Orders of the Day — Legitimacy Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th May 1959.

Alert me about debates like this

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause.—(LEGITIMATION OF ACCEPTED CHILD.)

Any child born to a married woman, and accepted as one of the family by her husband, shall be deemed to be the child of her marriage to her husband, provided she was married at the time of the child's birth, and upon acceptance by the husband, the birth certificate shall be amended to provide that the said child is the legitimate child of the marriage.—[Mr. Parker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Parker Mr John Parker , Dagenham

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Under present law, there is a legal presumption that any child born during marriage is legitimate unless the spouses are living apart because of a court order. But there are unfortunately gaps in this legal presumption.

I should like to raise a difficult case which will illustrate my point. A man was married at the beginning of the war. He joined the Army and was abroad for the greater part of the war on war service. While he was out of the country a child was born to his wife. There was no doubt that it was not his child.

When the wife went to the Registrar to register the child she "hummed and hawed "about filling in the name of the father on the birth certificate. She was asked point blank by the Registrar whether her husband was the father of the child. She again "hummed and hawed "before giving an answer and the Registrar told her that it would be best to leave the father's name vacant and when he returned from overseas he could decide whether he would accept the child and fill in the space in the register as the father of the child. When the husband returned he at once accepted the child. He was anxious to make a success of the marriage and build it up again after this lapse by his wife during his absence, and ever since that date he has done his best to try to get the child registered with his own name as the father so that it would be legitimate.

The position now is that under legal presumption the child remains legitimate until some action is taken to prove it illegitimate. The child is now 14 years of age and has not been informed of these difficulties. There are other children of the family, undoubtedly the children of the husband and wife, who have been born since and who treat this child as an elder brother and as part of the family.

The husband feels that this position is unsatisfactory because the child's position has not really been cleared up. At some later stage the younger members of the family might take action to prove the so-called elder brother illegitimate. They would know the times when the father was out of the country and the date of the elder brother's birth. Other interested parties might at some time in the future take such action, and undoubtedly if the matter were taken to court they would be able to prove their case. The father feels that it is unsatisfactory to have that hanging over the happy relations in his family.

There is another unfortunate matter. The child's birth certificate has no entry under "Father's name ". If at any time the child wants a copy of the certificate for a job or any other reason that fact will be revealed and the child will want to know why the father's name has not been entered on the birth certificate. That again is very unsatisfactory for the child.

The legal authorities have advised the father that the best way out of the difficulty would be to adopt the child. Had that been done when he came home originally it might have been an easy way out. If he were now to adopt the child, the child would want to know why it had been adopted, questions would be put and the illegitimacy would be revealed. The child would know that the man he thought was his father was not his father. The father does not want an upset of that kind in the family. The Clause I am suggesting is necessary to clear up and prevent this kind of difficulty arising. At present there are a great many cases where it may well be that the husband is not the father of the child in his family. In fact, the husband I have referred to was told of a number of such instances.

Another man serving during part of the war in this country found that his wife had a child in somewhat similar circumstances. In that case, because access to the wife was possible, even though he was stationed in some other part of the country during the period of gestation, that was considered an adequate reason for the husband's name being entered as the father.

We know that many attempts have been made in the courts to try to give the benefit of the doubt in regard to legitimacy where the period of gestation has been accepted to be as long as in one case over a year and in other cases as short as six months. The courts are doing their best to reduce the number of illegitimate children and to give as much help as they can in the difficult cases by such decisions, but decisions of this kind should be made by Parliament and not by the courts. A Clause of this kind to clear up the matter and fill in these gaps is desirable, and I hope that the House will be prepared to accept it.

On the general point, I stress the fact that such an addition to the law would help family life because it would help a husband to rebuild a marriage in very difficult cases. We all want to prevent a marriage going on the rocks and breaking up, and anything we can do to help to hold a marriage together and rebuild it if there have been difficulties in the marriage is desirable, and Parliament should do its best to help. It is undesirable to have within the same family unit some legitimate and some illegitimate children, or some who may have doubts as to whether they are legitimate or not. That does not make for happy family life or for strong family feeling.

I should have thought that by passing a Clause of this kind we would be doing justice and helping the child who is not in any way responsible in the first instance. Secondly, we should be doing our best to help the husband, who, after all, has done what I think most people would consider to be both generous and right, to try to rebuild his marriage and make a success of it. I think that Parliament ought to do whatever it can to help in such cases when the opportunity arises.

1.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Royle Mr Charles Royle , Salford West

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has made a powerful plea for the adoption of this proposed new Clause, and most of the arguments for it were made in his speech. When my hon. Friend introduced the Bill, after having been fortunate in the Ballot, he had it in mind to wipe out from our language, as far as possible, the term "illegitimate child". I have said before that the time has arrived when that term should cease to be part of our language. In all our considerations of this matter, I have been on the side of the child. Children in our society still grow up with this tag attached to them throughout their lives.

There are still prejudiced people and these things are brought up and thrown at the child as it grows into an adult. Anything we can do towards removing the term is desirable. Throughout our consideration of these things, cases such as those which my hon. Friend mentioned have come to our notice and it has been realised that in spite of what Clause 1 does there are still gaps, of which this is one.

If a man is prepared to forget and to set out to re-establish his association with his wife and to re-establish family associations and to go forward with a united family, the House has the responsibility of seeing that he has the opportunity to do so. This is one more step towards wiping out a term which is obnoxious to many people and its wiping out will be an advantage to those unfortunate enough to start life in this way. I hope that the Home Office will agree that this provision is desirable, but whatever the Home Office decides I hope that the House will agree to take this step forward.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

On a point of order. Is it in accordance with the best Parliamentary tradition that an hon. Member should call attention to the fact that 40 Members are not present and should then immediately proceed to leave the Chamber? Is not that an abuse of the privileges, procedure and traditions of the House?

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

My duty is to see when 40 Members arrive, and if 40 Members do not arrive after two minutes—the clock has been started—the House is counted out.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

But do you not agree that it is not in accordance with best Parliamentary tradition that, when we are discussing a non-party Bill dealing with a very important social problem an hon. Member should adopt this procedure and prevent us having an opportunity to discuss the matter?

House counted, and, 40 Members being present

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

Although there are attractive reasons of sentiment in favour of the new Clause, it constitutes a serious departure from the principles of the Bill. It is my duty to tell the House that there are strong objections in principle against the new Clause and that I must advise the House not to accept it.

Leaving aside the technical and drafting reasons—although there are some—the Clause would have to be substantially redrafted when it went to another place. I invite the attention of the House to the objections of principle, which in the opinion of the Government should cause the House to reject the Clause.

Legitimacy depends upon natural paternity, and can be achieved under the present law in two ways, either by the normal process of birth in lawful wedlock, or by subsequent marriage of the natural parents and legitimation under the Legitimacy Act, 1926.

The opportunities are extended by Clauses 1 and 2, but in each case they are extended by the marriage of the natural parents. Clause 1 deals with the case of the child born when one of the natural parents is married to a third party and when there is a later marriage of the natural parents. Clause 2 provides that if a marriage was void ab initio, children born of it should be legitimate if either parent was ignorant of the impediment to the marriage.

Cases under the present law and under the Bill are based on the same principle, namely, that where possible a child should become the legitimate offspring of its natural parents. The new Clause introduces an entirely new principle based on different considerations. It would enable someone who was not the father of the child to have the child fully legitimated, even to the extent of inheriting any hereditary title which the man might have. If the man died intestate, that child would have equal rights of inheritance with the man's own children born in wedlock. That might not necessarily conduce to that marital happiness to which the hon. Member for Salford, West. (Mr. Royle) referred.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) from the Opposition Front Bench referred just now to the courtesies and traditions of the House. I have never before had the experience of addressing the House while a Member of the Opposition Front Bench was standing with his back to the Chair.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

My apologies. I was turning to talk to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

This Clause introduces a far-reaching change and there is no evidence that it would command wide public support. It would be a short step from this to the legitimation of all children whatever the circumstances, and marriage would lose much of its purpose. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Salford, West has had in mind that we should wipe out the term "illegitimate child", but that it not what the Bill seeks to do. The Bill seeks to extend the opportunity whereby the natural parents of a child may have that child made their legitimate child. The new Clause goes beyond that.

I have consulted my right hon. and learned and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor about this new Clause and I have also taken the advice of the Law Officers. We could not advise the House to accept the new Clause, especially in view of the fact that it is tacked on at a late stage to a Private Member's Bill.

However, it may be some consolation to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and others who are sympathetic towards the motives underlying the Clause, which are understandable on grounds of kindness to the children concerned, to know two things. First, a husband and wife—for instance, the husband and wife in the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Dagenham—can make a joint application to adopt the child, with all the consequences which follow from that, which go a very long way towards legitimation. Secondly, the child can be provided with a birth certificate in the short form, which shows the date and place of birth and the child's name. About half of all birth certificates issued are in that form, probably because they are cheaper.

The hon. Member for Dagenham said two things which, I think, could be susceptible of misunderstanding, and I hope that he will forgive me if I comment upon them, not in any controversial sense, but in the hope that there may be a clear understanding of what the hon. Member said. First, the hon. Member said that a child remains legitimate until action is taken to make it illegitimate. That is very strictly so, but is not so in the circumstances which the hon. Gentleman had in mind. The position is that a child born in wedlock is presumed to be legitimate, but that presumption is immediately rebutted as soon as the mother goes to register the birth of the child and either does not insert the name of any father or inserts the name of somebody other than her husband. The House must be clear about that.

Secondly, the hon. Member said that the courts are doing their best to clear up cases of this kind. I doubt very much whether that is so, because the courts have no power whatever to grant a declaration of legitimacy in a case which the hon. Gentleman has in mind and which would be covered by the Clause.

Photo of Mr John Parker Mr John Parker , Dagenham

I do not think that the words which the Joint Under-Secretary of State attributes to me were quite mine. If I said so, I made a mistake. The point which I was trying to make was that, if a question of doubt about whether a child is legitimate arises—not merely of this particular type—the courts do their best to find any possible ground for holding that the child is legitimate. They give the benefit of the doubt.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

I think that the hon. Gentleman is merely saying, which is in accordance with what we all know, that legitimacy is presumed until the prima facie presumption of legitimacy is rebutted, and in cases of doubt the presumption is not rebutted and, therefore, legitimacy stands. That is very far from saying that the courts have attempted to clear up cases of the kind which the hon. Gentleman intends should be covered by the new Clause.

The House will have observed that there are some procedural arrangements suggested in the second part of the new Clause affecting the registration of the birth. Those provisions in the second half of the Clause seem to be required if the principle of the first part of the Clause were accepted. But before accepting the principle of the first part of the Clause, I must point out to the House that the proposal in the second part of the Clause would undermine the value of the register as a true record of the facts of the paternity of the child, and we are dealing with children born in wedlock. It would mean that a fictitious entry—it would be nothing less than that—would have to be made in the Register.

1.15 p.m.

I hope that I am not using extravagant words when I say that it would in effect be a legalised forgery of the register. The register exists to give the true facts about our births, marriages and deaths. Whatever is the soundness or otherwise of the principle underlying the first part of the Clause, the second part could be justified only on the basis that the end justifies the means.

I say this for the information of the House, but I do not want to rest my case upon it. It is doubtful whether the Clause as drafted would achieve the hon. Member's object, because the Births and Deaths Registration Act provides for the name of the actual father to be entered in the register, and the Clause does not seem sufficient to make the mother's husband the father for this purpose.

I am very sorry to have had to mar the so far fairly uncontroversial proceedings on the Bill, which received the warm endorsement of the House in principle on Second Reading, by having to advise the House, somewhat strongly, against the Clause. We think that to extend the law in this way would be artificial. It is to be hoped that the Bill will have a good future. It may one day be known as "Parker's Bill"and I hope that it is a Bill to which he and all concerned with the administration of law will look with pride and satisfaction. I must say that I could not imagine that desirable result occurring if we were to accept the new Clause, because it would involve an artificial extension of the law and to do so it would mean that we had to subvert the whole purpose of registration.

Photo of Mr Philip Bell Mr Philip Bell , Bolton East

I regard the Clause and the principle behind it as of paramount importance. I am surprised that we find ourselves discussing on a Friday an alteration so fundamental to the responsibilities of marriage. I do not disagree with the fact that it is competent and right that the House should deal with these matters. The only question is whether we have representative views on what is a very important subject.

I have no doubt whatever that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) feels most sincerely that this, as he himself said, would hold together family life. I take a contrary view, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do me the justice of believing that I hold my view as sincerely as I have no doubt that he holds his view.

It is interesting to note that the real point behind our discussions is not the happiness or welfare of an individual, but how far it contributes to the solidarity of family life. The point is whether it makes the family a better unit. The point is not whether it makes it easier or more comfortable for people to live together, but whether it makes the family, with its vow of faithfulness and honour, a better unit. Does it encourage people more to carry out their vows?

There are two things in the Bill which are revolutionary, though again I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on all the other Clauses, except possibly the other Amendment which deals with publicity.

We must face the fact that Clause 1, which was passed in Committee, and the new Clause raise fundamental issues. The first Amendment which went through was to strike out the qualification clause in Section 1 (2) of the Legitimacy Act, 1926. Section 1 (2) says: Nothing in this Act shall operate to legitimate a person whose father or mother was married to a third person when the illegitimate person was born. When that is struck out, the first Section operates. The first Section has in it these provisions, that the legitimation under any Section—under Section 1 or under the new Clause—is to be effective "whether before or after"—that is, whether the marriage was before or after—"the commencement of this Act".

This Amendment, therefore, would not only purport to achieve a legitimation by a future acceptance but by any past acceptance of the child into the family. It would have a retrospective as well as a future effect. That is a strong objection to the new Clause as it is drafted—and perhaps I might now refer to the drafting of the Clause before saying a further word or two on the principles behind it.

The words: …accented as one of the family… are very loose, very vague. They give no indication of a starting date. They give no indication of whether that acceptance has to be made in full knowledge of the facts, or whether it is one that the husband might make without knowing the true facts. A child born to a married woman and accepted as one of the family by her husband might be accepted by him by mistake. It might be a fraud on the husband.

What sort of acceptance has it to be? Has it to be final or can it be revocable? Can it be conditional? Can the husband say, "I will accept this child but no others, and if there are others I will reverse my acceptance of this child?" Must the acceptance be absolute? And how are we to define the date of acceptance?

The Clause goes on: …provided she was married at the time of the child's birth … I am not sure whether that means married to her first husband or to someone else. It seems possible, by this wording, that the child might have been born to a third man—that is to say, neither to the first or second husband—but might be passed off on the second husband although it had nothing to do with him.

My hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary has pointed out the technical difficulties involved in registering birth. The Clause concludes: …upon acceptance by the husband, the birth certificate shall be amended to provide that the said child is the legitimate child of the marriage, What happens if the certificate is not amended? Is amendment to be a condition of legitimation? Is there to be any time limit on the amendment? Can the amendment of the certificate be done on the application of the wife? Can it be done by the husband? What happens if there is a dispute about acceptance? How are all these matters to be decided? On those grounds it seems to me that it would be ineffective and dangerous to accept the Clause.

It is also possible that this provision would put a very heavy weapon in the hand of the husband. He might well say that he intends to accept the child to the family and use that as an instrument to prevent the woman getting her freedom and taking her child to the paramour or the person she hoped to marry. The significant thing about this Clause—and, indeed, of Clause 1—is the extraordinary power it seems to put into the hands of men.

The first power is that if the paramour marries the wife—which, after all, he is free to decide—he can, by that act, legitimate their child. So it is his decision, and he is in that powerful position. Again, the husband, if he accepts an illegitimate child into his family, makes that decision. Curiously enough, those two powerful decisions are left, not entirely but almost entirely in the hands of the man.

In our affairs there is often a desire, prompted by hard cases and by irritation, to take short cuts. We see it in all forms of legislation. It is attractive in that it remedies a particular pain. We may think that that is a good thing, but I fear that we sometimes miss the ultimate object which, in this case, as the hon. Member said, is the holding together of family life.

Steps such as this—and we see the same thing in regard to such evils as prostitution—are but palliatives. They have nothing to do with the main problem. The real trouble with family life now is that it is breaking down. Here one thinks of the divorce laws. Can anybody say that the institution of marriage is better founded or stronger as a result of all the divorce laws? Can anybody say—or will anybody be able to say—that the interests of children and of the family group are made better by confusing the real barriers which nature and which all civilisation has accepted up to now?

These are short cuts. The real answer is not to remove every restraint there should be upon a mother or upon a father by saying, "Even if you have an illegitimate child nothing will happen to the child. It can be put into a position equivalent to that of your lawful children." There is still, and there should be, some restraint on people giving way to their passions, and one restraint is the consequences on other people.

Magistrates often say to those before them, "Did you ever think of your family when you broke into the house? Did you ever think of the disgrace on your parents?" Or, "Did you ever think of your wife and children when you took these steps?" All the time, the appeal is to think of other people before making decisions, and in my view it would be unwise, in our present situation, to take from husbands or wives—on whatever specious and well-intended grounds—their sense of responsibility to their children.

Parents must not confuse their progeny, and I believe that confusion of progeny —disputes about legitimacy and illegitimacy—would be a bad thing for family life. It is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that it would be—or could be—very nasty in family life to have some legitimate and some illegitimate children. The answer is for husbands and wives to remember that before they indulge their passions.

To change the name from illegitimacy to legitimacy is not the answer—it is only changing the name. The wife or husband remains dishonoured. It is no good their saying that the child is legitimate—in the circumstances foreseen someone has been dishonourable, and no change in name can change what was an act of dishonour into an act of honour.

Nor, nowadays, does an illegitimate child, in my view, suffer any social discredit or social handicap. In many statutes—including those dealing with National Health Insurance and National Health compensation—they are put on equality but, in nature, there remains a difference between someone born of a loyal and honourable union and the unhappy person who is not. We should face that fact.

Photo of Mr Charles Royle Mr Charles Royle , Salford West

I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) will not mind my asking this question: could he tell the House when, as a bachelor, it is his intention to improve the family life of the country?

Photo of Mr Philip Bell Mr Philip Bell , Bolton East

Hope springs eternal.

Photo of Mr David Weitzman Mr David Weitzman , Stoke Newington and Hackney North

I apologise for not having been present earlier, as I would have liked to have heard the earlier speeches. I listened to what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) said, and with a great deal of it I quite agree. I agree with him entirely about the importance of family life and the responsibility of parents. I agree, also, that parents should remember the effect on the happiness of their children that their acts may have. Bearing all that in mind, however, how is it affected by this Clause?

The deed has been done. The child has been born. I do not think that anybody would suggest that any of these children could have been prevented from being born merely because some one would have had a discussion about the responsibilities and the holiness of family life. We are dealing with actual cases, and consideration of the child's position goes to the heart of everybody. That is the real consideration. If there is the slightest chance of unhappiness in family life, if there is likely to be discord between children because in a family there are illegitimate children living with children that are legitimate, it should be the object of Parliament to alter that state. The tendency nowadays is to look at these matters realistically.

1.30 p.m.

Remembering everything that the hon. and learned Gentleman said—and I recognise that there is a great deal in what he said—is this not a very simple matter? Let us not bother about the wording of the Clause for the moment. It is true that one can criticise the looseness of the words accepted as one of the family. That ought to be tightened up in some way. I am concerned with the principle. The important words are: Any child born to a married woman, and accepted as one of the family by her husband.… Where there is an illegitimate child in that position, accepted by the husband, why should we not do everything to regularise the position so as to prevent the slightest chance of unhappiness to that child?

I regard this as a very simple Clause which puts right a wrong that has been done to the child. I agree that the mother is to blame, and so is the paramour. But, after all, do we not all recognise the principle relating to children, enshrined in the Guardianship of Infants Act, namely, that it is the welfare of the child that is of paramount importance? From that point of view, I plead that the House should do something on the lines of this Clause.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State said something about registration and said that this would be a sort of legalised forgery. 1 do not mind if it is a legalised forgery, assuming that it is possible for such a thing to exist. Let us have something in the register correcting it. Surely there is no objection to that.

I return to the one simple point with which I am concerned. If this Clause does anything to remove unhappiness from a child, let us accept it. I trust that the House will accept the Clause, and if there are any points in it which need to be dealt with—and I agree there may well be some—surely this can easily be done.

Major W. Hicks Beach:

I made it clear on Second Reading that, in my view, anything which sought to interfere with the sanctity of marriage should be abhorred. At the same time, I said that by far the most important consideration in all these questions concerning marriage was the interest of the children.

We have listened to two very impressive and sincere speeches from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), who holds very strong views, for which we all respect him, and the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who made out a case for the Clause in very strong terms. I was impressed when he said that the matter of paramount importance was what is best for the child. At the same time, we have a duty in such a matter to a vast number of people who profoundly disagree with the terms of these proposals.

It would be proper to remind the House what was stated in the Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, 1951–1955, on the question of the legitimisation of children. Paragraph 1182, which contains some of the conclusions of the Committee, says: We have been unable to reach agreement on the proposal that all children should be legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their parents. Twelve of us are opposed to it, for the reasons set out in paragraphs 1179–1181; to which I shall refer in a moment. seven of us consider that the law of England and of Scotland should be altered to give effect to the proposal. I do not want to go into the difference between the law of Scotland and the law of England, but I think I am putting it fairly if I say that the law of Scotland is rather more flexible in the matter than is the law of England, and I personally favour the law of Scotland.

The basic arguments against the proposal are stated in paragraph 1179 as follows: The basic argument against the proposal that in all cases children should be legitimated"—

Photo of Mr Charles Royle Mr Charles Royle , Salford West

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to the principle of Clause 1, which is quite different from what is being discussed in this proposal?

Major Hicks Beach:

I apologise. I should have said "the principle in Clause 1." The principle is that by a subsequent remarriage the child should be legitimated. I hope the hon. Member will withdraw this Clause, although in principle I hope the Bill will get a Third Reading. We are making a sweeping change in the law, contrary to the wishes of many people—I think rightly so—but the views of those people are entitled to be respected.

May I now continue what I was saying about the basic arguments which were put before the Royal Commission: The basic argument against the proposal that in all cases children should be legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their parents is that it would result in a serious weakening in respect for marriage. It is no doubt possible to cite particular cases in which, when viewed in isolation, the present law may appear to work harshly against the children. That I entirely accept and I believe it will be accepted by both sides of the House. The Report goes on to say: But against the benefit which relief might afford to existing cases of hardship must be balanced the possible effects of removing the present impediment. Measures designed to relieve present hardship may result in future social evils which far outweigh any immediate and temporary benefits which they create. That is a sweeping statement. Certainly we should not underestimate what we are doing. This proposed new Clause goes much further than the main terms of the Bill. I think it goes much too far. I was very impressed by the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary on the general principles and in what he said about altering the register. Therefore, though I support the proposals in the Bill, simply because I believe that they will be in the interests of illegitimate children—and it is the interests of children which are of paramount importance—I would not support the proposed new Clause. For my part, if the hon. Member is not prepared to withdraw it I should be prepared to vote against it in the Lobby.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) is to be congratulated not only on his fortune in the Ballot but on the courage which he has shown in introducing this Bill, for it is a very courageous Measure. The Bill as it emerges from Standing Committee offers Parliament—and I use that word rather than "the House"—an opportunity to do something that ought to have been done a few years back when this matter was last considered.

I take no exception to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), for this is a free country and this is a place for free discussion. Its integrity can only be preserved if people who differ violently from any proposal will state their views cogently, clearly and without any imputation of personal motive or unworthy design against those who make the proposal—in this case the promoters of this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) has given us some indication of the weight of opposition that may yet be brought to bear on this Bill in its progress. The Under-Secretary appeared to give a hint that, even if the Bill survived this afternoon, we might anticipate that the meteorological reports on the weather which it would have to encounter might he very difficult.

I want Clause 1, which I do not intend to discuss now, to be put through Parliament as a single and definite issue. I do not want the opponents of Clause 1, who may use legitimate arguments against it and who may seek to sink the ship for many reasons, to be able to say that the vessel is so overloaded that the plimsoll line has been ignored and it is unsafe for any voyage to be taken in it.

I hope that the hon. Member for Dagenham, in bringing forward this new Clause, will feel that he has shown that the Bill does not clear up all the difficulties which confront this section of the law, and will not feel that it is necessary to press for this new Clause in a way which might ultimately jeopardise the success of the Measure, which he has so bravely brought before the House and the public opinion of the country.

Photo of Sir Robert Cary Sir Robert Cary , Manchester, Withington

As one who had the privilege of supporting the Bill on Second Reading, I agree with all the views that have been expressed on both sides of the House and, in particular, with the concluding views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).

If one takes the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under Secretary, and wishes the Bill well, one is driven away from argument to Parliamentary tactics. I think that the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields were centred on Parliamentary tactics. We knew what that meant in 1926. The outcome then was the reason which prompted the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), with good courage, to produce this Measure.

It is interesting to recall that between that time and now four who supported the hon. Gentleman's views in 1926 were subsequently placated by the Minister. I would hate to see this excellent Measure, enshrined mainly in Clause 1, shot down elsewhere merely on Parliamentary tactics, because it raises issues ancillary to, but rather away from, the intentions expressed by this House both on Second Reading and in Committee.

In these circumstances, I would beg the hon. Member for Dagenham to consider whether it would not be wise to withdraw the Clause because the exceptional number of cases it represents could form the subject of another small Private Member's Bill on another occasion.

Photo of Mr John Parker Mr John Parker , Dagenham

In view of what has been said by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) and the Joint Under-Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.