§ 2.43 p.m.
§ BARONESS SEROTA
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I must confess from the outset that I approach the task of introducing this Bill with a considerable mixture of trepidation and pleasure. It is, I venture to submit, one of the most important measures of law reform that has come before this House for some time; and I am only too conscious of the responsibility which lies on the shoulders of whoever is chosen to introduce it into an assembly of this kind, which contains so many who have contributed so much to thought and progress in the field of human relationships and have an expertise in the law which I certainly do not have. But thanks to the typical generosity and kindness of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who really is the father of this Bill, it is certainly a great privilege for me personally to be associated with 1133 the first Family Law Reform Bill ever to be introduced into either House. The Short Title—and I would submit that this is more than a matter of mere words —shows that we are recognising at last that family law is and ought to be a specific subject on its own and implies a general acceptance of the principle that the family needs comprehensive legal, as well as social, provision and treatment.
I have every confidence, moreover, since the Law Commisssion are now actively engaged in reviewing a number of important aspects of family law prior to its systematic reform and eventual codification, that this Bill is only the first of many needed to bring our laws relating to the family up to date in the light of all the extensive social and legal changes which have shaped its history during the last one hundred years or so. I hope that although there may well be differences between us on the exact forms of the changes required, the general proposition that our laws relating to the family stand in need of repair and modernisation would command general, if not universal, assent.
The purpose of this particular Bill is to make three major changes in this branch of the civil law. It is indeed really three Bills in one, since each of its main parts originates from the Report of a separate Committee. Before turning to Part I, which is perhaps the most important and far-reaching in that it certainly makes the most dramatic change in the law, I ought perhaps to declare a close personal interest as I was one of the members of the Committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of Mr. Justice Latey, whose Report led to this Part of the Bill. I hope I shall be forgiven, therefore, for cherishing a rather maternal feeling for it, although, like all good parents (to use the words of the Latey Report) I shall try to "hold tight with loose hands".
But, having declared that interest, I hope it will not be inappropriate for me to say, in my present capacity and on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, how deeply grateful we all are to the members of the three bodies whose Reports have led to this Bill, and especially the Latey and the Russell Committees. I am sure the whole House would want me to pay tribute to the very considerable public 1134 service which they have rendered. Nor is it important whether, in the end, they formed part of a majority or a minority. What really matters is that they have voluntarily sacrificed substantial amounts of time and energy and have done their level best to give the community the best opinion they can on the difficult questions which were referred to them; and for that we are in their debt. The Law Commission are, of course, professionals; nevertheless, this is surely an opportunity to say how much we welcome the help that they have given to Parliament in this and other matters, and that we look forward to the further Reports which we know are on their way.
When the Latey Report was published last year the Government took the view that before reaching any decision on a social reform of this scope they ought to find out what Parliament thought about it. Debates were accordingly arranged and the matter was fully discussed, both in another place and here, on November 20 and 22—a year ago, almost, from this week. I will not, therefore, take up the time of the House by going back over all that was said in those two debates, but will limit myself to-day merely to making two general points. The first is to remind the House that the Latey Committee, having examined how 21 became the age of majority (which cannot help but raise considerable doubts whether it ever really reflected the needs and maturity of young people); having found on the basis of the weight and quality of the evidence received that this was the best generation of young people we have ever had in this country, and having considered the effects of withholding responsibility from them, decided, by a majority of 9 to 2, that the age of full legal capacity should be lowered to 18 in the field which they had examined.
That was the core of the Report, but I must also point out that the minority dissent was in substance confined to the eight recommendations on the question of the age at which full capacity should be conferred in the field of marriage, wardship and, to a limited extent, contract. There was complete unanimity on the other 44 recommendations which the Committee felt were badly needed to streamline arid rationalise the law affecting young people, regardless of age. Recommendations on the voting age were 1135 outside the Committee's terms of reference. Being a constitutional matter, that subject has always been dealt with separately and is covered in a special series of Statutes. As noble Lords are aware, however, the Government have now introduced a Bill in another place, the Representation of the People Bill, which is designed to lower the voting age to 18. That Bill and this one, therefore, go hand in hand.
The second thing I should like to say is that time has not stood still since we last debated this subject. There have been a good many events since that time, both here and in other countries, which show, to use a neutral expression, that many young people, and in particular many students, want to participate in the life of the academic community and demonstrate their views on the state of the world at large rather more than perhaps some realised.
Noble Lords will probably put various interpretations on these events and no doubt draw different conclusions from them. There is often, my Lords, as in so many matters affecting the young, a curiously ambivalent attitude among the adult population towards student demonstrations. We all applaud the courage of the Czechoslovak students when they defy the Russian tanks, but may feel quite differently when some of our own institutions are the subject of protest or rejection by students in this country. For my part, I should like to say that I consider that these events have served to emphasise how right and necessary, even urgently necessary, are the provisions of this Bill. I hope we shall all agree with the Latey Committee thatto keep responsibility from those who are ready and able to take it on is much more likely to make them irresponsible";and if on other grounds we are satisfied —as I submit we can and ought to be —that young people over 18 are in fact adults and ought to have the rights and duties of adults, then we ought surely to lose no time in changing our laws to this end.
This Bill, together with the Representation of the People Bill, opens the way for these young people to the greatest and indeed the only proper form of participation and self-expression in the 1136 affairs of a free democracy: that is, a full citizenship with all the rights and duties that full adult status brings with it. I will say no more on this except to assert once more my own conviction that the vast majority are ready for it. No doubt noble Lords will have more to say on this in the course of the debate, and I think that I should now pass to a brief outline of the provisions in Part I of the Bill.
My Lords, Clauses 1 to 3 are by far the most important. Together with the three Schedules to the Bill, Clause I provides in general terms that a person shall henceforth attain full age at 18 instead of 21, and all statutory references to minority and infancy shall be construed accordingly. This has the effect of conferring the right to hold property and to make binding contracts from the age of 18. The clause applies to all enactments whenever made; but it only applies to private dispositions, such as deeds and wills, made after the clause comes into force. Where people have made such dispositions in reliance on the law as it now stands, the Government think—and I hope that noble Lords will agree—that it would not be right to interfere with them.
There are three exceptions to the general change from 21 to 18 made by Clause 1 which I should mention and these are set out in Schedule 2. The first is the Regency Acts. It has for many years been the law that the Sovereign comes of age at 18 and so does the heir-apparent or the heir-presumptive for purposes of Regency or Counsellorship of State. But other members of the Royal Family cannot act as Regent or Counsellor of State until they are 21. The Bill does not alter this position. The second exception is voting, which is being dealt with in the other Bill. The exclusion of Section 7 of the Parliamentary Elections Act 1695 means that a person will still have to be 21 before he can become a Member of Parliament. The third exception is the tax laws. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor explained when he told the House on April 10 of the Government's intention to introduce this legislation, changes in taxation are not appropriate to a general Bill of this kind and would have to be considered for a Finance Bill. This aspect is primarily a matter for my right 1137 honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I understand that he has it under consideration.
Clause 1, with Schedule 3, also makes certain transitional provisions. I need not take up the time of the House with them, although noble Lords will no doubt wish to examine them carefully and may of course wish to raise points on them as we move through our various stages of discussion on the Bill. Clause 2 provides that what the Latey Committee described as "free marriage"—that is, the right to marry without the need of parental or court consent shall begin at 18 instead of 21. It also tidies up a point—following the recommendation of the Latey Committee—on the marriage laws in cases where consent will still be required by allowing a superintendent registrar to require written proof of consent to the marriage if he thinks fit.
Clause 3 reduces from 21 to 18 the age at which a person can make a valid will, and provides in effect that anyone over 18 can take in full right a benefit to which he is entitled on an intestacy where the intestate died after the Bill came into force. Again, it would not be right to apply the change to cases of intestacy before the Bill came into effect because some people may have deliberately made their will in reliance on the law as it now is.
Clauses 4 to 6 deal with orders for maintenance for children who are or have been the subject of guardianship, wardship, affiliation or matrimonial proceedings. The main principle behind them is that although other forms of jurisdiction should cease at 18, the power of the courts to award maintenance should continue in respect of children up to the age of 21. This is a holding operation. The Law Commission are at present considering the whole law of financial relief in matrimonial proceedings and the Government do not consider it wise to change the law on this subject any more than is necessary before the Law Commission have finished their task. The Latey Committee recommended that a court should have power to make maintenance orders without any age limits; in general the present law is that this jurisdiction ends at 21 and the Bill preserves that position for the time being.
1138 Clause 9 implements a recommendation which goes far beyond just the young. It makes a general provision that a person shall for all purposes attain a given age on the first moment of the relevant birthday. Anyone may be forgiven for thinking that this is a glimpse of the obvious, but the fact is that it is not the law, as I learned to my surprise during the deliberations of the Latey Committee. In fact the law is both confused and confusing on this point and this clause is designed to put it right. Clause 10 repeals some of the rather more amusingly archaic statutory provisions more appropriate perhaps to a Victorian novel than the present age; and finally, I am glad to say, Clause 11 allows persons under full age, that is under 18, to be called "minors" instead of "infants" which is the present rather absurd technical name for them.
So much, my Lords, for Part I of the Bill. I turn now to Part II, which deals with the property rights of children born out of wedlock and which springs from the recommendations of Lord Justice Russell's Committee on the Law of Succession in Relation to Illegitimate Persons. Noble Lords may recall that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack gave general approval to these recommendations during the debate on the law concerning the welfare of illegitimate children which my noble friend Lady Summerskill initiated some 18 months ago. The Russell Committee considered the law both of this country and of Scotland, and this Part of the Bill follows mutatis mutandis the provisions of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1968, which has already changed the law North of the Bolder.
One cannot help noticing at this point, my Lords, that once again Scotland is ahead of us. The present law of England and Wales is that where a mother dies intestate leaving an illegitimate but no legitimate child, the illegitimate child can share in the distribution of her estate. In every other case, however, the inflexible rule is that no illegitimate person, or person claiming through an illegitimate link, can share in the distribution of an intestate's estate. Moreover, an illegitimate child has no right at present to apply to the courts for provision out of his deceased parent's estate under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act.
1139 There is also a rule of construction that where a testator makes a gift in his will to his "children" then, in the absence of any contrary intent, the gift is to be taken to have been intended for legitimate children only. The child born out of wedlock therefore is virtually excluded from all benefits from his parent's estate unless they make specific provision for him by will.
The Russell Committee unanimously considered that this state of affairs ought not to be allowed to continue, and I venture to think that your Lordships will take the same view. It is surely wrong that our law should still punish children in this way for the crime of having been born, and though I know it is possible to take differing views about this I am absolutely certain that in reforming it we shall not be doing the slightest damage to the institution of marriage, for experience has shown that the family has sufficient strength and resilience to withstand the legal changes, and the research recently undertaken for the United Nations Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities has indicated that where legal and social equality exists for children born out of wedlock, there is no evidence of an increase in illegitimate births or extramarital unions. The fact is that on the whole people deeply want to get married and bring up their children in the security and happiness of a normal home life, and I refuse to believe that amending the law in this way to make it conform with morality will change that in the slightest. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for what may sound like rather strange language, but I think and hope that I am not alone in my belief that this part of the law is really long overdue for reform. It is particularly appropriate that this injustice should be remedied in Human Rights Year, which is also, by coincidence, the year in which the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child celebrates its golden jubilee. Once again I wish to declare a modest personal interest, as I am one of its vice-presidents, an honour which I share with the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. I am sure that the whole House would wish to offer its President, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who will shortly be speaking in 1140 this debate, our warm congratulations on his Council's record of achievement in the 50 years of its existence.
The provisions of Part II of the Bill accordingly implement, except on one point, the views of the majority of the Russell Committee. I should perhaps explain that all nine members of the Committee thought that the law should be changed, but one of them thought that an illegitimate child should not be allowed to share in the estate of his intestate father unless by some act the father had recognised the existence of a "familial relationship" with the child. Clause 13 of the Bill provides that an illegitimate child and his parents shall have the same right to share in each other's estates on an intestacy occurring after the Clause comes into force. as if he were legitimate. The clause lets in only illegitimate children and not remoter descendants. There are arguments both ways about whether or not we should go further than the immediate parent/child relationship, but, on balance, the Russell Committee thought it best not to and the Government have accepted that view in this Bill.
Clause 14 departs from the Russell Committee's recommendation. They took the view that the existing rule of construction about the meaning of the term "children" in wills should stay as it is. The Scottish Law Commission, however, took the other view and that has now been embodied in the Scottish Act. The Government, after consideration, have decided that they agree with the Scots, which is generally the wisest thing to do, and accordingly Clause 14 reverses the existing rule of construction for wills and other dispositions made after it comes into effect. It is expressly provided, however, that the abolition of the rule is not to affect in any way the devolution of any property which is settled so as to devolve with a dignity or title of honour. Clause 15 gives illegitimate children whose parents die after it comes into effect the same right to apply to the court for provision out of the estate as if they were legitimate.
I now come to Part III, the final Part, of the Bill, which bears a certain distant relationship to the Part I have just described, being also concerned with questions of legitimacy. Nearly three years ago, the Judges of the Probate, Divorce 1141 and Admiralty Division of the High Court suggested that it might be useful for the Law Commission to consider the whole question of blood tests in cases where paternity was disputed, and in particular whether the court should have power to order parties in such cases to undergo blood tests. The result of that consideration was the Law Commission's Report on Blood Tests and Proof of Paternity in Civil Proceedings, which was published some 40 minutes before my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor introduced this Bill on October 31.
This ground is not entirely untrodden, because I believe that both the noble Lords, Lord Merthyr and Lord Amulree, have in their time introduced Private Members' Bills on this subject While paying tribute to these legislative pioneers, it is fitting also to mention the work of Dr. Alan Grant, of Guy's Hospital, an expert in this field of medicine, who has for many years campaigned for a proper code of law on the subject and who has given considerable assistance to the Law Commission in their consideration of these problems.
If it is important for the law to keep pace with social change, it is equally important for it to keep up with advances in scientific knowledge. Medical science has now—indeed, has for some time now —arrived at the point where blood tests can provide absolutely conclusive evidence that a particular man cannot be the father of a particular child and they can tend to show, not with certainty but with varying degrees of probability, that he may be the father of another. This is clearly highly relevant to those classes of civil proceedings where paternity is an issue—that is to say, mainly in affiliation proceedings, divorce and nullity proceedings and petitions for declarations of legitimacy.
In divorce and nullity proceedings, the courts have traditionally been bound to a considerable extent by the presumption of legitimacy—that is, the presumption that in the absence of definite evidence to the contrary a child born to a married woman is a legitimate child of that woman and her husband. The courts have by no means in these last years ignored the importance of blood group evidence and a good deal of case law has grown up on the subject of when 1142 tests can be taken and the results received. The position, however, is far from clear. All that can be said is that there is no power to order adults to be tested; there is some power, but in the High Court only, to order children to be tested; and there is no set of judicial or administrative procedures' for testing. The Law Commission was satisfied that the position ought to be regulated by legislation and the Government accept their view.
The Bill accordingly provides in Clause 18 that in any civil proceedings where paternity is disputed the court may direct blood tests to be made and the report of those tests shall be receivable in evidence. It is important to make it absolutely clear that nobody in any circumstances will be forced to undergo a blood test, if he or she objects. Clause 19 states expressly that no blood test shall be carried out on any Jerson without his consent; though Clause 22 provides that if he refuses the court may draw whatever inferences it might think proper.
Clause 19 also makes it clear that any person over 16 is capable of giving a valid consent for himself. This is in line with the general rule laid down in Clause 8 in Part I of the Bill. And there is provision in Clause 19 for consent to be given on behalf of persons under 16 and mental patients. Clause 20 gives Home Secretary power to make regulations subject to Negative Resolution by either House of Parliament for the procedure to be followed and for the administrative arrangements generally. Clause 24 implements the other main recommendations of the Law Commission by making it clear beyond doubt that to rebut any presumption of legitimacy or illegitimacy it is only necessary to produce evidence that the probabilities are the other way. As this makes a general change in the law of evidence going beyond blood tests, it does not belong in Part III and has been put in Part 1V with the tail of the Bill.
I am sorry to have taken so much time in describing this Bill. It is, however, as I have tried to indicate, an important measure with far-reaching implications, and all its provisions deserve the very careful attention which I am certain your Lordships will give it, both to-day 1143 and in its other stages as it proceeds through the House. I warmly commend it to the House and beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Serota.)
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, it is a year almost to the week since we debated the Latey Report. As the noble Baroness has said, this is certainly an important Bill. It is gratifying that within such a reasonable time all the main recommendations of the Report should come before us for implementation. What I think is particularly satisfying about this Bill is that, because of its consistent and uncompromising character, and because Part I of the Bill includes not some but all of the recommendations of the Latey Report, it will radically change, and will be felt to change, the status of that age group in our society.
As the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack pointed out in our debate last year, this is a singularly neglected age group. The great majority are not at university but at work. A great many live away from home, which they are entitled to leave or to be expelled from at the age of 16. They will often never, or hardly ever, see their parents. There has recently been an enormous increase, of course, in the movement of the young working population between areas. Increasingly this age group has assumed responsibilities of parenthood and marriage. They have a better education than they have had before, and they have a higher earning power. Yet, although increasingly they have acquired the power, and exercised it, to lead lives that are domestically independent of their parents and of their parents' generation, nevertheless this is an independence which the law hitherto has not fully recognised and which in the name of protection the law has begun to encumber with disadvantage.
In my view, Part I of the Bill will have more than one desirable effect. It will, in the first place, have the effect of removing some practical hindrances, perhaps the most important of these being the obstacles in the way of owning property and of making contracts. Even the authors of the Minority Report of the Latey Committee were sufficiently im- 1144 pressed by the argument that young married couples need every assistance from hire-purchase agreements in setting up their homes to recognise that, on balance, full contractual responsibility should be given to people at the age of 18. If there are still fears that the young may be unwitting enough to succumb to dishonest selling methods, then I think the remedy is clearly in further consumer protection of a general sort. I see no objection to the ownership of property by people of the age of 18. To those who are worried—and some expressed worry last time —at the prospect of 18-year-olds inheriting substantial property, one could point out that it is open to any testator to put a later age to the moment at which an heir should receive full inheritance.
The second effect that I think the Bill might have on the age group in question is what one might call a moral one. You cannot make an adult of a person by continuing to pretend that he is a child. You make him an adult by treating him as an adult. Moreover, if this is an age group which is feared collectively to have a tendency towards subversion, or to be disruptive in a social sense, or in which the individual members are thought prone to regression to juvenile behaviour, then again I am quite sure that society's best weapon lies in broadening the opportunity for this age group to identify with society itself: and I think this is done by giving them additional responsibilities at an early age.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? He has dealt fully with the 18year-old boy (I suspect) who he feels is now ready for this change. Does he think that this boy has had the experience of life which, in my opinion, is necessary for mature judgment?
§ LORD REAY
I think the answer to that is, Yes. But I would particularly say that the judgment which the noble Baroness, quite rightly, along with everybody else, thinks it necessary for young people to acquire, can be acquired only through the opportunity to exercise it; and I do not believe that the young will ever acquire responsibility or mature judgment unless they are given the opportunity. This, of course, involves a certain amount of risk: but then I think we all mature through risk.
1145 So far as that section of the population is concerned who go to a university, and for whom it is feared there will be no transitional period between school and adult life, in the first place I would say that the similarity between life at school and life at a university can be overrated. Life at university can be much more like life in society than life at school; and this may be particularly so now that there will be even less pressure exerted by parents, and now that they will be less in a position to claim a part in the administration of authority at university.
Secondly, I think there is much to be said for people spending some time, perhaps a year or so, in a job or other activity, perhaps overseas, between leaving school and university. This is a subject which obviously belongs to another debate; it is an interesting question, and I hope that we may at some time have an opportunity to debate it. A further effect of this Part of the Bill is that, with any luck, it may have a moral effect on parents. With all respect to those romanticists who would like to continue to control their children's lives well into adulthood, anything which obliges parents to see more clearly that their children will be thoroughly independent of them from the age of 18 can, in my view, be nothing but healthy to both children and parents.
Perhaps the strongest objections come against the proposal of free marriage. A number of people, I think, would like to see parental consent retained as a requirement up to the age of 21. If it could be shown that the mistakes made by the children going ahead with their marriages were more frequent than the mistakes that parents made in withholding their consent, or, alternatively, if it could be shown that the requirement for parental consent had a general effect of raising the age of marriage from an area in which marriages tend to be usually prone to disaster, then I think there would be a strong argument behind that object. But the second of these propositions is demonstrably not true. There would never be any general effect of raising the average age of marriage by requiring parental consent, simply because, in effect, this is going to be exercised only in a tiny minority of cases. As regards the first part, it seems 1146 to me that it cannot be right to give parents the opportunity to commit mistakes—and, of course, they can commit mistakes—from wh0ich they themselves cannot possibly suffer. Nor have I been persuaded that they would ever be right, except accidentally.
There are, however, two questions that I should like to ask. One thing about which I am not clear is criminal responsibility, particularly in so far as institutional treatment goes. Is it the plan of the Government to continue borstal training up to the age of 21; or is it now the plan to reduce the age up to which this is available? The other point is something to which the noble Baroness has already referred, and that is the tax question. I very much hope that the Chancellor will lower to 18 years the age (at present, 21) up to which the unearned income of a child is aggregated with the income of his parents. It would not seem sensible to me to continue the notion of a familial context where it is clearly unreal—that is to say, to retain it in the field of taxation—when it is an appreciation of this that has resulted in its abandonment in the other fields in which we are dealing in the Bill.
I should like to deal briefly with one or two other matters in the other Part of the Bill, which concerns itself with the succession of illegitimate children. So far as inheritance from a mother is concerned, where non-recognition by the mother is rare and where proof of maternity tends to be easy, I do not see any objection, and it seems to me right that this remedy should be in the Bill. But in the case of a father it does not seem to me that this will always he the case. In the case where the father and the illegitimate claimant have, even for a short time, lived together in a family context, or where there is other evidence of recognition by the father, there seems to me to be no problem, and I am sure that it is right that that should be included. But in cases where the claimant has never been recognised by the father, when he or she has lived in an entirely different family context, when perhaps one or more parties may be ignorant of the illegitimacy of the claimant and where the illegitimacy may be disputed and certainly quite likely impossible to prove —in such a case I do not see the point of enabling a claimant, or, for example, 1147 a mother on a claimant's behalf, to revive for practical considerations a matter which for practical considerations may have been deliberately ignored for years or decades. Given that the claim in such cases may always be difficult to prove because the alleged parent will be dead, the Bill may well cause more frustration and disruption than alleviation in the form of financial justice.
Moreover, it seems to me highly eccentric to assume, if the rules of intestacy are meant to reflect testators' intentions, that it would have been the intention of the testator to satisfy the claims of the claimant in such a case. The answer might be, as was suggested in the Minority Report, to make the proof of paternity conditional on some form of prior recognition by the deceased. However, this subject belongs, obviously, to the Committee stage rather than to a Second Reading debate. None of it, anyway, is as important as Part I of this Bill the Second Reading of which I unequivocally welcome.
§ 3.21 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, this is one of those occasions, which I like to think are rare, when I have put down my name to speak but am quite definitely prevented from hearing the end of the debate, and particularly the remarks of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I apologise for that and offer as only a very slight ameliorative fact that I cancelled two important engagements for the two previous days when it was hoped to hold this debate, and when this Bill finally came to be debated to-day I just could not do more than give the afternoon to it. However, I felt that it was my duty to intervene if only for a short time, because I was rather deeply involved in the debate which was held, as we have heard, almost a year ago, on November 22, 1967, when we debated the Latey Report. On that occasion I spoke at some length and gave such support as I could to the general proposals of the Latey Report as we then knew them.
So I feel that I must give my welcome to this Bill. I do not think I object to any of its provisions, although I shall mention one or two lacunæ which I think remain in it. I am glad myself to see that the Latey proposals on the reduction 1148 of the age of majority to 18 have been accepted. So far as this main provision is concerned, I agree entirely with what was said by the last speaker.
My experience of life in this country suggests to me that 18 is the milestone at which one passes from one territory to another. It is not only that people now mature at an earlier age, but they are exposed to an altogether more challenging and exciting environment. They become aware of very many more things than they were previously aware of during those comparatively early years of their lives; and as by 18 they are in many cases economically independent, it becomes quite artificial to keep them, so to speak, in tutelage so far as the law is concerned. I feel that this change corresponds to reality as I personally have come across it.
The second clause deals particularly with the question of the necessity, or otherwise, of consent for marriage. Some of your Lordships will remember that when I spoke on the last occasion I expressed the view of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility: that this reduction of age was very much to be desired. I was accused in some quarters (not in your Lordships' House) of having expressed the view on behalf of the Church of England, but on carefully reading Hansard, I was glad to find that I had never claimed more than the opinion of the Board for Social Responsibility, which is a part of the Church of England organisation. I might say that if there is an organ of the Church of England capable of expressing an intelligent view on this matter, that is it; but that need not necessarily be taken for Gospel.
We produced a good deal of evidence and it would be wearisome for the House to go over all that again. I pointed out at that time that the moral welfare workers of the Church of England are spread throughout the whole country and touch altogether some 25,000 cases of problems in a year, many of which are connected with this whole realm of marriage. A long list was given to me of individual cases where consent had been withheld and where very unfortunate results had ensued. I also pointed out that of 215 cases that were reported in this particular list, 77 had actually applied for consent from the magistrates and 54 consents had in fact been given. 1149 That seemed to suggest to us that the objections to marriage as the parents had seen them were not in most cases soundly based. This and much other similar evidence has obviously been considered by Her Majesty's Government. It is thought that the case has been proved and accepted, and I myself am glad to see this provision in the Bill. I do not believe that it will do any harm, but I think it will do a great deal of good.
I myself felt there was something slightly illogical in the fact that the tax position was not altered. Obviously this is one of the matters which could be argued either way. I do not want to suggest any ulterior motives on the part of anybody who promotes this Bill, but one can well imagine that it is more pleasant to offer to young people the privileges proposed in the Bill without, at the same time, offering them the disadvantages of the subject of taxation in a new way.
I am glad to see that contracts are now to be possible. In this matter, if I read the papers rightly, there is a departure from the proposals in the Latey Report. The Latey provision, or suggestion, was that contracts should be allowed but should not be enforceable against a minor. I see no provision of that kind in the Bill, and personally I am glad that there is no such provision. I think that, so far as we possibly can, we want to encourage our young people to think that rights and duties normally go together. If we give them the right to make contracts, it would not help their growth to maturity if we made a special escape clause to say, "As you are between 18 and 21, of course you need not keep this contract unless you want to". That seemed to me a thoroughly poor piece of moral education upon which to embark.
I should like to welcome especially Clause 8, which gives permission for those who have reached the age of 16 to give consent for medical treatments and operations. I know this will be a considerable help in the maternity homes up and down the country, where it is often a necessary condition of entry that the young women should be able to consent —or somebody should consent on their behalf—to surgical treatment. At present it is often difficult to obtain consent, owing to the fact that parents are sometimes in ignorance of what is going on.
1150 In my view Part II of the Bill takes us a long way in the right direction in opening up new possibilities for illegitimate children to inherit. This marks, perhaps, almost the final stage in a matter which began at the Council of Merton in the year 1234, when the Bishops tried to persuade the Barons to allow a certain amount of inheritance on the part of illegitimate children. The Barons then declared that in no circumstances would they allow the laws of England to be altered. Well, my Lords, "The in ills of God grind slowly" but in the end the Bishops and others have persuaded the Barons that these changes are w se and necessary, and I feel that in supporting these proposals we are doing nothing that in any way undermines our loyalty to the institution of marriage.
What we are saying is that the supreme test is how legislation affects the illegitimate child, whether he is still a child or has by that time grown up; and as I believe we all start from the same assumption, that whoever is at fault it is not the illegitimate person, I think we must draw the law in such a way that every possible disability of the illegitimate person is removed, so far as can be done.
We are glad to see that in the future the blood relationship is to count in this matter of inheritance, but I have here to indicate a gap in the Bill. I feel— and I know that many others also feel —that nothing has been done this Bill to provide any procedure whereby the putative father can recognise his child. This was a point that we put strongly in a pamphlet which was published in 1966, entitled Fatherless by Law. In that pamphlet we made what we thought it that time was a strong case for changes in the law, whereby fathers of illegitimate children could establish some permanent link with the child, if they were willing to do so; and where they were not willing to do so, or did not come forward, we asked that a guardian, a next friend or some official person should be authorised to seek and, if possible, to find that father so that at any rate the minimum duties of a father could be performed.
I believe experience has shown that it is a much harder job than we originally thought to persuade the people of this country to accept anything of this kind, and I am sure that at the root of the 1151 hesitation there is the feeling which has already been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Reay: that the arrival on a family scene, which may itself by this time be fairly happy, of the putative father of one of the members of that family is liable to cause disruption. I know that the more one thinks about this the more easy it is to conjure up cases where these unfortunate results might accrue, but I think we must gradually accustom ourselves to the idea that children do need to know their fathers. The old proverb, "He is a wise child who knows his own father", may be nearer the mark than we thought—and incidentally it is difficult to think what that proverb really means if it is not some reference to the whole realm of matters that we are now discussing.
We have accustomed ourselves in this country to the idea that divorced parents may still play some part in the lives of their children. This itself can be disrupting and harmful in many cases, but we feel, on balance, that it is better for the parents to continue to have some contact with their natural children, although it involves many painful and embarrassing situations. I assume that it is too much to expect Her Majesty's Government to modify this Bill by making a provision along these lines, but I hope that each debate we have will bring the country nearer to this. I am told that the Law Commission are looking at this matter, and may eventually come forward with some proposals that will give the machinery whereby some link can be established between the father and the child.
At the conference recently held by the Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, I was talking with a well-known authority on these matters from Denmark, and she happened to mention to me that they had now so developed their procedure in the matter of finding the fathers and identifying them that in 97 per cent. of the cases this link is now established. So whatever objections we may have to these procedures, we need not think that it is impossible to bring them into practice.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, may I ask the right reverend Prelate one question on that last point before he leaves 1152 it? Do I understand him to say that he is going to put down an Amendment in the Committee stage to cover that gap, or was he referring to some future debate on some future Bill?
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I did not mean that I was going to put down an Amendment. Whether, after further consideration or consultation, I or any others who think like me, would put down an Amendment I do not know. But I had accepted the fact that Her Majesty's Government had decided that this was as far as we were likely to go at this stage, and it would only be if the Law Commission came forward with some definite proposals that it would be possible to take our legislation a stage further.
On the matter of blood tests I would stress one point. It is stated plainly in the Bill that all these provisions for blood tests apply to civil cases. I think it is understood that affiliation cases are, strictly speaking, civil cases, but they are in fact conducted in an atmosphere that is quasi-criminal. They are taken in the magistrates' courts and appeals from their decisions go to quarter sessions; and the rules of evidence are, I believe, those of the criminal courts. All this gives a rather criminal atmosphere to affiliation cases, and if this is joined with the blood tests I think we may be open to some criticism and controversy as to whether there ought to be any. Therefore I strongly urge that as soon as possible we should make provision whereby these affiliation cases can be taken in a different kind of court.
My Lords, I am sorry to have kept you rather a long time, but I repeat my general support of the provisions of this Bill and my hope that it is only one stage in a progress towards a much greater humanisation of our laws.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, on the way in which she introduced this fairly complicated Bill. I believe I am right in saying that it is the first Bill she has introduced from the Front Bench. Because she was introducing it, she could not, of course, and would not, in any case, pay a tribute to her own part as a member of the Latey Committee.
1153 From listening to the speeches so far, I think we must be careful not to run away with the idea that everybody in this House, certainly those in another place and many people in the country, agree wholeheartedly with the provisions of the Bill which is before us to-day. I think there are a great many doubts about this, and if I may I will later come to ways in which I think they could be dealt with. I was delighted to see that the Latey Committee mentioned that they themselves, certainly at the beginning of their deliberations, were beset with certain doubts, and I confess that that has been my own position. When this breath of fresh air arrived I thought at first that it was absolutely marvellous; and then as one discussed it certain doubts entered one's mind. Finally, thinking it through, I came to the conclusion that however progressive we like to think our ideas are, we are all tarred with the same brushmarks of our own upbringing. When one has been brought up with this, when one's outlook has been fashioned with the idea of twenty-one as the age of majority, when one has rebelled against one's own parents, however much one tries to bend backwards with one's children some of it sticks.
I think many of us are inclined to be over-protective about our own children. If I may say so with great trepidation in this largely male assembly, I think that in this connection fathers are worse offenders than mothers. I must hasten to add that my children tell me that I am an over-protective mother—they do not put it in quite so civilised words—and keep me up to the mark or off action or off the word, whichever way they look at it. The reverse of this is that young people have also been used to a certain amount of conditioning to the cushion of familial protection. This is probably one of the reasons why the National Opinion Poll—which was referred to very considerably in the debate last year on the Latey Committee Report —showed that a considerable number of young people supported the status quo as far as the age of majority was concerned. These were also people who were asked at home—and one assumes that many were living in their own homes; and the issues that would make them think another way had not perhaps 1154 arisen for them individually—and they were also prepared to go on accepting things as they were. There is no reason why they should not, but there is also no reason why things should not be changed.
This long and extended childhood which we seem to be accepting to-day is really a Victorian creation and we might ask why we should continue to accept this. In the Report itself—I think it has been referred to as a game of tennis—different organisations and different people, distinguished people in their own right, have been batted back and forth (that is cricket, not tennis) with their various views, and have been balanced out one against the other over this. They are so numerous that if you mention one there is another to be put up on other side.
I should like to mention a body that did not give evidence to the Latey Committee, but whose views I think are important, and that is the Youth Service Development Council, which is an advisory body appointed by the Department of Education and Science. It was set up as a result of the Albemarle Committee Report. I must declare an interest here as I am privileged to be a member of the Council, although I joined it only at the end of last year and these matters had got under way before then. The Albemarle Committee reported in 1960, and it was found that a third of the youth of this country were attached to some form of youth organisation, another third were not attached, and the last third were in full time education.
In a further survey last year it was found that this third had been reduced to one-sixth: so only one-sixth of the youth who were eligible to be attached to a youth organisation were in fact so attached. The Council started looking at this and found that the youth service as at present structured was becoming more and more irrelevant for young people of 17 and above. This seems to me the point where actions speak louder than words: some of these very people may have been approached by the pod and may quite easily have said, "Leave things as they are." And yet by then own actions they were reacting against being treated as children rather than as young adults.
1155 As a result of this two working parties were set up by the Y.S.D.C., one to look at the relationships between youth and further educational facilities and the second between youth and the adult community. In the meantime, the Latey Committee reported, and their recommendations were supported by the Youth Service Development Council, who in fact approached the Government, when the Speaker's Conference recommended the age of 20 for voting, and themselves strongly put forward that the age should be 18. The people who sit on this Council are, on the whole, people who are active in the field of youth service and also in education. The Report that we are working on at the present time will be based on the reports of these two working parties and we hope to publish it in the late spring of next year. That will give a view of how the Council see the youth service emerging in the 1970s. One of the most important focal points which is being taken into consideration is that by that time the age of majority will have been lowered, or will be in the process of being lowered, to 18.
I do not think we should underestimate the shake-up this is giving us all in our own attitudes. Of course, one of the most important of the clauses, or the point around which most of the controversy will be contained, is the one with relation to earlier marriage, free marriage without parental consent. I find it rather contradictory, in discussing this matter at some length with a great many people since the Latey Report came out, that the same people who are against earlier marriage are also against giving contraceptive advice to help young unmarried people. The end-product of this hypocrisy, or this lack of logic, whichever you like to call it, seems to me to be a large number of illegitimate children. When we are discussing the age of marriage I do not think we can ignore the advent of the pill, nor the changes in the sexual mores of this country. Whether one likes it or not is a matter of personal preference; but the facts are there, and the behaviour is there, and one has to take note of it when one is thinking out future policy and discussing future legislation.
The pattern to-day appears to be far more of serio-monogamous relationships 1156 rather than of promiscuity—although of course there will always be the odd promiscuous people; and this will be so whatever the age of marriage, or even within or without marriage. I agree with the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and by others, that the small number of applications for permission to marry which come before the courts is extremely important. At the matrimonial court where I sit we have something like six cases a year, and usually in five cases out of the six permission is granted. Again, the fact that so many people marry below the age of 21 certainly indicates that parents agree to this course.
Something I find difficult to accept is the magic of an age, the magic of 20 or 21. Young people who would rather marry with the good will of their parents still want to do so when they are over 21. There is no special something which, between the ages of 18 and 21 makes them want to do one thing, but which, at over 21, they suddenly reject and say, if I may be excused for using the expression, "To hell with you!" Where there is a good relationship they are still most anxious to be on good terms with their parents. I am sorry to say that often where young people are irresponsible the parents are also irresponsible and are likely to say, "Go ahead with it; we do not care what you do", rather than discuss the matter and try to help and advise.
I remember one case in which we were asked to give permission to marry. There was no doubt (it emerged quite quickly) that the refusal, which was on the part of the father, not of the mother, was due to the marital disputes between the parents themselves. I could not help feeling at the time that it was a great pity that, with this sort of rigid practice in the courts (which we try so far as we can to break down), we still have not got the family service, with advice centres, which I hope we are going to have; for this case was one that could have been talked out there. But if such a matter did have to come to court I agree largely with the right reverend Prelate that it ought to be some different kind of court. I personally am, and always have been, in favour of family courts to deal with these matters, also affiliation orders and other matters relating to the family.
1157 I turn now to contracts, a point about which I must confess I have some doubts. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when he comes to reply, will perhaps say why it is felt that there should not be any residual protection. I see both sides of this matter; but, speaking personally, I am still a little worried about it. Something like 95 per cent. of most young people are going out to work at 15; and some of them are doing some part-time further education. It seems to me that for a young wage-earning man to have to get his father to sign his hire-purchase form in order that he can buy a suit is humiliating for him and can be extremely bad for the family relationship as well. I think it puts the situation on an entirely wrong basis.
Other things also have to be considered. Nowadays, when young people earn more money than their fathers did at their age, this sort of friction can set up the pressures that result in something that we often talk about: alienation between the generations. I think that this long limbo of childhood, which we seem to have connected up with the longer period of education, is something that this particular piece of legislation will give us the opportunity to look at again and almost to rebuild; because there is no reason to accept that, simply because people are undertaking education for a longer period, they should therefore still be considered as children.
I took the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, on experience of life and mature judgment. I think that there one has also to include training for life, through which one gets the experience; and as one gets the experience, one has had some preparation. All these things together help judgment to mature. I do not think there is any easy or direct answer, but this is what we must hope for.
I absolutely agree, with the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, in her reference to students. Surely one of the problems, certainly in this country of students who are in revolt, is that they are in a sort of no-man's-land, where they are no longer children but are not really accepted into the adult world. I think this frustration often comes out in this way.
1158 But what I feel is most important is that there must be a positive and constructive framework in which this legislation is set. It must not be allowed to creep quietly on to the Statute Book. We have to prepare not only ourselves but the country generally for what is an extremely big change, since people have been geared to looking at things in one way. I do not think it is a bad thing, but rather a good thing, to be a step ahead of public opinion and not always waiting to be pushed from behind. Nevertheless, people have to be prepared for this. We know how, in so many other matters, there is a British reluctance to change. In the first instance, I think there needs to be much more education in the schools in social relationships. I know that it has been started and is progressing well in many schools. I know that the starting of sex education in schools meant that it is possible to get on to something wider, so that we are talking not just about sex education but about education for marriage and education for life. The future raising of the school-leaving age I do not see as something which inc-eases the time during which people will still remain children. I see it as an opportunity for creating a much firmer bridge from, if you like, schoolhood into adulthood. It can be used in this way, but only if it is planned for and is something that is absolutely positive and emphatic.
When one is discussing this it is difficult to find any complete scientific facts about maturity. Physical maturity can be measured, but not emotional and intellectual maturity, although the evidence seems to show that in some way the two are proceeding together. Speaking recently to some teachers I found that it became clear that whereas at one time the age at which young people felt they were no longer children but not yet adults used to be 16 years, it has now gone down to 14 years. This indicates that there has been some change.
Then after education I think that the youth and community services can play a tremendous part in helping young people when they want advice: helping them in regard to leisure and in any form of social education which they can obtain. Here, I would say that one of the most important and rewarding things on which a Government could spend money far better and more counselling services and 1159 advice centres for young people—places to which they feel they can go for help about practical things, such as hire-purchase and all the other things in regard to which some of us are concerned, that they may be pressured or badly used—and also in regard to their emotional and other problems.
This, I think, is of tremendous importance and should be organised in such a way that those concerned do not feel that it is only for people who have something the matter with them but for normal people who also need help. Whatever our age may be, I think we would all admit that this applies to adults as well as to those below the age of 18. I think that something like this must be put over in the Press and on television, so that parents and children understand the responsibilities they have to undertake and what these responsibilities entail. If we do not do something along these lines then the young people of 18 will be as unprepared for adulthood at the age of majority as many of the young people are today at 21.
Finally, I believe that giving people responsibility helps to breed responsible behaviour. There will always be some who are irresponsible, but then this goes all the way through life. In the same way, there are many people of middle age and old age who, by any standards, are still extraordinarily immature. I believe that props that remain too long can be a serious drawback to the development of the individual, and that one cannot finally, however hard one tries, protect everybody from everything. Many young people can literally only learn by making their own mistakes, whether they be financial or emotional. This is painful for them; it is very painful for parents too, but unfortunately it is a fact.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill. I can see that there are difficulties. I think that alongside it there must be this framework in which it is properly worked out and planned so that people are helped, and so that all the drawbacks which will no doubt come out later—and in another place—can be dealt with, and that people will be not only forewarned but fore-armed so that they will be able to accept and enjoy their re- 1160 sponsibility, and use it to the benefit not only of themselves but also of society.
§ 4.2 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, one of the surprising features of the Bill which is now before us is that in relation to its importance there appears to be relatively little public demand or interest in it, even among those whom it most closely affects. I mention this because it has some influence upon one aspect of this Bill which I shall mention later on, though my own view is in agreement with and corresponds with the recommendations reached by the Latey Committee which are reflected in the Bill, which, therefore, I most warmly welcome. However, I cannot help asking myself whether in reading the Latey Report such critical faculties as I may have may not have been swept aside by the attractive way in which this Report was written; though I would not suggest this to be an argument for dull Reports.
Of the two major features of the Latey Report reflected in the clauses of this Bill, the age of free marriage is the more important, as the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, herself said in introducing it. This is the Part of the Bill upon which I wish mainly to speak. The age of majority for marriage will always be the age at which one might reasonably expect most people to be able to fulfil four requirements for marriage —other than the obvious one that the partners should be in love with one another. The first is the requirement of physical maturity. The second is mental maturity; partly a matter of education, partly of some experience of the workaday world and partly an ability to make mature mental judgments, in which further education can have some part to play. The third is emotional maturity; that is to say, a sufficiently stable emotional life; the result of having come to terms with oneself and one's environment, of having found one's place in the world. The final requirement is financial capacity, the ability to set up house no matter in how restricted a way and to make provision for children.
It is clear that it is not possible to lay down any age limit which will cover everyone. Some will be able to fulfil these conditions before the age of 21; others will take longer; some will never 1161 really fulfil them at all. However, as one cannot make separate conditions for individuals it is necessary to establish a reasonable optimum age which will cover the majority. This at present stands at 21; and it is curious that it should have remained standing at 21, unquestioned, for so long. However, it is not only the differences in the rate of development of particular individuals that affects this issue; equally important are the differences in sociological conditions and other factors which change from one generation to another.
For instance, in a primitive society the age of majority is much lower than 21, and yet it fulfils all the requirements which I have named. Physical maturity is reached at about 14 years of age. The primitive life requires less formal education. A simple society requires less time for its understanding, the issues requiring social judgment become simpler and can be dealt with at a younger age. The same applies to emotional maturity for where life is less complex there are fewer pressures, and one finds one's place in society much earlier. Again, a simple society exists in an uncomplicated economic system. The child begins work earlier, and material requirements for a stable home and family are minimal. Thus, in primitive societies one finds that children become parents between the ages of 14 and 16, grandparents at 30 and great-grandparents at about 45 to 50, if they survive that long. The comparatively short expectation of life and the high rate of infant mortality make it important to produce enough children as quickly as possible to ensure the preservation of the community.
Our society presents a very different situation. One factor is that it has changed enormously since the age of majority was fixed. It was fascinating to read in the Latey Report the reason why it was fixed originally at the age of 21; namely, the age at which men could wear a heavy suit of knightly armour. Now we are being asked to reassess this situation and to determine whether or not this is still the optimum age. I think that it is a good thing to do so, even if there is no particularly urgent public demand that it be done. We need to look again, therefore, at the four requirements for marriage: physical, 1162 mental and emotional maturity, and financial capacity. In doing so we find one major problem. It appears to be an undoubted fact that physically our children are maturing much earlier. Generally speaking, they are sexually mature, in a physiological sense, by the age of 14 or 15, sometimes earlier. But the sheer complexity of life would suggest that the age of maturity in respect of mental, emotional, and possibly financial requirements may well be at least as high as before, and possibly higher than before, in relation to the problems which society presents.
One could put it this way: in a Simple society a child reaches maturity in all respects at about the same age; where-as in a highly civilised and sophisticated society, due to improved nutrition and improved medical facilities, the child reaches physiological maturity earlier, but often cannot achieve mental, emotional and financial independence until later. Thus, the more sophisticated society becomes, the greater the gap in years between physical and sexual maturity on the one hand, and personal independence in the wider sense on the other; with the result that, in addition to the emotional difficulties and tensions inherent in any sophisticated society, the youngster has to suffer the emotional frustrations engendered by a sexual need which he or she cannot satisfy, in the normal way, without breaking what at all events until recently had been the accepted moral and legal codes. This would lead one to believe that from a physiological point of view there is much to be said for lowering the marriageable age considerably, and that from any other point of view it would seem that the marriageable age should, if anything, be raised.
Most people would agree that it is these latter considerations which are most important in establishing the right age for marriage; namely, mental, emotional and financial independence and maturity. Parents with any sense of concern for their children's marriage will naturally be influenced to a very great extent by these considerations—and here may I say that I was interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in commenting on the varying wisdom of fathers and mothers, came clown rather heavily on the fathers. I am thankful that she did not in fact include 1163 stepfathers who, I think, may find themselves in that degree of objectivity which enables them to give wiser judgments! I do not believe, however, that these considerations alone should determine the issue. For we must take into account the possible consequences arising out of the gap between physical maturity and what we might consider to be a more complete maturity. These problems might have more dangerous consequences for subsequent marriages than would the problems of relative immaturity at the time of marriage.
There is, in the first place, the frustration which is undoubtedly felt by many young people who have to wait six or seven years for legitimate sexual satisfaction in married life—a frustration greatly increased by the amount of eroticism produced by the mass media of our society. However much one might moralise on the value and importance of self-discipline and restraint, in point of fact many young people within the period between reaching sexual maturity and the age at which they call get married indulge in casual and temporary sexual adventures which often appear to prove prejudicial to a good marriage relationship later on. This can be advanced as an argument for reducing the gap in years between physical maturity and marriageable age.
There is a further consideration, and here I would quote the opinion of a member of the staff of a training college who has a good knowledge of the students. He notices a marked difference in maturity between students in their first two years, aged 18 to 20, and those in their third year. They seem suddenly to grow up in their third year. He ascribes this difference not to their being that much older in their third year, but is forced to conclude that maturity comes not with age but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has just said, with responsibility or the early prospect of responsibility. This applies to the acceptance of particular responsibilities and would therefore apply to marriage, which itself is a very maturing experience. It also has a bearing on the legal age of majority. Because we have established 21 as the legal age it has become a special milestone in life, and a certain pride is experienced in reaching that age. One is at last recognised legally as an adult, and I think that the psychological effect 1164 of this is to produce more adult attitudes and behaviour at that age. May it not be the case that it is not the natural development of people that leads to fixing the age of maturity at 21, but that it is the fixing of the age of 21 that helps to cause people to mature at that age? If 18 or 19, or 20 became the age of maturity, I believe that it would at least have some influence—it is very difficult to tell how much influence—upon its becoming the actual age of maturity by virtue of responsibility.
Returning to the particular issue of marriage, I would point out that it is already a fact that a considerable number of marriages involve minors. It is also the case that statistics show that marriages of minors are much more prone to break down. This appears to be one of the strongest arguments against the reduction of the age of majority. But one would wish that the statistics could indicate—and by the nature of the case it would be almost impossible for them to indicate —the circumstances in which such marriages took place. We already know that a large number of such marriages take place because of pregnancy, when the parents are often all too ready to give their hasty consent, and it is not surprising if marriages of this sort prove unsatisfactory and lead to break-up.
I should like here to say something about parental consent. In general, I think it is a regrettable start to a marriage for two people to be dependent on the consent of anyone but themselves, however much advice they seek or should be encouraged to seek. I see no reason to believe that parents in general are going to make a more sensible judgment than their children. In a family where the relationship between children and parents is good, the parents will in any case be consulted and rash romances will no doubt be discouraged. In the case where the relationship between children and their parents is not a good one, if legal consent to the marriage is refused then the consequent problems of relationships can be more undesirable than the marriage itself, and indeed it tends to prejudice the marriage. The couple may opt for Greta Green or become completely estranged from their parents.
Doubtless there are a few cases where parental intervention which rests upon a 1165 legal sanction rather than advice does prevent a disastrous union but I suspect, and the evidence seems to show, that such cases are very few. In a vast majority of cases the consent is given—whether freely or of constraint. If of constraint (that is to say, in order to avoid unpleasantness) the marriage takes place, the emotions and relationships are already confused and strained—which is just what one wants to avoid. Therefore, I think that the dangers of parental consent are more conspicuous than the advantages. On these grounds, therefore, I would support a reduction in the age of majority below that of 21. First, it closes the gap between physical maturity and the possibility of marriage. This may reduce the tension and may possibly reduce the incidence of promiscuity. Secondly, it reduces the range of parental consent. Thirdly, it promotes more rapid growth towards maturity by lowering the age at which young people are legally regarded as adult—and this may tend to reduce the incidence of teenage irresponsibility.
In supporting the reduction of the age of majority, I am not advocating that young people should necessarily marry younger, nor am I in favour of their marrying long before they are in a position to have children. I am arguing for a reduction of the age at which young people are given the added independence at which they can decide for themselves. But in respect of the age of majority, we are dealing not only with marriage but with a number of other matters, some of them incorporated in this Bill and one, namely, that of the age of franchise, shortly to come before this House. This is a "package deal" and I think it should be. The character and consequences of the various responsibilities which arise at the age of majority are different but they are inter-dependent. In many of the arguments produced in this debate, however, including the ones I myself have ventured to advance, there are uncertainties, and early in her speech the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, spoke about the doubts. We do not for certain know sufficiently well what the overall consequences are likely to be—how far they will prove beneficial or detrimental to the young people concerned, or to the life of the nation. The balance, to my mind and to the minds of those 1166 who have spoken so far, is on the side of their being beneficial.
But, as there are uncertainties, I believe that the wisest course is to adopt the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, during the debate on the Latey Report a year ago—to reduce the age of majority a step at a time and see from experience what the consequences will be. This need not be interpreted as either an over-cautious or a grudging concession, since there appears to be so little pressure from young people themselves in the matter. It seems to me to be a logical method of procedure and a more responsible one.
Eighteen may well prove to be the appropriate age of majority—indeed, I was swept along with the Latey Report when it argued for that age—but we cannot be sure; and I believe it would be better if, in the first instance, the age of majority was reduced to 20 and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, suggested, a provision was incorporated in the Bill to the effect that after a certain period of test the age could be lowered further by Order on an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses, in order to avoid the tedium of wholly fresh legislation.
There is one last point which I consider to be of the greatest importance but which I shall mention only briefly. It does not affect the Bill itself, but it is a point which will arise in conseque ice if it be passed. A reduction in the age of majority will impose an added responsibility on parents to help their children in their earlier years to grow up as responsible citizens. It will also make particular demands on our educational system and on various voluntary activities designed to promote responsibility, maturity and understanding among young people. I am not thinking here, primarily, of sex education, though I am sure that bodies such as the National Marriage Guidance Council need every assistance to maintain and extend their invaluable work. What I have in mind is that, coupled with the purely academic aims of education, more thought, more time and more inducement should be given to helping young people find their places as useful citizens in society. This applies not only to schools but to places of further education.
1167 This means some radical reforms and developments in the educative system, not only in teaching young people improved academic disciplines but also in giving them a better insight into the world of their future—and this seems to find far too little place in the universities of our country—with some opportunity of being involved in it and of proving their talents and capacities while still under the guidance of the educational system, as well as in various forms of service later on. There is plenty of evidence to show that in such ways young people can, and do, develop greatly in responsibility at a younger age than the present age of majority.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I rise to give warm support to the Bill now before us, for there is much in it which expresses the thoughts and feelings which many people have had for some years. Furthermore, many of the provisions meet the requirements of the time in which we live. There are several comments which I should like to make on a number of provisions, but I propose to confine myself to one; namely, to Clause 2, which provides that 18 shall be the age at which a person can marry without parental consent, instead of 21 as at present.
I find myself in some difficulty, because the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Norwich, has said much of what I wanted to say. Therefore, I want merely in some respects to cross his t's and dot his i's, if he will permit me to do so. I do not think that Clause 2 will make a great deal of difference to the number of people who marry under the age of 21. The right reverend Prelate expressed a wish that ultimately we could somehow test whether it would be a good or a bad thing, but over the years a large number of couples—perhaps far more than many of us realise—have been getting married under the age of 21. I do not quarrel with this provision, nor am I opposed to it. but I want your Lordships to look at the position as it is now and as it may well be in the future.
Marriage is extremely popular to-day. In 1966, there were no fewer than 348,497 marriages. Of these, more than 40 per cent. of the brides were under 21 years 1168 of age; 6,420 were only 16; 16,128 were 17; 33,956 were 18; 55,005 were 19, and 49,182 were 20. So that in 1966, out of 384,497 marriages there were 160,691 where the brides were under 21 years of age. In the same year, 17 per cent. of the bridegrooms were also under 21 years of age; 425 of them being only 16; 2,768 being 17; 9,442 being 18; 20,810 being 19, and 28,495 being 20. So there were nearly 62,000 bridegrooms under the age of 21 in 1966.
The official statistics of what is happening at the present moment show that about 30 per cent. of the brides who marry under the age of 21 are pregnant on their wedding day. I do not mention this in any censorious sense, but only to indicate that it is not the best possible start to a marriage. We must not think that all such marriages are shot-gun marriages. I am quite certain—and there is a good deal of evidence to support this—that a high percentage of those marriages would have taken place in any case. The figure merely indicates that sexually many of those couples anticipated their marriage; and, as we all know, that appears to be a growing practice these days. On the other hand, we can be quite sure that a number—no one knows how many, but I suspect it to be a high figure—marry for no other reason than pregnancy.
Reference has been made in this debate to illegitimacy. In 1966, out of a total of 849,823 live births, 138,704—in other words, 16.3 per cent. or one in six—were conceived outside of marriage. I believe this to be an all-time record since statistics in these matters were kept—and this is in spite of all that is known about modern contraception! Now I am not suggesting that the answer to this is "the pill". I do not think it is. I think that what is important is that we should be able to get young people together at the earliest possible age and discuss with them their standards, their attitudes and their values. I do not want to see a vast and comprehensive network of advice centres grow up in this country. I am reminded of what Oscar Wilde once said:All advice is bad and good advice is fatal".I am inclined to believe he had something there. But if we remember that according to Adler marriage is a job for the mature adult, it is not surprising that there is a high casualty rate among those 1169 who marry at so young an age. If the present trend continues, about one in four of those marrying under the age of 21 will be divorced within twenty years. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich so clearly put it, lots of young people between the ages of 16 and 21 years are ripe (there is no other word that really fits) for marriage physically, but it is doubtful whether they are ready emotionally.
The advances made by medical science mean that the expectation of adult life is now greater for men and women. Less than 100 years ago women had an expectation of life of 41 years and men of 38. To-day, women can expect to live until they are 75 years of age, and men until they are 70. This means that while last century the length of marriage was about 20 years, to-day it is between 45 and 50 years—45 to 50 years of seeing each other daily across the breakfast table! That is, if the marriage lasts that length of time. This means (and I think that we as a community must face this) that to-day marriage is exposed to a much longer period of varying influences, both good and bad—good if the couple have taken to marriage all the right ingredients, bad if they have not. I believe that if we are going to say to young people that they can get married from the age of 18 without parental consent, there is a duty on society to see that they go into marriage equipped for its responsibilities.
Society, my Lords, pays quite a price, in terms of money and in social and personal disorder, for marital unhappiness and marital breakdown. In 1965 the National Assistance Board, as it was then known—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, will know a great deal more about this than I do—was supporting 150,000 separated wives and divorced women and their children, even though nearly half of these women, 62,000 of them, had court orders for maintenance against their husbands. In all, taking separated and divorced wives and their children plus unmarried mothers and their children, the cost to the taxpayer in 1965 was in the region of £40 million. This is what we are paying for marriage breakdown. Marriage breakdown is a costly business in terms of money, and perhaps more so in terms of human misery. I am not implying that by reducing the age for 1170 marriage without parental consent the situation will be seriously aggravated, but I feel that it will result in a larger number marrying under the age of 21 years.
Reference has been made, I think by my noble friend Baroness Birk, to applications to magistrates' courts. In 1967 there were only 685 applications to courts by young people wishing to marry who could not get their parents' consent. Out of that number, the court gave consent in 397 cases. In the case of the remainder they were either refused consent by the court or the summons was not proceeded with. It is not easy, as I know as a domestic court magistrate, to make a decision in a matter which is before you for only something like half an hour or three-quarters of an hour. My concern (and it is a concern shared by many who work among young people) is that if society, through its Parliaments, is going to give legal approval for young people to marry from the age of 18 years—and let me say again that I am not opposed to it—then society should do something tangible to prepare them for the state of matrimony. It is perhaps the most important step any person can take in life, yet it is a step that can be taken without preparation of any kind. Society does not demand any preparation for what is, and what I believe most people believe to be, the most important step a fellow and a girl can take.
I have referred to the high casualty rate among young marrieds, particularly those under 21 years of age. There are many causes of breakdown, not least among them the lack of knowledge of what is really involved in the marriage relationship. To-day (and again the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich referred to this) young people are subject to heavy sexual pressure on all sides—advertisements, books, television, films and entertainment generally. I do not think it is the least bit surprising that to many of them marriage is just four legs in bed, or little more. It does not surprise me in the least that that is what a large number of young people think. I believe that preparation for marriage, explaining what marriage really means and discussing its various relationships —because within every marriage there are at least three other major relationships: personal, sexual and, for the vast 1171 majority of married couples, a parenthood relationship—should be an integral part of our educational system.
We are not bringing this about—and I think we must face this fact—although many of us have tried for years to persuade local education authorities to include this as an integral part of our educational system. It is true that we have had a measure of success, but I think too many heads of schools and far too many teachers are afraid of it. To them it is an uncharted sea. Let me hasten to add that there are many enlightened heads of schools who have faced up to the responsibility of including this in the curriculum, but they are far too few. Last year, the National Marriage Guidance Council—and I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich for referring to this body, with which I am associated, though from which, I ought to add, I derive no financial benefit—provided 7,702 sessions in schools and colleges, and nearly 1,700 sessions in youth clubs, on marriage and the relationships within it. I want to add that similar work is being done by the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council.
The National Marriage Guidance Council also provided twenty courses for teachers, and a number of follow-up courses, also for teachers. When we consider the number of school-leavers every year, and the fact that some young people marry while still at school, and when we remember the vast number of senior forms in our secondary modern and in our grammar schools, we have to admit that we are reaching only a very small number. And this does not take into account the large number of youth clubs under the control of local education authorities. Provision is made, with Government financial help, for an effective marriage counselling service, but more needs to be done if we are to stop young marrieds from joining the queue at the other end. I wish to suggest, with great respect, that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of remedial work, and in the long run is very much cheaper.
I do not say this with any sense of criticism, but it is time that the Department of Education and Science looked at the situation with courage and determination, and with the intention of mak- 1172 ing marriage preparation part of the school curriculum. I know that the Government are more than sympathetic. I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is sympathetic to the idea, and I believe that my noble friend Lady Serota is also. I would conclude by asking the Government to see that more is done in schools so that it becomes part of the process of normal education.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, most of what I wanted to say has already been said, so that I shall not be very long although perhaps I shall be a little "scrappy". With the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich I am not at all sure that people to-day are more mature at eighteen than they were years ago. They are physically more mature, but in the days when the expectation of life was not much more than half what it is now people grew up more quickly —they had to, in order to get the best out of life. Nowadays that urgency has gone, and a great many people tend to free-wheel along until they are faced with having to do something; which is why it is so often said nowadays that "Life begins at forty". I suppose that a hundred years ago about half of your noble Lordships would have died by the age of forty.
Be that as it may, in general I warmly support the provisions in Part I of the Bill for the reason that, with the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and other noble Lords, I believe that the earlier people start accepting responsibility the better prepared for life they will be. It has also been pointed out that nowadays there is much more expert professional advice available for them than there used to be. I do not know what my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell will say about that but I think that professional advice is a useful thing to have available. There is, too, more legal protection.
Notwithstanding that, and what was said especially by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the pitfalls created by hire-purchase are a real problem; and there is the prospect of unsuspecting 18-year-olds contracting so much debt that they find themselves unable to pay. This already applies to 21-year-olds. The glossy advertisements, for those who 1173 fall for them, can undoubtedly be dangerous. The advertisers' job is to attract business, and they are extremely clever at doing so. It has been suggested that somehow hire-purchase companies could be made more aware of this danger in some ways—perhaps by allowing them to distrain on goods, but not in respect of payments due from those who contract below the age of 25. I am not confident that that is a good suggestion. As was pointed out by both right reverend Prelates and by my noble friend Lady Birk, this sort of thing is full of legal, financial, moral and practical difficulties. Nevertheless, it seems to me that those whose business is temptation should be made well aware of the possible consequences of their behaviour. I have heard many pathetic stories.
My Lords, I sometimes think that the reason why Bishops speak so well in this Chamber is that the place is rather like a cathedral and it makes them feel at home. Like a cathedral it is a place where one comes from time to time to pray, and then to sit back and hope for the best from on high. Part II of this Bill incorporates the suggestions of the Russell Committee, but I am glad to think that my noble friend Lady Summerskill also had something to do with this as the result of the debate which she initiated in February of last year and in which I joined. I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for answering our prayers on that occasion, that illegitimate children should some how be given the same rights, property-wise, as legitimate ones. As has already been said today, I am sure that this will help to improve their status. The fact that they are illegitimate has nothing to do with such children, though our society goes on behaving as if it were.
I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester is not in the Chamber. He launched himself further along the tricky path of social psychology than I should be prepared to follow him without deep consideration. I am not sure what sort of muddle we, or the child, would get into if the father of an illegitimate child were to have a right to a formal parental link with his child. This does not happen in the case of a divorced wife who has the custody of the children of her marriage. I think the case that emotional affinity is gene 1174 rated by the sheer fact of kinship has been overstated. After all, one of the big problems of our time is that children, when they grow up, neglect their old parents. People usually forge mucl4 closer emotional links with their spouses who were not related to them before marriage than with parents, or even with brothers or sisters. On the whole, the nearest becomes the dearest; and for a child to have a formally recognised father in the offing, although he may take no part in the daily life of the child and may never be married to the mother, might present difficulties for the child in our society, where marriage is the respectable norm. The fact of the mother nor being married is, I think, usually responsible for a child being teased at school and so on.
My Lords, I do not think that I have anything more to say; certainly about Part III. I warmly support the Bill. But I have one question for my noble friend. I do not expect an answer to-day, and I suppose that it is a Committee point. I see that there is no definition in Part II of "illegitimacy". In Clause 9(1) of Part I there is an elaborate definition of how old a person may calculate himself to be:The time at which a person attains a particular age expressed in years shall be the commencement of the relevant anniversary of the date of his birth.If your Lordships do not know how old you are, you can always consult Clause 9(1) of this Bill. But there is no definition of illegitimacy. I do not know whether that is an oversight or whether such a definition is unnecessary.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ LORD DENNING
My Lords, I am sorry not to have heard the earlier deliberations of your Lordships, but I was engaged on judicial duties elsewhere. This Bill is not merely a lawyers' Bill, particularly the first Part which alters the status of all people under 21. From the earliest times—there is no record in law when it started—the age of majority has been 21. That age of majority has been carried throughout the world by the people who have gone from this country to America, Canada, Australia and all the other lands. We should think long before we make such a change. I have been told by friends overseas that if we make this change, they will probably 1175 follow suit. Although physically the young mature earlier, psychologically their maturity may be doubted, and from the point of view of experience of life and of dealing with such things as contracts and, may I add, marriage, they are still not of that full maturity which could allow them to be granted unrestricted freedom, as is granted to an adult, in point of law.
I want to take the ordinary, simple case of contracts. Your Lordships will know how in the old days youngsters between 18 and 21 at Oxford or Cambridge could be induced to run up bills at their tailors and the like, and then they could plead the defence of infancy. That is a proper defence, but allowable only if the contracts were unnecessary or not for the infant's benefit. All contracts which were for necessities or for the infant's benefit were enforced by law. Is not that protection still needed to-day? Youngsters are attracted by hire purchase. They may be married at 18 or 19 and wish to buy a house. Let them be bound in contracts for their necessities or for their benefit but ought not the law still to grant some protection for the inexperienced and unwise?
Your Lordships may have noticed in the papers not so long ago the case where the son of a famous father, Mr. Charles Chaplin, unfortunately got into bad company and at the age of 19 was reduced to taking National Assistance. He was approached by the newspapers and by people who wanted to write up his life. He was made a comparatively small payment of £500 and wrote up his life for the papers. He had not had any legal advice. After the script was submitted to him, he went to a lawyer, and because the solicitor advised him that the script contained passages which would be hurtful and defamatory to his father and mother he wanted to call it off. His solicitor wished that this man of 19 should have the protection of the law.
I say that the law ought to be thrown round people under 21 for their protection in such affairs as that. At all events, I would say that the case for a change of so drastic a nature as is now proposed has not been backed by a solid demand from the community. I would associate myself with the telling comments of the 1176 Minority Report and with the General Council of the Bar, who said:The better approach is to treat all persons under 21 as minors and to relieve them of such disabilities and deprive them of such disadvantages as may be thought necessary at specified ages".I come to the question of wardship. I agree that here perhaps we could reduce the age to 18. We had a case in court recently in which a man was sought to be put into prison for associating with a girl of 20 years 2 months because she was a ward of court. Let the age of wards of court be reduced to 18, but do not let us make too drastic an alteration in our law and in the status of children. It would be better to deal with individual cases where action is needed. This is a social question more than a legal one.
I go on to Part II of the Bill dealing with illegitimate children. How I welcome this part of the Bill! The law in this respect has been in a deplorable state since the 19th century. Not so long ago there was a case where a man had a pension scheme under which, if he died, the pension could be awarded to his "relatives and dependants". He had been married, but towards the latter part of his life he formed a stable association with a woman and had a little girl called Lindsey. Was she a relative or dependant of his? I regret to say that the majority of the court held that she was no relative or dependant of his because she was illegitimate. I did not agree with that decision then, and I do not agree with it now.
Judges in the 19th century used to think that if they allowed illegitimate children to get a benefit they were encouraging immorality. A Lord Chancellor laid down the narrow and pedantic rule that no gift, however expressed, to an unborn illegitimate child was allowed by law. The Judges were acting in accordance with their contemporary morality. Even Victorian fathers thought they were doing right when they turned their erring daughters out of the house. They visited the sins of the fathers upon the children with a vengeance. That is so right unto to-day, when interpreting an Act of Parliament, a will, a pension scheme, the presumption is that the word "children" refers only to man's legitimate children. And if it might be that he had no legitimate but only illegitimate
1177 children or the possibility of them, then the illegitimate children could take nothing because a gift went only to the legitimate. Though the Committee thought that the old rule should be kept, I am glad to say that this Bill proposes to reverse this. The word "children", in whatever context it is used, shall be taken or presumed to include illegitimate as well as legitimate children, unless the contrary appears.
I now turn to Part III of the Bill, dealing with blood tests—this new achievement of science. So often the question arises in court which of two men is the father. The woman herself does not know, or may think that she knows. But by means of a blood test of all concerned it can be told within 95 per cent. which of those two men is the father. Even if one man is unknown, you can tell within 70 per cent. whether the other could or could not be the father. This is a great help in determining questions of paternity and adultery. In a number of cases the High Court, acting in its jurisdiction as parens patriœ in looking after the interests of children, has directed that the child should have a blood test.
Equally important are the affiliation cases in the magistrates' courts, but the High Court has no jurisdiction there. How often a man who is alleged to be the father of a child says: "I am not the father. Please let there be a blood test", and the girl refuses to have a blood test, or to have the child's blood tested. The court cannot do anything about it. There is no power in the magistrates' court and no power in the county court to order a child to be blood tested. But this Bill will apply in the future, and we have sought to lay it down that if a woman refuses to have a blood test or to let her child have one, it shall be taken as some evidence against her. The Bill in this particular Part, as I see it, puts the whole of the law on a proper footing in accordance with good sense. The test cannot be done without the consent of those concerned, or, if it is a child under 16, it must be the consent of the person having care and control of the child, which presumably is the mother. The court then has a discretion to allow it or not.
But there is no provision in the Bill for the child's interests to be represented. I do not think this is necessary, because 1178 I believe the courts will have power, as we have now, to appoint the Official Solicitor as the guardian ad litem of the child. Take a case which came up a little while ago. A husband charged his wife with adultery because, he said, she had had a child ten years before which was not his. He wanted the child to be blood tested so as to prove her adultery ten years previously. The Official Solicitor, on behalf of the child, said: "No It is not in the interests of the child; it is just an incident in this adultery divorce suit". In the interests of the child it was not allowed; nor was it allowed by the court. So the child should in the ordinary way be represented in order that its interests can he safeguarded. That is the third chapter of this Bill. I welcome this Bill very much, with reservations about the age of majority.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate on a subject in which I have been much interested for a number of years. I hope to be able to stay until the end of the debate, but the end on an occasion like this is often rather problematical, and I have an engagement entered into some weeks ago which will call me away rather before half-past six. If the debate is not over by that time, I hope that I may have your Lordships' indulgence.
I do not want to say much about the first Part of the Bill. Like the noble and learned Lord who has just resumed his seat, I am more interested in those parts of the Bill concerned with illegitimacy. However, I should have liked to see the proposals in relation to the alteration in the age of majority phased in the way which was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in one of our earlier debates and which I think received the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich earlier this afternoon.
One must share some of the doubts expressed by the noble and learned Lord about contractual capacity connected with this matter. After practising for a number of years at the Bar, but not having as much experience as the noble and learned Lord, I found it difficult to he sure whether the Infants' Protection Act was really good or bad in its ultimate 1179 effect. One saw it used for fraudulent purposes about as often as one saw it used for the protection of infants in proper cases, and I am not sure how it will work out. This, I feel, is another reason why it would perhaps have been as well to have phased the alteration in the age of majority so that we could have seen it working at 20 before it went down to 18, as this Bill will take it down.
Turning to the legitimacy side of this, so far as it comes into Part I, I remember an occasion, I suppose not quite ten years ago, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and I co-operated successfully to strike one of the earlier blows in support of the movement to improve the position of illegitimate children. After a good deal of difficulty we succeeded in persuading your Lordships' House to give that particular Bill a favourable wind. I think this was perhaps the first shot in the movement which will be taken so much further to-day.
The Bill makes considerable improvements in the position of the illegitimate child, but I think it could have gone rather further. There are a number of what might appear to be smallish points in the Bill but which I think leave the situation in a rather unfortunate position; and a number of questions arise where I think the matter might have been taken further. I am in particular agreement with the views expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. It leaves the father of the child in a situation which I do not think is entirely satisfactory in the modern world. I can see that the position with which the right reverend Prelate dealt in some detail is a difficult one; that is, the case of a child who has been adopted into a new family, where there may be emotional arguments against the real father being given rights of the kind which the right reverend Prelate envisaged. On the whole, I should agree with him that it would be better to take that risk.
There is, however, a very different type of case, and I think it is much more numerous, where, as a result of a divorce not being possible or not being agreed to, there is a new union of a stable character. There are tens of thousands of these unions in the country which cannot be given the recognition of wedlock because 1180 one of the parties to the union is already married, but they are new unions of a stable character, which is really in the great majority of these cases, so far as my own experience goes, a very satisfactory relationship in which the children are happy and the family is a good one. And in these cases I think it would be very right and proper that the father's position should in fact receive legal recognition, which of course it cannot do under the present law. That seems to me to be a strong argument in favour of the attitude which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester was taking up in this matter.
To turn to one or two of the specific points which I have mentioned, there are two points in Clause 5 where the situation provided in the Bill is not altogether satisfactory and, I feel, might be improved. These are perhaps in a way Committee points, but I think they are of sufficient importance to be mentioned at this stage. It may well be that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, when he replies to the debate, will have good reasons which do not leap to the eye when one first takes up and studies this Bill.
In the first place, there is in Clause 5(1) the position of the child under the Inheritance (Family Provisions) Act where, very properly in a way, the fact that the age of majority is being reduced to 18 is not to be allowed to interfere with the rights which the child has under the present law up to the age of 21. But there is obviously a very strong reason, because most of these advances which are asked for and required are for purposes of education, that when the young man or young woman reaches the age of 21 in a certain status, at any rate, he or she, as likely as not, is embarking upon the last year at a university in which a degree is going to be taken. If such a man is confronted at that stage with the drying up of the resources on which he has been depending, so that he has suddenly to turn round and begin to make arrangements, or to attempt to make arrangements, for obtaining the money from other sources, it will be the very worst thing from the point of view of his pursuing his studies and succeeding in his ambition of obtaining a good degree at university. I do not see why this provision should not be extended on—the drafting might be a little difficult 1181 —at any rate to cover an age at which a boy or girl in a situation of this kind could have finished his or her course at university.
Clause 5(2) concerns the position of the son in respect of whom a mother has been obtaining maintenance under an affiliation order. This clause gives the right to such a son who has reached the age of 18 but whose mother has died or has become insane or been sent to prison, to take charge of his own position and to make his own application through the proper authority. But if the mother is still alive and refuses to take any action, then, so far as I can see, the son seems to be without a remedy. Surely the object should be to give the son who has reached the age of 18, and who is now to obtain a vote and is going to be legally an adult, the right to look after his own interests whether his mother is in prison, or compos mentis or otherwise. Surely it should be for the son, rather than for the mother, as the position is envisaged in subsection (2) of this clause of the Bill. In fact, it might he said as a general criticism of this Bill that in many of these parts of it in which the mother comes in—or indeed the parents —the matter is looked at, as the noble and learned Lord said, too much from the point of view of the parents rather than from the point of view of the child. After all, the child is the essential person in a situation of this kind.
To turn to Clause 6(6), your Lordships will see that this is a clause which deals with the wardship problem, which has been referred to; but here in subsection (6) we have a provision which definitely seems to deprive the illegitimate child, in circumstances of this kind, of the right of maintenance which he would otherwise have had. There may be a perfectly good reason for this, but it is not one which leaps to the eye, and I should be very grateful if the noble and learned Lord, when he comes to reply, would explain what that reason is. Prima facie, I should have thought that this particular exception under which the illegitimate child is clearly penalised should be removed from the Bill.
Then, going on to Part II of the Bill, in Clause 13 we have the very important new provision, which has been referred to by more than one speaker, under which illegitimate children will in cases 1182 of intestacy be put into the same position as legitimate children. This change has been generally welcomed, and is really a very splendid move in the furtherance of this attempt which has been going on over the years to put the illegitimate child into as good a position as that of his legitimate brothers and sisters. But I am not so sure that the converse of this, which appears in subsection (2) and which enables the illegitimate parents, so to speak, to profit on the intestacy of their illegitimate child, is so good. I should have much preferred to see some discretion left to the judge to deal with a situation of this kind.
I have referred to the type of case where a stable and loving relationship is built up upon a marriage which is not recognised by the law; and in such a case, of course, it is right and proper that the parents should inherit from one of their children who has died leaving property which is not willed away. But in a large number of other cases, of course, the parents, particularly the father, have completely neglected the offspring and taken no interest in it whatever. The father disappears; the mother, in a number of cases, hands the child over to the local authority to look after, and the child is brought up at the expense of the State. In a situation of this kind, is there any reason, in equity or in common sense, why, when that child has done well in the world and made a lot of money, and has then died without having made a will, these neglectful parents should be able to come in and claim that they should have the inheritance? I can see no argument at all in favour of that. I should like to see this Part of the Bill changed in such a way as to leave this matter to be decided by the Court of Chancery, or by some other authority.
Finally, in relation to blood tests, this is a valuable procedural innovation which has been in existence in many foreign countries for some years. We are getting it late in the day but that is no reason why we should not welcome it now. I think it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester who raised the question whether these blood tests would become available in affiliation proceedings in magistrates' courts or courts of quarter session. I believe that these proceedings 1183 are technically civil cases although they are heard in criminal courts. In my view there is a strong case for taking this type of litigation out of the criminal courts and transferring it to the county court; and to that extent I find myself in close agreement with the arguments of the right reverend Prelate.
It appears to have been assumed by everyone who has mentioned this that it is right and proper that there should never be any compulsion in these cases. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, took that view, but I am not at all sure that it is right. In many of these cases it is the child's interests which are involved and the mother may be looking at it entirely from her own point of view and not from that of the child. I think there is a good deal to be said for the mother's not being allowed to decide this matter in all cases. If it is a proper case in the child's interest that a blood test should be taken, then the court should be allowed to order accordingly, and I should like to see the Bill altered to give effect to a provision of that nature. In the general course of events I agree that there should not be compulsion, but in the case of a child, after a proper consideration of the situation by a judge or other constituted authority, an order that the child's blood should be taken and tested should be made. It may be said that these are Committee points. They are, however, points of substance, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to give them attention between now and the next stage of the Bill.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Reay has really dealt with most of the important parts of this Bill, but there is one point on which I should like to speak. It concerns Part III of the Bill, and I have a certain historical interest in it. In 1939 (which was before I was on the scene in your Lordships' House) the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, introduced into this House a Bill along these lines. The Bill passed its Second Reading, was sent to a Select Committee, and was sent to the House of Commons; but unfortunately the war came along and the Bill did not proceed. In 1961 I introduced a Bill into the House along roughly the same lines. The noble 1184 Baroness, Lady Summerskill—and I am sorry that she is not in her place—thought it was a wicked plot to encourage bad men as opposed to good women, and so she spoke against the Bill. When it came to the Question we divided. She managed to get the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to act as a Teller with her, but the Bill was carried by 72 votes for us, to 2 votes for the noble Baroness. So that Bill was quite successful. It then went to Committee and there, before the Government would accept Amendments, they insisted upon a great many changes to the Bill.
One of the important changes was that in the Bill which I had introduced Clause 1(1) included the words:the court may, and at the request of the mother or the alleged father shall, by order require".The Government would not accept the word "shall" and said that it must be changed to "may". This seemed to me to weaken the Bill, and I can foresee the same sort of thing happening in the Bill that is now before us. The word is not "shall" but "may". I am not prepared to take any objection to that now because I am only too delighted to see a Bill on a subject in which I was so involved coming before your Lordships' House, with the noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness (who explained herself so well) taking part in it.
The person who has been at the back of this Bill all along is Dr. Grant of Guy's Hospital. He has done an enormous amount of work: he encouraged the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and he encouraged me, and certainly this Part of the Bill is largely due to his work. I trust that the Bill will now proceed without any further hitch.
§ 5.27 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I have to confess that this is the second debate which includes the Latey Committee's recommendations of which I have had to miss the first half, and I apologise to your Lordships for doing it again. It is an unfortunate coincidence. However, I have had a careful note taken of what the earlier speakers have said, and I hope I shall be able to do justice to their arguments. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that this is not just a 1185 lawyers' Bill. All three Parts of it involve social reforms which are of considerable importance. A great deal has been said about all of them. Indeed they are all based upon Reports of admirable lucidity, and I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, in paying tribute to them; but I do not think it would afford much advantage to your Lordships if I were to go through all the points again.
So far as Part I is concerned—the recommendations of the Latey Committee—this House debated that subject only a year ago, and that debate has been referred to several times to-day. Some of us sitting on this side of the House are rather in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. We should have liked to see this done in stages. But the fact remains that the Government, advised by the majority of the Latey Committee, thought it right (and the noble Baroness made a strong case for this) to bring in at once the reforms based on the age of 18. This is a matter of judgment. The Government must make their decisions and I do not think anybody on this side of the House would wish to challenge those decisions on principle. However, it will be interesting to see how they work out, in view of the misgivings voiced by Members of the House both to-day and last year.
Many of the recommendations made by the Latey Committee appear in Part I of the Bill, but 1 should he interested if the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, could tell us a little about some of those that are not in the Bill. For instance, there is the whole question in regard to a Family Division of the High Court—the recommendation of the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division which is referred to in the Latey Committee's Report, in which it was suggested that this suggestion should be investigated. I think it was to be sent to the Law Commission. Could the noble and learned Lord say what has happened to it?
As a general matter of principle, if one looks, for instance, at Clauses 4 and 5 of this Bill, it becomes increasingly apparent that there is a great deal of haphazard legislation on this subject which has to be dealt with. There 1186 seem to be codes for the guardianship of infants, different codes for matrimonial causes and yet another different code for affiliation proceedings for illegitimate children. I think that is why the point the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, spoke about in Clause 6(6)—and it occurs also in Clause 4(4)—appears in this form. It is simply that there is a different proceeding in the case of illegitimate wards. I think that is very unsatisfactory.
I know the Law Commission have been considering some of this material, but the legislation has grown up piecemeal over the years. Different jurisdictions have been given to different courts on different matters, and it is almost impossible, unless one spends a great deal of time on it, to tie together the various powers given in the different circumstances. I suspect it is right that if one were to undertake this research as a whole, the mere putting together of the different powers and the different duties of the courts would show that there are curious anomalies of all sorts which are concealed by the pure jumble of the legislation as it is at the moment. Certainly if it were to be looked at as a comprehensive matter it would no longer be necessary to have complications as in Clauses 4, 5 and 6; it would be possible to deal with things on a much more comprehensive basis and one which was simpler and easier to follow and understand.
It may be that in the process of doing that type of reorganisation, the point whether twenty-one is the right age at which maintenance payments or other payments ordered by the court should stop, supposing that the child is still undergoing full-time education at that age, should be re-examined. I doubt whether it would be right to do it under this Bill, because there must be a large number of other powers not necessarily mentioned here which would have to be brought in as well. I hope the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can say more about this matter and tell us how the Law Commission are getting on with this study.
There are a number of other subjects upon which the Latey Committee laid a great deal of stress which also do not appear in this Bill. It is true that with the reduction of the age of 1187 majority from twenty-one to eighteen the question of the Infant Relief Acts and all those subsidiary pieces of legislation which go with them will now apply only to people under eighteen. There may be those between eighteen and twenty-one who are at hazard, but that is the policy of this Bill and it must be a policy which has been accepted as a matter of choice by the Government. All the same, there will remain a limited number of people still subject to the protections and difficulties of the Infant Relief Acts. There were a number of objections on this type of subject matter, and I believe they are now suggested for reconsideration by the Government. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord could tell us what is happening about them, because nothing concerning them appears in Part I of the Bill.
I very much approve the principle which runs through both Part I and Part II, that the changes in the Bill will not have any retrospective effect. It would have been a mistake if dispositions or instruments or legal documents which had already been made were altered merely by the timing and coming into force of this Bill so that it would now have the effect of including in those instruments people who were not intended to be included at the time the documents were written. I think it is the right policy to leave documents made before the Bill as they are, and for people to be allowed to change them if they wish, as a matter of their own volition and not merely as a matter of the operation of this Bill, which they may not know about in detail or at all.
I notice that under Clause 1(5) the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, can make changes in local enactments, which is a common method of dealing with the extremely assorted collection of local Acts which exist and which are not very well indexed in some cases, and not easy to "spot" and deal with in the Bill itself. It occurred to me that there may be some personal Acts which would prima facie be affected by the provisions of this Bill, and I wondered whether the noble and learned Lord could, if not to-day at any rate at some time, reassure the House that legislation which has been passed in that somewhat 1188 rare but nevertheless not unknown form cannot be affected, at any rate without the express consent of those who are concerned, because it seems to me that it is possible, although I do not know, that there may be a personal Act which would be.
In Part II of the Bill we come on to the implementation of most of the Russell Committee Report. This has already been done in regard to Scotland, as your Lordships have been told. There is the major change in Clause 14, which is the reverse of the Russell Committee's recommendations but is the same as now applies in Scotland. On reflection, I agree with this change, since, first of all, again it will affect only dispositions made after the Bill comes into force and then it is only a matter of a prima facie reading of the instrument. That can, of course, produce a presumption which can be countered by a contrary intention of the instrument itself. It will always be a matter of drafting by people who ought, at any rate, to know what is in this Bill. Therefore I do not think there can be any harm in dealing with it in this way and in bringing the law on this side of the Border into the same condition as it now is in Scotland.
It was good to hear in his speech on Part II of the Bill the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, once again being justified in some of his pioneering efforts in the Court of Appeal. It was, of course, quite true that in the case to which he referred the majority thought that the law was not such as he confessed this afternoon he wished it had been. Here we are to put into effect what he wanted. I am sure he is very happy about it, and I can entirely appreciate his point of view.
I wish, however, to say a few words about the point already mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and I say something on this question of recognition or acknowledgment of an illegitimate child by its father, not from an emotional aspect but rather, in this case, from a practical one. I do not think that anybody has mentioned so far in this debate that there is in Scotland a method whereby the father of an illegitimate child can recognise that child as being his own. It appears in Section 18 of the Registration of 1189 Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965. Although it has not been running very long, and presumably the children to which it relates cannot be much more than three years old, it would be interesting to know whether any of the difficulties that noble Lords have envisaged as being possible under this sort of recognition have yet turned up in Scotland.
I should have thought there are bound to be difficulties under Clauses 13 and 14 of this Bill if there is no method whereby a father, if he wishes to, can recognise the child. The question must arise, from the very nature of this legislation, after either the father or the child has died, and therefore the provisions in Part III about blood tests are not going to be much good. It is perfectly true that there is the counter argument, which one noble Lord has put up, that it might be that a child dies intestate and the father, having done nothing about his child for many years, would like to come forward and register a claim on the estate, as he would be allowed to do under this legislation. It would, I think, be a singular set of circumstances if a father had recognised his child by filling in the birth certificate under the sort of procedure that is available in Scotland, and the child became a millionaire and died intestate before his father. I can envisage more practical advantages the other way round, from the possibility of establishing, for the purposes of this type of legislation and indeed for other purposes as well, whether or not a person is the father of an illegitimate child; and if he wishes to do this, as some do, he should be allowed a statutory process of doing it regularly and properly. I hope therefore that this is a point which the Government will consider on a further stage of the Bill.
I do not know whether it would be right merely to adopt the same proposals as there are in Scotland, or whether it would be right to go further; but I think this is a subject which has stirred up interest in your Lordships' House this afternoon and it is one to which we ought to return. In any event, there must be admitted to be some force in the minority views of my honourable friend the Member for Hendon, South, in the Russell Committee when he made his suggestion about how it ought to be done. 1190 If there are—and I believe there are—powerful arguments in favour of what he says, even if they have been rejected, I feel that we ought to see whether we can do something to facilitate this matter of acknowledgement or recognition. It is important (and I think the noble Baroness dealt with this point) to realise that Clause 13 is confined to a parent) child relationship and that no further or more distant relations can be involved in it. I think that, although some people say not, the Government have agreed with the Russell Committee upon this and it would be wrong—this is my own personal view—to go too far and too quickly on this matter until we see how this new form is going to work.
I have not much to say upon Part III of the Bill, and this is at any rate to some degree because of its extremely illustrious ancestry and parentage. As the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has pointed out, it is a matter which has been accepted by your Lordships' House before, and we now have an opportunity of putting it into effect. The Law Commission, in their Report, have made a good case for legislation on this matter, and this of course was backed up and reinforced by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said this afternoon. There has been some experimental work done by the courts to see how far their powers can go; but as there are large gaps here, and it is possible that a case might be taken to this House on appeal at some stage, and that the power might be found, after all, not to exist, I am sure it must be right to deal with the matter by legislation. I notice that the Government have changed a little the draft clauses in the Law Commission's Report, but not, I think, in any material particular.
I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord to confirm the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that affiliation proceedings are civil proceedings. I understood that they went on appeal to quarter sessions and could go to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). If that is so, although I fully appreciate that Part III is going to apply largely to them, I wonder whether the words "in any civil proceedings" at the beginning of Clause 18(1) might not be made a little clearer, lest at some time 1191 some awkward person wished to challenge the matter and to say that affiliation proceedings are not civil at all.
The only other point in Part III that I think is of particular importance (it is all important, but as a matter of principle this ought to be drawn attention to) is the significant provisions of Clause 21, which again I think the noble Baroness mentioned. It is the inference which the court may draw from any failure to take the steps which the court's direction involves that really acts as the "teeth", I think, of this matter if no blood test is produced. I think that these powers to draw inferences under the Statute will persuade most people that the blood test, as directed, should be provided and, subject to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, about protection for the child if his interest conflicts with that of any of the other parties concerned, it would seem to me that the two points made together—the possibility of an actual blood test or the inference to be drawn if there is not one—make this a most satisfactory proceeding.
In those circumstances, my Lords, I have no hesitation in welcoming this Bill. I should like to finish by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, for her kind words to me in her opening speech. It must be remarkable that the first and the second last speeches are made by the Vice-President and the President of an organisation which has taken a considerable part in the representations behind this Bill. I am proud of my position; I know that the noble Baroness is proud of hers, and I think the Bill is in good hands.
§ 5.45 p.m.
TILE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords, we have had an exceedingly good debate on what I think we have all agreed is a Bill of importance, and not perhaps less interesting because, as has been pointed out, it is concerned really with social rather than legal questions. If I may take first Part I of the Bill, naturally I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, welcomed it. He raised only two points on Part I, the first as to criminal responsibility. No, the Bill does not, because the Latey Committee did not, touch in any way on the criminal law; it deals solely with the civil law. In rela- 1192 tion to tax, this is necessarily a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am afraid I cannot say now what the contents of his Finance Bill next year will be.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester welcomed Part I of the Bill really for all purposes. I think the only point of doubt that he raised was the position as to contracts made by young people. Of course, young people cannot have things both ways. If they are to be of age at 18, then of course they are able to enter into contracts. The present law of infancy, reformed I hope by the Law Commission (because as the Committee pointed out, it does not work satisfactorily and is confusing), will continue to apply to the contracts of those under 18. It is possible to say: may not some wily salesman take advantage of somebody between 18 and 21? But the Committee thought, and I do, too, that the right answer to that is that there are old ladies of 70 of whom advantage may be taken by the wily salesman. What we want to do is to improve our consumer protection law rather than this particular class. I think it is quite possible, although I do not want to prophesy too much, that the Trade Descriptions Act which we recently passed may have more effect than perhaps at the time we thought it would have.
My noble friend Lady Birk, in a speech which I found extremely interesting, spoke both from her experience as a justice of the peace and from her work on the Youth Services Development Council. She spoke also on the question of contracts which I have just dealt with. I agree with her that we have to take the conduct of young people as it is. She hoped that the Bill would not creep quietly on to the Statute Book. I agree with this. I have no doubts whatsoever about Part I of the Bill. I am, if I may say so, proud of it and I am sure it is right. Here, after all, is a field in which we are giving a lead to the whole of Europe.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich also welcomed this Part of the Bill. In a thoughtful speech, he said all those things which would have convinced me had I not already been convinced that the obvious age was 18. Then, at the very last moment, like a horse 1193 fast approaching the winning post, he suddenly reared up and came down to 20, and 20 going down by a series of Statutory Instruments. I should not have thought that this was a field in which one ought to alter the law periodically. I think we ought to make up our minds one way or the other.
My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell gave us the statistics and pointed out, quite rightly, what the figures are and the change which has taken place. Of course this is so, and it has taken place really ever since the war, since when there has been a complete revolution in marrying habits.
Increased earning power and earlier physical maturity have contributed to the post-war trend of earlier marriage. The change here has been so great that it amounts almost to a revolution in marrying habits. To-day one in four of all young women marry at the age of 19 or earlier, and one in 20 of young men at the same age. Before the war it was entirely different—one in 9 of the young women, and one in 50 of the young men.This is not from the Report of the Latey Committee but from the Report of the Labour Party Youth Commission of nine years ago. This figure has been increasing, and it is something which we must recognise has come to stay.
If I may say so, I strongly agree with my noble friend in what he said about the importance of education in the whole of this field, and I am delighted to know that the Marriage Guidance Councils now do such good work in giving guidance to young people before they marry instead of waiting until after a marriage and when difficulties may have arisen. I rather suspect that more may be being done in the schools than my noble friend thinks. In view of the recommendation made by the Latey Committee that there was a great need for more education, not so much on the physical side of marriage but in its emotional side and its housekeeping side, I wrote to my right honourable friend the Minister of Education. I received a very long letter in reply, and I was very much impressed with everything which appeared to be being done. If 1 may, I will let my noble friend have that information. My noble friend Lord Raglan welcomed the Bill generally, but made the same point about hire purchase. I would respectfully make the same reply to him. The noble and learned Lord, 1194 Lord Denning, would rather have waited, I think, than reduce the age of majority, but he ended by agreeing that it was a social rather than a legal question.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, wanted to know about some of the things which are referred to in the Latey Committee's Report but which do not appear in the Bill. The answer in the main is that those are things which are already being done by the Law Commission. If the noble Viscount looks at the Third Annual Report of the Law Commisison he will see that they are dealing with family law under the heads of divorce, financial provision, family property (that, of course, would include the question of community of goods), nullity, polygamous marriages, recognition of foreign marriages, and so on, financial position in magistrates' courts, and—this relates more to the second part of the Bill—family law affecting children. The Commission pointed out that there is a committee of the Society of Public Teachers of Law who are considering the whole question of the rights of illegitimate children and who, it says in the Report, are getting on with that, although I believe they are about two months away from a Report. I mention this in particular because there has in some quarters been an impression that this Bill ought to have tackled some of these things much more widely. But if there has been that impression it is entirely my fault, because I think that impression has been given by the name of the Bill.
Of course, this is not really one Bill it is three Bills to implement these three Reports. This is not the right way to draft legislation, but those who manage our Parliamentary time say that three Bills always take up more time than one and, therefore, if you want to get your thing in you have to put three in one. Then I was faced with the question, "What is the Bill to be called?". I appreciate that "Family Law Reform Bill" sounds like a Bill about which anybody who had any proposal to make about family law could put down an amendment and push it in, but of course that would be quite outside the scope of the Bill. The difficulty was that the alternative was the "Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill". For the main customers of Statutes, who are the lawyers, this might mean anything. You 1195 cannot tell by the name what it is. Technically the correct name of this Bill is, "Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Age of Majority, Rights of Succession of Illegitimate Children, and Proof of Paternity) Bill". This would have been perfectly terrible and, after many consultations with many people, we ended by choosing this title as being, on the whole, less objectionable than any alternative. This means that all these other things are still going on.
The noble and learned Viscount asked me in particular about family courts. I shall be spending the week-end after next at All Souls at a conference of the Law Commission entirely on family courts, with all those interested in it. We had better start to make up our minds on this, although I do not think anything can finally be done until the Beechine Royal Commission reports, which I am always told is about to be done, but has not yet happened.
I entirely agree with what the noble and learned Viscount said about the importance of not having different codes dealing with the same subjects. On illegitimacy, on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and one or two others, the Committee were not unanimous, but the Bill follows the Committee. On the question whether conduct should be taken into account, the Committee as a whole thought that it should not. If you are to take into account the father's conduct towards the child; if you say, "The father has not behaved well to the child, why should the father necessarily inherit?" you would have to say the same thing, would you not, about legitimate children or adopted children. And if you are going to include the conduct of the father why not the conduct of the child?
I should like to make it quite clear that affiliation cases are certainly civil cases. The procedure is civil. The appeal is to quarter sessions, and then to the Court of Appeal on its civil side, and not on its criminal side, and that is quite clear. Then on illegitimacy there was a point raised by my noble friend Lord Chorley, which is a little troublesome to explain. If I may, I will write to him about that. There was one point he raised, that at present if the child's 1196 mother cannot apply for maintenance the guardian can do so. Under the Bill m future the guardian will apply if the person is a minor; if not, then he can apply under the Bill.
My Lords, as to the third Part of the Bill, I think the remarkable thing about that is the number of people whom the Law Commission consulted. I gathered from the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, who is really the father of the proposals this Bill presents, that they have got their medical side right. But this is really the only way to do law reform. You see, they consulted the Association of Law Teachers, the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, the British Legal Association, the British Medical Association, the British Society for Hæmatology, the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, the College of Pathologists, the Council of Married Women, the Family Law Association, the General Council of the Bar, the Holborn Law Society, the Institute of Forensic Medicine, Copenhagen, the International Society of Hæmatology, the John Hilton Bureau, Justice, the Justices' Clerks' Society, the Law Society, the Lister Institute, the Magistrates' Association, the Married Women's Association, the Medical Defence Union, the Medical Research Council, the Medico-Legal Society, the Ministry of Justice, Denmark; the Ministry of Justice, Norway; the Ministry of Justice, Sweden; the National Blood Transfusion Service, the National Council for Civil Liberties, the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, the National Council of Women of Great Britain, the Newman Legal Studies Group, the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the Scottish Law Commission, the Society of Conservative Lawyers, the Society of Labour Lawyers and the Society of Public Teachers of Law. The fact that all these people were consulted does at least mean that, when you come out with your Report, if they are all agreed nobody else is likely to turn up and say, "This is all wrong because I was not asked".
In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, his previous Bill dealt only, I think, with affiliation cases. On reflection he will probably agree that for this broader Bill a discretionary power would have to be given.
1197 May I conclude by saying that I am sure that people act responsibly only if one treats them as responsible people. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, in the debate on the Address, saying words to the effect that these young people are living on grants and are not contributing to the country. But, if I may say so, there is too much tendency for those of our class when talking about young people to think of ourselves when we were at universities, or of our sons and daughters who are at universities. We must therefore bear in mind that there are 4,433,000 people between school-leaving age and 21. Of that total, 2,265,000 are between 18 and 21. That 2,265,000 have, as to nearly all of them, been out in the world earning their own living for two or three years ever since they left school. A large proportion of them have been living away from home, working among adults, leading an adult life. They ought not to be judged by how about 100,000 university students behave —not that most of them do not behave extremely well: even in their case it is only a small lunatic fringe. But we tend to judge 2¼ million people in the light of university students. While university students are the best educated and may be the most intelligent, they are far the least worldly-wise. The others who have been earning their own living, with far more money than they are ever likely to have after they are married, have been living in the world on their own.
I was glad to see that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors in their agreement with the National Union of Students ended by saying:The Vice-Chancellors' Committee joins with the National Union of Students in welcoming the Government's decision to accept the recommendation of the Latey Committee that the legal age of majority be lowered to 18.I always thought that when Judges agree, it is, if I may say so, a little unusual. On questions of opinion, Judges usually differ. It is remarkable, therefore, to find all the Judges of the Chancery Division and the 1198 Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division expressing the same view. These are men nearly all of whom either have, or have had, teenage children of their own. They are used to dealing with family matters, used to dealing with children and with wards of court. They all said to the Latey Committee, with reference primarily, though not exclusively, to the age of marriage and wardship, which was what concerned them—and I would end with this and suggest that it is right:Any legal system must lay down some age at which people who are not mentally defective are free to live their own lives at their own risk, free for instance to associate with whom they please, to live where they please and, subject to the sanctions of the criminal law, to live how they please. Whatever age is fixed, there will inevitably he numbers of people over the age whom many of their fellow citizens will consider to be unfit to enjoy such freedom. The law must, however, choose the age which accords best with the needs of the great majority. Moreover, the age which is appropriate to the conditions obtaining at one period may not be fitted to the conditions obaining at another. We think that 18 should be substituted for 21 as the age at which a marriage can be contracted without consent under the Wardship Jurisdiction Act.They added that the President of the Division shared their view.
My Lords, I am sure that we are to-day in this country making a contribution to a greater sense of responsibility among young people of this age than they have had before. It was not planned, but it is a coincidence that this evening in the other place they are dealing with the age of voting. May I again thank your Lordships for the interest which you have shown in this Bill, and I hope that you will now give it a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.