HL Deb 24 January 1956 vol 195 cc490-4

3.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. It comes to us from another place, where it had an unopposed passage, and is now before us in exactly the same form in which it was first introduced there by my honourable friend the Member for Maryhill. It is greatly to his credit that he set out upon the task of doing what was necessary to meet a difficulty in giving effect to the English Act of 1933 and the Scottish Act of 1937. It had become evident that, by crossing the Border in either direction, it was possible to evade the consequences of failure by parents properly to look after their children and to preserve them from physical and moral danger.

This Bill will link together two pieces of legislation already in existence and thus make it impossible for a ruling imposed by the courts in Scotland or in England to be evaded by crossing the Border. The Scottish writ now runs only in Scotland and the decree of the English courts is applicable only in England. Hitherto, to cross the Border was to annul the provisions made by local authorities for the proper care of children. I find no great pleasure in dealing with a matter of this kind, for it should not be necessary to pass legislation and to apply parental care vicariously, putting children under the care of a local authority. I am glad to think, however, that such action is taken only with great reluctance and exercised with great sympathy. I am thinking particularly of the City of Glasgow, in which the constituency of Maryhill is situated, and of the reputation which that city has for the care of children coming within the bounds of a measure of this kind.

This is an old-standing flaw in human life. We can find in the Book of Isaiah reference to failure properly to consider children; and William Cowper, many years ago, was the author of a hymn that many of your Lordships will know, one verse of which says: Can a woman's tender care Cease towards the child she bear? Yes, she may forgetful be, Yet will I remember thee. The Old and New Testaments are blended in those words. Many of us remember this week the birthday of that great Scotsman who was born 197 years ago tomorrow and the wonderful tribute that he paid in his Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn. I am sure that it is familiar to many, at least, of your Scottish Lordships. At the close of that great tribute Robert Burns gathered together three impossibles—or things that should be impossible—and put his own high regard and affection for James, Earl of Glencairn, into imperishable words in praise of his friend and benefactor when he said: The bridegroom may forget the bride Was made his wedded wife yestreen. The Monarch may forget the Crown That on his head an hour has been. The mother may forget the child That smiles sac sweetly on her knee; But I'll remember thee, Glencairn And a' that thou hast done for me. It is not new to require that care shall be taken of children who are not properly cared for by their parents, and this Bill will fill a gap that exists at present and enable us to do what is required for those children when their own parents, those who should care for them, are neglectful or wicked in their attitude towards their own offspring. As I have said, this Bill comes before your Lordships in the form in which it was first introduced in another place, where it had a completely unopposed passage. I hope that that will be its fate in this House. I beg to move.

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

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, it may be convenient if I intervene at this stage. I have little, if anything, to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, has said in moving the Second Reading of this small but very useful measure which, as the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, has told your Lordships, closes a gap in the present law, and therefore I assume that it will be welcome to your Lordships. I should like, however, to take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord on his continued interest in all matters affecting the care of children and young people. May I remind your Lordships that it is now more than twenty-five years ago since, in another place, the noble Lord moved a Bill for the adoption of young children—now the Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930—and he himself followed it through all its stages there. In the intervening years he has always been active in that same cause, and we have evidence to-day that he is so maintaining his deep interest. The Government welcome the Bill, and I would commend it to your Lordships.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, there is little for me to add to what has been so eloquently said on this subject. I should, however, like to bring forward just one point. I am very hesitant about this, not only because I am not learned in the law but also because I know that Her Majesty's Government and their advisers have given great thought to this measure. What I am alluding to is a gap which I feel still exists in the law concerning children and young persons. There are children needing care or protection who are taken away from their families and boarded somewhere or other. It sometimes happens that these children are allowed to go back again to their families, which is normally, of course, a very good thing; but sometimes, even in such cases, mistakes are made, and in such circumstances the authority which is responsible for these children has no power to take the children away again and board them out and deal with them as before. The only way in which the authority can do it is by getting a writ of Habeas Corpus or bringing the case before the High Court—which I understand is very difficult to do. I do not know whether I am in order in suggesting that this gap should be filled. If it could be, I am sure that this would be greatly strengthened. I throw myself on the mercy of your Lordships' House, and particularly on that of the legal authorities, as to whether it would be possible for me to move an Amendment in this connection at the Committee stage.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I too have little to add to what has already been said. I should like first to say how pleased I am that the Government give this Bill their blessing, and I would express the hope that, in view of the fact that there is no difference of opinion about the merits of the measure, no time will be lost in seeing it passed through all the necessary stages. For that reason, I should like to appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood—though I may sympathise with his pint of view—not to attempt to introduce into the Bill any new points, because already there has been far more delay than some of us think proper in regard to it.

I should not rise to speak upon this matter were it net that it originated as the result of an experience and a discovery which was made in Glasgow. In endeavouring to do good for three children, who at that time were aged seven, eight and four years, and in respect of whom the courts had given authority to the Glasgow Corporation, because the mother had twice been convicted as being a person of ill-repute, it was found that, after the youngest child had been lured away by the mother, Glasgow Corporation, in spite of many attempts which they had made, judicially and extra-judicially, to obtain recovery of the child, were unsuccessful. So was discovered this loophole in the law which, I am glad to see, this measure will now fill up permanently. It has the further effect that it will be possible once the Bill is passed, for two-way traffic to take place in these matters, so that both England and Wales, on the one hand, and Scotland, on the other, if they should find themselves in a situation similar to that which arose in Glasgow, will now have the advantage of this measure and so will be able to right the sort of wrong which Glasgow suffered. I am therefore very happy to associate myself with what my noble friend Lord Mathers has said, and also to express pleasure at the attitude of the Government.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, it seems to me that there is little more I can say, except to thank the Minister of State for the kindly way in which he has received this Bill here. With regard to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, I confess that I am unable fully to appreciate what would he involved in making the Amendment which he has asked for. I had hoped that, in view of the unanimous approval given to the Bill in another place, and the fact that it is required to meet a particular point where the law falls short of carrying out its full intention, the Bill might go through this House unamended, in the same way as it went through another place. That would, I am sure, be a matter of great gratification to my honourable friend the Member for Maryhill who set himself the task of removing this flaw in the law. However, I am moving, at the moment, the Second Reading of this Bill, and I am certain that there will be no opposition whatever to that.

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