§ 2.51 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, that the Bill be now read 3ª. —(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3ª: an Amendment (privilege) made.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I beg to move this Bill do now pass. Before parting with the Bill, may I say, with reference to that Part of the Bill which confers on illegitimate children succession rights in substantially the same form as we have already tried for Scotland, that I am sorry that I was unable to accept a number of Amendments put down by my noble friend Lord Chorley, but these would have largely re-cast our law about affiliation orders and were really quite outside the scope of the Bill.
On the other hand, I was glad to be able to adopt the suggestion made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, which I think will make the form of birth certificates in these cases better for both parents and the children when they grow up. The suggestion about proof of paternity was obviously contentious. A good deal of medical knowledge is necessary in dealing with blood 1123 tests, and I thought it was a tribute to the work now being done by the Law Commission that the whole of that Part of the Bill not only met with no Amendment but was not criticised in any way at all during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House.
With regard to the age of majority, your Lordships agreed that in general it should be reduced to 18, but an Amendment was put down by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, limiting the reduction in the age of free marriage to 20. Perhaps I should say that I have been asked whether the fact that the Government have put down no Amendment on Report stage to reverse the decision made in Committee means that the Government have changed their minds. In considering whether such an Amendment should be put down on Report stage, account had to be taken of the size of the majority in Committee, of whether it was likely that the numbers present in Committee would not attend on Report stage or of whether there was a reasonable prospect that the decision of the Committee would be reversed.
The majority was not large. The voting was 77 to 71. But I think that all Members of the House would agree that we had a good debate, in which both sides of the question were fairly put and fairly considered, and 150-odd Members is a large attendance in Committee. There seems to be no reason to suppose that a different position would have been arrived at if an Amendment had been put down on Report stage. I do not know whether it is permissible to disregard for a moment the right reverend Prelates, because they are neither hereditary Peers nor Life Peers, but if it had not been for the hereditary Peers, if my arithmetic is right, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, would have attracted only 26 supporters for his Amendment. One must remain human and realise that if you have a title and perhaps landed estates to hand down to your eldest son, the girl he marries is of very special importance. So the answer is that the Government have not changed their minds, and they hope that in another place, where the Members are not burdened with such considerations, a different position may perhaps be arrived at.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I do not think it is necessary to say very much in elaboration of the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor since, so far as Parts II and III and the miscellaneous parts of the Bill are concerned, he has dealt with the situation most thoroughly. On the question of the disputed age of marriage, the noble and learned Lord must realise that had I not voted with him his minority would have been one less, so that he cannot have it all ways on that sort of criticism. Noble Lords may or may not have another opinion, but it depends on what happens in another place. At any rate, I am glad that the Government in this House have decided to accept your Lordships' opinion on this occasion and certainly I would wish the Bill Godspeed in another place.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I ask my noble and learned friend a question? When talking about the qualities of daughters-in-law, about how they differ in one House from another, could he explain to the House whether he was talking about their spiritual qualities or their financial position?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I was talking about the very natural fact that people with titles and landed estates have a very special interest in the matter. What surprises me is that 17 hereditary Peers voted against the Amendment; but then they included Scottish Peers, like the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. If you live in a country where for generations the age of free marriage has been 16 and there has been no move to increase it, naturally you wonder what on earth all the fuss is about.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I hesitate to question the opinion of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, but I wonder what percentage of hereditary Peers in this House still have landed estates. Certainly I have not.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.