§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
I beg to move the Second Reading of the National Assistance Bill, which I would commend to the House. This is a Bill designed to help the least sheltered children in our society. I should have liked to call it "The Fatherless Children Bill," but I understand that, in the event of its finding its way on to the Statute Book, the lawyers would like to have it listed under 618 its present Title. The purpose of this Bill is to enable the National Assistance Board, where it thinks fit, and only where it thinks fit, to underwrite the affiliation or maintenance order of the unmarried mother, or the separated or divorced wife and her child, or children, as the case may be, at the time the order is made. This will ensure that the children will be given some degree of financial protection without delay.
While this Bill is framed to cover the needs of the separated and divorced wife it will, I hope, be of the greatest benefit to the unmarried mother. Despite the modern tendency to suggest that a girl who is not prepared to indulge in premarital intercourse is a "square", it seems that public opinion has not changed much in its moral attitude towards the unmarried mother. The girl is often rejected by her family; she shuns her neighbours and friends, and tries to hide herself in one of our big cities. This accounts, in large part, for the high illegitimacy rate in London; and if noble Lords care to read the OFFICIAL REPORT last week of the proceedings in another place, they will see that a long debate was devoted to the conditions of the unmarried mother in London and to the high rate of illegitimacy in this city. There is no equality of the sexes in the relationship in which the unmarried mother has shared: the scales are still weighted against the woman. And I would say here, in parenthesis, because I think it is topical, that those who urge that contraceptive advice should be given to a single girl are planning to trap her into consenting to pre-marital intercourse, with all the risks entailed for her alone. Do not think for one moment that I am opposed to birth control—not a bit. But I would say that, at this time in history, it is a delusion to believe that on medical or social grounds you are thus furthering the happiness of a single girl or supplying a necessary service to her.
The unmarried mother is undoubtedly subject to many stresses and strains during her pregnancy, and is in consequence more emotionally unstable than the married mother. This, of course, accounts for her reluctance to make an application to the courts for an affiliation order: she has a fear of publicity, although the action comes under domestic proceedings and should be taken in private.
619 Until 1961 most unmarried mothers were too poor to take proceedings; in 1953 only one in seven applied for affiliation orders. However, in 1961 Legal Aid became available for affiliation proceedings and changed the whole situation. Nevertheless—and I suppose this shows the punitive attitude of society to-day—the maximum sum payable is only £2 10s. per week, and this might well be reduced to £1. I made an inquiry last night and I find that the average amount given on an affiliation order is between 15s. and £1; for in some courts an unmarried father's debts—for example, a hire-purchase account; even one for a motor-cycle—is allowed to take precedence over his debt to the mother of his child.
May I remind your Lordships that before she gets an affiliation order it has to be well and truly proved that the man concerned is, in fact, the father of the child and is legally responsible for the debt. In many cases the father fails to pay anything, and the girl has to face taking repeated actions to recover arrears; that is, provided that she can trace the whereabouts of the father. It is her responsibility to do the tracing. When a summons is issued and a hearing is fixed it is often found that the father has disappeared from his last known address, and no further action can be taken until he is again traced by the mother. The police, quite understandably, find it difficult to use their limited resources of manpower to trace a man liable for comparatively small sums.
If, however, the father is finally traced, he is ordered to pay a weekly proportion of the arrears. If he defaults, then another summons follows; and this may eventually lead to a prison sentence; which wipes out the debt. Consequently, neither the mother nor the child receives any arrears. Theoretically, the Attachment of Earnings Act enables the unmarried mother to have the money deducted by the employer from the man's wages but the man has only to change his job to avoid payment.
During the period that payments under the order fall into arrears, the girl, wanting to shun publicity as much as possible, waits in the hope that things will be put right. During these weeks she is anxious to keep her child. She is often rejected by her family and, unable to find accommodation, she is 620 in a desperate plight. This is when the mother is often forced to consider adoption. Finally, she goes to the National Assistance for help, but I would emphasise that there is often a lapse of some weeks before she takes this step.
This little Bill will provide a means of securing for the unmarried mother regular payments immediately the affiliation order is obtained after the baby is born. A friend of mine, a clerk of courts, who has dealt with these cases for many years, has suggested to me the following amendment to this Bill, which he feels is very necessary to ensure that the N.A.B. come in "on the ground floor", I should add at the end of Clause 1 (1) two new paragraphs:
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I give a list of these Acts, but I should like to have them on the Record—
- "(b) The court shall notify the Board on the institution of any proceedings to which the Act shall apply.
- "(c) This Act shall apply to proceedings"—under the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates Courts) Act, 1960, the Guardianship of Infants Acts, 1885 and 1925, and the Affiliation Proceedings Act, 1957, and to proceedings to recover arrears under any order or decree made under any of these Acts and to proceedings to vary or revive any such order or decree.This clerk of courts is experienced in the administration of the law and realises that in drafting a Bill it is possible to leave out some important legalistic detail.
I am very glad to hear that the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child called a conference last year, in conjunction with the Council for Children's Welfare, on the subject of fatherless families. This was attended by representatives of sixty organisations. They were in agreement that these children should be given some financial provision as early as possible. No doubt detailed plans to deal adequately with the situation will take time, but I am sure that as the years pass we shall have some comprehensive scheme. Meanwhile, I was pleased to learn that the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child has informed the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance that this Bill has their support. The Council has abundant 621 evidence that, if her maintenance fails, an unmarried mother often gets into debt and has to give up work in order to be able to claim National Assistance. The position is that she can claim National Assistance if she is doing a part-time job, but if during the period I have described she manages to get a full-time job her claim for maintenance fails. Before she is entitled to it, she has to give up her full-time job. That is the law. The uncertainty causes emotional distress, which reflects on the child. The Council view the Bill as a very useful interim measure, pending a more radical reform in social security for unsupported mothers.
No doubt my noble friend who will answer for the Government will inform me that, under Sections 43 and 44 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, there are appropriate powers which can be used. But, according to the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, to social workers and clerks of court, it is not the practice to use these powers, and never has been. This Bill seeks to ensure, by notification of the Board by the court that proceedings are pending, that these powers shall be used forthwith.
In no circumstances would I waste the time of Parliament if I were not sure that the hardship which I describe exists. Indeed, before this Bill was introduced—and I have introduced Private Members' Bills on many occasions—I sent a draft to the Lord Chancellor's Office. The Lord Chancellor's Office sent it to the Ministry of National Insurance and they sent it to the National Assistance Board. I have no complaint about the attention the Bill has received. I have had three high-powered meetings at the invitation of the Ministry, twice with the Minister and once with my noble friend who is going to reply for the Government, on two occasions with the Deputy Secretary attending. But at no time have I been told that the special powers which this Bill emphasises are being used.
Finally, I suggest not only that this little Bill will relieve the distress and anxiety of a number of young mothers and their children, but that from the Treasury's point of view it can also be looked upon as a profitable national investment. According to the statistics, a large percentage of illegitimate children go into care, where the charge on the 622 taxpayer is much higher than the National Assistance scales for the support of children. Furthermore, if we were far-seeing we should recognise that many of our delinquents come from fatherless homes marked by extreme poverty. Ultimately, the community endeavours to find an antidote for the harm inflicted in childhood and provides approved schools and borstals, at great cost to the community. I would ask your Lordships to support this Bill on the grounds that it is a humane little measure, which seeks to assist in the enforcement of the law and seeks to make provision without delay for the fatherless child in our society.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Summerskill.)
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill, is aiming at objectives with which I am sure all noble Lords would readily agree. The woman living alone, often with dependent children, separated or divorced from her husband, needs all the help in her unhappy circumstances that the social services are able to afford her. It is these women that the noble Baroness is concerned to assist this afternoon. Having said that, I hope that the noble Baroness will not think the worst of me if I go on to say that I found it difficult, when I first read this Bill, to understand what it was the noble Baroness was seeking to do.
The National Assistance Board have very wide powers for dealing with matters of this nature. They have power to proceed against husbands who fail to maintain their wives and families. They have power, if there are arrears in payments, to proceed themselves to recover those arrears. It is the practice of the Board, where payments under a maintenance order are likely to be irregular, to issue to the wife a running order for National Assistance so that she receives a fixed regular amount every week, and they invite her to assign to the Board the payments that the Board will receive from her husband. This is done, I can assure the noble Baroness, in many cases. I was looking at the latest Report of the Board, and I see that in something like 439 cases the Board actually prosecuted delinquent husbands for failure to maintain their 623 payments under maintenance orders. In the same way, the Board have very wide powers to deal with illegitimate children: indeed, the powers of the Board to recover maintenance costs of illegitimate children are even wider than the powers of the mother herself. This Bill does not affect any of these matters.
But I think the noble Baroness is mainly concerned with the interval which she said takes place between the time when the mother applies for the maintenance order and the time when she eventually goes to the Assistance Board for support. I should have thought that the process which usually takes place is the reverse of that order of things. If a woman finds herself without support from her husband, the first thing that she does, and, indeed, the first thing that she must do, is to go to the National Assistance Board for assistance. Later, often at the instigation of the Board, she goes to the courts and applies for her maintenance order. I was surprised to hear the noble Baroness say that cases are common where a maintenance order is applied for and then an interval of perhaps three or four weeks takes place before the mother goes to the National Assistance Board. I should not have thought that this was the normal order of things.
Having said that, I should like to say something about the general circumstances of these unfortunate women. In my view, the present arrangements for the enforcement of matrimonial and affiliation orders of all kinds are not satisfactory. The burden of finding out the whereabouts of the man is placed almost entirely upon the woman. That is no small burden. I think your Lordships would be astonished to realise how easy it is for a man to disappear altogether in our modern world; and his whereabouts are brought to light only after a prolonged series of inquiries and investigation. A man may collect his money on a Friday afternoon, and instead of going home, he simply disappears. Weeks of patient search by the National Assistance Board are required to bring his whereabouts to light. Even then the investigations are not always successful. Yet the burden is placed at present on the woman, and it is a burden which she is just not able to undertake. It is for that reason that the National Assistance 624 Board, as soon as the woman comes on to National Assistance, undertake these inquiries for her.
This is not altogether a satisfactory arrangement. In my judgment, some responsibility rests upon the court which has made the order to see that it is properly carried out. Who should be responsible for that duty is a question which is not easy to answer without a little more knowledge of the administrative considerations involved. The duty might be placed upon the clerk of the court. He would, of course, require a proper staff to enable him to make investigations. It is a duty that might be discharged by the police; and I should think that the police are the right people to do it. It might be discharged by the new service of probation officers which is now being built up. All those bodies have access to machinery in different parts of the country which can undertake to make the inquiries. Or, indeed, it might be right that this duty should be discharged by the National Assistance Board.
I prefer this last alternative the least, because the National Assistance Board do not desire to build up a public image as a prosecuting department. They do, and will always have to do, a great deal of prosecuting; but they do not desire to do more than they can help. We are told that there are persons who hesitate to come to the National Assistance Board for assistance because they think that assistance is something that is reserved for work-shies, layabouts, corner boys and all the rest of them. If the National Assistance Board are to be turned into a general prosecuting society in these cases, then I am afraid that an unpleasant image will be presented even more forcibly to the public, and it will be even more difficult than it is now to get some people to go to the Board for the assistance they need and to which they are entitled. Nevertheless, it may be right that the National Assistance Board should do this work; and if that is the conclusion that is reached, then they have the means to do it.
I hope that the noble Lord who is to speak for the Government will convey my views to his right honourable and learned friend. I do not welcome the recourse, when one encounters a difficulty, of appointing a Committee to solve it, but I think this is a case where 625 an Inter-Departmental Committee would be useful, and I hope the noble Lord will put that suggestion to his right honourable friend. I should think that this is very much a subject upon which an inquiry by an Inter-Departmental Committee, or an Inter-Departmental Working Party (if I may borrow that phrase of modern bureaucracy) would be most valuable. They could then investigate which of these various services is the right service to ensure that the maintenance payments which the courts have ordered are made, and made punctually and properly, and, if they are not made, that the right steps are taken to follow up a failure to discharge the order. If the noble Baroness could join in that request, I think she would do much more to assist these unhappy women whose plight she has so much at heart than by passing this little Bill this afternoon.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I want to say one or two words in support of this little Bill, which I think serves a good purpose. As an interim measure it will be quite a useful Bill. I do not want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, into the workings of the National Assistance Board, because he knows a great deal more about that subject than I do. I was interested to note his remarks, and I fully accept what he said.
I should like to turn to the question of the unmarried mothers and their children. Here again, I do not want to go into this matter in great detail because the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is going to speak, and he is far more involved with this Council than I am. I should like to turn my attention to one point made by the noble Baroness: that a large proportion of these children born out of wedlock are adopted because the mothers, owing to money difficulties or financial troubles, do not know what to do with them.
I think your Lordships will agree that there are a great number of extremely successful adoptions which take place. The other thing with which I hope your Lordships will agree is that it is far better for the child to be with its parent, provided that the parent can support the child properly. That, I think, is the tendency of the 626 feelings of the modern day—that children, no matter of what age they are, should stay with their families, in the homes they have, for as long as they can, rather than be moved to foster parents, institutions or to homes Therefore, because the Bill of the noble Baroness does something to encourage this, I give it all the support I can, and I trust that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading in this House to-day.
§ 3.22 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ALBANS
My Lords, I am happy to have the opportunity of supporting the noble Baroness's Bill because, from the inquiries I have made of the Church's welfare workers, and from my knowledge of this problem, I believe that, if this "Fatherless Children's Bill" were enacted, then mothers would be relieved of much unnecessary anxiety, and would be less likely to become dependent upon National Assistance.
I realise that the National Assistance Board is directed by civil servants who discharge their duties, as one would expect, with every desire to help those in need to the limit of their power. But possibly some members of the Board question whether this Bill is, in fact, necessary. I am glad to pay tribute to the good work of the National Assistance Board. At the same time, I consider this Bill will be welcomed at the local level, because in certain cases, it will empower all officials to act and not to leave it to local judgment, which must vary from place to place.
Clause 1 of the Bill would benefit a mother who, in the first year of a child's life, had been able to support it, but who later, because of changed circumstances, would otherwise have to fall back on National Assistance. If such mothers lost their jobs or were sick, they would have money coming in regularly, provided that a court order had been made. But in this Clause 1s the phrase "the Board thinks itself likely", sufficiently explicit? To those who drafted it, the words may be entirely satisfactory, but at field level I wonder whether they are quite clear. Unless regulations are made, I submit that the area officers administering the 627 Act would interpret this Clause 1n a variety of ways.
I turn now to subsection (3) of Clause 1, which is most important. In effect, this clause gives the mother, the other plaintiff, security. She has the certainty of payments, and she is relieved of the exhausting worry of chasing the payee. As things stand to-day, she has to collect the money weekly from the clerk to the magistrates' court. But when she goes to him she may find that her money has not arrived. A competent woman may manage for a week or two, almost certainly underfeeding herself, and so undermining her health. But, again, she feels let down; and she knows anxiety; again she experiences emotional disturbance; and this reacts on her child. At such a time the immature mother may run up debts, and these will add to her misery, and may lead to a breakdown. Of course, it can be urged that any mother can apply to the Board for assistance, but if she is working she may not be eligible; and in any event there are more questions to answer, time to be found to go to the office, and travelling costs to meet.
If this Bill were to be enacted, it could bring new hope to many unmarried mothers and separated mothers, assuring them of regular money coming to them week by week, and giving them the knowledge that they had financial help on which they could rely—and this at a time when some of them felt defenceless and rejected. And a child already partly deprived would have at least its physical well-being secured. I am happy to support this Bill.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, I should like to express appreciation to the noble Baroness for having introduced this Bill. Those of us who have been Members of Parliament in another place know from our own experience and our contact with our constituents when they came to our political "surgeries", and from the letters which they sent to us, how frequent are the difficulties of unmarried mothers. For months, and sometimes even for years, they are unable to trace the address of the father who has been ordered by the court to support them. Under more recent Acts of Parliament wages can be attached for this purpose, but if a man leaves the employment 628 where he was engaged when the order was made, the necessity for him to maintain his payments to the mother no longer exists.
I want to deal particularly with the very relevant points which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford. I want to pay a tribute to the officers of many of the local offices of the National Assistance Board. In my experience they have treated this difficult problem with the greatest possible sympathy. But what is their usual course of action? It is to say to the unmarried mother: "In these circumstances, of course, we will give you help, but the help which we give you will be dependent upon repayment of the amounts which we now give you if you are successful later in finding the father and in securing the payments from him." It would seem to me that if the National Assistance Board say that, the Board are the proper authority to take action to secure from the father return of the amounts which are due. It is the National Assistance Board which suffer if those amounts are not received. At present that action can be taken only through the mother.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me? The Board have a separate right to recover, which they frequently exercise, quite separate and distinct from the mother's.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
Yes, but as I understand it, it must be exercised through the mother. I can only say, from my own experience, that that requirement has always been insisted upon. It is the usual practice for the matter to be dealt with through the mother, and I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, himself used the phrase "through the mother".
What I am urging is that if the National Assistance Board make grants to these girls dependent upon those grants being repaid if the father is found and is made to pay what is due from him, the National Assistance Board should be the authority which should seek to obtain those sums from the father; and that this Bill, which seeks to underwrite the requirement of the girl to receive these amounts and requires the National Assistance Board to underwrite them, would be the most effective way to get the result which we are all seeking.
§ 3.31 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, rightly said that the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, of which I am President, supports this Bill. So it does. It supports it not as the complete answer but as one stage in the direction of doing rather more than society of this country at present does for the fatherless child in general, and of course for the mother of that child at the same time. I think it is quite clear, particularly from the list of Statutes that the noble Lady says ought to be mentioned in her Bill, that it is not only the illegitimate child or the child of the unmarried mother who is concerned under this Bill; it is also the case where there is a separation order and money is to be paid under it, or where there has been a divorce and maintenance has been granted by the court in the process of that proceeding.
The woman has gone away from the court after the affiliation proceedings, or whatever proceedings they may be, with an order from the court that the man shall pay her a certain sum for herself and her children, and it seems to me that this Bill is concerned with the machinery of how that money is to be ensured to the woman and, very important, of course, to her children as well. If any suggestion is going to come from the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that the provisions of this Bill are already contained in Sections 43 and 44 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, I of course will respect that professional advice that he has been given, and no doubt he will have had the opportunity of judging for himself, but I cannot see that the law does at the present moment make the provision that this Bill would allow.
The courts and the National Assistance Board are both really only organs of the same society. Society has decreed through the judge or the magistrates, as the case may be, that a certain sum is due to the mother, first of all because she is in need of it and so are her children; and, secondly, because the man has the duty and the ability to pay. It seems to me that there is a very great deal to be said for ensuring, so far as it is possible to do so, that this money is received by the mother for herself and her children even if, as in some cases it 630 has happened, not in all but in some, the man does not pay or does not pay regularly.
The right reverend Prelate opposite and the noble Lord behind him, Lord Brock-way, have said what occurs in some cases. I am not an expert on this subject, at any rate in its day-to-day working; but, as I understand it, what happens is this. The money is ordered to the woman and, in the first place, she collects it from the officer of the court to which it is payable. If she says that she has not had the money it is perfectly true, as my noble friend Lord Ilford said, that the first thing she should do, no doubt, is to go to the National Assistance Board. But they will say, not unreasonably, as they are about to issue public money to her, that she ought to make perfectly certain that the payment has not been held up. They will suggest she should go back to the magistrates' court and see whether perchance it has now come. So back and forth she goes. And this may go on for several weeks.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
This is what I am told occurs, but my noble friend Lord Ilford says not. It would not surprise me if it is so because, after all, as the law stands at the moment it is the woman upon whom is the initial duty of trying to enforce the payment of this money, and if money is given to her by the National Assistance Board too soon it may be that she will not do it, and the charge will fall upon the public.
I believe that this Bill would fill this gap. It would be possible, at any rate once payments of a sum of money under one of these orders had been found to be irregular, for the court to say that henceforth the payment should be made direct to the National Assistance Board, and there should be no question of the money's having to be sought by the woman from the officer of the court: it would come straightforwardly from the Board itself and the Board would be entitled to reclaim it. May I make this one qualification? As to the order of the court that the money shall be paid to the Board rather than to the original payee, and as to the power of the National Assistance Board under Clause 1 (3) of this Bill, there is in both cases a discretion whether or not these powers 631 should be used; it is not mandatory, it is discretionary. I believe that this measure could do a very great deal to get over the delay which now occurs.
I think there is another advantage to this Bill, although here I am treading on ground upon which I am a little unfamiliar and I may have got it wrong. I do not want to undermine the noble Baroness's Bill if I have got this argument wrong, but I think not. I think that under Clause 1 (3) the money would be payable to the woman concerned by the Board whether or not she had a job. I believe this is so. At the present moment, if you get payment from the National Assistance Board you can earn at the most, I think, only 30s. a week.
Imagine the woman who has been granted an order. She is going on her way with her children; she has been granted a certain sum per week by the court from the putative father of her child, her husband or ex-husband. She thinks she can get by on this, and very likely she can. She can take a job and with money coming in from the order she can exist and look after her children properly. But if the money stops under the order, of course the situation may be very different. But what can she do? She can go to the National Assistance Board and they will say, "Yes, we will pay, but only if you leave your job. You cannot have money from us and work as well ". Which is preferable? That that woman should be entitled to have assistance and continue to work, or that she should cease altogether to do work which will bring her in more than 30s. a week and fall a complete charge upon the National Assistance Board? I believe that if, after the disagreeable things she has gone through, she is at least allowed to stand on her own feet, to do a job, to look after her children and be independent in her own right, she is being a great deal better served by society, even than under the excellent care of the National Assistance Board, who, under their rules, can give her the scale and no more and must insist upon her leaving her job.
I believe, if I have this right—and I think I have—that this is a very sound argument in favour of this Bill; and I hope that, for all that my noble friend Lord Ilford says about the image of the 632 Board, if they realise they are being given powers under this Bill to deal with this situation in a way I hope I have accurately described, there will be no tarnishing of their image. On the contrary, they will be considered by society to be acting in a way most helpful to the people who get into these troubles and their image will be greatly enhanced. I therefore have the greatest pleasure in supporting the noble Baroness and her Bill, and I hope it will be given a Second Reading this afternoon.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, set the right tone for this debate when she started off by saying that the purpose of her Bill was to help the least sheltered people; and what perhaps marked her speech most of all was solicitude for the child—solicitude to help the child get a decent start in life. The noble Baroness also had in mind the need to help to ensure that those responsible for maintaining children accept and discharge their responsibilities, and do not get away with it at the expense of the luckless child.
At the same time, we have to consider, despite the very eloquent plea of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, not only the intention of helping the child and the mother but the machinery proposed in the Bill to do it. As I understand it, the conception of the Bill is to permit the National Assistance Board, if it chooses, to pay a deserted wife, or the mother of an illegitimate child, the weekly allowance which a court has ordered shall be paid to the Board by the father. Whether he has, in fact, paid that amount or not, is irrelevant. The duty is virtually laid upon the Board to look for the father; and the Board, is required, as the noble Baroness herself put it, to underwrite the payments to be made under the court order. So there seems to be a double object: first of all to ensure regularity of payments, and secondly to allow the National Assistance Board to assume responsibility for making to such a mother higher payments than the Board itself could make in accordance with the existing scales of assistance. That is the way I read the Bill as it is at present drafted.
None of those who have spoken so far have mentioned the Report of the 633 National Assistance Board for the year ended December 31, 1963, which has some very significant figures. On page 36 of that Report it is shown that there were 102,000 separated wives, of whom 29,000 were over 60 years of age, receiving National Assistance; there were 30,000 mothers of illegitimate children, including 7,000 widows and divorced women, and 9,000 divorced women with legitimate children. These three classes together received, in all, some £31¼ million by way of National Assistance. The amount these women received from the fathers of the children concerned—and they were not all in the same category—was a little over £4 million: and the amount received by the Board, presumably as a result of court orders, was between £2 million and £2¼ million. It is a little difficult to interpret these figures, and it would be very valuable for your Lordships if the noble Lord who is to reply were to do so.
I think it is clear that in many of these cases assistance would have been required from the National Assistance Board in any case to supplement payments received under a court order. Proceedings can be brought jointly under the Bill, as I understand it, only if the Board thinks it likely that if they were not brought it would have to make a weekly allowance. A great deal of the discussion has centred on the point of how the Board comes to know of the case. I thought myself that the Amendment to her Bill which the noble Baroness suggested would have improved it very considerably, because this is one of the great difficulties. It would certainly be a very great improvement if the court were to be placed under an obligation to inform the National Assistance Board when any proceedings were expected to be brought, because it would enable the Board to have cognisance of the claim being made and the proceedings being taken.
But, of course, it would remain true that the Board would not know of very many cases. In some cases the Board may itself discover where a deserted wife or woman with an illegitimate child or children is in need. In most cases it must necessarily be the mother herself or someone acting on her behalf who takes the initiative by applying to the Board. If the woman is in whole time 634 work she will not apply to the Board because she is not eligible for National Assistance, so the Board would not normally know of that case; and such a case, so far as I can see, would not be touched by the Bill unless the woman were herself to make an application to the court and the noble Baroness's Amendment were made.
It may be that in the course of collecting her maternity allowances, or something of that kind, tthe mother of an illegitimate child will be directed to the Board by the National Insurance Office, and I do not know whether more steps in that direction could be taken. If the mother has no job at all, in many cases she will be drawing unemployment benefit, but she may be entitled to supplementary payment from the Board as well. If she has no job and no unemployment benefit she will no doubt have recourse to the Board in any case. I am not quite sure what happens if she has a part-time job. It has been mentioned that if she is earning more than 30s. a week she can get no assistance for herself, but perhaps the noble Lord can say what is the position in regard to assistance for dependants. I daresay if this Bill goes through, the Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child and other bodies will be able to help considerably in directing unmarried mothers towards the Board, and maybe the gap which seems to me to exist in the information the Board can have is not as wide as I think.
Where a case does come to the Board's attention, the Board say on page 35 of their Report:It is often possible at this stage to come to a satisfactory arrangement with him … "—that is, the father—… for the future maintenance of his dependants.If this Bill were to go through, I should imagine it would certainly not make it any easier to reach that satisfactory agreement. But if no such arrangement can be made, then under Section 43 of the 1948 Act in the case of the deserted wife, and Section 44 in the case of the illegitimate child, the Board or local authority can take maintenance or affiliation proceedings against the husband or father.
It is plain to me, from the way in which the 1948 Act is drafted, that the reason 635 they are given this power is to protect the public purse. The responsibility for maintenance lies with the husband or father and is set out in Section 42 of the Act, and if the Board has to discharge that responsibility in his stead then it is entitled to recover those payments from him to the extent that the court considers that the father can pay. The noble Baroness gave us some rather astonishing information on that subject when she said that the courts in some cases will put hire-purchase obligations above the obligation to maintain. That is something undoubtedy the House will have to take into consideration.
But the Board has, I think, followed a much more enlightened and benevolent policy than the Act envisaged. Because the Board has seen that payments from the husband or father were often irregular, I believe it has been willing to bring proceedings in many cases. Indeed, the Report itself enumerates a number of cases in which applications were made under Section 44. It says 70 applications were made, and of course these are cumulative over the years. Certainly 70 seems a remarkably small figure in relation to the 30,000 mothers of illegitimate children. But, in addition, as my noble friend Lord Ilford said, the Board is able to have payments under a court order assigned to itself so that the mother can be assured of a regular weekly income.
I quite see that this assignment is more likely to occur in the case of a deserted wife, where the husband remains responsible for the maintenance of his wife and children, than in the case of affiliation procedure. In the case of desertion or separation, the payment under a court order may well fall short of the amount which the mother would be entitled to receive from the National Assistance Board. I notice that after next month a mother with three children between 5 and 11 will receive £7 17s., plus her rent and rates, from the National Assistance Board. But even in that case the Report says that it is the Board's policy—and I quote:to encourage a woman to take her own proceedings, as by so doing she may well obtain an order for an amount greater than she can be given by way of National Assistance; and even where the order made is for a smaller amount and has, therefore, to be supplemented by the Board it will remain a source of income to her if she later ceases 636 to need assistance, as a result for example of taking up work".This obviously affects the deserted wife rather than the unmarried mother. It seems to me also that it implies that at present, where the Board does take proceedings, the court makes an order only for the actual cost of the assistance already given or to be given, and that seems to be supported by the fact that there appears, to me at any rate, to be no provision under Section 43 for the Board to pay the mother the difference between the payment which the court orders the father to pay to the Board, on the one hand, and the amount that the Board pays to the mother in accordance with its scales, plus, of course, rent and other discretionary allowances, where the amount under the court order is the greater.
The Report says that there are cases where a mother is not only unwilling but unable to take proceedings. The Bill allows the Board to join the mother as a co-plaintiff in proceedings against the father, in the hope that the court may make an order, against the father I presume, for more than the amount which the National Assistance Board would otherwise pay to the mother, and in the hope that the court, in its discretion, will order the whole of the payment to be made to the Board. I am wondering whether this would help. If the mother was unable or unwilling herself to take proceedings, would she be any more willing or able to do so if the Board was joined with her as plaintiff?
If the whole amount is to be paid to the Board then, according to subsection (3), the Board is empowered to pay the mother the whole amount, whether or not the father continues his payment, and whether or not the mother gets a job or receives financial help from elsewhere. It is not clear by what criteria the Board would decide whether or not to pay to the mother the whole amount, or indeed any of it. If the mother is no longer in need, the Board will no longer have any reason to be in touch with her. If she is no longer in need, in my view there could be no justification for the Board to pay her the full amount if it exceeded the Board's scales, plus rent and discretionary allowances actually required.
In this I think one must have regard to the statutory duty of the Board as laid 637 down in Section 4 of the National Assistance Act, which says thatit shall be the duty of the Board in accordance with the following provisions of this Part of this Act to assist persons in Great Britain who are without resources to meet their requirements"—I leave out the inessential words—or whose resources must be supplemented in order to meet their requirements.I think one must have regard to this statutory duty of the Board. The proposal to empower the Board to pay sums that it has not received from the father, where these sums exceeded the National Assistance allowances payable under the regulations, would, I imagine, have to be covered in any case by a Financial Resolution. There is no reason why Parliament should not extend the duties of the Board if Parliament thinks fit, but I think it should be quite clear that in doing this it would be extending the functions of the Board well beyond its primary duty of meeting need.
Finally, I am not at all sure that the Bill does not go a good deal further than the noble Baroness intends, and further than would really be necessary for the purposes that she has in mind. As I read the Bill, it is not confined to cases of failure to carry out the obligation to maintain one's dependants, although I realise that that is the purpose of the noble Baroness. It seems to me to place no limit on the power of the Board to join with the plaintiff in any case where it may think itself likely to have to make payments to him or to her if proceedings were not brought. I am not at all certain that that would not cover actions for compensation for injuries incurred in a road accident, compensation for fraud in cases where a woman was deprived of her entire savings, and even for breach of contract.
Whilst, therefore, I have genuinely considerable sympathy with the purposes that the noble Lady has in mind, and with her objects, I am not at all certain that this Bill would really meet those objects in the best possible way, or indeed altogether. Therefore, before making up our minds definitely on this matter, we should like to hear what the noble Lord who is going to reply has to say. I would only say that we on this side greatly welcome 638 the fact that the noble Lady has brought this matter to the attention of the House; but it is obviously something that needs the examination of the House.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, in answer to that point, may I just say this? The noble Lord said it might be applied to road accidents. That was precisely why I read out the various Acts to which it did apply.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I hope that I am interpreting the feelings of the House aright when I say that I think we all feel a great deal of sympathy and respect for the cases that my noble friend Lady Summerskill has in mind, and for her, too. I listened to her speaking to-day and I felt glad, as I have before, that there are ladies about with real knowledge of these matters, and a sympathy in cases of this kind which perhaps no man could quite sufficiently or fully feel.
I echo heartily what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has just said. I am exceedingly glad that this Bill has been brought forward. As my noble friend indicated, I am going to say that the Government cannot support it, and I will try to give, as clearly as I can, the reasons for that. If I take a little longer than I should have done on other occasions I hope that your Lordships will forgive me, because I feel that there is so much sympathy in Members of the House in this matter, that your Lordships would not wish it dismissed by some mere plausible answer or something which (if I may revert to what my noble friend let fall at one moment) is too much of a lawyer's argument. I mean sincerely what I have just said. Now I must turn to the Bill itself.
Your Lordships will have noted that we have had some valuable and interesting speeches to-day, two of them from former Ministers of National Insurance, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and one from a former chairman of the National Assistance Board. While the last speech we heard was carefully balanced, it could not be said to give the Bill any warm support on technical grounds. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, was even clearer in the matter. I listened carefully to what he 639 said, and to what Lord Drumalbyn said, and I found very little in either speech with which to disagree.
One must see what this Bill does. It is intended to give additional discretionary powers to the Board. It does not oblige the Board to use them, except in so far as public opinion may compel the use of discretionary powers. But in fact those discretionary powers are very wide indeed. They are wide on points which go beyond those referred to by Lord Drumalbyn; they are wide on points which go beyond the essential primary function of the Board. Section 4 of the 1948 Act makes it perfectly clear—and, indeed, so did the debates at the time—that the National Assistance Board was set up to meet cases of need. The intention was that it should meet the requirements of people to have enough to live on. It was not intended to fulfil other social purposes, however meritorious they may be.
The very next Section 1n the Act, Section 5, lays down the machinery in assessing need for this purpose. It is in pursuance of this provision that at intervals of time, every year or two recently, there have been changes in the scales of National Assistance to meet, or in an attempt to meet, increases in cost of living. That is the primary function of the Board. In Section 9 your Lordships will find an express statutory prohibition against paying National Assistance to people who are in full employment. It does not extend to part employment; that can be supplemented up to the scales. Your Lordships may remember that long ago in Speenhamland, a small village, they used the rates to supplement the pay of farm labourers. They felt that the farm labourer did not get enough; they were unwilling themselves to pay any more, so they used the rates for the purpose. I do not think that procedure would commend itself to anybody nowadays—at any rate, not in that form.
Your Lordships will notice that in the case my noble friend was putting, it was suggested that the National Assistance should be used to supplement the earnings of a girl in full employment. That is going far beyond what at present the Board has power to do in general. It is quite true, too, that the Bill is, as Lord Drumalbyn spotted, if I may 640 use that word, very widely drawn. It is so widely drawn that its language would, in fact, cover damages in a running-down case. All that need happen is that the Board thinks that someone is likely to need assistance in the future. If a man is driving to his work and is seriously injured in a collision between two cars, he would clearly be a person who might well come and ask for assistance from the Board when he was out of work and disabled. Under this Bill the Board would have power to go into those proceedings and recover the damages for him. I am not saying that that is a final sort of point, for it is not. One can always say, "Surely this can be made clear, and the intention of the mover carried out, when we get to a later stage"—that is to say, the Bill could be put right in Committee.
The noble Baroness was quite right when she said that the Bill has been fully discussed. I have been to two discussions, and it was time well spent. But the first I heard of the proposed Amendment was to-day, although we took up about four hours during the two meetings, and I am not in a position to give detailed consideration to something which has been brought forward so very much at the last moment. Therefore, I would assume that the Bill is intended to cover only the cases which my noble friend clearly had in mind. She referred almost entirely to the mothers of illegitimate children. A case which is very closely parallel, for these purposes, is the case of deserted wives. Another case is that of divorced women with legitimate children. All these cases are rather similar; they are often taken together.
I should like to give my conclusion based on some of the figures put forward by Lord Drumalbyn. I will repeat them only so far as is necessary to make the conclusion clear. By far the largest group is that of the wives who are separated from their husbands. Secondly, the mothers of illegitimate children are granted assistance to a total of about 7½ million a year. And that rather disposes of the argument that a large number of them do not get National Assistance at all. It really is the case that assistance is given, and is given on a large scale. Your Lordships will notice that the total of National Assistance in that one case, some 30,000 people out of 641 over 150,000, was actually larger than the amount recovered either voluntarily or by proceedings from the men concerned.
The National Assistance Board—and I say this with emphasis—considers these cases very much its business. I agree warmly with something which was said by my noble friend Lord Brockway. I too have had constituency experience of these matters stretching over some nineteen years, and I got to know my particular National Assistance office very well indeed. Not only did I find them willing to help people whom I advised to go and see them, but I had people come to me who had been to the Board and had received the most sympathetic help. This help was not on the principle of, "How can we save public money?", but, "How can we meet the need of the people who come to see us, within the limit which legislation and orders have obliged us to observe?" That sort of thing went on year after year, and I do not think I ever had a complaint about the Board.
Your Lordships must remember something else about the Board: it took over from a state of affairs which had been the subject of very strong complaint. The former Poor Law (I am not here to discuss its merits or demerits) had undoubtedly been extremely unpopular; people had come to regard it as an enemy. The National Assistance Board officers lived that down, and in my experience they have lived it down completely. Therefore, when it is a question of saying that they are hard on people, that they send them from pillar to post, although one cannot speak for every case I would say merely that within the limits of my own experience, and from all the inquiries I have made, it is very unlikely indeed to be the fault of the National Assistance Board officials. One can think of other reasons for something of the sort happening.
Having said that, may I come back to the particular form of this Bill? As I say, it is a Bill to give additional powers, and the first additional power is that the Board itself should join with the girl in question in proceedings to recover maintenance, and if need be in affiliation proceedings. It is perfectly true that in Sections 43 and 44 of the Act there is a power—under the general heading, be it noted, of "Recovery of Expenses": that is, recovery of expenses by the Board— 642 for the Board itself to take proceedings in its own name. That does not arise in the majority of cases, but it can be done and it is done. What is far more common is that the girl comes to the Board and the Board helps her—I do not mean by employing advocates or anything; I simply mean that they help and encourage her to go to the court and assert her own rights.
One has to remember that in cases of this kind there are quite a proportion of girls who do not want to take proceedings. There are cases where the putative father has been lost, and that is one thing, but sometimes there are cases where the girl does not want to take proceedings, either. This is very touchy human ground and one has to be very careful not to do things which look all right, which seem to add something, but which do not in fact do so.
I noticed, if I may say so with great respect to your Lordships, that of the speakers who were speaking without ministerial or Board experience everybody said that they felt the Bill would do something. But in all of the speeches, even, I think, that of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, if he does not mind my saying so, there was a bit of uncertainty as to exactly what it did do. All the Bill does, so far as this part of it is concerned, is to allow the Board to join.
There are going to be difficulties about that in magistrates' courts. There is no arrangement for joint plaintiffs there and the Rules would have to be reshaped. I do not know what the Home Office would say, although I know what they have said. I do not think you can take matters any further than by helping the girl, as the Board does at present, to do it in her own name, and having the reserve power which is there. You help the girl, then, to go along and chase the man, to get the money from him—the recovery of expenses, as the general phrase goes. That is the first point.
I am coming to some administrative points and I think they are very important, but before I turn to those, there is one other thing I want to say. I indicated just now, in regard to full employment, the difficulty of getting the National Assistance Board to do what may be by itself a socially desirable thing 643 to do for one particular group of people, however meritorious, and for them to do it for exceptional cases. It is not the Board's normal function. If you are going to cover these exceptional cases, then I can suggest several others that ought to be covered, too. But I do not think this is the right approach. I think, if you are going to have a Board that has been constituted for a pretty clear purpose—it is rather like taxing people—you do not, on social grounds, want to use this machinery for exceptions. You ought either to rephrase the Board's remit, or you ought to do something entirely different.
On something entirely different, I must remind your Lordships, with respect, that my Party and the Government are heavily committed to an extensive review of the whole social security system. It hits you in the eye, my Lords, that once you start on National Insurance and National Assistance it is the women who have had the worst of it. I am sorry to have to say this, because one hoped that one had been more provident in 1948. But one cannot be absolutely right all the time, and, looking back, I think, to start with, that the widows have had a very great deal to put up with. There has been a lot of confusion in their rights and in the way they have been dealt with, and there are these other groups of women here who, clearly, have also to be dealt with. But I do not think that the right way of dealing with them is to give additional discretionary powers to the National Assistance Board in the very vague form that they are given here.
Now I turn to what I think the noble Lady called the "guarantee" or the "underwriting" side of the Bill; that is to say, subsection (3) of Clause 1. This involves the Board in giving amounts which may be far in excess of the standard scales. From that point of view, therefore, I think the subSection 1s of very doubtful wisdom, for the reasons I have just given. But I want to make it clear that, in fact, the Board does do a little of this occasionally, although not much. If it has to recover from a man, it does not follow that it will refuse to recover because the amount to be recovered is more than the national scales. It does recover it.
What happens is something of this kind. There is an order for a larger 644 amount than the scales, and the order is not met. The man may move—there may be some good reason for it—he may just be worse off, or he may be plainly defaulting. The Board give him a little rope as a rule—and it is always a question of how much rope should be given—but then it chases him. It either gets the girl to do this by going back to the court and taking steps to do it, or, if need be, as I understand it, it can use its powers under Section 43. But the money is recovered, and in a case of that sort the surplus—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn—is accounted for. But, of course, there is apt to be a little delay, because if you are having irregular payments you may get a single payment that is over the scales, then a gap, then a payment, then two gaps, and you have to secure that the recovery from the man is applied by way of what is called in the Statute "recovery of expenses". I hope I have made myself clear.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question about that? I find what he has said very interesting, and I knew that something of this nature went on. Nevertheless, I imagine it is the case that if the National Assistance Board is paying money under this system, the woman is prevented from doing any work that brings her in more than 30s. plus whatever it is per child.
§ LORD MITCHISON
No, my Lords; she is not forbidden to do any work. That is not the form it takes. She can do part-time work. She will make something on that, and that will be made up to the national scale. But what the Board cannot do, having regard to Section 9 of the 1948 Act, is to pay National Assistance to somebody in full employment. I gave your Lordships the rather picturesque and old-fashioned instance of the Speenhamland rate to illustrate the reason for a provision of that sort. I am not concerned for the moment to go into detail, because I think this is one of the matters that will have to play a part in a general review.
If I may, I want to say something with which I am sure the House will agree. When we come to a general review—and all three Parties have asked for it in different forms at different times—I am sure that it is the human 645 and social considerations of this kind that we should wish to have in mind. I am sure, too, that the question of dependent children is very much in everybody's mind. I am not sure that this Bill has much to do with dependent children, when one begins to look at it; the children's allowances go on separately. But, of course, a hardship to the mother, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, in fact involves or may involve hardship to the child. Children are therefore concerned from that point of view.
I would say one thing about children, my Lords. Here, I hope, I am speaking for the Government, but I must tell your Lordships quite frankly that I do not know, although I do know that I am speaking for some members of it who have made contributions to various books on the matter. I think the whole business of children in this country needs looking at from this point of view. For a long time, wives' rights were too dependent on their husbands. We may or may not have got rid of that completely—we have at any rate done a good deal about it—but children's rights have been dependent on adults too much. That is the kind of thing one wants to get rid of. Not, of course, that they can do for themselves things which only an adult can do, but it should be recognised that they have a right as human beings which is additional to and independent of the rights of their parents—though, of course, within the limits I have indicated.
My Lords, I do not know whether I have covered all the points, but I have tried to. I ought to add this—I think it is important, and it is verging on administration. It was suggested that an Amendment should be made to the Bill to oblige courts to tell the National Assistance Board when there was a case for them. I do not know what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will say to that and I do not know what the Home Office will say to it, but I say this: in practice, as I understand it, there is the closest touch between magistrates' courts and the local offices of the National Assistance Board. Not only is this so in individual cases, but it takes on the form of general consultation. Somebody may get up and say that there are exceptions, and this much I 646 would say: that I am sure that, as a result of this debate and of the discussion which preceded it, the National Assistance Board will take care to keep that connection as tight as I believe it to be at present and, if possible, to tighten it. The contact is continuous, and, if I am right, it answers the difficulty about being sent from pillar to post. I know this is said, but I have grave doubts about it—and I have taken a lot of trouble to try to inform myself properly about it.
I turn from that to one or two other administrative matters. As an instance of what has been happening, there is consultation going on now between the Board and magistrates' clerks with a view to the Board's taking over all the orders where there is a regular supplement contributed by the Board—that is to say, cases where the existing order is not enough to meet the requirements of need within the limits set upon the Board and, consequently, the Board have, week after week, to supplement it. Now the Board are consulting with the magistrates' clerks with a view to the Board's taking these orders over in principle, either entirely or with occasional exceptions.
They are also considering the delay that there is said to be in taking over what I might call cases of intermittent compliance with an order: cases where a man pays for a bit and then breaks, then resumes and then breaks again, and so on. Your Lordships will recognise that an occasional break, by itself, is hardly enough to go on. The man may have moved; he may have changed his job; there may have been an illness or there may have been an accident. It is right to inquire; it is not quite enough to act without doing that. On the other hand, I think the case that is put is, "Are you quite sure that you do not wait rather too long?" We are looking into that.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I am very glad to have the support of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, on that point, if I may say so.
There is another point concerning publicity. A great deal is being done already, but I agree with what my noble friend (she will not mind my quoting her) was 647 heard to say on one occasion—'that is, "It is all very well putting things in post offices, but post offices do not often put them out, and the people do not know about it sufficiently in that way". My Lords, what they are trying to do is not only through post offices, not only by advertisements and not only by way of the dozen other things which they do. For instance, local National Insurance offices, employment exchanges and Crown post offices stick them on the public side of the counter, which is rather an improvement. To give a rough definition of a Crown post office, it is a place which does not also have a sweetshop.
My Lords, they are also going to try to get out a new leaflet dealing with arrangements for assisting separated wives and unmarried mothers, and to distribute this, using the voluntary agencies. Here, I should like to say that I am quite certain that the National Assistance Board does not feel, any more than I do, any hostility or suspicion, or anything of that nature, about these voluntary societies. They are very useful bodies. They have done very fine work, and I hope they will continue. It should not be expected that all of us, on every point, will agree with them, but they are clearly doing a great deal of good. Not only is there the National Council for the Unmarried Mother: there are a number of Church organisations from various denominations, and there are the probation officers, the courts and the child welfare clinics. I think they have all been pretty good and it will be seen that the Board is proposing to cover every possible avenue of publicity—and this publicity is very important.
I would end on one other matter which I think I have already covered in another way, but it is perhaps worth repeating. The Board does take a great deal of trouble about training its staff. It is not just an accident that these people are sympathetic and are trying to help. The officers of the Board get a very good schooling when they first join the Board, and they get refresher courses later. I have nearly finished, and I perhaps owe your Lordships an apology, but I think that people are interested in this subject and have felt very warmly about it.
648 There was one other point that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford. He said, "This is a very difficult business"—and I agree with him. He said, "It wants looking at carefully, and there is a case for an Inter-Departmental Committee or Working Party, or some body of that sort". On the whole, my Lords, I do not think it is a matter for an Inter-Departmental Committee. For one thing, they are rather slow bodies; and I am not sure that in this case they are necessary. But the Nuffield Foundation has made a grant to Bedford College, of the University of London, for a research project by the Department of Sociology to study the social results of the exercise of the matrimonial jurisdiction by magistrates' courts in England and Wales—and I think the right reverend Prelate who spoke said something on these lines, too. An advisory Committee, of which the Chairman is Sir Jocelyn Simon, the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, has been set up to facilitate the research; and I am very glad to tell your Lordships that not only is the Chairman of the Board a member of the Advisory Committee but so is my noble friend Lady Summerskill. I feel that that Committee ought to be able to do some extremely valuable work. It will have the full co-operation of the Board: and, I think, that, with this group of cases, that is the obvious immediate line to follow, although ultimately they will have to be dealt with as a part of the general review of the social service.
My Lords, I would not claim that one political Party felt more warmly than another about this, but I can assure your Lordships that in my own Party there is no subject which would spur their feelings more than this kind of case, and the need for proper provision for it. On behalf of the Government, I reject the Bill only on the grounds, first, that I do not think it will add anything to what is already there, except things which are really wrong to add in this form; and, secondly, that I think a Bill of that kind really diverts attention from the proper way of dealing with this kind of subject and may result in the subject itself getting, in the long run, not more consideration but less consideration. That applies to the Bill itself; it does not apply to the fact that the Bill has been proposed and 649 argued with clarity, courage and warmth by my noble friend Lady Summerskill and others in your Lordships' House. I should, after being nasty about the Bill, like to say to her once more that I am very glad indeed that she has brought it forward, and I am very glad that we have had this discussion. I hope it will have a real effect on the administrative arrangements and I hope it will encourage those who are doing work for it, whether in the form of this advisory council which I have just mentioned or in considering future legislation.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I say just a final word? I am not going to make another speech. May I thank all those who have supported me: the noble Lord, Lord Amulree (though I see he has gone), my noble friend Lord Brockway, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for his excellent exposition. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, Chairman of the National Assistance Board, that I know he understood the whole position and that he did not deny there was a problem. All he said was that he thought it might give a little more work to the National Assistance Board, and, to use the phrase of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, it might tarnish their image. But I really do not think for one moment that it would do this. This relates to only a minute fraction of the prosecutions the Board undertake every day, as both the noble Lord and I well know. I am trying to get in only a tiny fraction of cases involving a woman, a simple woman if you like. If such a woman and the child were living with her mother the mother would say immediately, "Go to the Assistance Board." And the Assistance Board would prosecute, would do all the things which are necessary and would back the woman. I ask only that this simple woman, or,
§ if you like, this perhaps lazy or stupid woman with this baby, who is perhaps dilly-dallying, should be helped by the Assistance Board's being informed by the court and by the Board's stepping in at this stage.
§ I have a feeling that the noble Lord who wound up for the Opposition—and I listened very carefully—was sympathetic to my cause, and I am sure that my noble friend in his heart was with me. I listened to him carefully and this is what he said in his opening remarks: "The Board is there to provide for those in need but it is not intended to fill this social purpose". Is there a necessitous case more urgent than that of a girl in this position, alone? I do ask my noble friend to realise that this, surely, was what the Board was established for in the first place.
§ There is only one other point, and again it emphasises my case. My noble friend has just said that the magistrates' courts are realising that the amounts of the orders are not big enough for a girl and her baby. Therefore, he says, the magistrate's clerk is getting in touch with the Board. He established and emphasised the liaison between the clerk of the court and the Board. Again, that is all I ask. I am sorry that I did not tell him before; but I was going to say that this clerk of the court said that it would be very helpful if the court informed the Board that a case was pending. Having listened to both sides, I now ask for your Lordships' consideration for nothing new; I am asking simply for the machinery already in being to be used to help the person who, in my opinion, is the most helpless woman in the whole community.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 28.651
|Alport, L.||Bethell, L.||Colville of Culross, V. [Teller.]|
|Amherst, E.||Boston, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Brentford, V.||Dudley, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Bristol, L. Bp.||Durham. L. Bp.|
|Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs.||Brocket, L.||Erroll of Hale, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Brockway, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Burden, L.||Grantchester, L.|
|Audley, Bs.||Byers, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Canterbury, L. Abp.||Hawke, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Carlisle, L. Bp.||Henley, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Citrine, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Leatherland, L.||Ripon, L. Bp.||Summerskill, Bs. [Teller.]|
|McNair, L.||St. Albans, L. Bp.||Thurlow, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||St. Davids, V.||Williams, L.|
|Meston, L.||St. Just, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Morrison, L.||Segal, L.||Willis, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Sherwood, L.||Worcester, L. Bp.|
|Nunburnholme, L.||Southwark, L. Bp.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Ogmore, L.||Stamp, L.||York, L. Abp.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||Mountevans, L.|
|Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Iddesleigh, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Ilford, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Ingleby, V.||Shepherd, L. [Teller.]|
|Carnock, L.||Lindgren, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Champion, L.||Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Soul bury, V.|
|Daventry, V.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Stonham, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Merrivale, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Mitchison, L.||Uvedale of North End, L.|
§ Resolved in the Affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.