appear from time to time of some of these ghastly cases of child torture. In this respect, I should like to pay a tribute to the Press. I consider that they have performed a great service in publicising these cases and rousing public opinion. I am quite sure that this is not done for sensationalism. It has been done as a public duty by the large circulation papers, and I am sure that it has had the effect of rousing public opinion and of preventing a further spread of the evil. Nor has this matter been neglected by Parliament. I understand that later on in the debate the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, is to intervene. He was one of the earliest Members in another place to draw attention to this evil. He and other Members, including my old colleague Dr. Somerville Hastings, did very fine work indeed in Parliament in drawing attention to this evil, in exactly the same spirit as that in which I am putting this matter before your Lordships to-day.

With regard to these cases of deliberate cruelty to young children, I cannot help feeling that there is some ground for criticism of certain magistrates for dealing with them too lightly. I should be very interested to hear the opinion of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in regard to this matter. I believe that there is justification for public outcry against certain of the benches of magistrates who pass comparatively light sentences in these undoubtedly shocking cases of deliberate cruelty. After all, the magistrates have pretty wide powers. I am not for one moment making a sweeping attack on the benches of magistrates, but I must say that here and there—unless there are reasons for it which do not appear in the reports of the cases—the sentences passed seem unduly light. People charged with the offence of inflicting bodily harm can, of course, go before judges and juries, who have power to inflict heavier penalties; there is, however, some objection to trial in the higher courts, although the N.S.P.C.C. are proposing to bring far more cases before judges and juries. The objection is based on the fact that often there are inevitable delays. That, of course, cannot be helped. With regard to this question of the strength of the law, I entirely accept what the Home Secretary said as recently as last November on this matter. The official view is that the law is sufficiently strong and does not need special amendment. I put this forward with great diffidence in the presence of the Lord Chancellor, and I shall be glad to hear what he has to say upon the matter. After all, under the Children and Young Persons Act, magistrates have the power to inflict sentences of imprisonment of up to six months. I also admit that there may be many cases in which there are special circumstances where such a heavy penalty is uncalled for. I repeat, however, that I think there is some justification for the general opinion which seems to be held in the country that in certain cases some magistrates take far too lenient a view of this type of offence.

What are the remedies? What can we do about this evil? First of all, I suggest that public opinion is a great weapon, and that is one reason why I have ventured to bring this matter before your Lordships this afternoon. If, through Parliament, through the Press, through the radio, we can arouse public opinion, I think that that will perhaps do as much as anything else in the present state of affairs. Neighbours, if roused to their duty, have only to inform the police when a case comes to their notice; and usually the police, in their turn, call in the N.S.P.C.C., who are very skilled and experienced in these matters. Equally, teachers can do a very great deal of good in this matter. All teachers to-day, of course, are overworked, because, to a great extent, of the large classes with which they have to deal and the extraneous duties which they have to perform. But I believe that it would have a very good effect if a directive could be sent to all school-teachers, and particularly to all school inspectors, telling them that when a case of obvious and serious neglect in the home, or, maybe, of direct ill-treatment, comes to their notice, it is their duty to inform the police at once. Naturally, the ordinary citizen, whether he be a person like a school inspector or just an ordinary man in the street, is reluctant to be mixed up in anything unpleasant, but that is a feeling which must be broken down if this great evil is to be substantially diminished.

My own particular suggestion, in this connection, is this. I think that the N.S.P.C.C. should be strengthened and subsidised. I believe that they have about reached the limit of their expansion—for they have been expanding—with the support of public subscriptions, and I think that a good case may be made out for a direct subsidy. There are in the country only 270 inspectors. They are a splendid body of men and women—most of the men being ex-petty officers of the Royal Navy, or ex-N.C.O.s of Her Majesty's Army—and they do very good work indeed. But there are not enough of them. In addition to this force, there are some 50,000 honorary voluntary workers, who help in various ways, including the raising of funds, and carry out important duties. I think that there is a case for a subsidy to the N.S.P.C.C., and I hope that it will be possible to arrange that without interfering with its very fine voluntary organisation.

I should like to draw the attention of the Lord Chancellor to the necessarily limited work done by the Salvation Army, in teaching the rudiments of motherhood and housekeeping to the most ignorant of these women. Particularly, I would draw attention to the work of the Mayflower Home near Plymouth. Numbers of these women—amongst them individuals who are completely ignorant of the most elementary duties of mother and housewife—are taken to this beautiful place on the outskirts of Plymouth and are there taught the simplest things necessary for the welfare of the child and the decency of the hone. This work has had remarkable and highly successful results. But there is only one Home and it can take only about a couple of dozen of women, with their children, at a time. I should like to see many more such institutions established. Many more are required for the literally hundreds of cases of mothers who are ignorant, uninformed or incompetent to such an extent that they are unfit to have charge of children, although they are not deliberately cruel. What these women want is a little training and instruction and example. If that can be given them, an immense amount of suffering can be removed. These mothers need not always be separated from their children. Often they are quite loving mothers, but they are just incompetent and they need teaching.

With regard to demands for strengthening the law I accept entirely the view of the Home Secretary given last November, that the law is sufficiently strong as it is. I would not venture to make any suggestion on those lines. But I would repeat—and I believe that here I am supported by those who have given their lives to the care of children—that if the great weapon of public opinion can be sufficiently roused it will be a tremendous force against this minority of brutal parents and the large number of ignorant and incompetent mothers and fathers. Because I believe that in this House your Lordships have the power and influence to help to create public opinion, I commend this Resolution to your notice. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House views with concern the continued numbers of cases before the courts of gross cruelty to children, and will support any practical measures to bring about a diminution of such cases—(Lord Strabolgi.)

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, no one ever had more need of the indulgence which is usually accorded by your Lordships to anyone making his maiden speech than I have, because, as is known to many of your Lordships, I spent forty-seven tumultuous years internationally, nationally and, I may add, in a personal sense, in another place, and I have yet to become accustomed to a new environment. Noble Lords who, like me, have had the advantage of being educated at Eton, will appreciate the simile when I say that I feel rather like someone who, having been in "Pop" at Eton and occupied a position of some authority in the school, finds himself a week later on the barrack square at Caterham as a National Service recruit in the Guards.

After that somewhat egoistic opening, I should like to say a word or two about this Resolution from the point of view of one who, as the noble Lord who moved the Resolution stated, has taken a considerable interest in the matter in another place; and I should like to thank the noble Lord for his friendly references to the action taken by Dr. Somerville Hastings, myself and others, sitting in various parts of another place, on this question. It is, or should be, an uncontroversial matter, at any rate in the political sense, but it is, unfortunately, not wholly an uncontroversial matter in another sense, because, as I shall endeavour to show in the short speech with which I propose to trouble your Lordships, there is more than one school of opinion on the question of how cruelty to children should be dealt with.

I think that I an best explain my point by reciting the line which a little group of us—belonging, as I have already said, to more than one Party—took in two or three debates which we had in another place. We began by saying that there seemed to be an increase in the number of cases of serious cruelty to children arising both from actual cruelty and from neglect. We thought it was difficult, even by figures, to prove that that was so, because the larger number of cases reported night be due to the increased vigilance of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the police. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has given some useful figures in articles which he wrote for the newspapers, of which he was good enough to send me a copy, and in his speech this afternoon, which seem to confirm the line we took.

My second point, which I wish to stress very strongly, is that, superficially at any rate, the public and some magistrates at that time seemed to regard cruelty to animals, of which there is happily less in Britain than in most European countries, as a more grave offence than cruelty to children, of which there is a great deal. I made some sarcastic comments in another place on the situation which existed. There are a number of societies devoted to preventing cruelty to animals. There are two concerned solely with cruelty to dogs—the Canine Defence League and Our Dumb Friends' League—certainly not a very appropriate term for animals who do so much harm to sheep. I think the number of organised societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals is seven or eight and, of course, the revenue they enjoy is vastly greater in the aggregate than that enjoyed by the N.S.P.C.C. We said that while it was perfectly legitimate for people to subscribe these large sums to animal welfare and protection societies if they wished, it seemed an anomaly greater even than the English love of inconsistency should tolerate that there should be only one society dealing with cruelty to children, which, as the noble Lord said, has by no means a large revenue and is coming to the end of its resources so far as expenses are concerned. In contrast with this all these animal societies in the aggregate have a vast income and take big advertising space in the papers for their propaganda. I do not want to elaborate the point, but the impression has been given abroad that we are more concerned with preventing cruelty to animals than with preventing cruelty to children.

I deem it to be the duty of any Peer addressing your Lordships' House for the first time to avoid controversy in his maiden speech, but I should like to say that I differ in one respect from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I should not like to see a subvention for the N.S.P.C.C. I should certainly not support it without information from the Home Office showing that it was desirable. On the face of it, it does not seem to be. What I should like to see is more support for the N.S.P.C.C. in new members and more revenue, and I hope that what the noble Lord and I have said this afternoon may call attention to this matter.

My third point is one which already very properly has been elaborated by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. We said that, while not denying that heavy prison sentences were not the answer to some cases of cruelty to children arising from ignorance or a low mentality, we strongly urged that the maximum sentence was too low under the present Act. I was very glad that the noble Lord paid tribute to the work being done by the Salvation Army and other bodies in trying to deal with this appalling difficulty of mothers and step-mothers of low mentality, who in some cases are mentally deficient, if not in the legal sense then in the practical sense. I hope the work of those bodies will be extended. I do not want to elaborate this subject, because it is not one with which I am familiar.

We asked this question, which was not answered at the time, but which I think has now been answered: Why do not the Society and the police resort more often to the Act of Parliament which deals with grievous bodily harm, rather than the Act which deals merely with cruelty to children? Some recent cases have been brought up under the "grievous bodily harm" Act. The late Home Secretary, Mr. Chuter Ede—a very good Home Secretary, if I may pay a tribute to a political opponent; at any rate, a good Home Secretary in non-Party matters—though sympathetic to our action in raising the matter, considered that the present machinery, voluntary and otherwise, for dealing with this evil, both from a penal and from a remedial point of view, was adequate. And the spokesman for the then Government in your Lordships' House took the same view.

At that time the N.S.P.C.C. were frankly unsympathetic to our contentions and questions, and seemed by one of their pronouncements, issued through one of their officials, to think that we were in some way reflecting upon their work and that we should impede that work. Nothing was further from our minds and I am sure nothing is further from the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in raising the matter this afternoon. We do not want to impede the work of the Society, but to assist it by calling attention to the magnitude of the evil. If it is not conceited to say so, I think we had some success in this. We aroused public opinion in another place, and I hope it is not impertinent to say, to some extent in this House as well, and we received support in the Press. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has called attention to some excellent articles appearing lately in the Evening News. As an old journalist and one connected with journalism all my life, I knew it was necessary to arouse the interest of editors and journalists who thought this was a question of legitimate news value which ought to be considered and elaborated in the newspaper Press of the country. I think there is a much better current of opinion on this subject to-day than there was two or three years ago, when the whole matter was more or less ignored. Some questions still remain to be answered. I am well aware that it is an unwritten law in your Lordships' House as it is a written rule in another place, that I must not say anything which reflects, or appears to reflect, on judicial decisions, and I hope I shall not be breaking that rule in calling your Lordships' attention to three cases which appear (I do not think it is improper to use that term) to offer some contrast. In two weeks two men received heavy terms of imprisonment for cruelty to children, one receiving five years and the other seven years. Exactly a week later the following case occurred in Kent. I quote from a newspaper cutting: Roland Wood, 28, transport driver, Windmill road, Gillingham, Kent, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at Chatham yesterday for assaulting and ill-treating his ten-month-old son. The child was committed to the care of Kent County Council. Mr. J. Williams, for the N.S.P.C.C., said that the child was the illegitimate son of Wood and Miss Christina Elliot. 18, of The Chase, Chatham. The couple had been living together in a flat until January 27, when Wood left. The point follows to which I should like to call your Lordships' attention: When seen by an N.S.P.C.C. inspector and a doctor at his grandmother's home on February 5, the child had extensive bruising to the thighs, hip, knee and by his right ear. Dr. R. Erskine Grey said that some of the bruises had been caused by a stick or a poker and could not have been caused accidentally. That man received six months' imprisonment for beating a child ten months old with a stick or a poker, probably doing permanent mental harm, at any rate, to that child. I contrast that with the other cases.

I have not attempted to suggest—because I think it would be unsuitable in a maiden speech, and perhaps it might well come into the realm of controversy—what are the causes of this child cruelty. I hope: that I shall not be breaking the rule of being uncontroversial in a maiden speech if I say that I do not wholly agree with the noble Lord who moved the Motion that it is due to poverty. I feel that the majority of cases are due to ignorance, to which the noble Lord referred, and to low mentality. I feel, further, that it is partly due to the decay of Christian observance, and disbelief in penalties which Christianity teaches comes to the wicked—and that is the conclusion of more than one independent observer. I know, as a magistrate, and as one who as a Member in another place for forty-seven years was concerned with making laws, the difficulty in a country like ours of exact adjustment of penalties to fit the crime. I know, too, as a layman, something of the difficulties of obtaining consistency of sentences in higher or lower courts. Nevertheless, I would, with respect, suggest to your Lordships that the case I have quoted seems to show that there is need for consideration from every aspect by the Government and the Home Secretary of the subject of to-day's discussion.

While thanking your Lordships for being so kind as to give such attention to my maiden speech, I would conclude on this note. We have, as a nation, a thoroughly well-deserved reputation throughout the world, even, I believe, among our enemies, for humane thought and action and hatred of cruelty and oppression. We have a proud record. We were the first of all the great nations to abolish slavery. We ought not to tolerate any lowering of that standard merely because it is not easy to devise deterrents to cruelty to children, or merely because opinions differ as to the best methods of treating an admitted evil. I would commend to noble Lords the subject of this discussion, because I am sure it requires the attention of your Lordships' House.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I understand that this is the first occasion on which the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, has addressed your Lordships' House, and I am sure it is your wish, as it is mine, that I should congratulate him on the splendid speech which he has just made. As we all know, the noble Earl was for many years the Father of the House of Commons. That is, indeed, not surprising, because it was in 1904, at the age of twenty-one, that he first became a Member of that distinguished Assembly. The fact that he stood for Parliament at the age of twenty-one reminds me of an amiable story which may or may not be applicable to the noble Earl. A young man standing for Parliament for the first time at the age of twenty-one was addressing a crowded and rather hostile eve-of-the-poll meeting when some wag in the audience shouted out: "Does your mother know that you are out to-night?" He replied: "Yes; and to-morrow night she will know that I am in." However that may be, the noble Earl was in the other place for some forty-seven years, and he now brings to your Lordships' House a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be fully appreciated.

Coming now to the subject of the Motion before your Lordships, I feel that we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for having brought this matter forward. We are all rather inclined to view this matter from the number of convictions for cruelty to children. From January 1, 1941, to March 26, 1951, a period of ten years and three months, there were 12,000 convictions for cruelty to children. That is a most depressing figure, but it is only a fraction of the cases which have called for investigation. For example, in 1949 the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children dealt with 100,000 cases and instituted 626 proceedings. In 1950, the N.S.P.C.C. dealt with 90,000 cases, and of that number there were 9,000 children who were being actively ill-treated when the N.S.P.C.C. intervened and were able to get matters put right. It is difficult to be accurate on this point, but I think it is fair to say that the average proportion of cases investigated from all sources which end in the magistrates' courts is about 1.6 per cent. I think it is only fair to distinguish between the various types of cruelty to children. Here again, it is impossible to be absolutely accurate, but it has been found that about 87 per cent. of the cases are due to neglect, and, mercifully, that only 13 per cent. are due to deliberate cruelty.

I make no criticism of the way in which the courts deal with the cases within the existing law; in fact, it would be out of place for me to do so. No doubt, other more experienced and far more learned noble Lords will raise the point that, in many cases, the charge should have been brought, in the first instance, under the Offences Against the Person Act, which provides heavier penalties than does the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933. But I should like to indulge in one reflection. There is, in my view, a great deal of mistaken sentiment about punishing the parents in cases of cruelty to children. People argue that if the father is sent to prison, then the home is broken up. Other people say that if the father is fined, then the mother and the children also suffer. If arguments of that sort are to prevail, then one might as well abolish altogether punishment for cruelty to children. In some of the cases that occur to-day the parents (or one of them) are utterly unfitted by their behaviour to look after children, and the sooner the unhappy children of those parents are cared for on an institutional basis the better. No one hates an institution more than I do. I have not been inside one yet, but in my old age it is likely that I shall visit one. However that may be, I feel that where the parents are totally unfitted to have care of children, then the sooner the children are sent to an institution the better. Some people think that that means a life sentence. It means nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it would be desirable to return those children to their homes, provided that their parents had restored themselves, both morally and in other respects.

Everyone is agreed that prevention is better than punishment. The principal causes of cruelty to children—and I cannot understand there being any real controversy about this matter—consist of such things as bad or inadequate housing, poverty, families that are too large to "be supported, and parents who are physically and mentally unfitted for parenthood. But the tragedy of the matter is this. Even when all these causes are removed, there will still be a number of cases where children are ill-treated. The ideal is to abolish the causes which give rise to that ill-treatment of children. But that is the ideal, and one which is never likely to be completely attained. The next best thing is to detect cases of cruelty in the early stages and to take the necessary action. I want to make it quite clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. On the contrary, the N.S.P.C.C. may not agree with what I say. However, I understand that the; position at the moment is that inspectors of the N.S.P.C.C. have not a legal right of entry. It is true that in the majority of cases they are able to obtain admittance to houses without any great difficulty, and that if they do meet with difficulty they can always obtain the services of the police. I myself feel—and perhaps this comes rather strangely from the Liberal Benches—that properly authorised and trained inspectors of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children should be granted the legal right of entry into any house or building in the United Kingdom, whether or not a complaint has been made.

That may seem an absolutely monstrous proposal but, nevertheless, I think it is one worthy of consideration. At the present time, far too many officials have the legal right of entry into people's homes, and I believe that a great number of those rights of entry could be abolished. But when it, comes to safeguarding children I would stop at practically nothing to prevent any possibility of children being ill-treated. The point I desire to make is this. You can arouse public opinion, you can make long speeches, you can pass numerous Acts of Parliament which deal with the punishment of offenders and the various methods of looking after children who have been ill-treated by their parents; but all the time hundreds and possibly thousands of cases are occurring where children are being surreptitiously ill-treated by their parents and nothing is done until some neighbour finds out and makes a complaint, either to the police or to the National Society. For that reason, I submit to the Government that they should very seriously consider giving the inspectors of the National Society unlimited power to enter into anybody's house, whether a complaint has been made or not, in order to inquire how the children are being cared for in that household.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to be able to add my congratulations to the noble Earl on his maiden speech. I must say that, sitting on these Benches, I never expected that the first remark I should make on any speech of the noble: Earl's would be one of congratulation and agreement with what he said. But so it is, and I am very glad that he said what he did in this debate. I wish to make only one or two very short points. So far as the newspapers are concerned, in these recent cases the courts seem in many cases to have done little more than inflict a fine. Reading through the reports of these cases makes me wonder whether a fine is the proper punishment and whether possibly there ought not to be some amendment of the Acts of Parliament dealing with this matter. It is all very well fining the parents, but where there is either deliberate cruelty or sheer ignorance and neglect, surely what is needed is a much longer period of treatment of the parents, either in prison or, perhaps, voluntarily at some institution. The offending parent may be fined, but that does not necessarily alter the parents' minds. We want the parents to learn better, and the only way to teach them better is to send them either voluntarily or perforce to some sort of school, institution or prison where they will learn better. If that is not done, then ultimately the matter is not put right.

There is one point that I should like to make here. A home is a home, and where there is a vestige of a home remaining, or a chance of one being rebuilt, we should be very careful not to do anything which might smash it up. It is largely a matter of whether there is any natural affection remaining in the family—whether the father and mother continue to be together, and whether the children, in spite of the cruelties which have been inflicted on them, continue to love their parents. In many of these homes where cruelty occurs, or even where it has been proved before the courts, the children still have some love for their parents. Where that is so, I believe that the proper treatment is to send the parents—perhaps by a court binding them over—to some sort of home or institution where they can learn their job properly and continue to look after their children, or, possibly, after a period return to their children and keep the home going. Where, however, that natural affection has been killed by the cruelty—and in most of the bad cases that does happen—and where the child is terrified of its parents, then, of course, there is nothing left to do. The home must be broken up; the children must be taken away from the parents, and something done about it. But let us not treat the case just as a crime, for which a punishment must be imposed. Let us treat it as the case of a home which is becoming damaged, and which we must try and repair. And only if it is found that it cannot possibly be repaired should we break it up.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, a few weeks ago I happened to read in the Daily Graphic an interesting article on the whole question of cruelty to children. One or two cases were quoted of brutal, sadistic torture of small children. This article had a subheading which was printed almost across the whole page in letters about three quarters of an inch long, and which read: "Make the brutes suffer." That is the instinctive reaction of most of us when we read stories of that kind. When that happens I think we most of us label these emotions as an expression of righteous indignation and rather enjoy the stimulation of them. I would venture to suggest that these emotions should be repressed rather than encouraged.

I have no wish to weary your Lordships with a disquisition on the theory of punishment, but I will take leave to say that I do not myself believe in punishment as an end in itself, apart from such deterrent or reformative effects as it might have. I do not myself believe that the kind of persons who are guilty of these extreme, brutal cruelties—people who are really to be regarded more or less as pathological cases and certainly as persons of sadistic tendencies—are likely to be deterred by fear of an increased penalty or reformed by punishment however severe. In the course of this debate reference has already been made to what has happened in another place. There have recently been two discussions of this subject there, and stress was there laid upon what were termed the absurdly light sentences of the magistrates. One of the speakers gave as an illustration a case which had occurred in my own diocese in Ipswich. The mother was found guilty of treatment likely to cause the child unnecessary suffering and injury. That was the judgment of the magistrates, and the woman was fined £10. On the face of it, that did seem a quite inadequate penalty.

I made a point of making inquiries about this case. I think the result of my inquiries might very likely apply in many other cases in which the sentences of the magistrates have been described as inadequate. In this particular case the three adjudicating magistrates were well known to me; they were experienced magistrates and they were persons for whom I had a high regard. I have complete confidence in their judgment and discretion. The magistrates' clerk then showed to me (I do not know whether or not he ought to have done) his full and careful notes on the case. I carefully studied these notes and came to the conclusion that in this particular case the magistrates had dealt wisely with the matter. I suggest to your Lordships that it ought always to be remembered, when we read in the Press the accounts of these various cases, that we never have all the facts clearly before us. The amount of space which the Press can give to the accounts of these cases is necessarily limited; and I feel that, sometimes, when they are selecting what parts of the evidence to publish and what parts not to publish, they tend to select the more striking and sensational elements in the evidence. At any rate they do not give the whole of the evidence, and we are not told how much of the evidence the magistrates accept and how much they reject—nor are we told anything of the home and of the whole background of the persons who have been brought up for judgment.

My own view is that for the most part the magistrates, who have all the facts before them and full knowledge of all the circumstances of the guilty party, are far better fitted to deliver the right judgment than those whose sole information in regard to the case is derived from the necessarily incomplete and inadequate Press accounts which they have read. Whether I am right or wrong in this view I do not know; but I feel that by merely increasing the penalty we are not very likely to check the evil. I was interested the other day to see that the Prison Commissioners had inaugurated a special training scheme for women prisoners at Birmingham, where they were given training in mothercraft and kindred subjects. Women are brought from various places to this prison at Birmingham for instruction. Obviously we shall have to wait and see how that experiment works, but if it works well a development of the scheme would do a great deal to increase the reformative element in imprisonment. Better still, instead of sentencing neglectful mothers to prison, why not, as has already been suggested, send some of them to the excellent Mayflower Home at Plymouth, of which the noble Lord who moved this Motion made mention? I should think that if other and similar places were established and run by, say, the Salvation Army, it would produce very valuable results.

Of course, in almost all cases of cruelty, the child is moved from the custody of the parent and sent either to an institution or, which is much better, to a home under the care of foster parents. I am told that one of the great difficulties to-day is to find a sufficient supply of persons who are willing to become foster parents and take such children into their homes. I wish a great deal more would be done by the local authorities and the clergy to stress the immense value of the work which can be done by persons who are willing to become foster parents to children of this kind. A good deal might be achieved by the local authorities were it made more plain what are the duties, the responsibilities and the financial arrangements in respect of these foster parents. That matter, I believe, was dealt with in the Curtis Report, but I, for one, have not seen anything come of the suggestion.

This Motion deals only with what one might call the court cases—the cases that come into the court. I should like to say a word about the other cases, those that do not come to the court. The great majority of cases of cruelty and neglect belong to this category. It is immensely encouraging to read the detailed reports of the very successful results derived from assistance given by the N.S.P.C.C. inspectors. I know something of the work of this Society, and I should like to pay a tribute to it. I believe that a certain number of local authorities make grants to the N.S.P.C.C. within their own area. I wish that that kind of support could be given by other local authorities. It would not be likely in the least to interfere with the voluntary status of the Society, any more than is the case with other voluntary bodies, such as Diocesan Moral Welfare Societies, which are assisted by local authorities. There is no doubt whatever that if this Society had more funds, more inspectors and more workers, the splendid work which they are doing could be very much enlarged. We must remember that the inspectors of the N.S.P.C.C. can deal only with such cases as are reported to them; and I was therefore glad that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, stressed the duty incumbent on every citizen to report either to the police or to the N.S.P.C.C. inspectors any cases of cruelty that they may have reason to suspect.

There have lately been a series of articles in the Daily Graphic on the subject of cruelty to children. These articles have now come to a close, and the writer, in summing up the whole matter, says: The real chance of eradicating this rests with ordinary people's willingness to report to the N.S.P.C.C. At the same time, I would venture to utter a word of caution. Experience shows that sometimes these reports are prompted by ill will and spite against the parents of the children on the part of those who report them, rather than by any real desire to help. I am inclined to think that in the Ipswich case some of the evidence which appeared in print was prejudiced because that kind of wrong spirit was underlying those who came forward with that evidence. In considering this matter of reporting, perhaps I may tell your Lordships a story, which is true. It was told me by a solicitor some little time ago. A boy of about eight or nine years of age had received chastisement, and after the process had been completed and the slipper restored to its place, he turned to his father and said, "I shall report you to the inspector to-morrow." This business of reporting is evidently fairly well known.

There is one last point I would mention. As other speakers have said, the only way to deal with this evil is to deal with its causes—bad housing conditions, drunkenness, selfishness, broken homes, the existence of step-children in the home, unwanted children, mentally defective children. In the great majority of cases, the cruelty and neglect are not really due to inhumanity or cruelty on the part of the parents; they are due mainly to ignorance, lack of imagination, thoughtlessness and, above all, lack of any training for motherhood. My judgment would be that what is needed in the great majority of cases is help rather than punishment.

I am sure that a great deal more can be done than is done, by giving instruction to adolescents in what might be termed the duties of parenthood—teaching young people something of the great and glorious privilege and the great responsibility of parenthood. I do not know to what extent this kind of instruction is included in what is termed the sex hygiene instruction in our schools. It is unfortunately the fact that large numbers of girls leave school with no idea whatever of the immense privilege of motherhood, and no knowledge of what might be termed mothercraft. Training at the schools is provided for them for almost every other career except that career which is surely the most important of all, the career of motherhood. I would maintain that children who are old enough to be taught what one might properly call the biological facts are old enough also to be taught something of the privilege and responsibility of parenthood—not left to go out into the world, as some of them do, with the desire that sexual instincts can be enjoyed without the unfortunate consequence of parenthood.

I think that much more teaching of this kind should be given to youth fellowship organisations, the Rover Scouts, the Rangers and societies like the Girls' Friendly Society. That kind of teaching would, I believe, help these young people to look at the whole question of sex in what is surely the right perspective. At a comparatively early age they would be taught to view themselves as potential fathers and mothers, and made anxious to prepare themselves for their coming responsibilities. At a later stage, perhaps the last stage of that teaching, instruction certainly ought to be given by the clergy whenever they have to deal with people who come to see them to put up their banns of marriage—as the clergy are instructed by the Bishops to do—in order that these people may better be prepared for those responsibilities which marriage brings, including, of course, the privilege and responsibility of parenthood. That would be my main suggestion as to the way in which we could best deal with the problem. Of course, what I have suggested may represent merely the long-term policy. It would not produce immediate or spectacular results. But it is one way, and I think it is an important way. Certainly it is a way in which members of our Church can help to deal with what is obviously a very serious blot on our whole social life.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, there really is no point in rising to repeat in one or two halting words what has already been so well said in this debate. I shall, therefore, be very brief. In the first place, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord behind me who has raised this Motion. I think he has done a useful public service, not for the first time, in bringing this matter to the attention of the public. I agree with him that the best cure for this sort of trouble is that the searchlight of public opinion should be focused upon it. I agree with him, further, that the Press in this matter have been doing valuable work. I hope that they will go on throwing light on questions of this sort.

I should just like to say this about the noble Earl, Lord Winterton. I became a Member of another place for the first time thirty years ago. He had then already seen long service there. He was not always easy to discipline or control. I hope that he will show those same characteristics here, in which case he will enliven our debates considerably—and our debates do sometimes need a little enlivening. I thought he made an exceedingly good practical point, which is typical of the man, when he called attention to the fact that so many questions, so much time and so many speeches are devoted to the question of cruelty to animals. Several times recently we in this House have had debates concerned with devising more humane traps for rabbits and rats, and other matters of that sort—and let it be so. I do not wish to inflict cruelty on any of God's creatures. But I feel that we sometimes tend to lose our sense of proportion when we spend so much time discussing animals and so very little time discussing children. I, for one, in this matter am proud to be a disciple sitting at the feet of the noble Earl and following his good example.

I have given a great deal of thought to this question. I do not believe that this is primarily a question of punishment at all. I think it inevitable and right that there should be the possibility of inflicting severs punishment in really brutal cases, and that possibility exists. Of course the magistrates can commit for trial, and the charge can be preferred not only under the Children Act but also under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1851. If a person is charged under that Act he can receive very severe punishment indeed. In fact, I am inclined to think he can be imprisoned for life. I think that in these bad cases the Society would be well advised to consider bringing their charge and asking for a committal for trial under the Offences Against the Person Act. Of course it is easy to criticise any particular case. The noble Earl, Lord Winterton, showed great discretion in touching on the facts of a case when he rightly said: "We do not know all the facts." Of course, the magistrates sometimes err; they sometimes show a lack of discretion. But, speaking by and large, having seen the magistrates at work closely for nearly six and a half years, I have come to the conclusion that they are doing their job extraordinarily well. No doubt, there are cases where they make mistakes, but it is right, I think, that there should be heavy reserve powers for punishment in the really bad cases.

Having said that, I would add that I agree with the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken. I do not believe that this is primarily a question of punishment at all. My emphasis here would be on the educational side of the problem. We passed in 1948 the Children Act. We empowered the Secretary of State to make grants to voluntary societies, and we empowered a local authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to make contributions to any voluntary organisation the object or primary object of which is the promotion of the welfare of children. I do not think the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, or the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, would find themselves at variance on this point. If it is the fact, as it seems to be, that the resources of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are too strained today, then I think they would both welcome the exercise of the power under Section 46 of the Children Act of 1948—that is to say, that there should be assistance by the local authority, which can be given if the consent of the Secretary of State is obtained.

The form of assistance to which I should like to give emphasis is that of education. Although one does find some absolute brutes with regard to whom people say, "Let us have flogging," and all that sort of thing, I do not think we should do much by considerations of that sort. In my opinion, the vast majority of these cases are cases of neglect through ignorance and carelessness, and this seems to me to be a useful and proper field for education. I hope that the local authorities will take up this matter, in the way indicated by the right reverend Prelate. If I may say so, this is an eminently practical field in which Christianity might play a part. The problem may not excite so much interest as many of the doctrinal disputes which we have to-day, but it is satisfactory to think that we have the active support of Churches of all denominations in this matter, which, as Lord Strabolgi said, is a blot on our civilisation. Certainly foreigners, who cannot compare with us in our treatment of animals, point the finger of scorn at us about this matter—whether rightly or wrongly, I do not know. They say that there is no need for such a society in foreign countries. But it is plainly the duty of us all to do whatever we can to end this scandal. If there is one case, that is one case too many.

I would therefore emphasise that, if necessary, we should usefully spend public money in seeing that we have all the facilities for educating people in such things as mothercraft and the like. I am convinced that in that way we shall do more good than by adopting merely punitive methods.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, so much has been said in this House and so much has been written on this subject, that I feel there is very little of any use that I can add in this debate, and I am well aware that one may be accused of uttering a series of platitudes. But I should like to utter one ward of warning, if I may. I am sure none of your Lordships will think that I desire in any way to minimise the ghastly offence of cruelty to children, or to offer any apology for it; but there is a danger of the matter being exaggerated, or regarded with some exaggeration. Cruelty to children is not an offence upon which it is easy to obtain real statistics, as I think the noble Lord who moved this Resolution agreed. In such matters as housebreaking, murder or rape, the offence becames known to the police, whether there is a conviction or not; and statistics can be compiled showing how many offences have been committed in any particular year. But these offences of cruelty to children are, of course, committed in the privacy of the home, and therefore it is extremely difficult to know to what extent, if any, this crime has increased.

That prosecutions have increased is all to the good, but that does not prove the point. That prosecutions have been increased is due, no doubt, to the work of the Society and of the police. Here I desire to pay special tribute to the work of teachers in the schools. Only the other day at the Central Criminal Court I tried a shocking case of cruelty to a child that would probably have gone undetected had it not been for the vigilance of the headmaster of the school. But if one looks at children generally who are seen about now, I wonder whether it is true to say that cruelty, as a whole, has increased in relation to what it was when Dickens wrote Oliver Twist. I myself cannot believe that it has. I think that society is less tolerant of brutality in all forms than it was in those days, although, unhappily, many dreadful cases are from time to time brought before the courts, and rouse a great deal of public indignation. Admittedly, there are also cases in which the penalties and so forth are inadequate.

Before I go into that matter, I may say that I hope the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, about giving inspectors, as they are called—the servants of voluntary societies—the right to enter people's houses, will not be adopted. I cannot help thinking that even to make such a suggestion is not helpful to the cause which Lord Meston has so much at heart. If the employees of voluntary societies were given the right of free entry into people's houses in order to inquire into crime—a right which is not possessed by police officers—I think it would cause such indignation that the cause which the noble Lord has at heart would be very much set back.

Now may I just deal for a moment with this question of inadequate sentences? Whenever there is a bad case of this sort reported in the newspapers, my postbag is at once swelled by people who write and ask me what I am going to do about it. The answer to that is quite simple—namely, that I can do nothing about it. The point is that the law as it stands is perfectly adequate to deal with these cases. What is needed is a further application of the law and the impressing upon magistrates from time to time of the fact that they ought not to deal with cases summarily merely because they have the power to deal with them in that way. That does not apply only to cases of cruelty to children. In various addresses that I have made to magistrates in the last two years, I have constantly impressed upon them that it is not merely a question of whether they can deal with a case. They can deal with an enormous number of cases. A very large number of indictable offences can be dealt with summarily. The case from Chatham which the noble Earl quoted, was obviously a case which ought to have been sent for trial, and I am surprised that in that particular case the magistrate's clerk did not, at any rate, advise to that effect.

But I do want to stand up for magistrates as much as I can, and in this class of case particularly, although I think they make a great mistake in not sending cases for trial. The fact is that there is a great tendency (and I think the National Society has shown it) to ask the magistrates to deal with these cases summarily. Under the Criminal Justice Acts now in force, the prosecution can start by asking a bench to deal with a case summarily. The bench are not bound to do it because the prosecution asks them to do it, and if in the course of hearing a case they come to the conclusion that it ought to go for trial, it is perfectly open to them to order it to go for trial. But, of course, when you get a bench of magistrates who have before them an advocate instructed by a reputable society, or by the police, or whomsoever it may be, who asks them to deal with the case summarily, I am not sure that the bench can be blamed because they comply with that request. But that magistrates ought to be more ready to send cases for trial, I think, cannot be controverted. I know that such a course causes more trouble. There is a certain amount of delay. It may be, too, that very often it would not be right to let the defendant out on bail, because he might go back to the same household as the child—assuming that the child had not been removed to a place of safety. In those circumstances, it would be very dangerous to allow bail. But I am perfectly certain that a very large proportion of the cases at present dealt with by magistrates ought to be sent for trial; and, as has been said from more than one quarter of this House, charges ought to be preferred under the Offences Against the Person Act.

It is curious that so many prosecutions are brought under the Children Act, cases which might have been brought under the ordinary law of the land—I mean the ordinary Acts which apply in ordinary cases. Why recourse is so often had to the Children Act, I do not know. But even if the case is brought under the Children Act, the magistrates can still send it for trial. The penalties are, on summary conviction, a fine of £25 and six months' imprisonment and, on indictment, a line of £100—which is generally inappropriate in cases of this sort, because it is not possible for the people convicted to pay it—or sentences up to two years' imprisonment. If magistrates will make freer use of their powers, and if prosecutors will consider putting forward different charges, more serious charges, more appropriate charges, when serious crimes are committed against children, a great deal of the agitation in the public mind upon this subject will. I believe, he found to die down, and people will be satisfied.

May I say that I entirely agree with the view of the right reverend Prelate, that punishment is not in itself an end, and that punishment will not necessarily cure this particular class of crime? I would also say that it is necessary, if there is to be a due and proper respect for the criminal law in this country, and if the criminal law is to be adequately administered, that it shall have the support of public opinion. There is nothing more dangerous than to get the criminal law either at variance or out of touch with public opinion. Public opinion does demand that there shall be adequate and, indeed, severe sentences in many of these cases. If the public once got the idea that the courts were not dealing firmly and severely with this class of case, then I think the public would be—and rightly—entirely dissatisfied. May I also say how much I agree with what has been said in this House with regard to neglect cases? In that connection, I desire again to say a word for the magistrates. Neglect cases can be sharply divided into two categories. There are cases of deliberate and wilful neglect, in which the parents, whether father or mother, or both. instead of staying with their children go out drinking, and leave the children alone at home. But there are also cases in which the mother is a slattern, and her children live in horrible and verminous conditions. That second class of case may be due to negligence!, but not wilful negligence. Very often, curiously enough, you find the women concerned in the latter class of case are quite fond of their children.

I have often thought that what the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Lichfield urged so earnestly a year or two ago—namely, the desirability of having places to which the court would have power to send these women—would be an ideal solution. I know, of course, that in these days it might rot be easy to adopt, because of the expense and the difficulty of finding people to run such homes. I desire to be associated in the tribute that has been paid to the work of that marvellous organisation the Salvation Army— I refer to its work in general, and not merely to its work in this particular connection. I do not believe there is a judge on the Bench who has to deal with criminal cases who does not from time to time receive the greatest possible help from the Salvation Army and its devoted workers. Now we hear—and I rejoice to hear it—that the Prison Commissioners have taken up the attitude which has just been described to your Lordships, and that they are trying to arrange mothercraft classes in the prisons. This, I am sure, is all to the good. Although one sees reports, from time to time, in the newspapers, which make one think that magistrates lave dealt unduly leniently with cases of neglect—and I put neglect on an entirely different footing from cases of brutaity—I feel that there is often a great de to be said for the magistrates who live among these people, who know their circumstances. In some instances—not in all of course—these women are more sinned against than sinning. They have terrible difficulties to contend with, and if they let their children get into a state which we all deplore, it is not always altogether their fault. What they need is help, not punishment.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the various reasons given for the existence in this country of cruelty to children. I was formerly an administrator in Central Africa and the people I administered were naked savages. They were extremely ignorant, according to our ideas, poor and badly housed. And yet, although I had occasion to try many murderers and thieves, I never heard any suggestion of cruelty to children or neglect of children. I think if your Lordships read any studies of savage childhood—I would recommend Growing Up in New Guinea, by Dr. Margaret Mead—you will find that although the people concerned are low in the scale of civilisation, and their manners and morals are far from idyllic, yet any idea of cruelty to or neglect of children is not merely non-existent among them but is quite out of the question. I shall not attempt to tell your Lordships, or to suggest, why this is so, but it is a fact; and it does suggest that education, of which we have heard so much in the course of this debate, is not really the answer to the question.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ailwyn, who was to have joined in this debate, has asked me to apologise to your Lordships for the fact that he could not stay and take his place in the list. I should like to thank the noble Lord who has initiated this very important debate. The noble Lord, in the words of his Motion, says that: this House views with concern the cases of gross cruelty to children. To these words I would add—and I feel sure I shall do so with your Lordships' agreement—"and unmitigated disgust."

The noble Earl, Lord Winterton, in his notable maiden speech, drew your Lordships' attention to the fact that we had for centuries a record for the practice of the humanities that set a standard which other countries strove to emulate. We must by all means strive to regain that position, which is gradually being lost. Every aspect but one of this matter has been dealt with this afternoon by those of your Lordships with wide and, in fact, unique experience. The one so far not touched upon at all is that of food, must of it processed and, or, loaded with a wide range of chemicals, and its proved influence on the habits of the individual. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote a few sentences from a recent lecture, the Sanderson-Wells lecture by that great scientific authority Sir Edward Mellanby. The lecture was given recently at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and its subject was "The Chemical Manipulation of Food." This is what Sir Edward said in one concluding passage: The triumph of medical science in the prevention and control of disease during the present century has been impressive, and care must be taken that, at the time of gaining such control, new habits of living which cause ill health should either be prevented or, if they arise, be controlled. Such errors in living are undoubtedly developing at the present time, and it is the duty of medical science to find out their relative disease-producing importance. The chemical manipulation of food may well be the basis of some of these errors, and the problem requires investigation. The present apparent social complacency to the ingestion of agenised flour in this country is disturbing, not only in itself, but because it indicates a reluctance to consider seriously the wider problem of chemical manipulation of food and its relations to health and disease. No use of chemicals based on effective aesthetic or even practical advantages conferred on food by these substances should be countenanced if they have harmful effects on animals;.… That brings me, in conclusion, to urge upon your Lordships once again the great importance of establishing a Royal Commission to go fully into these matters, because they must exercise a vital effect on the whole race and influence the shocking behaviour of a minority—as expounded by my noble friend who initiated this debate.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has moved a Motion which must command die assent of everybody in this House. It is: That this House views with concern the continued number of cases before the Courts of gross cruelty to children. We cannot do otherwise than associate ourselves most heartily with that part of this Motion. He goes on: and this House will support any practical measures to bring about a diminution of such cases. That, too, subject to any legitimate difference of opinion there may be as to what are practical measures, we can all join with the noble Lord in accepting. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government I am very glad to be able to do so. I wish that, speaking for Her Majesty's Government, I could suggest some sovereign remedy for this dreadful evil that is in our midst. But after I have listened during this debate to speech after speech by noble Lords who have one and all taken a profound interest in this subject, I have been more and more impressed by the fact that, realising the evil, they no more than I or Her Majesty's Government have any sovereign remedy to suggest.

I think that by taking a long-term view your Lordships may derive a little more comfort from the statistics—if, indeed, statistics are of any use—than from the comparatively short-term view which your Lordships have so far taken. I venture to give one or two figures which place the position to-day in relation to a time welt within my experience and the experience of most of your Lordships. The number of cases of cruelty to children which were brought to conviction in the year 1951 was 1,076. That is not the figure the noble Lord gave, but it is a fig are I have. That is an appalling thought. But only fifty years ago, in 1900, under an Act strictly comparable with the Act of 1933 under which these prosecutions have been brought, no fewer than 3,226 cases were brought to trial and conviction. In 1910, there were no fewer than 2,800, and in 1920 there were 1,533. Then there was a great improvement, and I give you for 1930 the figure of 800. By 1938 they had gone up to 944. Then came the war, with all its evil consequences, not the least being the breach in all forms of family life and parental authority. In 1944 the peak figure of 1,750 cases was reached. The following years show an appreciable amelioration, and in 1950 the figure was down to 974. I have already given the figure for 1951, which was 1,076; your Lordships will see that it has gone up by about 100. My point is that, taking a long view, in the last fifty years of our history there has been a very great improvement: not always constant, but if we take a graph there has been an improvement, which I think is encouraging in the history of the civilisation of our country.

There is one other striking figure I should like to give, the House, though what inference should be suggested by it I am not clear. I have given the figure for cases of cruelty to children in 1938 and 1950, and I shall repeat them again for the sake of contrast: in 1938 there were 944 and in 1950 there were 974. I would ask you to compare these with other figures. For crimes against the person, for crimes of violence (to use a compendious expression) in 1938 there were 1,315 convictions. In the year 1950 there was an enormous increase, no fewer than 3,388 cases being tried and brought to conviction. Your Lordships may or may not get any comfort from the knowledge that while in this field of crime there has been a vast increase, something like 250 per cent., between 1938 and 1951 there has been a comparatively steady level in the number of cases of cruelty to children. What that spells, I should be sorry to determine; but it may have some significance that while, generally, there is a wave of crime—and your Lordships will have no doubt that generally there is a wave of crime to-day—in cases of cruelty to children there has not been that increase which, if it paralleled other crimes, we might have expected.

But there is no justification for complacency. Noble Lords who have spoken of education and the bar of public opinion have put their finger on the spot in this case. I do not believe there is anything except the gradual authority of public opinion, the gradual detestation in the public mind of this cruelty and the public abhorrence of it, that will really bring about any large measure of improvement. Whatever we do there will inevitably be some cases. Unless sadism is to be extinguished altogether from our midst, there are bound to be some cases of cruelty to children, just as there will be some cases of other crimes.

There are one or two other matters on which I should like to say a word. First of all, as to sentences. I was very glad to hear what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ipswich. When I have read in a newspaper of what has seemed to be an inadequate sentence for what appeared to be a particularly disgusting offence, I have thought at first: how could the magistrates have brought themselves to give so light a sentence? But my second thoughts have been: why should I suppose that the magistrates who heard this case, who have heard all the facts—some only of which appear in the Press report—are not as wise men as I? They have experience and have heard the facts, and I should hesitate long before I came to the conclusion upon a newspaper report that the magistrates had in any way failed to do their duty.

But I would add this—and in doing so I wish to associate myself with what fell from the Lord Chief Justice. Will the Lord Chief Justice forgive me if I say that it is not only this House which owes him a great debt for the contributions which he makes to the discussion of this subject? Your Lordships may not be aware that the Lord Chief Justice has devoted himself, up and down the country, sometimes, I think, at great physical discomfort and in spite of fatigue, to educating the magistrates by addressing them as to their duties. I do not think one can exaggerate the service which he has rendered in that respect. I am led to say that, because I am referring to what he said in regard to the duty of magistrates, where the offence is a serious one, not to pass sentence themselves, but to send the case to trial. I believe that if that is brought home to them it will have a substantially good effect. I understand that that is the view taken by the Home Office also, and that the police, where a crime which is reported to them appears to be of sufficient gravity, will demand either that the original prosecution should not be in a court of summary jurisdiction, but by indictment in a higher court, or where it has been started in a court of summary jurisdiction that it shall be taken to a higher court.

Breaking off from somewhat serious matters, I see that the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, has returned to his place, and I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating him on his maiden speech. I have a special reason for doing so. It is fifty years since I first heard the noble Earl make a speech in a debating club to which we both belonged at Oxford. Though he has travelled far in those years; though he has been father of them all in another place; and although I must suppose that he has acquired a certain paternal gravity in the course of his journey, yet in his speech I seemed to recognise the youthful zest and enthusiasm which I learned to expect of him so long ago. I congratulate the noble Earl and express the hope that he will make many contributions to our debates.

To return to a more serious topic, I think that the intractability of the savage problem is shown by nothing better than this. I listened, as all your Lordships did, to the speech of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. Nobody can doubt how sincerely he feels upon this matter; and nobody doubts that the sincerity of his feeling did not spring to birth this afternoon. For six-and-a-half years the noble Earl was in office and he and no doubt his Socialist colleagues realised the gravity and importance of the problem. Yet no solution has emerged. But this they did do—and I give them full credit: they passed the Children Act, 1948. Although, of course, that does nothing to prevent the evil, I feel that it will at least secure victims of the evil from further suffering, because it greatly facilitates the removal of children from parental care and imposes upon the local authority the duty of assuming the parental obligations of looking after the children. That will not help the other children, but it will, at least, help the victims of ill-treatment.

This, too, the late Government—did and I think it will turn out to be an important contribution. In answer to questions that were asked, either in this House or in the other place, a Working Party (I do not like the word, but it has been used) of officials of the different Departments was formed to consider the problem; and in 1950 an important circular (as I think) was issued by the responsible Ministers as a result of the deliberations of that body. I should like, if I am not wearying your Lordships, to read a few lines from that circular. It was issued to all local authorities. It was based upon this consideration: that every local authority has at its disposal a large number of officials who, at various points, touch the lives of children. The circular, which is addresed to all local authorities, contains this important passage: In their capacity as health authority, education authority, welfare authority, housing authority and as the authority for the purposes of the Children Act, 1948, local authorities have powers to assist families and so avoid the enforced removal of children from their homes. The circular goes on to indicate the various ways in which those different authorities can give their help, and then proceeds with this recommendation: The Ministers accordingly ask the Council "— that is, the local authority— to ensure that in their area the most effective use is made of existing resources. It will be for the local authority to determine what steps they should take to this end but it is suggested that the necessary co-operation should be achieved by arrangements on the following lines. This is the important point. To designate through one of their existing committees or themselves designate, an officer to be responsible under them for enlisting the interests A those concerned and devising arrangements to secure full co-operation among all the local services, statutory and voluntary, which are concerned with the welfare of the children in their own homes. In counties the co-operation of the housing and sanitary authorities would no doubt be sought. Secondly, to arrange for the designated officer to hold regular meetings with officers of the local authority and other statutory services and of local representatives of the voluntary organisations. In counties it might be thought desirable to have the meeting in a number of sub-areas.… Thirdly, to arrange for significant cases of neglect and all cases of ill-treatment coming to the notice of any statutory or voluntary service in the area to be reported to the designated officer, who would arrange for such cases to be brought before the meeting so that, after considering the needs of the family as a whole, agreement might he reached as to how, the local services could best be applied to meet those needs. If the local authorities take that directive seriously (and they have), and appoint a children's officer to co-ordinate all the information and to see that when there is any child who appears to a teacher or to a health officer to be suffering, the information is brought to one person who will co-ordinate all the information upon it, a useful purpose will be served. But still I have to face the fact that this will not operate to prevent cases of cruelty, although it may provide a substantial amount of remedy for the children who suffer. I should say one more thing, and that is this. I should not like so many noble Lords to pay their tribute to the wonderful work done, both by the N.S.P.C.C. and by the Salvation Army, without joining my voice on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I have seen something of their work, as have all your Lordships. It cannot be too highly praised, and the organisations cannot receive too much support from the public.

Two further matters were specifically mentioned by some of your Lordships. The point of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, was that the Society's officers should have the right of entry into every house. I could not possibly agree to lend the support of Her Majesty's Government to such a proposition as that. The Englishman's home is still supposed to be his castle, and although in certain circumstances—but only in certain circumstances—police officers have a right of entry, and though, as may be thought, too many officials of other departments have in certain circumstances the right of entry, yet it would indeed be a serious breach of the rights of the citizen if the employees of a non-official body such as the N.S.P.C.C. were given such a right as that. I cannot possibly lend the noble Lord any support there, and I do not think he will find any support in the House.

The other point which I should mention is one raised by the noble Lord who initiated the debate, and that is his proposal for a direct grant to the N.S.P.C.C. to assist the Society in their work. That, too, I am afraid I must resist on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. But I would tell him this—and indeed one of your Lordships has already mentioned it. Under the recent Act the local authorities have power to make contributions to voluntary organisations which have as their object the care of children. Where the local authority do make such a contribution, 50 per cent. of it comes from a direct Exchequer grant. Therefore, perhaps rather paradoxically, there will be a contribution from the Exchequer to the Society if local authorities think fit to make such a contribution. I hope that I have taken up the various points which have been made. As I say, there is no sovereign remedy which suggests itself to me or, I think, to any other noble Lord in this House. We can only pray that at the bar of public opinion these vile cases of cruelty to children will be so condemned that, even if they are not altogether eliminated, at any rate they will not attain in the future the very serious proportions they do at present.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, may I be allowed to thank your Lordships who have supported this Motion, and may I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, on celebrating his presence here with such an excellent maiden speech? The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Ipswich, whom I should also like particularly to thank, mentioned the duty of people always to report cases of cruelty to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Sometimes that is not so easy as to report to the police. When he is giving instructions in his diocese or discussing this matter with the other brethren involved, perhaps the right reverend Prelate will suggest that the police are always available, that they are ready to listen and that they almost always bring in the expert assistance of the Society. It is often easier for the ordinary person to get into contact with the police than with the rather widely scattered inspectors of the Society.

While thanking the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, for his very weighty speech—also referred to by the Lord Chancellor—I should like to draw his attention to the change of policy which was announced in a letter to The Times on December 5 last year by the noble Duke, the Duke of Portland, Chairman of the National Society. In that letter he explained that, rather disappointed by some of the apparently light sentences—to which attention has been drawn to-day by the noble Earl, Lord Winterton—the Society had decided that in future, in the very severe or the more serious cases, they would take proceedings to a higher court. In a way that meets the point raised by the Lord Chief Justice. The Society themselves will take the initiative in asking for the cases to be transferred to the higher court, and in the worst cases they will proceed under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, also referred to by the Lord Chief Justice. The Society itself is taking the initiative there, and in that way some of the difficulties referred to by the Lord Chancellor can be removed. I particularly thank the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition for their support, and I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for accepting this Motion on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

On Question, Resolution agreed to.