HL Deb 22 July 1959 vol 218 cc435-42

6.2 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, your Lordships may feel that we ought not to part with a Bill of this importance without a few words being said at this stage. I do not propose to take up a great deal of your Lordships' time, particularly to repeat the arguments which we have heard so well delivered and cogently expressed over the last days. I would express my own gratitude to the many noble Lords who have made this Bill in some ways a memorable one. It is certainly a Bill which makes substantial changes in the law relating to bastardy, I think much more important changes than have been made by any other Statute, even the Act of 1936.

The passage of this Bill also proves, if any proof were needed, that the procedure of the Private Member's Bill is still of considerable value in the field of legislation in this country. I think that it is also fair to say that the Bill has shown the wisdom of those who worked out the flexible procedure of your Lordships' House, which enables opportunity to be given at Report stage for further reflection and consideration, which may enable your Lordships to reverse a decision which has been taken at a sparsely-attended Committee stage, at which possibly wrong decisions have been taken. Another reflection which occurs to me is that it j indicates the essential liberalism of the Anglican Church, in that we have had the advantage of cogently-argued expressions of opinion on both sides on the most important clause of the Bill, not only from the Episcopal Benches but also from eminent lay members of the Church.

One important matter, which is irrelevant to the merits of the Bill but was nevertheless sporadically discussed during the different stages of the Bill, is the constitutional rights of your Lordships' House in relation to a Bill of this kind. I did not find myself altogether in agreement with the argument of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, yesterday. I do not wish to go into that matter in detail, but I would say that the point I was making during Committee stage, over which I had been taken to task by several good-humoured critics, was this. I was not dealing with the constitutional position which the noble Marquess was arguing yesterday but with what I think he himself called the political wisdom of rejecting a Bill sent to your Lordships' House after it had obtained a large majority in another place. I would ask your Lordships to recall that this House gave a Second Reading to this Bill, after which on Committee stage Amendments were put down for the elimination of no fewer than three of the five proposals which the Bill made. That did not seem to me to be the revision of the Bill, but the rejection of it.

It may be more difficult and more unwise, I think, to reject a Private Member's Bill which has received the overwhelming support of all the great political Parties in another place than to deal with a Bill on which the political Parties are in opposition to each other and political policies are involved. I think that these are matters of considerable interest and some importance. It seems to me that in the modern world the greatness of your Lordships' House lies in its revisionary work. What I was objecting to on Committee stage was that some of your Lordships were not revising but asking the House to reject the Bill.

The value of the work which can be done by your Lordships' House appeared clearly from the great help which the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack and his staff gave to the sponsors of the Bill, who as Private Members had not the advantage of the great experience and ability of the Parliamentary draftsmen. As a result of the genuine revisionary work which was done in your Lordships' House, with the assistance of the noble and learned Viscount, the Bill is now in a much better state than it was when it came to your Lordships' House. This proves the great value of your Lordships' House when it devotes itself to revising legislation sent here from another place, rather than attempting to reject what has been passed by a substantial number of Members of all political Parties in another place. However, this is not the occasion on which to deal with these important matters in detail and with the consideration which I am sure your Lordships agree they deserve. Therefore I will not take any more of your Lordships' time but will content myself with moving that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Lord Chorley.)

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, as I was the first speaker against the Bill on Second Reading, it is appropriate chat I should weary your Lordships for a short time on Third Reading. In the first place, it is not the first occa- sion on which I have had the great honour of crossing swords with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. May I say that on purely personal grounds, and on those only, I am not sorry that he has won this time. But it must not become a habit. In my speech on Second Reading, I ventured to express the hope that there would be full consideration by your Lordships' House and a good attendance on Report stage, and I must join with the noble Lord in expressing my admiration for all noble Lords who, no doubt at considerable inconvenience, came up to do their public duty and my gratitude to those who felt able to support my noble friend Lord Conesford.

I believe that the credit of this House has been if possible enhanced by the proceedings on this Bill. I maintain—and I am glad it is not denied—that our constitutional functions have been properly performed. So far as political wisdom is concerned, I would only say this: that in this House we debate gravely and seriously matters of public moment and do our duty as we see it on those matters. We cannot have these grave debates perpetually interrupted by the rolling of tumbrils in the Rue Saint Honoré. I could have wished that we had been able to give rather more time to a consideration of Clause 2 of this Bill. Let me say at once that I fully approve the principle of legitimation of children of putative marriages, and I am delighted that that clause passed and in a much improved form. I still remain a little dubious as to whether the detailed working of the clause will not prove somewhat difficult.

There is one matter on which it may be for the public advantage if I comment. I trust that a woman applying to the court for the legitimation of the child of her putative marriage will realise that by the legitimation of that child the father will obtain, as I understand the matter, parental rights over the child I understand that the answer to that obtaining of parental rights, which might give rise in certain cases to grave inconvenience, is that the applicant for legitimation should immediately apply for an order under the Custody of Infants Act, 1856, and take care that she does obtain—if the court will grant it—sole parental right. That is a possible way of doing it. I hope I shall not be unduly presumptive for a layman if I say that I consider it a little cumbrous, and I am sorry that we have not been able to find a more convenient solution for the dilemma.

Finally, I would mention one other matter which concerns legitimacy, though it does not appear in this Bill. A clergyman, the Reverend Hubert J. Sillitoe, writing in Monday's edition of The Times states: There are two gross anomalies of the legitimacy laws which cry loud for amendment which would in no way impugn monogamy"— and he mentions two matters which he considers deserve attention. One concerns the bastardisation of a child, which the reverend gentleman alleges can—and does—take place in circumstances of ease, secrecy—and intimidation—at the registration of the birth of the child. I am going to ask the reverend gentleman if he will supply me with facts and his experience on that matter, in which case I shall venture to ask the Home Office for their comments on it, and it may be raised possibly on a more convenient occasion.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the House for being absent for a few moments when this Third Reading debate started. I had no idea that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was going to make any complaint of the conduct of this House or any Member of it in opposing any clause of the Bill.


I am not making any complaint. I was trying to explain what I said on a previous occasion in respect of which the noble Lord and other noble Lords criticised me. It did not seem to me appropriate to do it yesterday, but I thought I would just say a few words to-day.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. It may be that because I missed the beginning of his speech I was not aware of that.

I should like to say two things. On the Second Reading of this Bill I pointed out to the House that it did three or four quite independent things, and for that reason I thought that, by universal admission, it should have an unopposed Second Reading. I also deployed my arguments against Clause 1 and stated in the clearest possible terms that, when the Bill reached the Committee stage, I should move that that clause should be left out. I thought it was fair to the promoter and to the House to give the longest possible warning, and I immediately put down that Amendment on the Order Paper. I also assured the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, orally that this would be pressed to a Division, because I wanted the greatest possible openness of dealing in the matter.

I put down no Amendment to exclude any other clause. I think I am right in saying that the Amendments to exclude the various other clauses were all put down in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. He was fully entitled to do that. It is one of the constant features of the proceedings of this House that, when you think it is essential to discuss a clause, you ensure in this way that the clause shall be open to discussion. Considering the help that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, received from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, in the general conduct of this measure through the House, I think it is rather ungenerous of him to complain that the noble and learned Lord put down these Amendments on the Paper, especially as he did not pursue a single one of them to a Division but merely used it as an opportunity for debate.

I shall say nothing more on the question of Clause 1, except this: that I believe that in every quarter of this House, whatever the views held on the merit of the clause, it is realised that it was a most important clause and merited the most serious discussion and a decision of this House upon it. When it was proposed at an earlier stage that possibly the Third Reading might be taken on the same day as the Report stage, I raised an objection to that because I thought it might be desirable for some noble Lord in accordance with what happened on the Report stage to put down an Amendment for to-day. I may say that, had the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, been that which was finally adopted and now constituted Clause 1, I think I should have attempted an Amendment on Third Reading. But after the full discussion we had yesterday, when noble Lords who took a different view from mine asked me what I proposed to do to-day, I informed them, as I think the House will think right, that I did not propose to offer any opposition to the Third Reading.

That is all I have to say. I do not think that the conduct of any noble Lord in opposing any clause in this measure gives the promoter of this Bill or anyone else the slightest cause to complain.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to say nothing controversial at all. I rise only because my noble friend Lord Iddlesleigh intimated that he would like me to say something on the purely legal point which he raised in the earlier part of his speech. My noble friend is quite right that under Clause 2 (1) the child is deemed to be the legitimate child of both parents, and so there is the slant in favour of the father which would apply even in the case where the father had procured the bigamous marriage. The answer to that, as my noble friend said, is an application under the Guardianship of Infants Act, and I can assure him that that is not a difficult procedure.

I want to say only one more word as to the reason, because my noble friend will appreciate that that subsection applies to all void marriages, and there are a number of other grounds which constitute a marriage to be void apart from the fact that one party is already married. There are cases where it might well be that the husband was not informed at all, and it would be impossible to provide in this Statute for every possible variation of circumstance that could arise. But I should like my noble friend to know that he did consider that point very carefully and came to the conclusion that in the case he had in mind, where the father was informed, the Guardianship of Infants Act would provide a suitable remedy. That is all I want to say, and I hope I have given my noble friend Lord Iddesleigh as much information as possible on that point.

On Question, Bill read 3a with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.