I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
Many Motions of a very controversial nature are laid before this House, many speeches are made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen with great passion, and many remarks are made which later may be regretted. This Bill, both on its Second Reading and in Committee, has evoked no passion on either side. It has been supported by both sides of the House as a Measure which will be of benefit to a large number of people. Those Amendments which were made in Committee were Amendments standing in my name, and were really only drafting Amendments.
But that does not mean that this is an unimportant Bill. It is a Bill which will bring the maximum payments that can be awarded by a magistrates' court to the mother of a child born out of wedlock into line with the payments which can be awarded in respect of a child born in wedlock when the father has deserted the mother and the child.
There are many more children born out of wedlock in this country than is generally realised. The figure is about 32,000 a year. That does not mean that all those mothers will be applying to the magistrates' courts, because private arrangements are sometimes made. There has been a unanimous feeling in the House that, whether a child be born in wedlock or out of wedlock, the mother should be able to secure the same financial assistance towards its upbringing. In introducing this Bill I received a number of letters from people and organisations suggesting that certain things should be included, but this Bill deals only with the payment of a maximum of 30s. a week, and also extends the period in which education can be given up to the age of 21.
I know that there is a good deal of business to be got through today, and I will therefore conclude by expressing my personal thanks to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides for the kindly assistance they have given me in introducing this my first Measure. I should also like to express my thanks to the drafting officers who so kindly gave much of their time and advice to assist me in presenting the Bill to the House, and I hope that it will now meet with approval.
Many of us were here until three o'clock or four o'clock this morning—[HON. MEMBERS: "Later."]—and later than that I am reminded, so I do not think there will be many long speeches on this Bill. In fact, that would be inappropriate, considering the unanimous approval with which it has been received by the House.
A few months ago I had the honour of seconding the Motion for Second Reading, but other Parliamentary duties prevented me from sharing in the work of improving this Bill in Committee. I am therefore in a position to congratulate the Committee on what they did to improve it. It was a good Bill before and it is now a better Bill. We should be grateful, and say so, to the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) who chose this Bill when he was fortunate enough to be successful in the Ballot. It is a Bill which enables us to remedy a real injustice, and I hope that the House will take the opportunity to do so.
I wish to express my gratification at seeing this Bill about to be placed on the Statute Book. It is long overdue. At the same time I would express the gratification one feels that this difficult subject can now be discussed without the heat and prejudice which would have been engendered not so many years ago. When one remembers that about 100 years ago one of the most distinguished ladies in English letters, Mrs. Gaskell, was the subject of very severe comment and persecution for her very humane feeling with this problem in her famous novel "Ruth," one realises how much we have progressed since that time.
After all, the people we have to think about are the children involved in this phase of society. It is a good thing that we can now contemplate that it is the duty of those responsible for the upbringing of such children to see that they get the highest form of education for which their abilities and aptitudes show it to be capable of receiving.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), not merely on instituting the Bill, but on the way he has handled it during its various stages. I hope that it may be the means of giving to many thousand of children a feeling that, no matter how other people may have sinned, they are entitled to live the life of full citizens in the community, and especially among those of their own age.
I agree with what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said. This is an excellent Measure, and the Government are wholly in favour of it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), on his good fortune and on his skill. I thank him for piloting this Bill through the House, and I hope that very soon it will be on the Statute Book.