HL Deb 22 February 1967 vol 280 cc725-75

3.53 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I rise to-day, with considerable trepidation and, indeed, some diffidence, to address your Lordships' House for the first time. By strict definition, I should imagine that a maiden speech on the subject of illegitimacy is in itself perhaps controversial, if not unsuitable. But I trust that your Lordships' traditional courtesy and forbearance on an occasion such as this will allow me to make just a few remarks on a subject which I regard as one of considerable public and urgent importance.

All of us, both inside this House and outside, are deeply grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for initiating this debate to-day. I myself shall not follow her and those noble Lords who have spoken on the much-needed reforms in the law relating to the status and the rights of the illegitimate child. I will rather, in these few remarks, confine myself to the welfare of these children and to the social attitudes, the social policies, and the social services which affect their well being; and to the much-needed changes in these altitudes, policies and services if we are to promote their greater happiness as individual children in our community not merely for their own sake but for the general good health of the community as a whole.

As the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, we have moved a long way from the days when foundlings were looked after by the Poor Law and the parishes, when unmarried mothers did public penance and when one could walk through the streets of our capital city and find murdered infants in its parks and open spaces. I think that all of us would praise the pioneering work of Josephine Butler at the turn of the century, and the Moral Welfare Movement which developed in the Church of England from the time when she managed to persuade people that the best hope of a happy life for an illegitimate child was to stay with its mother.

The introduction of legal adoption much later on offered yet another opportunity to many thousands of illegitimate children to have happy and stable homes with their adoptive parents. Indeed, our attitudes to the rights of children generally, whether born in or out of wedlock, have suffered major changes, and I think major improvements, in these last fifty or sixty years. Yet, as noble Lords have already indicated, society's attitude to illegitimate children is still ambivalent and confused, and I believe the causes of this lie deep in human nature itself.

All of us who are Archer fans were very happy last week to hear Doris Archer, the grandmother of Jennifer Archer, speaking on the impact of Jennifer's pregnancy on village life in Ambridge. She summed it up in her own inimitable way: "A baby is a baby and that's all that matters"; and her daughter-in-law, Peggy, answered with feeling, "I wish everyone felt like that". I think all of us would wish to congratulate the B.B.C. on its courageous and sensitive portrayal of Jennifer's problems during her pregnancy; Doris Archer expressed the true attitude on which our social policies and social provisions for all children should be based, regardless of the circumstances into which they are born and over which they have no control.

The social services as organised to-day, based on the major social legislation of the post-war period, have brought great improvements to the welfare of children, be they legitimate or illegitimate. The development of the National Health Service alone has meant that being born illegitimate is no longer as great a hazard as it was, and the death rate among illegitimate children in their first year has been halved by the development of that great Service. Here I think that doctors and nurses, health visitors and midwives are truly to be thanked by the nation for their great work in this field.

I wish, however, that one could say the same of the development of social provision in the health field for unmarried mothers and their children. I am sure that noble Lords who will be coming after me in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Soper, will speak on this subject with feeling and with knowledge. He has done such great work in the field of the provision of hostels for unmarried mothers and their children. There is still a great need for a further extension of this kind of residential provision, for flat lets for unmarried mothers who wish to keep their children, for housing associations to build homes in which these women can live with their children. We also need a far greater extension of the provision of day-care for all children in this country, including the child who stays with his or her unmarried mother.

All children similarly have benefited from the improved developments since 1948, following the passing of the Children Act, for those who, for one reason or another, for short or long periods, have to come into the care of the local authorities or the voluntary societies. Mention has already been made of the large numbers of children who are illegitimate and are in the care of local authorities or voluntary societies. Many of these children do not come into care because they are illegitimate, as the numbers for whom it is the precipitating cause are relatively small. But the total numbers in care who are, in fact, illegitimate are an indication that these children are predisposed at moments of crisis, by lack of family support, to come into care, often for longer rather than shorter periods. The case histories of our children's homes, our remand homes, our approved schools, our child-guidance clinics and, indeed, our adult prisons are undoubtedly rich in source material on the effect of illegitimacy and the predisposition to delinquency that the conditions in which these children are brought up have on their future lives and future prospects.

In the field of social insurance and social security, too, all mothers and all children benefit equally from the services provided by the State. But, as the noble Lady has already indicated, there are many who are deeply concerned to-day about the level of social security as it affects certain large groups of our community, which includes children. These groups include those large families where the fathers are low wage-earners, where the mothers are deserted, separated or divorced, and finally, the category of the community that we are considering here to-day—unmarried, unsupported mothers. These are, according to the researches of Professor Peter Townsend and Professor Brian Abel-Smith, the poorest of all in the vulnerable groups. We know from Questions and Answers in another place that the Government are at present reviewing the range and scope of their social security provisions, and I would add my voice to the pleas which have already been made, both here in this debate to-day, in another place and outside this House, that the Government should take urgent action to make proper provision for these families, including unsupported mothers with illegitimate children, so that they can have the kind of upbringing that all children in our society should have.

My Lords, in a debate of this kind one cannot help wondering whether this is a problem which is going to stay with us for ever and is going to continue to increase at the vast rate at which it has been increasing in these past ten years, or whether, perhaps, it would be wiser that social effort, social action and public money would be better spent in preventing this problem from ever occurring, rather than try to safeguard the children after they are born. Earlier policies, far back in our history, have already indicated that punitive treatment does not stop illegitimate children being born. Nor do I believe that forced marriage or earlier marriage would be a healthier or happier solution, for such marriages would in themselves contain the seeds of their own dissolution and further unhappiness for future generations of children.

There may be some who believe that divorce should be easier, and others who believe that a wider spread of the knowledge and availability of contraception, or the reform of our abortion laws, would be the proper solutions; but I fear that I should be trespassing on your Lordships' indulgence much too far to-day in a speech of this nature if I were to pursue these particular solutions to the problem further.

I would conclude by suggesting to your Lordships that we might perhaps all agree that there is one slow but nevertheless, I believe, very sure way of solving this problem in the future, and that is for all children and young people to be brought up in the happiness of their own home with loving parents. It is in this way, indeed, that they will truly realise that the family home is the best nursery for children.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am able and happy to be the first to congratulate and felicitate the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, on her maiden speech. Of course it was an excellent speech—but, then, what did your Lordships expect? I had the privilege of serving under the noble Lady for a little while on the old London County Council, when she was in charge—and magistral charge it was—of the children's department. I wish that that apprenticeship could have been longer, but as soon as I became a member of the London County Council the Government of the day brought in a Bill to get rid of the London County Council; and although it is not necessarily presumptuous of me to suggest that it was a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, I still have my suspicions in that respect. But I am the more grateful that your Lordships will now have the opportunity of listening to words so happily and cultivatingly expressed, and of appreciating the experience so long culled and so widespread; and, without any fulsome adulation, I should like to say, I am sure on behalf of every one of your Lordships, how much we have appreciated this first speech, and how ardently we look forward to many others.

My Lords, this is a topic which presents an almost irresistible cue to a parson for a sermon. I shall resist that particular temptation, and shall confine myself to the general observation that, in matters of sexual promiscuity, I am against it. I do that for, I think, a much more impor- tant reason than just to prevent myself from boring your Lordships with a number of moral assertions about the necessity for chastity and the dangers—and, indeed, the wrongdoing—of immorality. It is that the introductory words of the noble Lady, Baroness Summerskill, in this particular debate have been so couched as to concentrate on succouring the innocent rather than on chastening the guilty; and I would confine myself to that particular field of inquiry and suggestion.

I want to add a word to what has already been said about the execrable use of the words "illegitimate child". When I was a child I was told, "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you". I never believed it then, and I have every reason to doubt it now. I happen to know, out of the practical experience which I have been able to acquire over the years, of the kind of unhappiness and the kind of contumely that belong necessarily to those words when attached to particular people, especially young people, who feel very deeply about it. I hope that we can get rid of this execrable use of a phrase which is not true, because, as the noble Lady, Baroness Summerskill, pointed out quite accurately, there are no illegitimate children; there are only illegitimate parents.

There are three fields in which principles have been set forth (I will not rehearse them) and in which it is necessary, as it seems to me, for action to be taken. The first is the field of the child born out of wedlock. Your Lordships have already heard how desirable, how peremptory, it seems to me, it is that we should endeavour to provide for the child an equivalence of legal status to that already enjoyed by the child born in wedlock. The concentration of effort upon the legal status of the child, its economic possibilities and the necessary advantages which it ought to enjoy—this is a principle of which various propositions have already been derived, and I will not weary your Lordships' House by reiterating them.

The second is the field of the father. I yield to none in my conviction that even a poor and unsatisfactory father may prove a consolation and a blessing to a child. I was vastly entertained by the excursion into history of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. He painted with a very large brush, and I think some of the paint got on to the wrong canvas. Nevertheless, his heart is in the right place, and I am certain that what he said is absolutely true: that there is a real and viable place for a father, even if that father is not married to the mother. This has been proved again and again in our experience in the work with which I am associated. The voluntary association, the voluntary recognition—yes, admirable. I am a little dubious about the statutory requirement whereby, as in Scandinavian countries, a mother is required, if she knows it, to state the name of the father. I think this is a proper matter for the commission of inquiry, whatever its title happens to be.

There are a great many peripheral problems here which cannot be solved by generalisations. On the whole, it must be added that the Scandinavian experiment seems to have worked very well. I am quite sure that where the father can be brought in, even to an unsatisfactory relationship, what was said so eloquently by the noble Baroness is quite true: that there is some hope and substance in the belief that a family relationship, even imperfect, is better than the loneliness of one parent.

The third field, of course, is a field in which there is a very great deal more, it seems to me, to be done. It is the field of the mother herself. I listen regularly to the stories of unmarried mothers who seek affiliation orders; who go long distances to what they regard as unsympathetic courts; who are constantly delayed and sometimes prevented from securing what they believe to be their rights by the anomalies of the law, by the provisions which make it necessary that the particular affiliation orders should come within a year of the actual occasion of the birth of the child. I believe that the principle should be that, so far as possible, the State should take over some of these responsibilities and relieve the mother of the agonising problems which are associated with her attempt to find a way to make a living in circumstances in which she is already cruelly handicapped. These matters have already been set forth.

I want to turn for a few minutes to another aspect of the case. I will intro- duce it by saying that yesterday I was talking to an unmarried mother who in the last three days had knocked on 19 doors in order to get accommodation, and was turned away from every one. There are three sorts of accommodation which I believe are necessary, and which I know the noble Lady who has just spoken would ardently support; and her wealth of experience in this field is much greater than mine, and much greater, possibly, than that of many noble Lords.

There is, first of all, the need for short-term accommodation in hostels such as, if I may name it, the one at the West London Mission, Hopedene, where we care for about 20 unmarried mothers and their babies, and where on the same premises we have a fully-equipped nursery. This is short-term accommodation, and it provides a period of cushioning and an opportunity for rehabilitation, both mental and physical, for unmarried mothers and their babies. The optimum time is about two years, and it is the belief of the Warden—and I questioned her vigorously as to whether her conviction was strongly based on evidence—that the majority of the unmarried mothers or girls who come into this hostel have, by the end of two years, found some other and more suitable accommodation. The stimulus of knowing that they ought so to try is a very good and therapeutic measure.

It is most important that the children should be cared for. There is a vast extension of the opportunities for annexes to nurseries; and if it be true that in some areas there is a woeful lack of crêches, it is also true that in some London areas there is almost a proliferation of crêches. The extension of the crêche system as part of the short-term accommodation of the hostel is, I think most important—with one proviso: that we ought not to think of it as a hostel. It is interesting to see what the television set has done to the public rooms of hostels. It is even more interesting to realise that the hostel system, as such, is outdated, and that very much better results would be found in the provision of "bed-sits" in which a far larger area of self-sufficiency is offered under a Mother in Israel to the girls and little children. This is one very great need. The Catholic Housing Aid Society have represented, and have in their efforts set forth, a partial answer to another great need, that for long-term accommodation in suitable hostels or places where such mothers and their children can find the kind of equipoise and serenity needed by so many who, in the hurly-burly of trying to find accommodation elsewhere, find themselves inadequate and break down. I shall not say much about that, except to point out that it is a necessary part of intelligent and enlightened public administration to suggest through voluntary associations and by appeal to local authorities, the stimulation of long-term accommodation of this kind.

Finally, it seems to me that, within the general orbit of the large council estate, it would be an excellent thing if certain premises, tenements, buildings, houses and rooms, should be set apart for unmarried mothers and their babies. It is, after all, hard enough for the unmarried mother to care for her baby anyhow; it is almost intolerably hard when, superimposed on the natural exigencies of her case, she has housing insecurity, which I have every reason to know has brought disaster even to those to whom initial benefits have been offered.

I would add as a postscript a word about pregnant girls. We try to care for them in a hostel. Many of them are younger than 16. I cannot for a moment imagine the kind of traumatic effect of discovering yourself to be pregnant. What I do know is that in many cases, even within a loving family relationship, it would be better if that girl for the time of her pregnancy were not at home. Paradoxically, it is almost as bad in some cases in a loving and indulgent home as in an intolerable and hardhearted one. There is ample evidence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, will know, of a need to provide places, not necessarily in large numbers, to which, in the early period of the recognition of pregnancy, and up to the time when the little girl is able to go into a place of accouchement, these girls can go and where they can begin to understand in a congenial environment something of the responsibilities they have to face. Here they can be encouraged to make up their minds, while being protected at this time from indulgent or dominating mothers, or social or religious environ- ments which are, in many cases, deleterious to their true judgments.

My Lords, these are some of the practical things which I am sure need to be done. I will permit myself a final comment. To see the awakening of hope and, indeed, the emergence of penitence in many cases; to see the emergence of a new sense of responsibility; and, perhaps best of all, to see a young unmarried mother saying to herself, "Whereas I thought that I would ask for adoption, now I believe that, with help, I ought to and should like to take care of my child", is ample reward. It is the kind of reward that we ought to look for in the furthering of the project to which the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has invited our attention today.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for once more having stirred us to talk of something about which we feel deeply and do not always air in the way we should. The manner in which she has put the whole problem seems to me not only deeply thoughtful but deeply feeling. This is perhaps why the whole of the debate, so far, has been on so high a note.

It is usual in your Lordships' House to pay tribute to anyone who has made a maiden speech, but I think it would be difficult to find words with which to say anything adequate to the noble Lady who has just made her maiden speech and who has, by doing so, taught us all something not only in the direction of speech-making but in many other directions as well. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that he had had the honour of serving under her. I am no longer young; but I still hope that some day I may be privileged to do the same. I look to that hope with the real belief that perhaps if I lobby enough I may achieve my ambition.

I want to speak this afternoon about the unmarried mother who has decided to keep her child. I feel that this is something we ought all to think about in the very simplest way possible. The girl has so many problems. I speak as one who is interested in the running of a mother and baby home where mothers are taken in before the baby is born—a good two months before—and where they return for three months after the baby is born. As the girl goes out, having decided to keep the child, she has not only the problem of the baby itself, but the liability, both financial and physical. She has, in addition, the problem of where to live, and I am sure the odds are that every single minute of her waking hours is taken up in trying to cope with these ordinary day-to-day problems.

She is involved, as we have already heard, in problems with regard to where to live and (perhaps the most difficult of all the problems) how to provide for two people, not one; how to placate a difficult landlady, who seemed quite easy until the baby started teething. The result is that she is overwrought and over-tired, very often; often very bad-tempered. She finds herself constantly in a dreadful mess. She cannot easily understand what she should do to safeguard the interests not only of her child but of herself. A girl in these circumstances has great difficulty in understanding any explanation which might be given her, and I would plead, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, for some person who can take the necessary steps on her behalf.

My Lords, I am quite sure that when we look at the number of affiliation orders applied for by unmarried mothers we find that it is pitiably small in relation to the whole problem. This is so because very often the mother who needs an affiliation order feels that she wants nothing more to do with the man responsible for her child. I do not say that this is right, but it is frequently the pattern that when an unmarried girl goes into hospital to have her baby, the child is born under false pretences. The mother wears a wedding ring and makes explanations for the absence of the father. But the poor girl is in a dreadful state as she watches other girls being visited by relatives, happy fathers, and sees the great rejoicing. That is perhaps the most bitter moment of all for her. If the father has not given her any support she probably decides that she never wants to see him again. Not only that, but she is fearful that, were she to get an affiliation order against the father, it might give him some rights over the child.

Later, when a mother is faced with financial difficulties, she may begin to wish that she had done something in order to make the father contribute; but by then she is not in touch with anyone to advise her about how to apply. As was suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, the period during which she can apply must be, and should be, extended to as long as possible. The girl should be encouraged and helped in every way to refer to a social worker who knows how to undertake the different steps which have to be taken. At the home with which I am associated a great number of fathers pay the fees for the unmarried mothers. If the father is friendly and seems responsible, the girl, if she has the slightest hope of marriage, does not wish to go to the courts, because she does not wish to alienate the father. Therefore, it would be a tremendous safeguard if agreements to pay, signed by fathers, could be registered with the right authority and carried the same power of enforcement as an affiliation order.

My Lords, it is not only financial aid that is needed by a mother who has decided to keep her child. Accommodation also is needed, and day-time provision for the baby, as was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Soper. Above all, such a mother needs someone to whom she can turn as a friend. It takes tremendous strength of mind on the part of a young girl to stay at home, night after night, with a young baby; to spend the greater part of what she earns on the baby and not on herself, and to know how to manage when the baby is ill. I am sure she should have a real link with someone who could take up her case and act on her behalf. Would it not be possible for her to obtain the necessary results without having to undergo the tension of having to appear before Authority, with a capital "A", whether it be to sign a deposition or for any other reason? What can be done to alleviate her distress and to help her to help herself regarding ordinary day-to-day anxieties?

One of the great difficulties is that the friendly support of the mother is not always easy to establish. The unmarried mother is apt to leave a home in a mood of independence. Would it be possible for doctors, health visitors and others who understand the situation to put the mothers in touch with those who would help on a voluntary basis, and who would be only too willing to help continuously? Otherwise, all too often a girl gets into trouble—with debts or illness, or something of that kind—and the baby ends up in the care of a local authority. The mother may refuse to consider adoption because she hopes to be able to have the child back, and the baby is brought up in circumstances which we all know are not nearly so good as in a family atmosphere.

We all want to see the position of the unmarried mother improved, but she must not be put into a position where other mothers striving to bring up fatherless children are in greater need, and she herself becomes an object of jealousy. It is important that her legal position should be strengthened and that her rights should be such that they can be used to good advantage.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with those noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, on a brilliant, clear, concise and very moving speech. Once more, I think, was emphasised the growing ascendancy of the noble Ladies in this House over the noble Lords, and we shall have to "watch it". I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for putting down this Motion. For many reasons I am a great admirer of the noble Lady. Many years ago, when I was a boy of 12, it was rather expensive to go to a doctor and one could not always afford to do so. Then a very beautiful young lady doctor opened a surgery at the bottom of our road. We called her "the 'tanner' doctor"; and so I had the honour, at the age of 12, of going before this remarkably beautiful young lady doctor and taking off my shirt for her to examine my chest.

My Lords, the wheel turned full circle some time later, when she was my sponsor in your Lordships' House. The one thing I have learnt in all these years about the noble Lady is that she is undefeatable. She is one of that small group of Members of your Lordships' House—the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and others belong to it—who continually bring up issues of this description and never recognise defeat in these matters. They keep coming back to them time and again, and I believe that the noble Lady is a model for us all. I thank her for many things over many years, and not only for putting down this subject for debate to-day.

I cannot pretend (and here I am perhaps in rather the same boat as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent) to be an expert in this matter; nor can I say, perhaps to my shame, that I have been involved in any of the practical work such as I know the noble Baroness, Lady Swan borough, carries out and with which the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, and the noble Lord, Lord Soper, are associated. I can therefore talk only in the most general terms, and add my voice to the pleas which have already been made. I believe that there are two important things. First, I beg the Government to put into operation immediately the recommendations in the Report of the Russell Committee and make some practical gesture along these lines guaranteeing mothers the maintenance awarded them by the courts. Secondly, I would raise my voice in support of what was asked for by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill: the setting up of a Committee of Inquiry—not a Royal Commission—to go into this general question.

I think it true to say, as has already been said in this debate, that there is an improvement in the general public attitude on this question; that we have grown more tolerant and understanding, and the idea that a girl is ruined by becoming pregnant outside wedlock is perhaps dying. My Lords, it is easy to "kid" ourselves in this respect and become terribly complacent about it. I believe that deep in many stratas of society it is still regarded as a shame and that to be illegitimate still carries a stigma; that there are still amazing pockets of prejudice, and even some prejudice within ourselves if we have the honesty to try to look for it.

If there is a greater tolerance, it is not yet reflected in our laws or in our welfare services. It would be unjust to describe our laws in this area as mediæval, because in many ways they were then much more tolerant than they are now. I believe that they are Victorian in the very worst sense, and that they are rooted in hypocrisy. The welfare of the mother and the child is secondary. The main purpose still seems to be to punish and brand those who have sinned against the code, the code being, as Thomas Hardy once said in effect, that for a man marriage is the price he has to pay for sex, and for a woman sex is the price she has to pay for marriage.

Some years ago I did research for a film on the unmarried mother, and I was very fortunate to meet Mrs. Margaret Bramall and Mrs. Pauline Crubb of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child. I was tremendously impressed, encouraged and inspired by the wonderful work that organisation is doing. In the course of that research, I was shocked by the attitude which still persisted among some people that to help an unmarried mother would only encourage the idea of sex outside marriage; that to help a girl and her baby would be tantamount to pinning a medal on the breast of sin.

Pregnant girls and women arrive at the headquarters of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, carrying their pathetic little suitcases, at all hours of the day and night. Most of them, I found, are in flight either from intolerant parents, narrow-minded neighbours or those sanctimonious humbugs who are prepared to help only if the girl confesses her sin and promises to reform. It is on this point that I would take issue with my noble friend Lord Soper when he used the word "penitent". This is a word which I do not think should be brought into this particular area. We can talk of a greater sense of responsibility or greater understanding of their function in society, yes, but I do not think it is for any of us to require another human being to be penitent in this area of human relationships. There is no one among us who can afford to cast the first stone in this respect.

A remarkable achievement of the National Council is that not one girl is turned away. I would emphasise that not all unmarried mothers, as has been mentioned in this debate, are unlucky and have to flee. Some are lucky enough to find a sympathetic headmistress or priest or parent or friend and get real help. There is much genuine kindness, which is warming. But it should not be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of common justice—and that is what it is not at the moment. Soup and blankets at Christmas are no substitute for a regular job, as we found many years ago, and kindness and charity in a crisis of this description are no substitute for a proper place in society.

It is a matter of shame that our society—our so-called compassionate society—should force hundreds, even thousands, of girls to leave their homes and friends and crawl away to have their babies elsewhere, like rejected creatures. But this is what is happening every day. I remember, in the course of my research, meeting one girl from a small village, and her tears as she told me that her brother was coming the next day to take her home with her baby. He had persuaded the family to accept her back and to face what she regarded as the hostility of the people of that village. We hear a great deal about young girls, about schoolgirls, who are made pregnant. I think that the saddest cases I found were those women in the late thirties and early forties who had become pregnant. I was terribly moved by their mixed feelings. They showed how proud they were of their babies, but also how terrified they were of the future that stretched ahead.

Even when our laws mean well, they are often incredibly clumsy and insensitive in operation, and weighted inevitably against the mother and child. I do not want to be frivolous, but in these circumstances so far as our laws are concerned it is a case of "the man that gets the pleasure and the girl what gets the blame"—and the shame. In particular, the child, who is not responsible for the situation in any way, is literally given a life sentence. It is difficult for many people to realise all this, because statistics only tell half the story and figures do not have a heart.

Some time ago there was a B.B.C. programme called "Born out of Wedlock", in which the interviewer, Tony Parker, said: …only three out of 55 people I talked to said that being illegitimate meant little. To all the others it mattered. To two, in fact, so much that when we started to discuss it they burst into tears and couldn't continue, although both had volunteered to talk… He continued: There is no obvious pattern which suggests one kind of background to illegitimacy is either better or worse than others. It is being illegitimate that matters. To some it is a small but unmoving cloud…to others a dark shadow…the degree varies, but the feeling that it matters does not… There came into my hands last week a manuscript compiled by a worker in this field, in which she records the views of a number of illegitimate people who had grown up and lived with this problem. Throughout the entire book, this feeling of being deprived and of being in some way different, persisted. One young woman of 19 wrote as follows: I become tongue-tied when people ask about my father. In the course of general conversation with strangers there comes the question, 'What does your father do for a living?' Of course, I say he is dead. Some people just mumble apologies and switch to another topic. Others, who think they are well meaning, probe deeper and ask how he died. This is when I panic. Another young woman of 22 wrote: I feel guilt—horrid, deep, dirty feelings of guilt—guilt at being a mishap, a mistake, an unwanted inconvenience—guilt at only feeling half a person, anger with my mother for allowing this to happen to her, anger with my father, whoever he is, for indulging himself and then avoiding all responsibility for his action… This is a young woman who has lived with this for 22 years.

A woman of 41 wrote: I don't know whether it is a general trait, but I always felt that I had to hide this thing…and consequently the whole subject has great ramifications of pain and guilt buried within it. Again she wrote: You feel that you are not up to scratch socially, that you are socially defective. And nothing can be done about it. It is not the kind of handicap that you can tackle and overcome because you can't alter the circumstances of your birth. A man of 48 wrote: I can still remember the forlorn, lonely, forsaken feeling of not being wanted by anybody, cast off and rejected for no reason which could be understood by a child. A woman of 50 wrote: All through life you have the awful feeling of not belonging anywhere, of being rootless and unknown. I could go on. The theme which comes through again and again, after years of this kind of life, is loneliness and rootless ness. It is significant that in this group of people the rate of suicide is considerably higher than in all other groups.

The Church Assembly report, Fatherless by Law, mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Swan borough, says that …deficiencies in family relationships suffered by illegitimate children cannot he remedied by law reform. Of course, this is true; but at least we can bandage the wounded. If we cannot compensate, we can show at least in practice that we care. We might do a lot worse than look at the Children's Rights Laws of Norway, pioneered as long ago as 1901 by Johan Castberg. The basic principle of the Castberg Charter is that A child whose parents have not entered into marriage with each other has, subject to certain exceptions, the same legal position in regard to its father as to its mother." When he introduced his Bill of Rights into the Norwegian Parliament, Johan Castberg used the following words, which I think sum up this subject perfectly, and which we all ought to take to heart. He said: We must abolish the outrageous and unnatural fiction that an illegitimate child has only a mother—that legally it has no father.…The child is excluded from his family, from his name and from his inheritance.…The mother must work for the child and bring it up. The disproportion between the responsibility placed upon the man and the woman is outrageous. It is not only a wrong done to the mother and child, but it is a demoralizing institution, as it frees the man from his natural responsibility. It breaks down man's respect for women, brutalises his view of the relations between parents, and between parents and children, and in this way repudiates the ethical basis of marriage. At the same time, this legalised irresponsibility of the man, his legally protected anonymity, exposes the child to want and disgrace, and contributes to the feeling that these children have of being singled out and disowned, and causes so many of them to go down in the struggle for life. My Lords, that, I believe, is the truth of the matter in a nutshell, and the proof is in the results. The Castberg Laws were passed into Norwegian law in 1915, and the rate of illegitimacy was then 7 per cent. In 1961 it had dropped by almost half.

If we are serious about building a compassionate society, then we must deal with this problem urgently, and in depth. I urge the Government to consider the setting up of a committee of inquiry; and I urge that, even before then, they should put into operation these small steps that have already been considered and are obvious, in order to bring some relief to these girls in particular, and to their children. I would remind your Lordships that the laws I have mentioned have been in operation in Norway since 1915. In that respect, we are at least 50 or 60 years behind them. In conclusion, in King Lear there is this speech: …why bastard? Wherefore base? When my dimensions are as well compact My mind as generous and my shape as true As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us…? My Lords, we may not be able to remove the loneliness, but we surely can remove the brand.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join with other speakers in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, on a maiden speech of quite unusual force and character. So many just compliments have been paid to the noble Lady that I shall confine myself to saying that her name has long been well known in the world of child care, and that she brings with her invaluable experience which we hope will be often available in your Lordships' House.

I was greatly moved when listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis. With most of what he had to say I am in entire agreement, and I am glad that he ended with a quotation from Shakespeare, which was also in my mind. I would also remind the noble Lord of Shakespeare's play King John, in which the bastard is the hero. I feel, however, that, as a footnote to that speech, I should remind your Lordships that when we talk about the poor girl who is going to have an illegitimate baby we are all inclined to think of a girl who has made a single slip, and we treat her with every consideration, gentleness and love. But those who are familiar with child-care work will recognise that you sometimes meet another type of young woman, who has had three or perhaps four illegitimate children by different fathers. These are problems which it is not so easy to solve, and about which it is not possible to feel quite so tender. In those cases, at any rate, a little penitence would perhaps have some social value.

Last autumn we celebrated the ninth centenary of a great and, indeed, the crowning achievement by one who was known to his contemporaries as William the Bastard, and it is fitting that he should be remembered on this occasion. I, at any rate, feel some satisfaction to remember that Duke William sailed to England under the blessing and support of the contemporary Pope. There was a good deal of controversy in Rome about the action of the Pope in giving his blessing to that illegitimate person. Some of the more straitlaced Cardinals thought that he was going too far. Nevertheless, the Pope had his way. He had the support of a great churchman of that time, one Hildebrand, and the blessing was duly given.

It is not part of my functions to present the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, with a blessing, a banner and a relic-holding ring, but I should like to assure her that among my co-religionists there will be much sympathy for the proposals which she had made in her speech, and for the proposals contained in that most interesting document, Fatherless By Law?. I have had the advantage of discussing this question with the authorities of the Westminster Crusade of Rescue, and they feel, as the noble Baroness and all speakers do, that the arrangements over affiliation orders are by no means satisfactory. For instance, the amount of the affiliation order appears to be quite insufficient in these days; and we know that many girls have great difficulty in obtaining the money which the court has awarded to them. I hope very much that this question will be thoroughly investigated and reforms instituted.

Then, like all people who have any connection with child care, my friends of the Crusade of Rescue are well acquainted with the desire of all normal children in care to know who their parents are, and, if possible, to make contact, even if only once, with those parents. The Crusade, therefore, are in favour of giving some legal precision to the status of the illegitimate father. For one thing, the status of that father appears at present to be somewhat uncertain. The Legitimacy Act 1959 gave him certain rights but I gather (and I speak as one totally unversed in legal questions) that there is some uncertainty as to exactly what are the rights which the father possesses under that Act. It will be remembered by some noble Lords that I strongly opposed that Act, and I am not surprised to hear that it is in many respects extremely unsatisfactory. There is, therefore, a great need for clarification of the paternal rights given by that Act.

I am also in favour, and my friends also are in favour, of adopting some procedure on the lines of the Continental procedure for filiation; that is to say, the assumption of responsibility by the father. It is a curious fact that our bastardy laws in this country are, and have always been, very much more severe than the Continental law and the law of the Church. In 1234, the Bishops asked lay Peers to sanction legitimation by subsequent matrimony. The lay Peers of England refused. In nearly all other countries that principle, that merciful and just principle, was accepted.

I think that in this day and age we have very much to learn in this matter from Continental systems and law, not only the Scandinavian systems but those of most other countries. In saying that, and in making the general case for filiation, I would add that there are many difficult problems to be solved: problems which have been solved in different European countries in various ways. As is recorded in the pamphlet, Fatherless by Law?, the law of France differs from the law of Switzerland; the law is different again in Italy and many other countries; and in Germany, again, there are some very different provisions from those in other countries.

We take it for granted that as a result of this debate Her Majesty's Government will set on foot an inquiry into the matter. I would urge that that Committee, Working Party, Commission, or whatever it is, should spend a great deal of time on the Continent of Europe inquiring not only into what the law is in the different countries, but also into how that law is working. It would seem desirable that a committee of lawyers and sociologists should proceed to the various European capitals and discuss the matter fully and frankly with their opposite numbers in those foreign countries. By those means, we may arrive, through the careful use of the experience which European countries have in this matter, at a just and workable law.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, and to my noble friend Lord Soper for not being in the Chamber during the time they were making their speeches. I can only plead that I was at a Committee within the precincts of your Lordships' Chamber. I should also like to pay my tribute to my noble friend Lady Summerskill for having initiated this debate upon a matter which I think most of us recognise deserves consideration.

I think it is one of the several social problems about which little is known by the community and one, like that of the discharged prisoners, which tends to alienate rather than gather sympathy and understanding. The community—and I think we have to face this fact—still tends to look down it's nose on the matter of an illegitimate child; and while the community may not be aware of it, nor even wish it, some of its disapproval rubs off on the child itself.

The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, who made such a remarkable maiden speech, referred to the radio programme, "The Archers". Many of your Lordships, I am sure, have heard it, and I think, too, that the B.B.C. are to be congratulated on dealing so intelligently with this rather serious problem, in which it sets out the feelings of both sides very clearly. I think that few people realise the problems of the sociological implications stemming from illegitimacy.

My noble friend Lady Summerskill gave certain figures for 1964. I would prefer to refer to 1965, not that it materially alters the situation, but in 1965 about 7 per cent. of all live births were illegitimate. In fact, there were 66,132 live illegitimate births, and 862,290 live legitimate births. Although we are concerned in the debate with illegitimacy, it is worth noting that of the live legitimate births (that is, the 862,290), nearly 8 per cent., or in other words, 67,933, were born within seven months of marriage. This means that about 15 per cent. of all births are conceived outside of marriage. I mention this merely to draw attention to the size of the problem and to the sociological implications involved. For, apart from the problem shown up by illegitimacy, we have also to face the fact that there is a very high casualty rate in marriage among those who marry because they are pregnant outside of marriage.

I do not feel either competent or qualified to participate in the discussion on such complex matters as the illegitimate child and intestacy and inheritance, and the several other complicated matters associated with the problem. However, as a magistrate and as a chairman of a domestic court—where I deal with a fair number of applications every year and try such applications for affiliation orders—I should like to refer to some aspects of law as they affect the magistrates' court.

As many of your Lordships will know, the law relating to the identification of the father of an illegitimate child, and the maintenance, is to be found in the Affiliation Proceedings Act 1957. That Act imposes certain burdens of proof on the child's mother. In addition to proving that she is in fact a single woman within the meaning of the Act, she naturally has to prove that she has had a child, and then she has to prove that the defendant is the father. She is required—and I want to emphasise this in the hope that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack may be able to comment upon it—to produce evidence which corroborates—and here I quote— in some material particular the evidence which she gives in support of that claim. I may be quite wrong about this, but I believe that this is the only civil matter in which there is a legal requirement of corroboration. I realise that there is a similar requirement regarding certain sexual offences, but with great respect, I hold them to be criminal matters as distinct from the civil matter of affiliation proceedings. Yet the single woman is required to provide corroboration "in some material particular".

I do not know the reason for it, but as my noble friend Lady Summerskill said, in the year 1964 there were 63,340 illegitimate children and only 7,167 affiliation orders were made. In other words, there was only one affiliation order made in nine illegitimate births. I cannot think that all the rest of the children were adopted, or that the putative fathers made adequate financial provision for their illegitimate children. I know that a fair percentage—I believe in the region of 40 per cent.—were in fact adopted, but that still leaves a large number of some thousands of illegitimate children for whom no orders were made. Perhaps the question of the kind of proof required in affiliation proceedings could be the cause of so few orders. In any case, I feel that the procedure of the proof that is needed should be looked into.

I should now like to refer to another requirement. As I understand the position, if the mother's complaint is made to the magistrates more than 12 months after the birth of the child—and I believe my noble friend Lady Summerskill suggested that proceedings could not be brought after 12 months but, if I may be permitted to say so, this is not the case—with a view to obtaining an order, she can do so, but she is required to prove that the defendant has made money payments in support of the child during its first year of life. In this situation I think it follows automatically that, even if the defendant is known to admit paternity but has not paid money for the child's support within the first 12 months after its birth, the court cannot, on the mother's application alone, make an order. My interpretation may be wrong, but I think this is the case. This is another point which is peculiar to affiliation proceedings, and which in my view needs looking into.

Your Lordships will know that the enforcement of an affiliation order is the same as for orders made under the Guardianship of Infants Act, and under the Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1960. The defendant can be brought before the court by the issuing of a summons or by a warrant. His means can be examined, an attachment of earnings order can be made on his wages, or a committal order can be made committing him to prison for up to six weeks for being in arrears. This order can be suspended if he undertakes to pay regularly each week on the order, with so much off the arrears as well, or the case can be adjourned.

The point I want to make is that what finally happens will depend upon the insistence (and I believe that to be the right word to use) of the mother and, of course, the magistrates. If she is in receipt of National Assistance (although we no longer refer to it by that name) she can often get help to pursue the matter—although at this stage I must be quite frank and say that I sometimes wonder whether as much is done now to help her to obtain her rights as was done when we had what used to be called Public Assistance, as distinct from the present arrangement. I believe that many courts could do far more to help, and I am surprised that more of them do not make more attachment-of-earnings orders. It may well be that this power of the court to make an attachment-of-earnings order is not sufficiently well known. Indeed, my experience is that this procedure is not so widely known as it should be. I believe I am right in saying, too, that magistrates' clerks have permissive powers to take proceedings on behalf of the woman to enforce payment, if she makes a request to the clerks to do so. Again I would ask: how many of the courts do this? As a result of one of my activities I deal with a very large number of letters every year from such women, who complain that they cannot get their orders enforced unless they attend at the court in person. Apart from the possible emotional upset (an aspect that was dealt with by my noble friend Lady Summerskill) that may be caused to the mother of an illegitimate child who has to go to court, and in some measure advertise why she is there, it means taking time off from work; in some cases it means losing a day's pay, and indeed in some cases her job itself is at risk if she has to take too much time off, applying for the summons and attending the court.

Efforts are being made to encourage mothers to keep their illegitimate children. How can they, unless they can get process to see that the order is enforced, simply and effectively, without the need for them to go and do it? Many of them do keen their children, under considerable difficulties, social and financial, and in my view the procedure of enforcement should not be permissive on the part of the court to deal with it in the woman's absence. I believe it should be part of the duty of the court to do so.

Reference has been made to the Legitimacy Act 1959, which came into force in 1960, enabling magistrates' courts to be concerned for the first time with the custody of, and access to, the illegitimate child. The father of an illegitimate child now has the right to apply to see the child at regular intervals or to have the legal custody of that child. Difficulties arise, however, if the mother wishes to have it adopted, and I should like to emphasise a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, for he is quite right when he says that adoption societies are not yet certain of the extent to which the putative father should be consulted if the child is being considered for adoption.

It may be that they have not clearly and properly interpreted the Act, but the fact remains that adoption societies are by no means clear in their minds. If the putative father is paying maintenance under the order or agreement, he has the right to be heard. We know that; but we do not know the full extent of his rights. I wish it were more clearly and widely known that a putative father can apply for the custody of the child and, I presume, also adopt it. If this were more widely known, it might result in more putative fathers asking for the custody of their children; and this, in turn, would mean fewer adoptions by strangers.


My Lords, the noble Lord will perhaps not disagree with me that custody by the putative father may not always be in the best interests of the child.


My Lords, I would not disagree with the noble Earl. What he says is perfectly true. All I am saying is that the Act provides for the putative father to apply to the courts for the custody; but obviously he must show good cause.

Furthermore, it is a duty on all courts—the inferior magistrates' courts and the superior courts—to do what they consider to be best for the child. This is the acid test. And while I would agree with the noble Earl that it might not in all cases be a good thing, I think that in many respects it might be desirable for the child to go into the custody of the putative father, if he is a fit and proper person to have the child, rather than to be adopted by strangers. Adoption is not necessarily, I think, the best thing for an illegitimate child if his mother cannot keep him. I should like to see more encouragement given to the putative father to assume the responsibilities of parenthood than is given at present. It may well be that their rights under the Act to which I have made reference are not so widely known as they should be.


My Lords, if I may intervene, I should not like there to be any misunderstanding. The fact is that the putative father certainly has a right to apply, but before he can succeed it has to be proved that the mother is an unsatisfactory mother.


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right—unless the mother agrees. I have made custody orders—not often, it is true—to putative fathers because the natural mother has agreed to the child's going to the putative father.

Those of us who have worked in the field of delinquency know that many of the delinquents are illegitimate. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter is not in his seat. I may have misunderstood him, but I understood him to say that the stigma of illegitimacy these days did not fall so much upon the child and that the community were much more tolerant. I think this is true. But, whatever the view of the community may be, the fact remains that there is still a problem, so far as the child is concerned, and we find a very high percentage of illegitimate children among juvenile delinquents, and, for that matter, subsequently among adult delinquents. Many are able to accept the situation of their illegitimacy, but even if they are adopted by kind and understanding couples, this problem within them still remains.

I think it was my noble friend Lady Summerskill who said that we all feel the need to know our origin, and this is an ever-present urge in—I cannot say the vast majority, for I do not know, but certainly in a very large number of illegitimate children. "Who is my father?" or "Who is my mother?" is a question frequently put to children's officers. I know this because I serve on a children's committee, am a member of a county children's committee, and frequently this question arises. There is a boy going out of care, or a girl going out of care. They ask to see the children's officer with the inquiry: "Can you help me to find out who my mother is? Can you help me to find out who my father is?" Only a few days ago, in discussing this matter with the children's officer of my own particular area, I was told of an adopted child who is now an adult who, when asked, "What do you resent most of all, illegitimacy or adoption?", replied "Adoption."

I believe that we need to do more to make it possible for mothers to keep the illegitimate child, and to see that she gets more help to enforce the maintenance order. If necessary, I would go so far as to say that we should subsidise her from the public fund, which in the long run is much cheaper than having the child go into care and being kept in a local authority home. I am not unmindful of the plight of the legitimate child who is fatherless or motherless, but I think we must face the fact that it is not quite the same to have had a normal father or a normal mother and to have lost one of them, and not to have had, so far as the community is concerned, a normal father.

The Report of the Board of Social Responsibility of the Church of England draws attention to the fact that, although the Children's Department of the Home Office produces a wealth of statistics every year, we do not know the number of illegitimate children in long term care. But it does say this: Children's Officers who have done a spot check suggest that between 40 and 50 per cent. of the children in long term care at any one time are illegitimate, and this figure, if true, is sociologically very significant. I would hope that the time is not far distant when perhaps the Home Office could provide, year by year, the kind of figures which I think would be helpful. So many questions arise from this particular problem: the sexual behaviour of mentally deficients, the mentally retarded and the feckless, and whether, in the interests of the off-spring, it is desirable from any point of view to let them continue to reproduce. But I realise that these are problems outside the scope of this debate.

In conclusion, I would urge parents of the unmarried mother and the putative father to have more understanding when the baby is on the way, particularly the girl's parents. From my own knowledge of this situation—and again I would remind your Lordships that I speak as a former probation officer and now as a magistrate—I am sure that fewer children would be put out for adoption, or put into care, if the girl could feel that she had the sympathy, understanding and co-operation of her parents.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, on her remarkable speech and add that she and the noble Lord, Lord Soper, are the only two Members of your Lordships' House I have seen making a maiden speech without notes; and I wish I were half so fluent. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, I can declare an interest, or a part interest, in this debate because my family is illegitimate. John of Gaunt, whom Shakespeare called "Time-honoured Lancaster", had several illegitimate children who were later legitimised, one being the famous Cardinal Beaufort. Another had two sons; one was the grandfather of Henry VII, and the other had an illegitimate son from whom I am descended. So not only were two of my ancestors illegitimate, but the fact is proclaimed on my Coat of Arms, which is surrounded by a silver and blue border, denoting bastardy. The heralds describe it as "Quarterly France and England, all within a bordure compony arg. and az." So I am illegitimate and obviously meant to be proud of it.

There are, I understand, several other of your Lordships who sport an illegitimate ancestor or two, and it does not worry you in the least. As the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, it was considered smart to be descended from royalty or nobility, and for some reason such persons are not, or used not to be, thought to be bound by ordinary standards of behaviour—rather in the way that film stars and pop stars attract interest and not stricture by their unconventional behaviour. Secondly, there have been times—and this is where I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill—when even Popes had their mistresses and when illegitimate children were socially accepted in a way they are not to-day. But there are several reasons for that.


My Lords, I do not recall saying that Popes had not mistresses.


I was trying to say there was a time when illegitimate children were socially accepted, and I think the noble Baroness said that in the Middle Ages they were not.

I think there are several reasons why illegitimate children are not so socially accepted to-day, and one of them is connected with the present high status of marriage. I found it interesting to read the Lord Chancellor's remarks on moving the Matrimonial Causes Bill, because the idea of dressing up county court judges as High Court Judges for the day would not, I think, occur to people who were not concerned about the status of marriage. This view is confirmed by a letter to The Times last week from a woman, albeit a married one, who complained that it was wrong to put the trying of divorce cases on the same level as the collection of debts. I think one must see her point.

The opinion that marriage confers a higher status on a woman is very widespread and firmly held, and this in its turn has something to do with the possession of property and the status of property holders. I suggest that except in matters of hereditary titles there is no reason to get married unless property or income is involved. Your Lordships know that West Indians, on the whole, do not trouble to get married, but Americans do. I just do not know whether it would be possible to exist in unmarital Jamaican bliss in a monied society. A woman would not be able to claim a severance fee from a rich man unless she had a legal claim through marriage, nor would she have any claim in intestacy. And I do not know how one could make legal provision for a child by a woman who might at the time be cohabitating with another man. It would need more than our present knowledge in blood testing to sort out that sort of case. It certainly seems practical that, because marriage is the only legally recognised bond, the children of that bond, or those born in that bond, are the only ones to be legally recognised.

Putting illegitimate children on a par property-wise with legitimate ones is really, I suppose, a contradiction in terms. There are bound, too, to be snags in the working of such a provision, because a family could have a couple of 50-year old claimants turning up at father's funeral, having not been heard of for years, or perhaps not even known about. The Report of the Committee on the Law of Succession in Relation to Illegitimate Persons says, at page 5: In the material field any extension of rights against a person's estate in favour of those outside his legitimate family may be considered to diminish to some extent the material value of the rights conferred by marriage. I think there would also be an outcry, especially from women, that such a provision would be devaluing the status of marriage.

Unmarried mothers and their children could be given much less of a raw deal financially than they get to-day. Yet I am not sure which would rank first in the child's mind—and all your Lordships have agreed that it is not the child's fault that it is illegitimate—more money or acceptance in society. In their Annual Report, the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child talk of trying to protect a child during its vulnerable school years, I suspect from the taunts of its schoolfellows. But children usually only reflect their parents' views, and, as your Lordships know, social attitudes are hard to change, as they are prejudices instilled from birth. The Council say that "born out of wedlock" is a better term than "bastard" or "illegitimate". But "born out of wedlock" might come to carry exactly the same stigmatic overtones. It is improper because it offends against the propriety of marriage. "Natural" is another euphemism, and "love child" might be popular, or it might not be.

All the time, as I see it, one is up against two big obstacles: the status of marriage deriving from its legal convenience, and the status of marriage as the socially and morally correct form of cohabiting. A more tolerant attitude to illegitimacy is not easy to obtain when it is a legal inconvenience and the child is a personification of the parents's social aberration. In my belief, the State itself could help here a little by its example, and upset but few people in the doing of it though, as so often there is more money involved. It would surely be only humane to pay unmarried mothers at the same rate as widows. I think it is fascinating to learn that doing this lowered the illegitimacy rate in Denmark. I have an idea that if it were made more respectable to have an illegitimate child fewer might be conceived. Some girls have babies to get away from home—


Oh, rubbish! I am sorry.


—because they know that their parents will push them out. I think there are other reasons like this which it would be useful to investigate. But in this connection I have a criticism of the N.C.U.M.C. Annual Report, which carries a table concerned with pre-maritally conceived legitimate babies. This has been mentioned several times in the debate to-day. With respect, I think that such information is misleading. I know several girls from what I know your Lordships would call highly respectable families who have got to the altar only just in time, but they had had no doubt for maybe a year or two that they would be marrying the father of that child. I believe that it used to be a general custom, and still is to an extent, for girls not to get married until they were sure they were going to have a baby. It may be said to be a curious custom, or it may be a quite sensible test of fertility. I think this custom is still widespread, though perhaps the fact is not well enough understood. I myself see nothing in the practice to be worried about, and far less to be sanctimonious about. More money from the State would help, more money from affiliation orders would help. Lots of things would help, but nothing, I think, will help, in the long run, as much as talking about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Willis, mentioned that it was through the insistence and persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the Abortion Bill went through this House. Your Lordships may not all agree about the provisions in that Bill, but it was most noticeable how, in the six months it was going through the House, the climate of opinion about abortion changed just by talking about it—and the talk is still going on. A similar debt of gratitude is due to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for raising this subject and getting it talked about, so that what is going on may be more generally realised and so that the matter is no longer swept uneasily away under the carpet, with strictures and sanctimony and pretending that it does not exist.

It has been pointed out that illegitimate children will always be with us. If such a large section of our society continues to reject the moral and social rules which are attempted to be imposed upon them, it seems to me, like the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, that we must wonder whether those rules need to be changed, because it is the rules which cause the distress. What must be decided is whether the advantages obtained from those rules are worth the distress that they cause.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I shall not keep your Lordships long and I hope, to use a ministerial term, I shall be forgiven if I do not follow the noble Lord who has just spoken into all his last remarks, because we do not want to stay here longer than the seven minutes, at the most, for which I want to speak. I have two very pleasant things to do. The first is to say, without any hypocrisy, how enormously I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Serota. She said that illegitimate children might be a controversial subject for a maiden speech. I think that it might be a paradoxical subject such as marriage might be; but a less controversial debate than this one I have rarely heard, and certainly a better maiden speech I have never heard. I hope that we shall hear many more from the noble Lady.

The other thing is that I have, more reluctantly, to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter in saying how sorry I am that I found so little to disagree with in what was said by the noble Baroness who introduced this debate, for I have always found myself in disagreement with her. It has provoked that charity and her maternal instinct in an astonishing way, and although I tried hard to scribble down a few points as she was speaking, I could find only two things which I could even quibble with. The first was her remark that she was appealing to the House for sympathy for all immature individuals. Some of us might disagree as to where immaturity began. The other thing she said was that all children were of equal value. That is a matter of definition as to what is a "child". Otherwise, I find it difficult to find anything in the noble Baroness's speech with which I disagreed.

I agreed with her most strongly on a point which other speakers have mentioned, that the term "illegitimate child" is very unfair, and I think that if the noble Lord, Lord Cones ford, were here he would say it was an almost ungrammatical term. For that reason I shall in my remarks use the word "bastard", partly because I notice that in the Russell Report, which I have not read as well as I should have done, the Committee take the same view. On page 2 they say: Partly for the sake of brevity, and partly to avoid confusion in eye or ear between legitimate and illegitimate, we refer to an illegitimate person as a bastard—a correct legal description. Reference to bastards as males must be taken as including females unless the context otherwise requires. In that way it seems to me a word rather like "Peer", which can be used offensively; but it is a simple word and one knows what it means.

I believe that it has another advantage over "illegitimate child", and it is one that was brought out in something which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said. I thought it was a little unfortunate that, in order to illustrate one point, he quoted some lines of Shakespeare in which a very embittered young man says: "Bastard?…I am as good-looking at you. I am better in every way. Why should I be done down", and then proceeds to behave as the villain of the play. There is always a danger of anybody, whatever his advantages or disadvantages, becoming bitter in society. The whole object of this debate is to try to find ways of preventing people from feeling bitter. "Bastard", in Shakespeare's time, had a different sense, and the young lady who talks about flowers when she is handing them out, "Streak'd gilly flowers", which some call "Nature's bastards", had no bad intention at all. It was simply a word to use. It has already been pointed out that in the Middle Ages reference to the "Bastard of Orleans" in Joan of Arc's time was not considered discreditable to him, whatever it might have been of his mother.

To come to later times, the Russell Report mentions the practice in some other countries. One country mentioned is Australia, which has a capital city of Melbourne called after a Prime Minister who was in fact illegitimate. Therefore, he did not suffer thereby. The reason was that he lived in a privileged society. If we could get our society as privileged as that, so that people took illegitimacy for granted, whatever was thought about the father or the mother, so that no stigma would be attached to the child, I think we should have done something very worthwhile, whatever our views as to how well Lord Melbourne's father may have behaved.

That brings me (I am only trying to find points in this debate with which I have slightly disagreed) to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that it is better to have a bad father in the house than no father at all. I am not an expert on that, because I have only had an unusually good father in my house and I am not a father myself. But sometimes I wonder whether Lord Melbourne would have had as happy a childhood, though he had an unhappy youth—he became to the most respected Queen, whatever one may think of her politics, a very good adviser—if he had had a father of his own instead of a man who stood in? That is a debatable point. That brings me to what I feel is of vital importance, and that is that the word "bastard" does not mean anything base. It means something to do with a travelling salesman, somebody who cannot be found—a peddlar's son is the nearest one can get.

That brings me to the point of comparison with other countries. When it is said that we are a long way behind Norway and Denmark (as we are in many ways), I believe that it is not quite as easy, as was suggested by noble Lords opposite, to say that all we have to do is to declare that a bastard or illegitimate child should be in exactly the same position as any other child. The question of intestacy is dealt with in the Report, which is the one and only point to be considered, but certainly I am not a person to go into that point, and perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will give us his views when he comes to speak.

On a very cursory reading of this Report, it struck me that it was very wise in saying that we certainly ought to implement its recommendations in the case of the intestacy of a mother. If a mother dies in testate, I see no objection whatever to illegitimate children receiving, because one knows who the mother is. If that is to apply to the father, it is slightly more difficult, for one has to find him. He is quite likely to be a man without anything. It is necessary to decide whether, as is recommended in the case of the mother, it should be made reciprocal: that if a mother dies in testate some money shall go to her son or daughter born out of wedlock; and, if the son or daughter dies first, some shall go to the mother.

I can imagine a number of illegitimate fathers (that is the only term I can use for these men—apart from words like "roué" or "libertine", which do not carry the same conviction—although there ought to be an abusive word, as there is an abusive word for a mother who has children out of wedlock, and the abusive word "bastard"for the child: but some of your Lordships may be better informed than I am) who might abuse such a change. I can imagine the kind of father who, having lain low all his life, when his illegitimate son has started up a bicycle factory and turned it into an armaments factory and been blown up and left several millions in testate, might appear and put in a very good claim by producing proof of his identity. That, no doubt, is one of the possible abuses. I think I am right in saying that this Report recommends that the intestacy of a mother should put illegitimate children on the same terms, but not the intestacy of the father.

Lastly, I entirely agree with what has been said about the Middle Ages; that they were more open, as the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, said. I admit that I always thought a sign of bastardy was what Mitchell called a bar sinister. But that means nothing: it is a bend sinister. To comfort the noble Baroness, I may say that that means that it begins at the left, and as it gradually declines goes to the right—not in political terms but down the machine, which she will no doubt find adequate.

But I think it is true that in Victorian times there was a great deal of hypocrisy. The saddest story I ever heard was of a housemaid or kitchen maid in a very large house which belonged to a lady of the highest and most upright principles and family, and of a great age. I shall not mention any name, though the story is entirely to her credit. In those days, the housemaid lived in conditions which would not be tolerated at a public school or in a dog kennel. She became slightly ill and disappeared to her bedroom for two days. About a fortnight later, for various reasons, they investigated the house and they found a dead baby. The housemaid was then sent for by the lady who was the owner of the house, who was by that time nearly blind but still very formidable; and when the housemaid was shown into the room the lady held out her hands to her and said, "Come here. My dear, why did you not tell me?"

That is the sort of tragedy of misunderstanding which I believe is going about to-day. I believe that many of these people who are ashamed are taking quite a false view of what society thinks is forgivable and what is not forgivable. If this House can do anything to suggest that charity is a better quality than prudery, and it is worth doing that, there is nobody more capable of doing it than the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and I should like to thank her very much for raising this subject.


My Lords, my name is not down on the list to speak, and I am intervening for only a minute or two for one reason, that is, that I do not think anyone has spoken from these Benches, and that from the Front Bench only my noble friend Lord Derwent has spoken. One reason why I did not put my name down to speak in this debate is because, as the noble Baroness said, our law in Scotland is different in a great many respects—and sometimes one says, "Thank God it is!" But I should not like the noble Baroness to feel that she did not have the very full support of, so far as I can see, everybody on this side of the House, and certainly of the Scottish Peers of whom I am one. Having said that, I should like to add my tribute to the very wonderful maiden speech which we heard to-day. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that, so far as we are concerned, we are with her 100 per cent.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that I can speak for the whole House in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for having initiated this debate to-day. If I may say so, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Willis as to her indomitable character and the fact that she not only never takes No for an answer, but that in the end she gets things done.

As so often, the great value in a debate of this kind in your Lordships' House is in the remarkable depth of personal experience and interest in the field of those taking part in the debate, among whom has been my noble friend Lady Serota, with what, if I may say so, I thought was a remarkable maiden speech. For some time I had the pleasure of sitting in the row immediately behind her in County Hall, and now that your Lordships have heard her you will know why I was so pleased to hear that she was joining us in your Lordships' House. We shall certainly want to hear from her again.

I am not a sufficiently good social historian to follow the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on his historical review, nor, I think, am I sufficiently expert in nomenclature to follow some of the observations so interestingly made by the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington. If I may come to the first question to which the noble Baroness quite rightly gave prominence, the legal consequences of illegitimacy, of course the legal consequences of illegitimacy have certainly changed, and changed for the better, during the lifetime of many of your Lordships. I need not conduct a historical review of that, or repeat a detailed account of the legislation which, starting in particular since the Act of 1926, has reflected the steadily growing view that, so far as possible, the law ought to accord to children born out of wedlock the same rights and the same protection as it does to their more fortunate brothers and sisters. The history of our legislation is, I think, most admirably summarised in the document to which the noble Lady and my noble friend Lord Willis referred, published by the National Assembly of the Church of England. I would commend to any Member of the House who is interested in the development of the law, a study of Chapter 3 of that document.

I think this debate has shown that there is now only one field in which illegitimacy has legal consequences which are seriously to the disadvantage of the child concerned, and that is the field of inheritance, on which the noble Lady laid some stress. I may say in passing that it was not without interest that I noticed that almost the last citadel of legal distinction between the illegitimate and the legitimate was that which was for such a long time defended in your Lordships' House. I was glad to read Section 8 of the Clergy (Ordination and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 1964 which, for the first time, made it clear that the child born out of wedlock is as suitable a candidate for ordination as anybody else. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and his brethren on having at last accepted to the full the principles advocated by the Bishops in 1234 and rejected by the Lords Temporal until 1926.

My Lords, may I return to the question of the rights of succession? The Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Russell has recommended that to all intents and purposes there should be no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children when it comes to the right to succeed to the estates of their parents on the latter's intestacy, or to support out of their parents' estates. I should like, if I may, to express my gratitude, and that of Her Majesty's Government, to Lord Justice Russell and his colleagues; and I should also like to reassure the noble Lady that I am in favour of implementing the Russell Report. In saying this, I would not wish to commit myself to approval of every detail, because this would involve embarking upon some rather specialised fields of Scottish law with which I am not familiar. But, by and large, I and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland agree with the Russell Committee that we ought now to give the illegitimate child the same rights in the estate of his parents as are enjoyed by the legitimate child.

I am aware that, at any rate as regards the relationship of father and child, this may be controversial. If one accepts the principle that the law of intestacy should reflect as closely as possible what most people wish to happen to their property when they die, then I agree that one can argue that there is not sufficient evidence that most men wish to benefit their illegitimate children when they have not treated them as members of their family. But I think we have to some extent departed from this principle already, because for thirty years now English law has accepted considerable curtailment of complete freedom of testation, and Scottish law, as appears from the Russell Report, has never accepted such complete freedom. Under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 1938, in England a man's dependants can claim reasonable provision out of his estate whether or not he has made a will, and in Scotland there are the well-known rules governing legitim. This shows that to some extent we recognise a duty to make provision for our families, and I think that this duty extends to illegitimate children.

My own view, therefore, is that not only should the benefits of that Act be given to illegitimate children, but that the law of intestacy itself should be altered in the way the majority of the Russell Committee recommended. That is my view of what ought to happen, and the Secretary of State for Scotland agrees. I think I owe it to the House to explain that I had hoped that it might be possible to make the necessary amendments to the law of England in the Family Provision Act which came into force at the beginning of this year, but this did not prove practicable. I cannot at this stage say when the Government will be in a position to introduce legislation, but I should not like to leave the House under any mistake about our intention. It is our intention to put such legislation on the Statute Book.

Next, may I say something about formal recognition—a topic upon which a number of your Lordships have spoken? Apart from rights of succession, I do not think there is any great legal disadvantage now stemming from illegitimacy. Of course, the noble Lady made it clear in her speech that she is not concerned only with legal disadvantages; and one of the points which she made was that there ought to be some machinery for the father formally to recognise his illegitimate child. This, of course, is a suggestion strongly pressed in the Report made by the National Assembly of the Church of England, to which I have already referred. It is perfectly true that in some countries there is such machinery, but the fact of the matter is that we already have such machinery here. It is perfectly possible—indeed, it is very common—for an illegitimate child to be registered on the joint information of both parents. According to the records of the General Register Office, more than one-third of the illegitimate births registered in England and Wales are in fact so registered. Although there is no statutory provision giving to such joint registration any particularly solemn effect, the truth is that it is accepted as almost conclusive evidence of the fact of paternity, and I am not clear that any other form of machinery would produce any more effective results.

As I have said, apart from inheritance there are no legal results which need to be produced, and if the object is that the child should know who his father is and should have concrete and indisputable evidence of this, the joint registration achieves that object. However, I have been much struck by the emphasis which has been placed on this by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough; and, in view of their knowledge and experience of the subject, I will ask my colleagues to reconsider the question of joint registration. So far as birth certification is concerned, as your Lordships know there is a short birth certificate which does not refer to parentage, and I do not think there has been any complaint about that.

Of course, the noble Lady has said a good deal on the subject of affiliation proceedings. This is a procedure designed to make a man pay a good deal of money for something for which he may or may not be responsible. It is a serious issue of liability, and he is entitled to have it determined judicially and not to be made to pay unless the court is satisfied that he is the father of the child. I have always been glad, in a cowardly way, that I have not had to determine questions of paternity. It seems to me, from my experience as counsel in such cases, that in many cases—I do not say in almost any case, because some are quite clear—either one is going to do a cruel injustice to the girl, if she is in fact telling the truth, or one is going to do a cruel injustice to the man if he is telling the truth. My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell rather complained, as I think one other of my noble friends did, that cor- roboration of the mother's evidence should be required. He said, "It may be so in criminal cases, but it is not, so in any other civil case". If I may say so with respect, that is not quite right, because corroboration is necessary in breach of promise actions; and if the only evidence is that of the plaintiff or petitioner, then under Scottish law, as I understand it, corroboration is always required, even in civil cases. This, no doubt, is a matter which could be further considered, but I think we must always remember that this allegation is very easy for a girl to make, but a very difficult one to disprove. Furthermore, although, as the noble Baroness knows, I am usually on the side of women and not of men, one must remember there are plausible and promiscuous women as well as plausible and promiscuous men.

There has been, I will not say unanimous criticism, but certainly criticism from the noble Lady, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, of the 50s. a week—and, of course, none of us would dispute that. But a committee has already been set up which has now been working for, I think, a few months, under Miss Graham Hall who is one of the stipendiary magistrates. It is not my committee: it is a Home Office committee. I know that the committee has received evidence from the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, and I am sure they will take into account what they have been told. Those members of the committee whom I know are extraordinarily sensible people, and I hope we shall get a Report from them with which we shall all be able to agree.

A good deal of criticism was expressed of the rule that proceedings must be started within 12 months of the birth. That criticism came from the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, from the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, and also from my noble friend Lord Soper. My Lords, it is not an absolute rule, because it does not apply if the putative father has accepted responsibility or has been abroad; but its object, of course, is to ensure that proceedings are brought when the evidence is fresh. Generally speaking, I should have thought it was desirable that the rule should be retained, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary would need evidence of hardship caused by the present rule before initiating a change. However, in view of the experienced opinion which has been expressed to-night, I will convey those views to my right honourable friend, and we can reconsider the position together.

Then the noble Lady referred again to the enforcement of arrears—we know that this is a difficult subject—including that of attachment of debts. As far as attachment of debts is concerned, a Committee on this subject has been sitting under Mr. Justice Payne for some months. I hope to get a Report from them sometime between April and July. Then the noble Lady referred to the enforcement of affiliation orders in the Commonwealth. I think we all agree that that is important, and I was glad to see here to-day (although he is not here now) Sir Hugh Wooding, Chief Justice of Trinidad, who next week will be the first Judge from that part of the world or from Africa to sit judicially in the Privy Council. He had not seen an introduction to your Lordships' House until to-day. I took the chair for part of the time at a meeting of Commonwealth Law Ministers and Attorney Generals from about 22 different Commonwealth countries in April, when we explained to them the sort of thing we wanted to do in the field of reciprocal affiliation orders and there was no disagreement with them. This, I know, is a subject of negotiation at the present time.

There was some discussion as to the orders being effective after the death of the putative father. Any system of the State as it were taking over all the liabilities of all the fathers, I think presents very considerable difficulties. I agree entirely with the proposal that if a committee is appointed to review the whole of this branch of the law they should consider foreign law and, if it would help, should visit foreign countries. But I am told that the Society of Public Teachers of Law have just decided to start a large-scale review on the whole of the law of legitimacy and illegitimacy. They, of course, would be well equipped for that purpose.

My Lords, on the subject of adoption, my right honourable friend, I know, has been considering whether the time is ripe for a general review of this branch of the law. Any such review could be undertaken profitably only if sufficient information about the working of the current Acts were available. My right honourable friend's view is that he needs further information about this before coming to any decision. I can tell the House that steps are being taken to acquire this information: the Home Office Research Unit and the Social Survey Division of the Central Office of Information are engaged on a statistical survey, while the National Bureau for Co-operation in Child Care is conducting a more detailed study of adoption based on a national sample of 8-year old children. This investigation is supported by a grant from the Home Office. In addition, the Advisory Council on Child Care, together with its Scottish counterpart, has appointed a committee to consider guidance on adoption practice, and that committee's work may well reveal practical difficulties in the working of the present practice. While these bodies are still conducting their inquiries, it would be premature to form any conclusion about the need for a general review; but I should like to take this opportunity of saying that those concerned would welcome any information about the extent and nature of difficulties currently being experienced.

It may be, as my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell and, I think, the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, suggested, that the father's rights are not as well known as they should be. This is one point which those committees might well consider. I do not know that much has been said about young fathers or that I need to say anything special about that subject. The noble Lady raised a number of issues which fall within the scope of social security. She really wants, first, a sort of fatherless children's allowance, payable to mothers of illegitimate and other unsupported children; and, secondly, that the Ministry should guarantee the amount payable under an affiliation order, whether it is paid or not. The House will probably be aware that the suggestion of a fatherless children's allowance was put to my right honourable friend, then Chancellor of the Duchy, by the National Council in October, 1965. Like the Chancellor, I can make no promises, but the Government are, in their review of social security provisions, paying particular regard to the difficulties of women, and it is expected that some information about fatherless families will be available when a recently completed survey of family circumstances has been analysed. This will, it is hoped, be published this summer.

This is, I realise, not a very satisfactory answer to the noble Lady. But the House should remember that, under the current system, the existence of children, legitimate or illegitimate, makes a considerable difference to the amounts payable to the mother under our social security legislation, where there is no father. It would take too long to go through the provisions in detail, but they include, under National Insurance benefits, dependency increases, child's special allowance, and guardian's allowance; and then there are industrial injury benefits. To all these, the existence of children can make a difference. I hope I shall not be asked for the figures, but the unsupported child is not ignored.

I now turn to the suggestion that the Ministry of Social Security should underwrite court orders. Of course, we all remember the noble Lady's National Assistance Bill, and I do not want to go over all that ground again, but I think it just worth while looking at the extent of the problem. There were about 36,000 unmarried mothers receiving National Assistance up to the end of 1965, the latest date for which figures are available. A breakdown of the figures shows that, of these, some 17 per cent. had no hope of ever getting a court order; some 35 per cent. had not been able to prove entitlement (mainly because the man, though identified, could not be got at); in some 3 per cent. of the cases there was no arrangement for payment because there was obviously no money available. This leaves 45 per cent. of the total, and of these 32 per cent. were getting regular payments, 4 per cent. irregular payments and 9 per cent. no payments.

Where there is an order and the mother is receiving assistance, the Commission in substance does very much what the noble Lady asks. In 1965, £10.4 million in assistance was paid to mothers of illegitimate children and £2.6 million was recovered by the Board, as it then was. It is the practice of the Commission, where payments are being paid only in part, or spasmodically, or not at all, to give the mother supplementary benefit in the ordinary way and themselves collect such money as is paid under the order to the court. Thus, she has a regular and dependable income and does not have to go to the court each time. If there is no court order, the Commission tries to trace the man and get him to meet his obligations, and can sometimes help the mother to get an order; on occasion, it applies for an order itself, as it is entitled to under the Act.

But what the Commission ought not to be asked to do is to become a debt collector. Their function is to assist people in need, but the proposal seems to go further than this; it would require the Commission to make payments related to no scale to people in no need. Besides, it is a fundamental principle that benefit is not paid to people in full-time work, and if this principle is to be breached for one class, then it could not be maintained for others. Thirdly, it would he very expensive, both in direct cost and in the extra burden imposed on the Commission. It is for these reasons, which I thought it right to explain fully, that the Government cannot accept this suggestion. Whether for both those in need of supplementary benefit and those who are not there might be some more effective way of enforcing orders, is another question. As I have said, it is under examination by the Payne Committee and the Government will have to consider it in the light of such recommendations as that Committee may make.

My Lords, as to health and welfare, there is not, I think, a great deal that I need say. The number of illegitimate births in England and Wales is something over 66,000 a year, and it is right to say that the infant mortality rate for them was, at the latest date for which I have figures, 28.5 per 1,000, compared with 17.5 per 1,000 for legitimate children. So there is that difference. I agree, of course, with what was said by my noble friend Lady Serota about the whole of the work which is now done in the whole of the National Health Service field, and which was simply not done before we had the National Health Service.

We have, also the responsibilities of the Children's Departments—and again I need not, I think, go into any detail as to what is done in that field—and there is, of course, the work of the local authorities in local health departments. We must all appreciate the need there is for clinics and hostels and foster-parents; and no doubt also for bed-sitting rooms. There are some 150 mother-and-baby homes in England and Wales, of which about one-sixth are provided directly by the local authorities, the remainder being supported by voluntary bodies; and in this connection I should like to acknowledge the contribution made by the Churches, the Salvation Army and other non-denominational bodies.

Then there are the day nurseries which local authorities provide for children under 5. There are approximately 450 such nurseries, with accommodation for over 20,000 children. These nurseries are intended to supplement the provision of nursery schools and classes for those children whose mothers, for one reason or another, have to go out to work. Obviously, these must include a comparatively large proportion of unmarried mothers.

My Lords, I have replied, in what I fear has been some detail, to nearly all the points raised in the debate. It has been a very wide ranging debate, and a great many points have been raised. In conclusion, may I come to the final suggestion for the setting up of a Committee of Inquiry? I think I ought shortly to express the view of the Government about that proposal, and the difficulties they see. When one is told that there are between 60,000 and 70,000 illegitimate births a year in England, one may form a false impression of the number of children whose illegitimacy gives rise to the, problem which we have been considering this evening. Very many of these 60,000 children are the products of stable and permanent unions. One cannot give precise figures, but it is significant that, for example, in 1963, when there were just under 60,000 illegitimate live births, nearly 24,000 were registered on the joint information of both parents.

Secondly, where there are such stable unions, and possibly in some other cases, there is a very real prospect of the children being legitimated. A striking effect was produced by the Legitimacy Act 1959 which did away with the old rule that there could be no legitimation where at the time of the birth one or both of the parents was married to somebody else. After this rule was abolished in 1959 it was found that, whereas before that date the number of children whose births were re-registered on legitimation was about 2,000 a year, in 1959 the figure rose to over 2,900; and it has risen steadily ever since. The latest figure I have is for 1963, when the total number of re-registrations was 9,896.

Then there is adoption. A sample 20,000 of illegitimate births in the period between 1959 and 1963 was taken by the General Register Office, and it was shown that of these some 3,500 had been adopted. Then there are those children of stable unions who are not adopted and cannot be legitimated, and others who are brought up by their relatives and present no problem. My Lords, I am not for a moment saying that the balance is not large, but we must remember that we are not dealing with anything like the full 60,000 illegitimate children when we are considering these problems of welfare and social security.

It is suggested, first, that a Committee might be appointed to examine ways in which illegitimate children could be assimilated and their legal position equated with that of legitimate children. I would say that certainly some things can be done by amending the law, particularly the law of inheritance. But unless one abandons altogether the institution of marriage and the legitimate family, one cannot get away from the fact that some children are born to mothers who are not married to the fathers and who never do marry them.

Secondly, it was proposed that a Committee should inquire into how illegitimate children could be compensated for any possible disadvantage from their lack of normal family relationship. My Lords, I do not see how one can compensate a child for not having a complete family; and while the more knowledge there is the better, I am not myself clear how a Committee would help on this point. It has been suggested that the Committee should assess and provide for the various needs of unmarried, expectant mothers and unmarried mothers with their children. There may well be a useful purpose to be served here, but the National Council's survey of residential accommodation has yet to be completed. There is also the inquiry into family circumstances which is being conducted by the Ministry of Social Security. It may well be that when we have the results of these inquiries we shall find that there is room for some further inquiries. But here again I think we shall find that the problems raised are not peculiar to unmarried mothers and their children, but extend to widows, divorcees and deserted wives.

Fourthly, my Lords, it was suggested that the Committee would help to ensure that illegitimate children were not unnecessarily parted from their mothers and their mother's families. I do not see how an inquiry could help in this respect. What is needed is advice and assistance from social workers who can look at individual cases. The solution here lies in extending the services, but it would be idle to pretend that there is an unlimited source of supply of social workers.

Lastly, it has been suggested that this Committee might consider a service to meet the needs of all unsupported mothers and their children. This is a very wide-ranging proposal. As I have already said, our social services do treat all fatherless children with whom they deal according to their individual circumstances, and do not discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate children. Local authorities' personal social services are already under examination by a Committee concerned with their organisation. That, I think, is the Committee set up by the previous Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Local authorities already have very wide powers, and the question for each authority to decide is how to exercise those powers. I have indicated the way in which they are in fact exercised, but it is for the local authorities, in the light of individual circumstances, to decide what to do. No doubt more could be done if greater facilities, in particular more social workers, were available; but, as we all know, there are limits to any facilities, and we know what are the demands on social workers.

My Lords, I cannot conclude without acknowledging the contributions which are being made in this field by the voluntary bodies, and at the risk of making myself vulnerable to a charge of discredit- nation may I, in particular, pay tribute to the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child. They have featured so much in this debate that nobody who has listened to it can be in any doubt about the importance of their work. I know that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health is greatly appreciative of the work which the Council have done. The Government make an annual grant to the Council, and I know that my honourable friend is even now considering sympathetically how, and to what extent, that grant can be increased.

It may be that when the various committees to which I have referred have reported, and when we know all the facts, we can again review the field. I have been struck in this field, as I have been struck in the field with which I am more immediately concerned, by the low level of our statistics. I certainly do not know more than about one-tenth of the facts relating to judicial administration which I ought to know if I am to do my job properly, and on this subject, too, there seems to be a good deal less knowledge of the facts than there ought to be. Let us hope that some progress can also be made in this field. Having done my best to explain the attitude of the Government on the various questions which have been raised in the debate, may I again say how grateful I am—and I am sure the whole House is—to the noble Baroness for having raised this subject again to-night.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I have no intention of making another speech. I only want to say how grateful I am at the generous response that I have received from all quarters of the House to-day. I suppose that not many years ago my speech would have evoked hostility, hatred and prejudice, but to-day I find an understanding and sympathy, for which I am very grateful. May I say to my noble friend Lady Serota how delighted I was with her speech? As a parliamentarian, I can only say this to her. If she can hold us so well in a non-controversial contribution, we look forward with pleasurable anticipation to hearing her when she is able to speak her mind.

Finally, may I say this to a very important person, my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack. Next year I shall have been in your Lordships' House and in another place for thirty years, and never before in the whole of my Parliamentary career have I had such a detailed reply to a speech of mine. It was not only the speech which your Lordships have just heard that showed my noble and learned friend's outstanding sympathy towards and understanding of this problem, but also the fact that he has occupied the Woolsack during the whole afternoon and evening without moving. To me, this expresses more than his words that he has this cause at heart. I was delighted to hear him say that he is going to get the recommendations of the Russell Report on to the Statute Book as soon as possible, and that the other points I raised will be considered. At this stage, I am only too happy to leave the matter in his capable hands. I thank your Lordships, and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.