I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill which is before the House this afternoon has the short title of the Bastardy Bill, and the drafters of this measure, in using the terms "bastard" and "bastardy" throughout the Bill, have gone back to the terms which have been used in statutes, I believe, ever since feudal times. If the House give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon, I hope that it may be possible for me to find at some later stage another name which will more fitly and accurately represent the attitude of modern thought towards the unfortunate children whose lot this Bill seeks to ameliorate. It is really a Bill for the protection of the children of unmarried girls, and I venture to say that there is no section of the community which stands in more need of the protection of Parliament. For practically half a century there has been no substantial alteration in our Bastardy Laws. I do not think it is too much to say that our neglect to modernise our legislation in respect of illegitimate children has been responsible for the deaths of thousands and the permanent lowering of the physical standard of life of tens of thousands of children who otherwise might have grown up to be vigorous and healthy children. We are a people with a strong moral conscience, and during recent years we have given a good deal of attention to the welfare of children. We have provided school clinics, we have provided special schools, we have provided infant welfare centres, and we have done a great deal to improve the conditions under which children are born and brought up, but in this matter of the Bastardy Laws we have lagged far behind what has been done in foreign countries and in our Dominions, and it is not merely in material matters, it is in the whole attitude of our legal system towards illegitimate children that the time has come when some alteration must be made.
I wonder how far hon. Members realise the antiquated and positively in- human position in which illegitimate children are placed by the Bastardy Laws of to-day. From the outset these children are materially handicapped, and legally they may be said to be outcasts. An illegitimate child has no legal father, he has no legal right even to a name, his only legal relative is his mother, and if she dies he is left without a single legal relative in the world. Supposing that she dies in childbirth or without having obtained an affiliation order against the father, there is no possibility of any support from the father being obtained for the child. The right to apply for an affiliation order belongs to the mother alone, and dies with her. If the father dies and in his will leaves his property to be divided amongst his children, the law decrees that illegitimate offspring shall not be included among those children and shall not share in the benefit of the estate. If an illegitimate son himself dies intestate, his mother has no right of inheritance as next-of-kin of his property. However much it may be, however destitute the mother may be, his property is seized by the State. Finally, if the parents of an illegitimate child subsequently intermarry and in that way endeavour to repair the wrong they have done to the laws and customs of this country and to their own children, it does not help the illegitimate child. Once born illegitimate, the child remains illegitimate all its life unless a special Act of Parliament can be obtained to legitimate it. That is a state of things, as far as I have been able to ascertain, that exists in no other civilised country in the world. Even in Scotland it is possible to legitimate children by the marriage of their parents.
Because Scotland is in such close proximity to this country, and not from any suggestion that Scotland is not as civilised as any country in the world. I am not here to defend or palliate irregular connection or to suggest any weakening of the marriage bonds, but I do say that the punishment which I have described of innocent children for the faults of their parents is revolting to humanity and is contrary to the best interests of the State.
It is well known that the birth-rate in this country was falling before the War. During the War, of course, it dropped with startling rapidity, and although, no doubt, it is now recovering, yet I do not imagine that it will go back in our time to what it was before the War. There may be two opinions as to whether in a crowded country it is a good thing to have a large addition of the population in the year or not, but there can be only one opinion about this, that the children who are born ought to have every possible chance given to them to become strong in body and strong in mind. These illegitimate children do not get that chance. Statistics show that the infant mortality rate—that is, the deaths in the first year of life—among illegitimate children is 201 per thousand; among legitimate children it is only 90 per thousand. If I may put it another way, I may say that every year some 4,500 babies die who would have lived if they had been born under the same conditions as their more fortunate legitimate brothers and sisters. I do not want to overstate my case in any way. I am perfectly conscious of the fact that there is probably a greater prevalance of syphilitic diseases, a greater prevalance of feeble-mindedness among the mothers of these illegitimate children than there is among married women, but even when you make every allowance for that, I think it will be agreed by all who have done social work among the people of this class, that in large measure this very high illegitimate infant mortality rate is due to the want of nourishment of the mother, the inability to get proper nourishment and proper medical care both for the mother and for the child.
There is another aspect of our present legislation to which I must draw the attention of the House. Our present laws are not fair as between the father and the mother of the illegitimate child. The mother, under present circumstances, cannot obtain an affiliation order against the father for an illegitimate child before its birth. She cannot in any circumstances get any contribution from the father towards her own expenses before the birth of the child. That means to say she is dependent upon the goodwill of the man at the very time when she is most in need of assistance, when she is most in need of good food and good care, and yet when she is unable to follow her employment. Then, even if she gets the affiliation order, there is difficulty in enforcing it. Many times a man leaves the country and cannot be got at. In many cases he defaults, and I am informed it is not an uncommon practice, where a woman has applied to get arrears from a man against whom an affiliation order has been made, for her to be asked to advance the money necessary to bring the man from a distance to the Court upon a warrant. If she cannot find the money, the man gets off scot free and leaves the whole burden to the woman. Then the amount which he can be forced to pay towards the maintenance of his child is limited to 10s. Even that figure is quite recent, because until 1918 it was limited to 5s., whatever the position of the father, and whatever the needs of the mother and the child. I say that to-day 10s. is not sufficient for the proper maintenance of a child, and when you take all these facts into consideration it is not to be wondered at that we hear so often of these painful cases of infanticide, to which the mother has been driven by finding herself made to carry the whole burden which ought to be shared equally by the father.
It would weary the House if I were to attempt to go through the efforts which have been made in other countries to put the whole matter on a different footing, to recognise the rights of an illegitimate child to its place in the world, but it is interesting to note that in Australia, where particular attention has been given to this subject, the proportion of illegitimate births to legitimate births has steadily decreased, whereas in this country it has steadily increased, and, I think, it will be found to be the fact that in every single instance increased care of the mother and the child, increased responsibility of the father of an illegitimate child, results in a decrease in the number of illegitimate births and, therefore, completely discounts, if I may say so, in advance, any criticism that might be made upon this Bill, that it is likely to lead to an increase in the number of illegitimate births in this country. I think any impartial person who reads the Bill carefully must come to the conclusion that, if it has any effect at all, it must be in the nature of a deterrent, and that its provisions are calculated to bring home, both to men and to women, the responsibilities which they incur in bringing new life into the world.
Let me come to the Bill. It is not a very long Bill, but I do not intend to go through all the points. I have not the slightest doubt that hon. Members, and hon. and learned Members particularly, will have no difficulty in picking holes in this Clause and in that, and, indeed, I am anxious that the Bill should receive criticism, and that it should be amended where possible when it gets into Committee; but I think, on second reading, what we want is, not to spend time in finding fault with this or that minor provision of the Bill, but to see whether it does in its main outline constitute an advance in the right direction, and whether it embodies principles which are likely to stand the test of practice with such improvement as may be found possible and desirable at a later stage, to bring about some amelioration in the lot of these unfortunate people. The first eleven clauses of the Bill sat up procedure for establishing paternity at the earliest possible moment. I attach the very greatest importance to that. I think everybody with experience will agree that in these cases the mood of the father is very apt to change as time goes on. He begins with feelings, perhaps, of self-reproach, of affection for the woman, of a certain satisfaction in being a father, and he is inclined to recognise to some considerable extent his own responsibility in the matter; but, as time goes on, and he finds that there is no actual compulsion upon him to do his duty, then other interests come into his mind, and he is very apt to become callous and refuse to do anything more.
Therefore, we desire to get this question of paternity raised and settled at the earliest moment, when it is easiest to obtain satisfactory evidence as to the identity of the father, when circumstances which might help either to corroborate or contradict the evidence of the mother are fresh in the minds of the witnesses who may be called. So, when the birth of an illegitimate child is registered the person responsible for the registration must also give the name of the alleged father upon a form, which is to be sent to the Registrar. Thereupon the Registrar has to serve notice within the next few weeks upon the alleged father informing him that his name has been given, and requiring him to say whether he admits or denies the paternity of the child. If he admits the paternity, if he is willing to make proper provision for the maintenance of his child, the reply, when it is received from the alleged father, is handed by the Registrar to the collecting officer, an officer appointed under the Affiliation Orders Act of 1914. If the paternity is admitted and the father has made an offer providing for the maintenance of his child, the collecting officer submits that offer to two justices of the peace for them to approve of it. If the offer is considered sufficient, the justices make an order confirming it, and the matter is settled there and then without bringing anybody into court and without any publicity whatever.
I anticipate that this is what will happen in the majority of cases, and it is certainly by far the happiest solution. No doubt, however, I shall be told that this is inflicting a hardship upon the woman—upon the woman, mind you, who has already had to admit that she has given birth to an illegitimate child; that it is degrading to her self-respect to give the name of the father. Well, I would ask any who may be moved or affected by a consideration of that kind to remember that not only the mother but more particularly the child has to be considered in the circumstances. It is perfectly true that under existing legislation a woman can apply for an affiliation order after the birth of her child. The opportunity, it must not be forgotten, comes to a woman when she is weak and more or less broken down mentally as well as physically; when she is least able to face publicity in a court, and when, moreover, her mind revolts at the idea of giving the name of the father of her child. In most cases she makes no effort. The fact that in 1913 out of 38,000 illegitimate births only 7,000 affiliation orders were obtained shows clearly, to my mind, that the present practice is totally inadequate, and that something further is required if you really are going to do anything like justice to the children. To do justice to the children you must get this question of paternity settled at the earliest possible moment. We have provided one method of doing it. If hon. Members can suggest a better method let us hear of it. I am sure we will give it careful and favourable consideration. Do hon. Members realise that the whole prospect of making any substantial advance in our present practice lies in getting this question of paternity settled at the earliest possible moment? Supposing the putative father denies the paternity, well, then, in that case in Clause 8 of the Bill the collecting officer has to apply for an Order under Section (4) of the Bastardy Laws (Amendment) Act, 1872.
At this point I think I hear the familiar cry of "blackmail." It is always raised whenever any question arises of trying to put further restrictions upon immorality. It is always made a bogey. It was when the age of consent was raised. I have no doubt it will be trotted out again this afternoon. I have heard the most grotesque suggestions made in this connection. It has been suggested that the collecting officer will be able to earn a handsome income by threatening persons whose names have been given by the mothers that he will publish the names to the world if he does not receive a substantial bribe. It has been suggested that no man who cares for his reputation will be able to keep female servants; that the fathers of families will have to get up early in the morning and go down and open their letters before their wives come to breakfast for fear there should come a fatal summons to court which will break up their married happiness. Really, Sir, one wonders who are the people whose reputations are so tender that they wilt at the first blast of an adverse wind! Many hon. Members themselves are Justices of the Peace. Do they consider that Justices of the Peace are so careless of their reputation as magistrates that they are going to issue summonses against bishops, Members of Parliament, and other persons of blameless character upon reckless charges made without a shred of corroboration? Surely that is altogether a fantastic idea!
It is true we might have to put into the hands of the collecting officer himself the duty of saying whether there was a primâ facie case before applying for an order, but we did not think the collecting officer the proper person to exercise a discretion of that kind; any other opportunities of blackmail there might be would be largely increased if he was capable of such a discretion as suggested. It does not mean that because he has to apply for an order that, therefore, the justices must grant the summons. From my conversation with magistrates and others who have had some experience in this matter, I feel perfectly satisfied—for the law is not in any respect altered as to the necessity of material corroborative evidence in the giving of orders—they are perfectly satisfied that summonses will not be issued unless the magistrates themselves are satisfied that there is at least a primâ facie case.
After all, these things are and must be matters of opinion. An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory. I would like to inform my hon. Friends that this precise law has been actually in force during the last four years in Norway with such differences as are inevitable in consequence of the difference of the constitution of the country. There, as here, the mother of an illegitimate child is obliged to state who, in her opinion, is the father of her child. There, as here, the father has a notice served upon him to say whether he admits or denies paternity, and becomes legally liable if he admits paternity, and if he denies it he himself has to institute proceedings to clear himself from liability. That is the law in Norway. I have had figures given to me on good authority which I confess simply astound me as to the proportion of cases in which paternity has been established and admitted by the father. I am not going to give the figures because I have not been able to get official confirmation of them in time, but if when that confirmation arrives my figures are substantiated, or any approximation to that, then they will be an absolute answer to any criticism which may be made on the ground of blackmail, and I would warn my hon. Friends not to indulge in any rash prophesy which may be ridiculous hereafter when these figures are officially confirmed.
I pass now to Clause 14, which provides that where paternity is admitted an order may be made before the birth of the child, and that order may provide for such weekly payments to the woman towards her support until the birth of the child, and for the expenses of her confinement as shall seem to the Court to be reasonably necessary. I think that is a very valuable provision. Of course, if paternity is denied then the proceedings are postponed until after the birth of the child, but a man may be made liable for any costs which may arise in consequence of the adjournment of the case. I consider that is a valuable provision, because it gives power to make a man contribute towards the support of the mother before the birth of her child which is often very necessary.
Clause 15 increases the limit of the sum which may be contributed by the putative father from 10s. to 40s. per week. There may be a difference of opinion as to what the limit in such cases should be. I am not prepared to say that 40s. is the final word, but I think the limit should be increased, but this is a matter which might very well be discussed in detail in Committee. Clause 17 provides that a married woman may apply for an order, and it shall not be necessary to prove that the woman was legally separated from her husband. This again is a provision which is very much wanted in order to correct injustices which occur at the present time. Without going into any details I may say that this information comes to me from an eminent counsel whose name is very well known to every hon. Member of this House.
I am aware of that, but my learned Friend tells me that there is very great need for this clause, and I think he is right. Clause 21, Sub-section (1) provides that the mother or other person having the care of the bastard under the age of 16 years, shall send to the clerk of the justices for the petty sessional division or borough in which the child is residing the full name and postal address of the child. That is a provision which I think will be very valuable. The second Sub-section of this Clause provides that all bastards under the age of 16 are to be wards of the juvenile court, established under the Children Act, 1908. This is the Clause upon which no doubt I shall hear a considerable amount of criticism, and yet it seems to me a curious thing that the people who object to this Clause are those who complain that under Clause 15, which provides the limit which a man may pay, it will become possible to make a profit out of immorality. If there is any truth in that you must have some body in the background which can see that money paid under an affiliation order is not misused by the mother.
There is nothing in this Clause, as drafted, to say that the Courts shall interfere between the mother and her child, and there is certainly no intention of interfering with any mother who does her duty by her children, for we recognise that the best possible thing for a child is to be under the care of its own mother. There may be cases where a mother is abusing her trust and using the money which she obtains under an affiliation order for other purposes, and in such cases it is provided that the child can come under the protection of the Children's Court and a guardian may be appointed, either in addition or substitution of the mother, and the child can actually be taken away from the custody of the unnatural mother and given to someone else to whom the money under the affiliation order will pass. I am not much moved by the suggestion that this is an unwarrantable interference with the rights of the subject. We all have our rights interfered with, and that is the only way in which a community can live at peace with one another.
Another criticism has been made which has more weight with me, and it is that under this Clause a distinction is made between legitimate and illegitimate children which puts the latter, in some respects, in a better position than the children by married parents. We have done everything we could to meet the position of the illegitimate child in order not to have it said that we were giving it a preference, or treating the children of unmarried parents better than the children of married parents. If there is any way of drastically amending this Clause which is supported by a sound objection, an Amendment can be moved, and I shall not be unwilling, but rather eager and anxious, to alter the Clause in order to produce that effect.
There is one other Clause to which I would like to refer, and that is Clause 27. This provides for legitimation by subsequent marriage, and I think in this proposal I shall have the unanimous support of all hon. Members of this House. I have had an enormous number of letters on this subject from all parts of the country. I have not had a single word of objection to the Clause as it stands, except a modified criticism that we have put in a proviso at the end of the Clause which would be better omitted. This proviso is founded upon legislation in New Zealand and some of the Australian States, but after having given much consideration to the matter I can see no logical reason for retaining the provision, and I am prepared to leave it out. I do not pretend that this Bill is in any way complete or perfect. I recognise that it may require very considerable amendment in Committee, but I do say that if it were passed into law it would mark a very important change in our attitude towards the whole subject with which it deals, and it would provide a new chance in life to children who otherwise would be in a hopeless state of progressive degradation. I do not know what the result will be this afternoon. I have heard it suggested that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has denied himself the pleasure of a visit to one of the most elegant districts in the Midlands in order to come down here to criticise this Bill. I hope I am misinformed, and that if he comes to curse he will remain to bless and that Leamington's loss will be England's gain.
I do seriously ask my right hon. Friend and other Members of the House to pause before they oppose the Second Reading of these proposals which have excited so great an interest and so widespread an approval throughout the country. Particularly is this the case among women. They do not forget to observe that our present legislation is man-made law, and they are not always influenced in the consideration of new proposals by old prejudices or by being told that this or that is a matter for still further discussion. They want to see something done. I have also been told by gentlemen who have had long experience in this House that if the Bill does pass in this House to-day it has no chance of becoming law owing to considerations of time, apart from the question of the Money Resolution which would be necessary. May I suggest that that is all the more reason for giving it a Second Reading. It will at any rate rid the House of any suggestion of callousness with regard to the sufferings of unfortunate women and innocent children, and it will show that we are determined, if not now, at a very early date, that something shall be done to alleviate their lot and to give their case the attention which it deserves.
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend has dealt with the matter so fully and completely that he has left very little for me to say in favour of the Second Reading. However, it is my duty to say a few things which I hope will not be redundant or go over the same ground. It seems to me that there are many specially good points about this Bill which ought not to be lost, even though hon. Members may feel that there are some Clauses which are not so desirable. I therefore appeal to them to let us have the Second Reading in order to get into Committee, and to have all these difficult matters thrashed out there. I have sat in Committees before which dealt with somewhat similar subjects, and I know how very difficult it is to deal with them. We are all filled with the seriousness of these subjects, and we approach them in Committee in order to see whether these great difficulties and differences which naturally arise can be harmonised by discussion. The only chance of progress in these matters is to get into Committee on a Bill and let us discuss definite proposals from the different points of view, and see what Clauses we can agree to have carried out, so as to make some step forward, though there may be other Clauses to which we cannot agree.
I take it, for example, that there ought to be a general, if not entire, agreement upon the Clause with regard to the legitimisation of children by the subsequent marriage of the parents. I should think there would be very little difference of opinion upon the Clause appointing a collecting officer. There is very great need for that, and it should be compulsory. In many cases there is no such officer, and the Clause is an excellent one, as is also the proposal requiring that the fees of the collecting officer should be paid out of public funds. I think that will be recognised as a good Clause. I believe that in many cases a collecting officer has not been appointed because the fees available were not adequate. I hope we shall all agree that whatever the father can fairly be made to pay ought to go for the benefit of the child and the mother. It is in the interests of the State that the State should pay for the necessary machinery to carry out a proper system for the protection of these unfortunate children. I think there will be general agreement in the main upon the proposal to give the collecting officer what I regard as valuable powers in this respect. The Clause providing for the hearing of these matters in camera is another good one. These cases should not be heard in public until the parties concerned can satisfy the court that the case ought to be so heard. The provision for an appeal is an excellent one because it will avoid any possibility of injustice. The clause is a good one which prevents any interference by the Court so long as the father carries out the agreement for the benefit of the child which he has entered into under the Act. There should be something like general agreement on the proposal to raise the possible payment from 10s. to 40s. a week. The latter would be the amount which a rich man might be required to pay. It is clear that it is unfair that however rich a man may be he should not be called upon to pay more than 10s. a week. I think there will also be agreement on the clause providing that where a woman's means are adequate she may be made to pay up to at least 40s. for the support and training of a child if the court finds it necessary.
I again suggest to hon. Members that if there are, as I believe, all these good points in the Bill it ought to have a Second Reading, even though there are other points that they object to. We shall have ample opportunities in Committee of striking out any provisions which are not desirable, and from my experience of such committees I am sure that the possibility of striking out clauses is far from being deficient, and is, if anything, excessive. Let us, however, get into discussion of the details so as to clear our mind and make it possible to arrive at some agreement.
Objections to this Bill are being freely circulated by a certain women's organisation. The great majority of the women's organisations, and I think the great majority of the societies which are specially interested in the well-being of women and children, are strongly in favour of the Bill. But one important organisation has circulated its objections. It takes objection to the use of the word "bastard." That, surely, is a very hard and painful word, but it is the word which we find used in the English law and if we can find a more suitable word which can be fitted into that law let us use it. We are hampered in this matter by the existing law and its phraseology, but surely we are not going to allow substantial improvements in our social order to be delayed or defeated because of the necessity of using a word which we dislike. I hope and believe that the use of that word may be avoided in Committee. Then objection is taken, by the same people, to the fact that the mother is required to name the father in these cases. It would be all very well, if the mother were the only person whose interests were involved, to say that her feelings must be considered; but there is the interest of the child and the interest of the State, and both of these, it seems to me, depend very much upon our being able to ascertain in all cases who is the father, and to make the father in all cases do his duty. Otherwise the child must suffer, and the State must suffer. I do not think, therefore, that we ought altogether to be ruled by the feelings of the mother. Nevertheless the feelings of the mother are a very important consideration, and for my part I should be quite willing to agree in Committee to an amendment which would relieve the mother from that necessity, if she could satisfy the Court that neither the interests of the child nor of the State would suffer thereby.
Then an objection is taken, in the same quarter, to the fact that these children are to be under the guardianship of the Juvenile Court. I think it has been overlooked, however, that the proceedings of this Court are in camera, and, after all, the magistrates of this country may surely be trusted not to exercise their powers rashly or for the purpose of creating public scandal. They are mostly fathers of families themselves, and we may trust them to exercise powers of this kind in a kindly and judicious manner. It is specially provided in the Bill that the father of the child, if he has signed and kept an agreement, cannot be interfered with by the powers given to the Juvenile Court as guardian of the child; and it is provided that all these proceedings are to be held in private, so as to avoid any unnecessary scandal. I do not think, therefore, that these arguments are at all strong.
When we come to the alternatives put forward by these same opponents of the Bill, I think we shall find reason to think twice before adopting, at any rate, one part of them. It is suggested that the mother may—not must—consult some Member of the local council's maternity committee at the time when her confinement is coming on. In a great many cases, however, the mother will not do this, and the interests of the child will suffer. In the same way it is suggested that she should have the opportunity of being cared for in a municipal hostel at the time of her confinement, and of living there for at any rate a limited time.
That is an experiment which is now being made by a voluntary body, but that municipalities should set up hostels where mothers of illegitimate children should be cared for at the time of their confinement and for a certain time afterwards, is certainly an experiment which, in my opinion, would be much more dangerous than anything provided in this Bill. It might work out well, but to my mind it is very desirable that it should be tried by a voluntary organisation.
I do not think, therefore, that the opponents of this Bill have at all made out their case on the merits of the Bill itself, nor that they have been able to put forward a substantial and acceptable alternative to the Bill. Something must be done to put an end to the lamentable state of affairs which at present exists. My hon. Friend has given the figures in regard to the excessive number of deaths of illegitimate children, and the large and increasing proportion of illegitimate to legitimate births. We all know how these children suffer, how neglected they are, and how badly brought up they are in many cases. This Bill is, as far as I know, the only reasonable proposal now before us by which many of these evils can be dealt with. My hon. Friend dealt with this matter chiefly from the point of view of the child, but I desire to emphasise once more the point of view of the State in these matters. It is, after all, the State, the continuous nation—which will go on after our time as it has gone on for so long before—which is to be considered even more than the interests of the individual. With these scores of thousands of children growing up neglected, in bad surroundings, with nobody having the right to interfere for their benefit between them and the father who shirks his responsibility or the mother who neglects her duty, the interests of the nation are suffering as much as those of the child. I venture to think that in this Bill we have a machinery which will be of great benefit to the State as well as to the individuals concerned.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."
I oppose this Bill in the interests of the mothers of illegitimate children, in the interests of the illegitimate children themselves, and in the interests of the public. If the Bill had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Ladywood on the footing that it was a deterrent against immorality—on the footing that, by adding penalties for the mother in certain cases, she would be deterred from consenting to immorality—then I should be inclined to reconsider my view. I understand, however, that it is brought forward in the interests of a class of unfortunate children and unfortunate mothers, and if it is brought forward in their interests I think it is entirely misconceived. It has been assumed by the mover and seconder that these unfortunate mothers and children have no rights against the father, or that it is difficult to put the law in motion to enforce those rights. That, however, is far from being the fact. At present, if a woman finds herself pregnant, she has a right at once to go before a Justice of the Peace and take out a summons, and to serve that summons on the putative father. A time will be specified in the summons, and, having served the summons, she has achieved her object. If the father goes abroad in the meantime, the summons having been served, she is not barred by lapse of time, and can enforce her remedy at any time thereafter. One provision in the Bill, therefore, upon which my hon. Friend laid some stress, is already provided for, and that was done as far back as 1845.
I propose to refer to some general principles, and I hope my hon. Friend will ask me for my authority in case he doubts it. I have here a list of the Statutes dealing with this matter, and I will verify every assertion I make in regard to it. Under the Births Registration Act, 1834, all births have to be registered, and the mother of an illegitimate child must go and give certain information to the registrar. By Section 7 of that Act—a very wise Section indeed, passed in the interests of illegitimate children—she need not give the name of the father of the illegitimate child, and the name of the father of the illegitimate child must not be entered upon the register unless at the mother's and the father's joint request. If they desire it it can be so registered, and, of course, it remains there as a perpetual testimony to the illegitimacy of the child. That provision was a wise one. The Legislature foresaw the case of a woman in great distress of mind who probably had a sympathetic lover who had got her into the trouble in which she then was and was desirous of doing all an honourable man could to repair it. But publicity would take from him the power of doing the good to her that he could do, and would absolutely prevent him helping her or the child. So the Legislature said she need not register that name, and therefore if no father is placed against the name of the child on the registers he does not commit an offence, and the registrar has no right to press her to give the name of the putative father of the child.
If this Bill becomes law she must give it. She must be catechised by the registrar as to who is the father. She might think it would only add to her shame if she had to confess that the father was a married man, and she might have no remedy at all against him for this reason. He would say, "You have given my name away; you have broken my home up; you have caused desolation; you have destroyed my business. I have had to go through the mill, and I shall do nothing more." Under this Bill she must give the name, and if she refuses to give it she is to be liable to a criminal offence. She may be put in prison, and if, in endeavouring to save the man she may love, she gives a fictitious name, she may be sent to penal servitude for seven years. This Bill is introduced, the hon. Member said, in the interests of these unfortunate women. A new offence created especially for her benefit! And a woman may be harassed and inquisitorial transactions may take place by petty officials, by collecting officers in the district, and the knowledge of her shame will be perpetuated in that district and her family shamed. Her father, her mother, everyone would have the knowledge that here is a man walking about, a collecting officer, who knows, the shame of the family and no doubt—he is only human—he could not help publishing the matter. That is supposed to be in the interests of this girl. She is responsible by law already for the maintenance of the child. The hon. Member said look at the cases of neglect of illegitimate children. The law provides for them already. She is responsible by law to maintain the child, she may obtain compensation from the father; but if she neglects her duty the law is very powerful at present. She may be prosecuted for neglecting the child. If she employs a child in any dangerous performance, if she does not feed it properly, if she causes it unnecessary suffering, if she does not attend to it as a mother ought, she may be prosecuted and sent to prison.
Beyond that, the law provides a further remedy, which is put before the House as though it is something new. It is as old as can be. It provides that the court of summary jurisdiction before which she is brought, charged with neglecting her child, may remove it from her custody and give it into the hands of someone who is willing to receive it, who will take care of it, and will receive compensation for so doing. The law is so to-day. Those people to whom the child will be handed are paid for it, and the mother is divested of the custody of it. Why does the hon. Member say he is giving this additional benefit to these poor children? It is the law and it is acted upon every day. The great Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children take up many cases, and if they see that one of these poor children is neglected, they take it in hand and see that it is properly looked after and given to friends, and those friends are remunerated. Supposing for any reason she is not able to take care of the child and becomes chargeable to the parish, the guardians have ample remedy. There is no limitation of time against the guardians of the poor. But if an illegitimate child ten years after it is born becomes chargeable to the parish, the guardians, notwithstanding that no proceedings have been taken in the meantime can hale the putative father before the court and obtain an order for maintenance, cost of education and bringing up. With regard to the collection of the money obtained by the mother from the alleged father, I believe the hon. Member said there was some objection to that. The law provides for it now. In 1914 the Affiliation Orders Act was passed, which made ample provision for that purpose. It was passed after a Select Committee had discussed the whole of the matter and under that Act this collect- ing officer was created for the purpose of taking off the mother's shoulders coming in contact with a man whom she might have learned to hate, and that collecting officer's duty is, when directed by the Court, to obtain the money. He must obtain it, and if the father is in arrears with his payment the collecting officer can obtain payment from him at once without the mother's interference, and she therefore is not in the disagreeable position of having to enforce matters in a Court of Law against her seducer. The collecting officer does it for her. All that the hon. Member complains of is already the law.
I come to the gravamen of my charge against this Bill. All men, because they happen to have committed an error, are not dishonourable. The best men are moulded out of faults and are often much the better for being a little bad. Shakespeare put that in the mouth of a woman, and it is true. Many a young man in sowing his wild oats has committed a sin against morality. He is anxious to do all he can. I speak from 25 years' experience of the law, and I know that in very many cases the father has been anxious to do all in his power for the child, and the mother has been anxious to do the best in her power, and they have done it and the child has been brought up properly and given a good education. Everything has been done for it that can be done. In fact it is forgotten as the child grows older. There is no record. It is wiped out. The sin is covered over and gone. Reparation has been made as far as it can be. What more can a human being do? That is done, and it is a merciful thing that it can be done, without anybody knowing it. What is going to happen under this Bill? Read the duties of the Registrar and of the Collecting Officer. Every illegitimate child must have the father's name, the father must be communicated with, and his name must be entered on the form and on the register. The illegitimacy of the child is perpetuated; the shame of the mother and the ruin of the father are perpetuated, and are there for all time on record. It must be done, and it will be the duty of the Collecting Officer, when he has had notification that an illegitimate child has been born in his district, to go round and make inquiries and to get up a case and see what evidence he can procure; in fact, to scour the neighbourhood in order to compel a man to make a payment of not more than £2 a week, because no House of Commons would ever pass more, when he might be willing to pay £10 per week for the child's benefit rather than have publicity brought about. That is what the Bill will do. You have the Collecting Officer and the Registrar put in that position, and the knowledge of the injury will be scattered throughout the country. If the two guilty parties can obtain forgiveness, it will be in another way and against a higher tribunal than any in this country, but they are to be pilloried because everybody in the district will know. What are you going to pay to the collecting officer? My hon. Friend scouts the idea of blackmail, but I know from my legal experience what it means. It is the curse of the country. You put it in the hands of an individual who cannot be a highly-paid official, to ruin families throughout a given district. Look at the enormous temptation. I say that is an absolute bar to this Bill as it stands becoming law.
I have put my points before the House and I hope that it will give some weight, or, at any rate, some consideration, to what I have said upon the matter, before passing the Bill. If my hon. Friend has followed the instances that come up at the Assizes, he will know that cases of perjury, concealment of birth, and child murder are very common, where illegitimate children are concerned, and it will be always the same. It cannot be avoided. There is the human element. There is the desire on the part of the mother to conceal her shame. Imagine the tenfold anxiety that will be upon that poor woman if she knows that nothing that she can do and that nothing that the father can do will prevent publicity. The information must be given to the Collecting Officer, and she knows that her shame must become known. Look at the inducement to procure abortion; look at the inducement to child murder; look at the inducement to concealment of birth. We see enough of it as the law stands, but, if this Bill be put on the Statute Book, I venture to say that there will be 50 per cent, more of these cases. I feel rather strongly upon this matter from the legal aspect, from the aspect of the mother, and from the aspect of the illegitimate child, and I ask the House to support me in moving the rejection of the Bill. I agree with what my hon. Friend says about 10s. per week being an impossible sum. It is not sufficient. It is not nearly sufficient. By all means increase it. That can be done by a slight Amendment of the Bastardy Acts as they at present stand. I am quite willing to legitimise the child, and that can be done. The other provisions in the Bill are either provided for by the law as it stands, or they are not to the advantage of the child or the mother.
I ought to have stated an important matter when I was dealing with the position of the mother, because some hon. Members may not be familiar with the legal procedure, and may think that this Bill is an advantage in removing a disability from the mother as regards the length of time for applying for an order. That is not so. Under the law as it stands, if the mother be not able to obtain satisfaction from the father privately, and be obliged to go before a court of law, she must lodge her complaint before the justices within 12 months if the father be in England, or, if he be abroad, within 12 months of his return to England. If the father has paid anything towards the maintenance of the child, her remedy is open till the child is sixteen years of age. This Bill gives no additional facilities to the mother in that respect. My hon. Friend mentioned that the mother must always be a material witness as though that were a hardship. Obviously, that must be so. The law from 1834, when this matter was first taken up under the Poor Law, has been always that the mother is a material and necessary witness. If she be dead, it is the misfortune of the child, and from misfortune even the House of Commons cannot protect people. It is also necessary that she should be corroborated in a material particular with regard to her evidence. That provision, which was inserted in earlier Acts, has been repeated in every one of the later Acts, because it is a charge so easy to bring and so difficult to refute. It is a charge which carries such condemnation from the social point of view and which lends itself so easily to perjury that the law has been that she must be corroborated in a material particular. My hon. Friend does not profess to alter that, and the House would not tolerate it, but in bringing this Bill forward he mentioned it as a hardship. I have given the material reasons that I have against this Bill. I hope that I have not introduced any undue warmth in opposing it; indeed, I feel no undue warmth. My sympathy is entirely with the mother and the child, and any Bill that can be brought forward which will do good to them and increase any advantages that they have will have my hearty support, but a measure such as this carries with it such dangers that I ask the House to support my Amendment for its rejection.
My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Maddocks) who has moved the rejection of the Bill has not convinced me in the slightest degree that this Bill should not get a Second Reading. I rise not only to support the Bill on its merits, but also because I hope the Mover of the Bill will agree to Ireland being included. The hon. Member (Mr. Chamberlain) pointed out that this country was lagging behind other countries in this matter of looking after illegitimate children. So for as Ireland is concerned, there is no bastardy law, and mothers of illegitimate children are in a most unfortunate position. Therefore, I am supporting the Bill in the hope of getting justice done to Ireland in this matter. I hope my hon. Friend, when the Bill gets into Committee, will agree to the inclusion of Ireland. [Mr. N. Chambèerlain indicated assent.] I am glad he agrees to that.
It is very easy for us to arrange it in such a way that it will apply to Ireland. I have had a large number of letters from organisations engaged in rescue work. One of these letters says:
During the fifty years of this Mission we have found it always a most serious difficulty that there is no law in Ireland to compel the father to pay for the maintenance of his illegitimate child. We ask that the Irish law may be brought into line with the English law, and that the father may be compelled to share in the responsibility for the maintenance of his child.
That is a reasonable claim to put forward. At the present time a woman cannot make any claim. There is some legal fiction that for loss of service action can be taken, but in practice it is almost impossible to make the father of an illegitimate child pay for it in Ireland. In an ex-
ceptionally able speech, worthy of himself and of the name he bears, the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading (Mr. Chamberlain) said that the present law was not fair as between father and mother. It is largely for that reason that I find myself supporting the Bill. The mother has to bear the larger part of the shame. She has to bear the suffering. She has to bear the odium all through her life. Why should not the father, who is also responsible, have to bear his fair share of the responsibility for what happened. This Bill in detail can be improved. The hon. member does not suggest that it is the last word. I think we can improve the Bill, and I hope that the Home Secretary, who has denied himself the pleasure of being at a more pleasant meeting, will say on behalf of the Government that they will support the Bill and will agree to our claims that Ireland should be included.
I want to make it very clear in supporting this Bill on behalf of the Labour party that we do not commit ourselves to it in its entirety. There are many good features, but there are also one or two very doubtful features. We do not want to remedy one evil by creating another. Therefore, in supporting the Bill we are doing it because we believe there is sufficient good in it to justify its Second Reading and to enable it to go to Committee, where it may be reconstructed in some of its details, and safeguards may be brought in. The greatest danger is in the first part. I am not so very much concerned about the father, and I am not entirely concerned about the mother. I am more concerned about the child. The child is the innocent victim of the lust of the parents, or whatever other term you like to give it. Although I listened with great interest to the very able speech of the hon. Gentleman who spoke against the Bill, I must say that he has not given us all the facts. There has been a good deal of the legal side, but the human element has been left out absolutely. It was like a cold bath, which gives you the shivers and from which you have to recover gradually. I have had some experience of the administration of the law, and I was beginning to wonder whether the collecting officer was really the reprobate which he has been represented. From my experience I do not agree that he is. Under the present law the woman has the option of the money paid to the collecting officer or or being paid to her direct by the father, and almost invariably in later years she has preferred that the money should be paid to the collecting officer. Of the dozens of cases on which I have sat on the Bench I can hardly recall more than one or two where the preference has been in favour of payment direct to the claimant. Since the law was amended to the extent of giving power to the Court to appoint a collecting officer, it has always been, in my experience, that one of the clerks of the Court has acted as the collecting officer, and the money has been paid in to the magistrates' clerks' office. My experience may be different from that of other men, but I say without fear of contradiction, after something like fifteen or sixteen years' experience, that the collecting officers have acted capably and secretly in the performance of the duties which they have been called upon to carry out.
I am not supporting this Bill to give a licence to immorality. We want to make it hard to do wrong and easy to do right and we want, as far as possible, to protect those who cannot protect themselves-There are one or two clauses in the Bill which I know from my own personal experience supply a long-felt want. Clause 27 says:
Any bastard child
I dislike the word "bastard "—
whose father and mother shall have subsequently intermarried shall thereby and as from the date of such marriage be and be deemed to be for all purposes legitimate.
I have two cases which were brought to my knowledge at the time. There was a man killed accidentally at his work. According to the Compensation Act the money should be awarded to the wife and a large family of children to the amount of £300, which was the maximum, but the marriage certificate had to be produced, and the agent of the insurance company quietly informed me that though these people had been living together for many years as man and wife, and all these children had been born, they had never gone through the form of matrimony. It was heartbreaking to realise that through the stupidity of the father and mother the children should be penalised. I went to the home of the widow and I was very depressed, but the moment I mentioned that because she had not been married she could not
receive the compensation, she said, "That is quite wrong," and she produced the marriage certificate. By a remarkable coincidence they had been married only a week before the date of the man's death, though they had lived together for over 27 years. Suddenly they had agreed that they should get married for the sake of the children. The marriage certificate was produced, and the woman obtained the £300.
My point is this: Though we were able to obtain the full amount of compensation, it still left all the children bastards in the terms of this Bill, and in the ordinary sense of the word, and they were handicapped by the stigma and disgrace of being illegitimate. That case occurred six or seven years ago. Now I will give another as a set-off, which occurred only a few months ago. In the North of England a man was killed in similar circumstances. This man and a woman had lived exactly as the other people and a large family had grown up. The insurance people and the employers agreed that the full amount of £300 should be paid. There again we were informed that the man and woman had not been married. In this case the woman could not produce the marriage certificate, and the insurance company said, "We are not going to pay one fraction," and they have not paid Those children are thus deprived of the money which the law provides for them simply because of the stupidity of the parents. I am here more in the interests of the child than even of the parents, and for that reason we are anxious that this Bill should have a Second Reading and go to a Committee.
Clause 23 provides that proceedings may continue after the mother's death. Not being a lawyer—though I have got legal advice on the point which is not quite in accordance with other information which I have received—I do not know whether this Clause removes the difficulty that exists at present. I quite agree that before an Order is made there should be the fullest corroborative evidence. Otherwise no man would be safe, because there are wicked women as well as wicked men. But let us put them all in the same category and treat them alike. We know that at present the woman has got to bear the bigger portion of the shame and trouble and the man is a callous brute very often. That is my experience. I know a case at this moment of a young woman having given birth to a child. Within 48 hours she was just on the verge of eternity. She was totally unable to leave the home or to do anything in connection with the business of paternity and so forth. Now the law prevents the depositions of the mother being taken. That was to me a startling fact, and I could scarcely believe that it was so until I applied to a legal firm to know if it was so, because it had never come to my knowledge previously. I find that that is the law. If a woman is on the verge of death but is quite able to give her evidence the taking down of her evidence is not allowed by law. If a woman dies that is an end to the business, but the tragedy remains. The man is free to go as he likes and the child has to face this cold cruel world without the knowledge of father or mother. So if that Clause meets this difficulty it will be a good thing.
Then there is the question of payment from the birth of the child. The hon. Gentleman in his cold forcible legal manner has drawn out a very long story of the law as it stands to-day. But taking the generality of things as they go the victims come from our class—the working class, and very often the people who have been responsible for the downfall and ruin of the girl come from a richer or wealthier section of society. I was startled not many years ago by a case coming into court, in which it transpired that a man who stood high in the estimation of everyone, who was almost beyond suspicion, who held a very good position in the town, was the father of one or two illegitimate children. The paternity, was not denied, and we could only make the order from the date of the application, though the children were six or seven years old. Was that justice to the girl who may have been just used for a purpose and cast aside as a worn-out glove? That girl and those children had to face the world. As a Labour party we are supporting the Second Reading of this Bill because we think there is sufficient good in it to justify us in going before the Committee so that the dangerous elements may be modified or removed and the better parts of it passed into law.
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Joint Parlia- mentary Advisory Council, that body of most expert women whose splendid work is known to many members of this House. The humane and broad-minded speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Wignall) to a certain extent represents my own attitude and the attitude of the body for which I speak. I do not know whether he has faced, as we have, the risks of some of the proposals in the Bill. I am, prepared to support the Second Reading only after I have said most emphatically and plainly that I would rather the Bill did not pass if Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 and the whole of Clause 21 do not disappear. To the women on whose behalf I am speaking, most of whom are engaged in public work and in work dealing largely with women and children, these two portions of the Bill appear to be entirely dangerous and mischievous and unjust to the women whom the Bill proposes to protect. All the same, for the sake of Clause 27 and for the sake of the increase in the weekly payments under Clause 15, I am prepared to vote for the Second Reading. I and others, and I hope most of the members of the Labour party, will give uncompromising resistance to the proposal to create a new criminal offence. Clause 21, which stamps a bastard child from birth to death, will also receive our uncompromising opposition. I admit fully the high intentions and philanthropic motives behind the Bill, but as it stands it is a most dangerous Bill, in fact so dangerous that I very nearly supported the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Maddocks) in his proposal that it be rejected. There are in the Bill elements of bureaucratic tyranny which I shall oppose to the uttermost in Committee and elsewhere.
I want to avoid Committee points, but, apart from these, there are dangers in the Bill which put a considerable trial on some of us who are anxious to support its principle. We all dislike its title; there is no doubt about that. Although the modern history of England began with William the Bastard, it is a word we want to forget. I hope that in Committee we can find a more euphonious and less aggravating name. Someone has suggested the "Illegitimate Children Bill." I object to that altogether. I have always held that there is no such thing as an illegitimate child. Nature is inviolate and incorruptible. The ille- gitimacy is on the part of the parents. There is another provision in the Bill which enables the parent or anyone else to register the birth of the child. To that I object. None but the parent should be allowed to register. There is always the risk that a landlady or anyone else could, out of spite, register any name as that of the putative father. All who listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment must have been satisfied that the law requires prompt strengthening in order to give adequate protection to the parent, to the child and to the public. I wish the Bill was confined to a legitimating Bill. Clause 27 is the essence and soul of the measure. Its object is to provide that when the parents of children born out of wedlock ultimately marry, that marriage, de facto, legitimates the children. I was delighted to hear from the mover of the Second Reading that he was prepared to delete an unfortunate provision which limits the legitimatism of the children.
I understand from the mover of this Bill,, on which he spoke with great moderation and force, that his main motive was the protection of the child. He had other motives it is true, but the child was the main motive and purpose of this Bill. I am sure everyone in the House will agree that any measure to better the lot of the child born out of wedlock is one that would receive our support, but so far as this Bill is concerned, with the exception of Clause 27, it practically does nothing to benefit the child, and probably in many of its provisions would have most mischievous effects on the future of the child. Therefore, it is a question for this House whether it would be inclined to give a second reading to the Bill merely for the sake of Clause 27. Some of the figures which were given by my hon. Friend are really very misleading. Any Member can read for himself in the report of the Registrar-General the percentage of illegitimate births. A far safer guide is to take the number per thousand in relation to those women single and widows in the country between the ages of fifteen and forty-five. Taking those figures the number of illegitimate births has decreased steadily for a considerable number of years down to 1914, when they rose from 7.4 per thousand to 7.6, not a very large rise. They had steadily declined from about 16 per thousand of fertile women, unmarried or widows, to 7.4 and 7.6. Although that is a matter of congratulation, it does not remove an undoubted evil, and it does not remove the necessity for seeing that the innocent child shall not suffer because of the sins of its parents. Again some figures were given by my hon. Friend which are very misleading. He pointed out the urgent necessity for strengthening the law and for taking further steps to ascertain the paternity of the child, and said that out of 38,000 illegitimate births paternity orders were made in seven thousand cases. That really does not meet the case. A very large proportion of illegitimate children are the children of people who are deliberately living together, and who in every respect but that of a ceremony are husband and wife.
Those children require no more protection than do the children of married people. They are people living according to their lights, respectable lives. They have not gone through a form, a ceremony. There are very large numbers of these. There are also a very large number of cases where the man realises his responsibility and acts up to it. So that it does not in the least mean because the percentage of paternity orders is small therefore there are many illegitimate children in this country where the paternity is unknown and unacknowledged and therefore where the child has no right upon any individual. I have here the figures for 1911–12–13. In 1911 there were 8,318 applications for paternity orders and there were 6,656 orders made. Which means that in 1,692 cases, applications were made against a man alleging that he was the father of the child and in which the magistrates refused to make any order. How many of those were dismissed on the technical ground that there was no corroboration it is impossible to say, but in a very considerable proportion of those evidence must have been given which appeared to the court to be perjured evidence and an allegation against the wrong man. In 1912, there were 8,568 applications and 6,811 orders leaving 1,757 where no order was made; and in 1913 there were 1,668 cases where no order was made. In those three normal pre-war years in sixteen or seventeen hundred cases where the allegation was made that a particular man was the father of the child for some reason the magistrates were unable to make an order against him. That, at any rate, does show that there is some danger of women making a charge against a man under the provisions of this Act which they would not do if this Act were not passed. I do not wish to lay too much weight on this but so long as any charge can be made of sexual relations, so long will that be a possibility. It is a charge easy to make and hard to refute. I understand from my hon. Friend who spoke for the Labour party that they propose to support the Second Reading admittedly with the intention of largely altering the Bill in Committee.
My hon. Friend (Sir C. Beck) who spoke on behalf of a body consisting of men and women of weight and experience, only supports the Bill on the clear understanding that the most essential parts of it should be cut out. He will support it on the ground of legitimation by subsequent marriage. I doubt if you would find half a dozen men in this House who would get up and oppose that principle. He also says he will support it because of the increase in the amount that the putative father is compelled to pay. Having regard to the altered value of money, no one would dream of opposing that, though I think 40s. is too much. But that is a pure Committee point. For those two reasons he will support the Bill, but only on the condition that in Committee very essential portions of the Bill are cut out. He would emasculate the whole of the first portion, and cut out that portion which makes the illegitimate child a ward of court. I always except Clause 27, because we all accept that. My objection to the Bill is that, while it sets out with excellent motives, it goes entirely the wrong way to carry out those motives and realise the desires of the promoters. After all, it has fallen into the evil into which so many previous legislators have fallen in dealing with this subject, of providing almost entirely for the financial needs of the illegitimate child. We all desire that the illegitimate child should be made as secure as possible, and suffer as little as possible for the sins of its parents, but we want much more than that. We want, not only to save the State the cost of maintaining the child, but we want to get that child the prospect of growing up, not only into a useful, but into a self-respecting citizen. That is one of the great objects which this Bill will defeat.
I am one of those who believe that we ought to take as our guiding principle in legislation of this kind the necessity of making a child realise as little as possible that it is different from other children in any way, and not only that, but providing so that circumstances will never remind the child of its birth and that as far as possible it may be a circumstance unthought of and quite forgotten in the whole of the child's life. That, I think, should be the guiding principle upon which we ought to proceed. If I may give an instance of the spirit I mean, it is what we are endeavouring in the Home Office to instil into our certified schools, where we have children that are different from the honest little children of respectable parents; they may have gone wrong, they are children perhaps from miserable slums and of criminal parents, and they are under the charge of the State. Up to within recent times they had generally been distinguished by some horrible uniform not worn by other children. That has gone, and we are now struggling as far as possible to make the child in a certified school in every respect lead a life exactly like that of its little neighbours, the children of parents who are perfectly respectable. We are endeavouring through our officials to get not only in touch with the child, but with the home of the child, so that if we can improve the home by visits from our officials, by assistance, and so on, the child is at once released back to that home to live like any other child. We object to anything which stamps the child as different, and that spirit is spreading through the whole of our administration. I hope I am not digressing or being out of order, but if any hon. Member would pay a visit to the Borstal Institution, near Rochester, it would well repay him to do so. This afternoon, I have no doubt, if hon. Members went down there they would see 400 boys, who are all there because they have committed crimes, and who, but for the assistance they are getting there, would probably have developed into habitual criminals; they would see those 400 boys, and probably not a dozen sullen faces among the lot; and on their playing fields there will probably be going on this afternoon eight or nine or even more separate games of football, just as if they were at a public school. That is the system that goes through it all, and that is the system which should guide us in dealing, in so far as we can deal with them, with illegitimate children. A great deal has been said, and rightly said, about the miseries that many illegitimate children suffer—poverty, disease, ill-treatment, neglect—but all these are suffered also by many children of married people, and they are not confined in any way to bastard children. We ought not, therefore, to make these children a question apart, because by making provision for the bastard child in these respects, as apart from any other child, you are merely emphasising the difference.
There are two main reasons why I say this Bill, unless it is cut to pieces, unless it is based upon a totally different principle, will defeat its own objects. You have the paternity provision in the first part of the Bill, which cannot help the child. It is true that you ought to make provision that where you do find the father you should have provision for payment from as early a stage as possible. I entirely agree with that, but this Bill does nothing to provide for that except in the case where the father admits parentage, and I should say, from what experience I have had of these matters, that in a very large majority of cases where paternity is admitted the man at the same time makes provision for the birth of the child, for the confinement. This Bill makes no provision for the trial of the "Aye "or "No" of the paternity, if the paternity is denied, until after the birth of the child, and it cannot be much assistance to the necessitous girl that she may, when she has had her child, be able to get an order which will repay her the money she has been able to borrow to see her through her trouble. Therefore, so far as that is concerned, this Bill does not help, although I admit that that might be amended in Committee. We have to recollect this fact. To many men a charge of being the father of an illegitimate child is as serious a matter as being charged with a criminal offence; it may break up his home; if he is a married man, it may ruin him socially and in every way that means his happiness in life. We are providing in this Bill in matters of this kind for a system of investigation which this House would not tolerate for one instant if it were a question of a man accused of having picked a pocket or done anything dishonourable of that sort, a system of inquisition—which in itself is bad, for all inquisition is bad—in a matter which, although it is not criminal, is in many ways quite as serious as a criminal charge, and a system of inquisition which this country would not tolerate in any criminal matter whatsoever. That is one of the grave objections which I see to this Bill, but in addition to that it makes provisions which not only do not remove the difference between the illegitimate and the legitimate child, which not only do not remove the stain which is upon the illegitimate child, the disgrace which it may feel through all its life, which not only does not remove that, but by the latter provisions of the Bill emphasises and perpetuates it. Those in themselves, which are the two main objections to the Bill, seem to me to be radically and essentially bad.
There are many ways in which a bastard child may be assisted. I believe that by a system of carefully watched and guarded legalised adoption a great deal can be done. That is a matter which is at the present moment taking up a very great deal of my time and consideration. I am at this moment considering the personnel of a Committee, which I hope shortly to set up, to go into the whole question of assisting and legalising adoption in this country. It is not an easy matter, but it is a matter of great importance, and I propose, in the terms of reference, to ask the Committee to consider how far adoption can be made profitable for the child and profitable for the mother, in the case of necessitous bastard children, but it will be treated as a whole. The orphan born in wedlock will be treated in identically the same way as the bastard; they will be absolutely alike. Equally, in so far as courts can give assistance in the matter, I hope, if time will allow, this Session to bring in a Bill to make a change in our children's courts. I hope we shall have children's courts, held never in a police court, but in some private building. I am proposing for the Metropolis that we should take one of our most experienced magistrates and devote his time entirely to children's courts, which will be held in different parts of the Metropolis in private places and away from the police courts altogether, and I am proposing that he should be assisted by men and women magistrates chosen by themselves from a panel, who will sit with him to hear these cases. Their jurisdiction might very well be extended at any rate to giving advice and help to mothers of illegitimate children. That is a matter which we might consider, but those are the principles upon which we at the Home Office, so far as we deal with children, are acting. I think it is the only true way in which to approach the subject, and I think measures which emphasise the difference, which perpetuate the brand of bastardy on a child, are bad in themselves. Of course, there are good points in this Bill, but most of them, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, are already the law of the land. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Most of them are the law of the land, but there are points which require strengthening, I admit. This Bill does not do it, and, although I admit that it is a Bill which can be amended in Committee, it is difficult for me to see how it can be amended in such a way that the Government could give it any facility without entirely re-drafting and re-casting it. So far as the Government are concerned, we can give no help to this Bill. The Whips will not be put on, of course, but we do not approve of this Bill, and can give it no help. Speaking personally, I think it is a bad Bill, because it is founded on wrong principles, and carries out those principles in a wrong way. Speaking personally, I shall oppose it, and, speaking on behalf of the Government, we can give no assistance to this Bill, although, of course, if the Bill came down from Committee with simply Clause 27 in it, without the proviso, and raising 10s. to 15s., everything would be done to get that through.
I only give 15s. as an example of what it might be. I am not suggesting 15s. What I do say is, supposing the Bill be left to that Clause, increasing the sum to whatever amount is desired, and legitimising the child by subsequent marriage, that would be a different matter, but to any Bill approaching this which comes down, the Government can give no facilities at all.
While we can all admit the criticism of the Home Secretary, I think it will be wise to allow the Bill to go upstairs and be thrashed out in Committee, and not let it be said that those who do not approve of it have been the means of stifling it without detailed discussion. I only wish to draw attention to Clause 21 to emphasise its mischievous nature in relation to children who, as the Home Secretary has said, ought never to be reminded of their parents. I have in my hand a letter which has just been sent to me by special messenger in order that I might emphasise this point. My correspondent says that Clause 21 would interfere to the disadvantage of the infant, because it would negative and discourage purely voluntary effort to adopt these children, and he gives me a case in point, where a little girl, whom he describes as a nicely-bred little soul, was adopted by people without the child possessing a farthing. That child has been brought up; £300 a year, at least, has been spent upon her, and she has had all the advantage that could be had by a child born in a good position in life. He points out that if the Bill were to pass in its present form, the operation of Clause 21 would undo all the good these strangers had endeavoured to do for this little soul, whom they desired to treat as their own, and give the advantage of everything possible in the station of life to which they had brought her. I hope that Clause will be eradicated or very drastically pruned, but I do hope the House will read the Bill a Second time and let the Committee upstairs thrash it out.
It would be very difficult, I submit, at this stage to say anything on this Bill, either pro or con, that has not already been very adequately and very excellently said, and I do not propose to attempt to cover the ground already covered, except so far as it is necessary to make it very clear that the hon. Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain) is not the only Birmingham Member who desires to see this Parliament make still another step forward in the long process of evolution towards promoting better treatment of the illegitimate child. I am very sorry that once again we have had proven to us the truth of the statement that Friday afternoon is the burial day for private Members' Bills, but I would suggest in that connection that some of these Bills enjoy a resurrection, and I am perfectly sure that whatever happens in respect of this Bill to-day, it will have a resurrection. The sense of justice of the great mass of the people in this country demand that we should make still further provision for the protection and safeguarding of the interests of the illegitimate child.
I am very delighted that almost every speaker has agreed with the objection raised by the Mover to the phrase "bastard," and I do hope that in any Act that will ultimately appear on the Statute Book we shall have a more euphonious and agreeable phrase. That phrase simply means the pack-saddle child, as used in the old French, and I do hope we can have it swept away. In the 16th Century the concern in this country with reference to illegitimate children was that they should not be a charge upon the funds of the parish. When we progressed from that point to 1872 and 1873 we find that the children born in this way are to have some special provision made for them, not from the point of view that they shall not be a charge upon the parish, but from the point of view that humanity demands it. In 1871 a Special Committee of this House investigated the question of the growth of infanticide in this country, and the Committee reported that the fee of 2s. 6d. paid for the maintenance of the illegitimate child was so totally inadequate that if the unfortunate mothers of these children were to go into service, there was no alternative but to destroy their children, and on the Report of that Committee, which was referred to in this House, Sir Thomas Charley in 1872 said the evidence before the Committee showed that it was quite impossible to maintain an infant for a week upon so small a sum, and that rigid limitation led to infanticide. The mother, he said, had the alternative placed before her either to maintain her child or destroy it; otherwise she could not possibly go to service. It is in that spirit that from time to time attempts have been made to give wider and fuller opportunity of a reasonable and wholesome life to the illegitimate child. As I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Maddocks) as he was describing how Clause after Clause in this Bill was already a part of some existing Act, I wondered why he objected to the Bill at all, until at length he made clear that his objection was to compulsory declaration of parent- age, and the assumption beneath that objection—and I am not sure that even the Home Secretary has not fallen into the same error—was that it means compulsory publicity. It does not mean anything of the kind.
The provisions in this Bill should ensure compulsory declaration of parentage without any publicity at all, unless we are to agree with the hon. and learned Member for Nuneaton that the collectors themselves would be responsible for circulating the facts of the case respecting the parents. I, however, am not prepared to agree for a moment that the collectors appointed for this important work would be of a class and character calculated to act in the capacity of the village bellman and circulate broadcast the news in the way suggested. I had just as soon see the legal liabilities of this suggested Bill in the hands of these collectors as at present in the hands of lawyers, who would no more think of telling other clients the particulars of cases than I am sure the collectors will of telling their neighbours. I am very doubtful as to whether this objection to publicity or compulsory declaration does not show the cloven hoof once again of class distinction and class privilege. It is the well-to-do unwedded father who can make an offer of hush-money and who can make arrangements of a private character so as to escape paining his wife and family with the knowledge of the parentage. But the poor man, the working man, has no such opportunity of protection. He can pay no such hush-money and the woman herself, whether rich or poor, cannot escape the penalty of publicity and full knowledge.
I submit that, painful as it is to a family and to a man's wife that knowledge of an error of this sort should become known, it is worth while from the point of view of the extent to which it would act as a deterrent to illicit unions. Something must be done to create a greater deterrent to these illicit unions than any that exists at the present moment. There should be no greater protection to one class than another. The Army Act of 1881 provides that, in the event of a soldier being the father of a child, the Secretary of State may order that some small portion of his pay shall be allocated to the mother. I am not aware that there is any such Act respecting the naval service. When this Bill reaches Committee I think there ought to be some attempt made to include all the services, so that putative fathers, some of whom escape from their responsibility by joining the service, shall not any longer escape. In regard to the £2 per week maximum maintenance fee, I should like to sound a warning note. It is to be hoped that the idea behind fixing any increased affiliation fee is not to force working men into marrying a woman for economic reasons. That way is the way to discord, desertion, separation or divorce.
I was delighted to hear that the objectionable part of Clause 27 may be withdrawn with the full approval of the Mover of the Second Reading. The objectionable nature of that Clause, I am afraid, would have absolutely spoiled the efficacy of what we all regard as the essence of the Bill. Speaking entirely personally, I should like to see a Clause introduced into this Bill—and I am perfectly sure the day will come when it will obtain in this country—providing that any child on attaining a certain age shall obtain full legitimation for social and legal purposes by application to the magistrate. I trust the Second Reading will be given and that the objections raised will have careful consideration in Committee, so that we can make still another step forward in the direction of humanising a condition of things that we so deplore, and by which we have double the mortality amongst illegitimate that obtains among legitimate children, with all the attendant misery and crime of inattention and poverty.
I much regret, after listening to the speech of the Home Secretary, that he should not have seen his way to support the Second Reading of this Bill and so help us to make it what he thinks it ought to be in Committee. I rise, however, merely to ask that this Bill may be applied to Ireland. It is a Bill simply to help the children and I do not think that there are any hon. Members of this House who can be against that principle. The law in Ireland is really a disgrace to civilisation. Bills in 1870 and 1872 did something for the children of England. The children of Scotland are pretty well looked after. In Ireland in this matter we are still in the middle-ages. Nothing whatever has been done for our children born out of wedlock. Perhaps the best Clause in this Bill is Clause 27. No one can possibly defend the position that a child born out of wedlock, if the parents marry and have further children, should still remain illegitimate, and in continuing so brought into many unhappinesses which probably react on the happiness of its brothers and sisters. Such a position is indefensible, and for this reason alone the Bill should have a Second Reading.
There is another Clause equally good, that which puts all the unfortunate children under the wardship of the juvenile courts. Children's courts have been a great success. The mere fact of the wardship of these courts would, I believe, give to these unfortunate children that sense of protection which is absolutely essential for their child-life. We in Ireland pride ourselves on the fact that we have fewer illegitimate children than any other country. Still it is better to be honest, and we must admit that we have them. I am only pleading for a moment here to-day that our children in Ireland should be allowed to participate in the benefits which are sure to accrue if this Bill is passed.
We are getting accustomed here to the Home Secretary getting up in his place and defending the indefensible. When the Government have adopted an impossible position, they generally put up the right hon. Gentleman to represent them. I hope, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will insist upon having a fair proportion of cases that can be reasonably fought. As one whose name was on the original Bill, I hope the House will bear with me for two or three minutes whilst I remind them of the underlying principles of this measure, and endeavour to illustrate the position of affairs as it is to-day under the present bastardy laws. I do not think those laws are so satisfactory as the Home Secretary has suggested. I take it that the main principle underlying this Bill is that when two people are jointly responsible for giving life to a child, they must share the responsibility equally between them, and not thrust it upon one of the parties alone. Under the present position the woman bears the whole burden, or practically so. She bears the stigma, the odium and the torture that attaches to one who has offended against our social laws. She bears practically the whole of the responsibility for the maintenance of the child. I agree that the difficulties in this matter are intense, and that the solution must bring with it embarrassments. I think, however, it is most unfortunate that in this country where the legislature has been in the hands of man, that on account of the few embarrassments and difficulties practically we have not tackled this problem with any courage or determination, and we are open to the reproach as men that we have acted prejudicially as against the other sex.
Let us just examine the position. We see the position of the woman, but she is only our secondary consideration in introducing this Bill. It is the illegitimate child which is first and foremost in the consideration of this Bill. Let me remind hon. Members once again of two very significant figures. In the year 1917, out of 1,000 illegitimate children born, 201 died under one year of age, while in regard to legitimate children the proportion dying was 90 out of 1,000. I agree with the hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) that the whole position of the illegitimate child in this country is a standing disgrace and reproach. I also agree that in this Bill we have only tackled one portion of the problem. I was in the court the other day, and we listened to a category of petty crime against a man, and when he had been found guilty we were given a list of his crimes, and we found that this rascally fellow commenced his crimes the day he came into the world, because he was illegitimate.
The practice after conviction is to ask whether there has been any previous convictions; but it has never been the practice to put the question to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred.
These things are done in a somewhat chatty manner. I have practised in the courts, and often the fact of an individual being illegitimate comes out. The worse reproach one can throw against another individual is to accuse him of being a bastard, because that is considered to be a standing reproach. I stand for this Bill remaining as it is now, and I hope hon. Members who do not completely agree with this measure will vote for the Second Reading. The Home Secretary quoted societies against this Bill, but it has the support of many leading societies looking after child welfare throughout the country, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Society for Unmarried Mothers. Criticism has been directed against the compulsion placed upon a mother to give the name of the father. I think the agitation against that is of the most hypocritical description. You force a woman to declare herself the mother of an illegitimate child, and the most pitiful cases in the law courts are such cases as these. You do this, and yet you say that you are placing an unspeakable hardship upon the same unfortunate woman because you are making them reveal the name of the father. Painful as it is to say, the father and mother of an illegitimate child have committed a social offence. They have brought into being in the world one for whom we should all have the most intense sympathy, but that person will carry that stigma throughout its life. Under this Bill, the woman is only compelled to disclose what she would afterwards have to disclose before the magistrate, when she asks for the miserable 10s. a week which she is allotted at the present time. This Bill has been considered with the greatest possible care and in detail, and it has been considered that it cannot beneficially work unless the register of the father should be kept. Again I ask hon. Members to remember that we have already in our wisdom for the protection of the child insisted upon the name of the woman being registered, and the only addition to that now is that the name of the father should be added as well. The main argument outside this House against this Bill is that charges involving blackmail may be likely. That was lightly brushed aside by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. It is possible that there may be 500 cases of blackmail more per year, but I do not think it will really be so. Still, I accept that; and if we can save the lives of 5,000 children, why should we be so tender or so anxious about those unfortunate men who may be blackmailed. It is only people with a guilty conscience who are afraid of blackmail. Is there any Member in this House who thinks that this Bill may react against himself, or who would hesitate to pass this Bill because some preposterous charge could be made against him which he could with perfect ease refute? The notion is ridiculous. It is possible that blackmailing charges can be brought under the present system.
I am glad that that point has been raised. She is forced to give the name of the man when she goes before the justice, and the man, if he is able to refute the charge, will be cleared and his name will also be cleared. There is nothing in the present law and nothing in the Bill that need be feared in this respect. I suggest that this is a full-blooded, practical Bill. It deals with the problem in a business-like way, and I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind the terrible state of affairs which exists to-day and will go wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill. At any rate they should agree to give it a Second Reading, and to do that it is not necessary to go so far as I have.
I should not describe this Bill as a full-blooded Bill but as a thoroughly bad Bill based on thoroughly good intentions. That is why it is so difficult for anyone who has sympathy with its objects to speak of it in terms of disrespect. My view is that it is the duty of the Government in a matter of this sort to give us definite guidance and lead. We had an interesting speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. He conveyed to us that the Government would take the whips off and have nothing to do with the Bill. I think that Clause 27 is the vital clause in the Bill, and my theory is that if we were to send the Bill to Committee it would have very little chance of life. But if it is withdrawn by the promoters on the understanding that the Government would bring in a Bill embodying Clause 27 in an improved form I shall be ready to vote against the Second Reading and leave it to the Government to deal with these vital matters affecting the social and physical well-being of the community. That Clause 27
is the vital clause of the Bill is shown by a letter I have received from a lady. I will quote part of it. She says:
I wish to enlist your sympathies in certain cases not provided for by the Bill which proposes to legalise only those children whose parents at the time of children's birth could 'lawfully have inter-married.' But what about the poor children of those who, however willing, were debarred from marrying at the time of their children's birth? Are they never to become legitimate, though their parents have married at the earliest possible moment, the law enabled them to do so?.2026; My own case is one in point. I am married to a man who is the father of my three children, and whose legal wife refused to divorce him until it suited her convenience to do so. He was legally debarred from instituting proceedings himself, although his wife from the first days of his marriage had been unfaithful, and was eight times subsequently in lunatic asylums and inebriates establishments. We are, however, now, as I say, legally united. My husband's only child of his first marriage fell in the War, and it seems hard that any stigma should rest upon our three little ones, to whom we are devoted.
I agree that we cannot deal with these matters altogether in a humanitarian or sentimental way, and that is why this is the most dangerous form of legislation which we see especially on Friday afternoons. This subject is so vital that the Government should take it in hand and advise the House to reject the Bill but promise that if the promoters withdraw it the Government will at the earliest possible opportunity do what is necessary to protect these unfortunate children and give every opportunity to parents to do their duty to these children in the most beneficial way so that they may be treated properly and not be in a worse position than the legitimate child. If I had anything to do with a Bill of this kind I would give an opportunity to the man to make a declaration which would legitimise his child. I would deprecate any attempt to put passion into these discussions. It is too big a subject for that. It should be considered dispassionately. I also deprecate the attitude of some members of the Labour party who try to make out that this is class legislation. I do not believe in the old "Bow Bells" novelette about the squire and the farmer's daughter. A great deal of the illegitimacy which takes place is among people of the same class. We are supporting the principle of this Bill for the sake of the children, and I appeal to the Government to give us a lead, and to the promoters to withdraw it if there is a promise from
the Government that they will bring forward a measure because they understand all the details of the question and the difficulties of dealing with it.
I shall not detain the House more than a few minutes, but, in accordance with instructions which I have received from certain societies in Ireland, I desire to ask that this Bill should be applied to Ireland. We have illegitimates in Ireland, though I am proud to be able to say that they are not in such a large proportion as in England or in Scotland. We have, however, just those features with which this Bill is designed to deal, and we should like to have its provisions extended to Ireland. A series of objections were raised by the Home Secretary to the way in which the Bill is drafted and generally set out; but that is not the first time we have heard the Government take exception to private Bills introduced into this House. The same thing occurred a short time ago with regard to the Bill dealing with the condition of the Blind, and yet that Bill received the approval of the House, and is now in its Committee stage. I am not here to make contentions on behalf of the fathers or mothers in these cases, but to speak on behalf of what is called the bastard child, who is subject to social stigma. I have always been of opinion that there should be no discrimination as between the bastard child on the one hand, and the legitimate child on the other. I canot help thinking of the scene in "King Lear," where Edmund asks:
Why bastard? Wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue,
I believe there are many hon. Members of this House who consider that the sin in such cases is only a sin against convention. I think we should make no discrimination, but that there should be protection for these children and that no stigma should attach to them, and that they should have the same advantages and privileges as are accorded to legitimate children. With regard to the question of publicity, it is the parents who are in error, if there is error at all. The children are innocent, and we are out to protect them, and there is nothing in this Bill that can be objected to from that point of view. I hope the House will see
the solemn responsibility that devolves upon it to give encouragement to this Bill, and have it sent to a Committee, where the objections may be removed, so that on the Report stage we may find that it is a proper Bill for the purpose, and one which may be applied to the benefit of the community. I most cordially support the Bill, in spite of the objections which have been raised against it on behalf of the Government.
Captain TUDOR REES:
With the underlying principles of this Bill I am in cordial agreement, and I propose to vote for the Second Reading. I do not, however, want to record merely a silent vote, because there are several Clauses of the measure with which I do not agree. We have heard a good deal to-day about infantile mortality, and if I were satisfied that any or all of these Clauses were calculated to save the life of one single illegitimate child, I should certainly be in favour of them. I am not at all satisfied that any of the provisions of the Bill are so calculated. It has not been explained to us how life is to be saved if this Bill becomes law. So far as I have been able to follow it, the only advantage accruing to the mother will be an additional payment, by which she will be able to maintain and support her child in a manner which is not now possible when the limit is 10s. per week. With that I agree, and I believe the Government will agree; they want to increase the amount from the beggarly pittance of 10s. to a more reasonable and proper figure. After very careful examination of the provisions of the Bill, however, I do not see anything in which it is calculated to save the life of any illegitimate child. With the unfortunate mother of an illegitimate child I have the most profound sympathy, and I would do anything and everything I could to help and encourage her, and, so far as is possible, to remove the stigma that is imposed upon her. At the same time, I would do everything I could to impose, not exactly a penalty, but some form of pain upon the scoundrel responsible for her misfortune, and so far as this Bill is calculated to do either or both of those two things, I support it. My hon. and gallant Friend behind me (Captain Loseby) said that this Bill would act as a deterrent. I have had considerable practice in cases of this
class, and I am not at all satisfied that anything we do in this House will act as a deterrent so long as men have, as they undoubtedly have, a very large dose of human nature. My hon. and gallant Friend said he wanted, as far as possible, to get rid of the great reproach attaching to these unfortunate women, and he mentioned an instance which I think was an unfortunate one, and which he did not substantiate or corroborate. I have never in the course of my experience come across such a case in the Law Courts. My objection to certain Clauses of this Bill is that stigma and reproach are going to be emphasised and perpetuated. As I have said, I have had to do with many of these cases, and in a large number, undoubtedly, the sin or misfortune can be lived down. Private arrangements have been made, and the mother has been saved a certain amount of shame, while the father has escaped any consequences of what, after all, some people regard as a natural but unfortunate offence against our social order. This Bill is going to make a private arrangement utterly impossible. [
HON. MEMBERS: "No, no! "] If a private arrangement is made it must be entered upon the records of the court, and you also have the collecting officer. If I am wrong, I am open to correction. I quite agree that it is proper to equalise the responsibility, but so far as I understand the Bill, it means that if two unfortunate people, wanting to share and equalise their responsibility, enter into a private arrangement, that arrangement has to be disclosed and ceases to be private. The man wants to do the proper thing by the child and by the mother. I have been instrumental in a large number of cases in bringing about private and secret arrangements to the satisfaction of all parties. As soon as such an arrangement is entered into, it is filed in the court and the collecting officer knows about it, and you are placing in the hands of a collecting officer, who knows everyone in a particular district, an enormous power for mischief and for pernicious performances. You might come across a man who, while he is in office, will observe secrecy and privacy with regard to these intimate but painful and unfortunate matters, but what is going to happen when he ceases to be a collecting officer? So long as he remains in that district he is a source of
danger to the peace and well-being of men and women who have been unfortunate.
I hope they will, but I am pointing out the danger that they might not. In any case you are placing in the hands of an individual a power which he may use to the disadvantage of others. I shall vote for the Bill because it contains a good deal which will prove of advantage. It is mixed up with a good many things which are not so good, but that may be altered in Committee. One thing I like about the Bill is Clause 27. I think that meets with general approval.
The right hon. Baronet is in splendid isolation, which he very often enjoys. It will meet, at any rate, with general approval with one distinguished exception. I should like to mention a case which was recently brought to my notice. A constituent of mine wrote me and said her daughter was suffering under unfortunate circumstances. She was engaged to be married to a young man in the Territorials. They were indiscreet and committed an error, and the girl, just before the outbreak of the War, was an expectant mother. They intended to be married some time in August, 1914. The man was prepared to do the proper thing and they were not at all unhappy about the future. The young man was called up and went abroad to Mesopotamia and elsewhere. He was away altogether for four years. The child was born some months after the outbreak of War. Last year he came home and married the girl. The child was about three years old, and there, in that household, there is to-day living with the father and mother, a child who by the law of this land is illegitimate and, so far as society is concerned, something of an outcast. I warmly welcome Clause 27, and I hope we shall not have any difficulties on it, because I believe it is calculated to remove considerable hardship and remedy injustice, and although I disagree with some other provisions, I propose to vote for the Second Reading.
I agree that the Bill requires considerable amendment, but I feel that we have here an opportunity of effecting a long-delayed and much-needed reform. I cannot see why in a Standing Committee, with a discussion of probably not more than a couple of hours, an arrangement might not be arrived at which would enable us to pass the two most valuable Clauses in the Bill. I feel quite sure that if the promoters found the feeling of the Standing Committee was against the sweeping changes they propose in the first and subsequent Clauses they would not persist. The proceedings might therefore be comparatively short and we might very well, within a couple of sittings, bring the Bill down in such a form that the Government would give its support and pass it into law this Session. With that prospect as a probability, I shall feel it against my duty to vote against the Bill. After all, Clause 27, if robbed of that somewhat ungenerous proviso, represents what I believe to be the almost unanimous feeling of the House. I understand the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) was the only pebble on the beach in his opposition to-day. I should like to ask the Solicitor-General for Scotland this question: I am not a Scottish lawyer, but I believe by the law of Scotland legitimation by subsequent marriage has been in actual operation for many years.
That is the point I wish to make. That is the rule of Scots law. It also represents the old rule of the Roman law, a rule which was, I think, most just, and which has operated in Scotland without any of the terrible consequences which people seem to attach to its operation in this Bill. I understand the right hon. Baronet thinks it will be a terrible thing if landed property, especially in the City of London, were to descend to a person who at his birth was illegitimate, but was subsequently legitimised by the marriage of his parents. If we get into these regions we are moving in a very artificial atmosphere, because not even he would object to the legitimacy of a child whose parents went through the ceremony of marriage one day before the child was born, and yet he will stamp that child with all the terrible social and legal consequences of illegitimacy if the ceremony of marriage was not gone through till one day after the child was born. One day makes all the difference in the whole of the subsequent career of that child. With the feeling of the House on the human question what it is we ought to give the Bill a Second Reading and do everything we can by friendly cooperation to arrive at a speedy arrangement to bring it down to the House and remind the Government of the pledge they gave to-day to carry it into law.
My hon. Friend who has just sat down advanced the argument in support of one of these clauses of which he approves that it is done in Scotland. Nobody in the House or in the country has a greater admiration for Scotland, for the people of Scotland, and for Scottish laws generally than I have, but after all, the people of Scotland, though very nearly perfect, are not quite perfect, and they have some defects. We know that they are nearly perfect, because a large proportion of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench and of the right hon. Gentleman who are supposed to occupy the Front Opposition Bench come from Scotland, and we poor Englishmen have to take back seats. We do not object, because we recognise their superiority, but even with a superior race, or a race of supermen like Scotsmen, followed in a remoter degree by the Welsh, they do make mistakes, and I think that in this particular case they have made a mistake. My hon. Friend says, "Supposing that a man and a woman go through the ceremony of marriage one day before their child is born, then that child is not illegitimate." After all, those two sinners have repented in time to make their child legitimate. It is a very different thing, when they have had all those opportunities of making the child legitimate, and have refused to do it, that we should come down and say that the child should be legitimised because of something that has taken place later.
I do not think that legitimizing the child will alter the future of the race. The hon. Member for the Wrekin Division (Mr. Palmer) gave an illustration of what would happen if Clause 27 were to become law. He said that he had received a letter from a married lady who had met a married man, and against the law of the church and the law of the country had committed adultery, and who wanted to know if her child could be legitimised if she could succeed in getting a divorce and in inducing the man to marry her. I have such old-fashioned notions of morality and religion that I cannot conceive that any Member of the House, certainly not a Member of the Church of England, would seriously consider that would be a proper course to pursue, but it shows what is behind all this and that by doing what to some kind-hearted people seems wise, you would open the door to all sorts of abuses which you would find it very difficult to stop. The hon. Member for East Bradford (Captain Loseby) said that the opposition to this Bill was a little hypocritical. That is a strong word to use. I happen, for the moment, and perhaps on many other subjects, to disagree with the hon. and gallant Member, but I should hesitate to describe his conduct as hypocritical because he did not happen to agree with me.
I stated that one particular argument, the argument of compelling the woman to register the name of the man when you have already compelled her to register her own name was hypocritical. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I was not referring to any particular person.
I am very glad to hear the explanation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to blame the Home Secretary. I really do not see in what way the Home Secretary is to blame. I did not hear his speech, though I am sure it was a model of lucidity, but I understand that he expressed his opinion, which he had a perfectly legitimate right to do, that this Bill was not a good Bill, and that the Government could not take any responsibility for it. I do not see any harm in that. I should have preferred if the Government had said they intended to put the Whips on against the Bill; but it is not very usual to put the Whips on against a private Member's Bill unless the Bill happens to be one which ought to be introduced by the Government. Therefore, I do not see what blame can be attached to the Home Secretary. The hon. Member went on to say that both parties, the father and the mother, shared the responsibility between them, but that the mother took all the odium and all the torture. That is, unfortunately, the law of nature. A large number of people who attach far greater importance to Acts of Parliament than I do seem to think that all you have to do to remedy the ills that flesh is heir to is to pass an Act of Parliament. My experience is the reverse. I find that Acts of Parliament generally result in far more harm than good.
I have been a magistrate for a good many years, and I have always felt that the power that the magistrates have in a clear case where a man is the father of a child—and in many cases the father is more to blame than the mother, or quite as much—to impose a certain sum is not sufficient. I have always felt that the sums which were imposed by law to compel a man to contribute towards the maintenance of his illegitimate child are insufficient. Whenever I have had occasion to administer the law I have always advocated the imposition of the highest possible sum to be paid by the father to the mother, consistent with his means, and always presuming that he was able to contribute such sum. If a man chooses to have a child he ought to be responsible for it. I should welcome any Bill which would increase the amount which magistrates are entitled to impose upon the father. I have always found that not only have the majority of the fathers protested very much against paying anything, but in many cases after the magistrates have decided that they are to pay a certain sum they have not paid it, and we constantly have them brought up before us for having refused to contribute. We do not order a, contribution unless we are well satisfied they can pay, and undoubtedly they could pay, but they decline to do so. Any law which would compel them not only to pay the largest contribution, but to keep up that contribution without all the trouble that it entails upon the mother in coming before the magistrate to enforce the payment of what has already been ordered, I should strongly support. But because I approve of one Clause in the Bill it does not follow that it is the right thing to vote for the whole Bill. There are 30 Clauses, and I do not see any argument why I should vote for a Bill of 30 Clauses, with the majority of which I disapprove, because there happens to be one or two Clauses of which I do approve. It has been brought to my notice, and I believe it is correct, that the clerk to the justices will be the prosecutor in some circumstances under this Bill. The Clerk to the Justices is also the adviser of the Justices upon points of law. That is a very serious blot in the Bill.
I have not read all the Clauses, but I understand that what I have said is correct. I have always been opposed to women's suffrage, and I am still opposed to it. What is the attitude of women upon this Bill? The supporters of women's suffrage always say that it is necessary to give the vote to
women because there are questions which affect women and that when these questions come before the House if the women have a vote the House will deal with those questions in the way in which the women desire. I have received a letter from the Women's Freedom League. I do not know whether it has been read to the House, but if so I apologise. It is dated the 3rd May and it states:
At the 13th Annual Conference of the Women's Freedom League.…a resolution was passed unanimously promising uncompromising opposition to those clauses of the Bastardy Bill which propose to compel the mother to disclose the name of the father of her child, and to make the child a ward of the Court, thus connecting it with the Police Courts from its earliest infancy, and making its mother merely a guardian on sufferance.
I will read the whole of the letter. It proceeds:
This resolution also urged that the mother and the child, if necessitous, shall in future come under the Public Health Authority's Maternity and Child Welfare Committee, the Children Act to be put into operation, when neglect is proved, equally in regard to legitimate and illegitimate children.
We venture to enclose you a copy of our paper 'The Vote,' on page 28 of which you will see some of our reasons for opposing this new Bastardy Bill, and we commend them to your very kind consideration. We are convinced that this Bill is an attack on the liberty of the subject. It proposes to extend and accentuate the present wholly unsatisfactory system of dealing with the necessitous unmarried mother and her child to all unmarried mothers and their children, and to make their position practically intolerable. We feel certain that if the provisions of this Bill become law the number of abortions and cases of blackmail will be largely increased, and we urge you definitely to oppose this Bill and prevent its provisions from becoming law.
In these circumstances, I feel very much inclined to accede to the request made to me by the Women's Freedom League. It does seem to me that on a question largely concerning women we should listen to their counsel. I will not say that everything which they say is sound but the greater part of it is sound and ought to be supported by voting against the Second Reading. Perhaps my action may show the women voters of the country that though I was and still am opposed to their having the vote, I am always
prepared to listen to any reasonable suggestion which they make. The suggestions which they make at the end of their letter hardly coincide with the statements of hon. Members opposite who appear to consider that this is going to do a great deal of good to the children. I doubt very much whether it will do any good to the children. The question of blackmail was passed over very lightly by an hon. Member who seems to think that there would be no difficulty in a man, if accusations were made against him, appearing in a court of law denying them and, if possible, proving that the accusations were wrong.
I will not discuss the legal effect of Clause 8 though I think it goes a little further than my hon. Friend says. But one of the Clauses compels the woman to disclose the name of the father. There must be a considerable number of cases in which it is impossible for the woman to do so. What is to happen in those circumstances? The woman will have to name somebody and may possibly, quite innocently, name the wrong person. Think of the position of the man brought into court and told to prove that he is not the father of this particular child. No doubt there are a great many people living together who are supposed to be married and who are not. If they have a child they will have to disclose that they are not married. The Bill is brought forward with good intentions, but a certain place is said to be paved with good intentions, and this Bill does not do what it is supposed to do. It was asked, was there anyone in this House who could be injured in this way? We know that there is a large number of people who are on the look out to see if they cannot extort money from anyone by threatening to disclose something which has occurred in his career. They may get hold of something which is untrue. It is not everyone who has moral courage, and a person may not care to go to a court of law. He may have done some thing which he does not want disclosed, though it is not wrong, or he may say, "people will say there is no smoke without fire and as this thing is alleged to have taken place there must be something in it." Charges of this kind cannot be disposed of in this summary way in which the hon. Member suggest.
Mr. J. JONES:
We support this Bill because we want equality of treatment so far as this particular matter is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman has talked of the possibility of blackmail and the rights of parents and the legal position that might arise in consequence of considerations of property, but he has not said a single word about the rights of the child, which are, after all, the most important consideration in this matter. As he claims to be one of the great Imperialists, one of the champions of Empire and property, I would ask him how he squares his Imperial considerations with the opposition which he offers to this Bill, because in all our Colonies, even in the neighbouring country, Scotland, where they have independent laws in matters of this character, the very things contained in this Bill in the main are part and parcel of the law of the land. Even this House in its early days passed special Acts of Parliament to guarantee the right of succession to the Throne to the illegitimate offspring of kings. Here is a great Conservative coming from the very hotbed of all that is holy and constitutional, denying to the common citizens of the country rights which his ancestors gave to the Kings, their lords and their lackeys. What was good enough for the aristocrats of old ought to be good enough for the democrats of to-day—equality of right before the law.
I am not going to argue about blackmail because my class cannot be blackmailed. They have not much to be blackmailed of, but the man who is prepared to undertake responsibility ought to be prepared to shoulder it, and if people find the possibility of making a convenience of a woman, then they ought to be prepared to face the music when the time comes. There is nothing in this Act which says that a man is guilty before he is proved to be innocent. This gives the people who are claiming to establish guilt the right to demonstrate it, and whatever fault may be found with certain Clauses of the Bill—and I object to some of them because I think they go too far—those clauses can be amended in Committee. The principle of the Bill is to guarantee at least fair and equal treatment in so far as this special matter is concerned. Therefore I wish to support the Bill. I hope that the right hon. Baronet will reconsider the situation and that, even on his deathbed, from the standpoint of doing justice to the people as a whole, he will forget the City of London.
It would not be proper to allow this matter to go to a Division without some cognisance being taken of the observations and arguments of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). Acts of Parliament, he said, do more harm than good, especially those with good intentions. I agree with him to a certain extent. I will give him an example, but I do not think he will agree with me. He is responsible for introducing into this House year after year a Bill full of good intentions, but which, with all its good intentions, he nevertheless declares would do more harm than good if it reached the Statute Book. I allude to the Anti-Vivisection Bill. There are many of us who have admired his resource and qualities in debate and thought him a political Gamaliel at whose feet we could sit. It is distressing to find that after all our idol has feet of clay. My right hon. Friend quoted with great unction a letter from the Women's Freedom League. He agreed with so much of it as suited his purpose, and then developed the astounding argument that wherever the women agreed with him they were right, and wherever they disagreed with him they were wrong. In other words, the right hon. Baronet is infallible, and everyone else is in the wrong. I do not imagine he will expect the House to assent to a proposition of that kind. He resents being described as hypocritical. I will make the more odious charge against him that in this matter he is sincere. He tells us that if parents allow a child to be born out of wedlock the child must put up with it, and he expects any man in this House of any decent feeling, any father in this House who has children of his own, whom he hopes to see grow up into honourable citizens, respecting their parents who brought them into being—he expects us to assent to an atrocious doctrine of that kind. If there were no other reasons for not assenting to his proposition or for voting for this Bill, that reason would be sufficient to determine my course of action. He was asked, what of the child? He retorted with a contemptuous gesture that he was tired of all the sickly sentimentality which would make a child proud of Its parentage, tired of the sickly sentimentality which desired morality in the home and in the community, tired of the sickly sentimentality that seeks to confer upon the child legal rights instead of forcing it to bear through life the stigma of an indelible stain. And we are expected to applaud sentiments of that sort. These children are in a very real sense moral waifs. We take care of them in a
physical sense, and the nation recognises its obligation in that regard. Surely moral considerations are at least as high as material considerations. If that is so, the House will I hope provide, as I am sure the country will welcome, the machinery which proposes to confer upon them a moral status hitherto denied to them. Should the mothers of these children die the children are flung upon the world, and there is no sanctuary left to them except the workhouse. We would desire to rescue them from that deplorable position. We desire to elevate them, and to confer upon them the rights enjoyed by every child born in wedlock.
|Division No. 104.]||AYES.||[3.53 p.m.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S.||Hinds, John||Palmer, Charles Frederick (Wrekin)|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Hoare, Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. J. G.||Rankin, Captain James S.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. (Glas., Gorbals)||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)|
|Beck, Sir C. (Essex, Saffron Walden)||Holmes, J. Stanley||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Blrchall, Major J. Dearman||Hopkins, John W. W.||Rogers, Sir Hallewell|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Bottomley, Horatio W.||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Irving, Dan||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Bowles, Colonel H. F.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Seddon, J. A.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Jephcott, A. R.||Sexton, James|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel A. H.||Jesson, C.||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Johnstone, Joseph||Spoor, B. C.|
|Burn, T. H. (Belfast, St. Anne's)||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Taylor, J.|
|Campbell, J. D. G.||Kelly, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Kerr||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Kiley, James D.||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||Lawson, John J.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Dawes, James Arthur||Lindsay, William Arthur||Vickers, Douglas|
|Dixon, Captain Herbert||Lloyd, George Butler||Wallace, J.|
|Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Lloyd-Greame, Major P.||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Lonsdale, James Rolston||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Lorden, John William||Warren, Lieut.-Col. Sir Alfred H.|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Wason, John Cathcart|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lynn, R. J.||Waterson, A. E.|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||M'Guffin, Samuel||Whitla. Sir William|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Wignall, James|
|Grant, James A.||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Manville, Edward||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Mills, John Edmund||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Moles, Thomas||Wood. Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Hallas, Eldred||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Hanna, George Boyle||Mount, William Arthur||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Harmsworth, Sir R. L. (Calthness)||Murray, Lt.-Col. C. D.(Edinburgh)||Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Harris, Sir Henry Percy||Newman, Colonel J. R. P.(Finchley)||Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)|
|Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D.L. (Exeter)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.|
|Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, Yeovil)||O'Grady, Captain James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Ormsby-Gore, Captain Hon. W.||Mr. N. Chamberlain and Mr. A. Williams.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Lort-Willlams, J.||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Brown, Captain D. C.||Maddocks, Henry|
|Cautley, Henry S.||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Sir F. Banbury and Mr. J. F. Green.|