Clause 1. — Extension of duty of Minister of Pensions to care for orphans.)

Orders of the Day — War Orphans Bill. – in the House of Commons on 3rd February 1942.

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Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, after "Kingdom," to insert "or the Isle of Man."

I think the Amendment explains itself. The Isle of Man authorities have requested me to include the Isle of Man in the provisions of this Bill, and I am prepared to do so if the House will accept the proposal.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Thomas Harvey Mr Thomas Harvey , Combined English Universities

I beg to move, in page 1, line 11 after "suffering," to insert" or in danger of suffering."

The Amendment is designed to make it clear that it is not necessary that the child in question should actually have been reduced to suffering before the Minister could intervene. I will give a case in point. It is a typical case of the war orphan who is left dependent upon an aged grandmother who perhaps is physically unable, although loving the child, to give the care needed. There may be an aunt or some other relation to whom the Minister could transfer the child. It is undesirable that a child should be reduced to the condition of suffering before transfer can take place. If the Amendment were accepted it would enable the Minister to act where he had reasonable ground to believe that suffering would be likely to occur and not wait until the actual suffering took place.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I have a great deal of sympathy with the Amendment, but it would put me into a very difficult position if it were inserted in the Bill, because it would then have general application, and that is where I should find myself in very great difficulty. It would be going beyond the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act and also the practice of the court in administering that Act. I do not think that, as Minister of Pensions, I ought to claim any provision in the Bill such as this that Parliament has not granted before. I think we can deal with the question that the hon. Member has raised easily by administration. At the moment Parliament has given me power to withhold pension where I was not satisfied that proper care and attention were being paid, or even if I felt that there was a danger that that proper care and attention would not be paid. I can deal with such a case as that which he quoted quite easily under the Bill when it becomes an Act.

There are some excellent women attached to the Department who make it their special work to visit children for whom the Minister is responsible from time to time and to report upon the conditions under which they live. I hope that my hon. Friend will therefore realise that we can deal with this matter without actually inserting such a provision as he suggests in the Bill. We often receive letters from people complaining that a child is not being properly cared for and one of our visitors ascertains the real facts. In many cases we find that it is usually a little jealousy on the part of a relative who would like the child and the money. When they say, "Please let me have an orphan in my home because I can do with the money," they are not the kind of people I want. I want them to take children and cherish them and to realise that it is not so much a money question as a question of taking care of the children. Perhaps after my explanation the hon. Member will agree to withdraw his Amendment, and I can assure him that such cases are rare, and they can be dealt with.

Photo of Mr Thomas Harvey Mr Thomas Harvey , Combined English Universities

In view of the very sympathetic and understanding reply of the Minister and his assurance to the Committee that he will deal with the question by administrative methods, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Morpeth

The right hon. Gentleman will remember that a question was raised when he introduced the Bill and that on account of the promptitude of the Chair and the slowness of someone else, no answer was given to the question. I would like to put that question now, because the matter is causing considerable perturbation on the part of a number of people. There must be a considerable number. The case is this: There has been bombing everywhere, and perhaps where a mother has been killed a child may have been taken away by a sister or relative. It has perhaps been adopted without any formal adoption. The father disappears, and, as in the case I have in mind, people take the particular child to their hearts. It has a good home and is brought up as their own children would be, and I have no doubt it will have every opportunity to grow into a very strong, healthy child. If the father should turn up after the child had been brought up in this way up to the age of 14, 15 or 16, when it begins to be useful in the labour market, it would present a difficulty. He might say that the child was not adopted and that he could claim him. I do not know whether the Minister could take steps in a case like that. These people who are quite willing to bring up a charge, give it a home and make it one of the family fear this kind of thing happening, and I do not know whether the Minister could do anything to safeguard these kindly people.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I would like to apologise to the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) for the fact that this question was not answered on the Second Reading. I promised to let him have a reply after I had gone into the matter carefully with him. However, I thank the hon. Gentleman opposite for bringing it forward to-day, because I am now able to clear up the matter. In a position like this the whole thing will have to go before the court. So far as my Department are concerned, we are prepared to deal with total orphans—the Bill gives me power to deal with them—but as regards the others which the hon. Member mentioned, my Department have to pay the pension, and I should not hesitate to go before the courts and raise strong objection to a child being taken out of custody of the people concerned where I thought they were the right persons to look after the child. I would do everything I could to oppose an application by a parent who had neglected a child.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, to be considered upon the next Sitting Day.