I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I commend the Bill to the House as a useful contribution to deal with the problems of illegitimacy. Firstly, it seeks to reduce the number of illegitimate children which is a very important factor. It will thus help to strengthen family life, particularly in difficult circumstances where a new family comes together after a divorce, by reducing the number of cases in which we have illegitimate and legitimate children in the same family.
Secondly, I commend the Bill to the House because it eases the position of those children who remain illegitimate. Much still remains to be done to help the problems of the illegitimate, particularly in the field of intestacy and of inheritance. I hope that in due course constructive proposals will be brought forward—and that the Government will bring them forward—to deal with these problems, because I am quite certain that opinion in the country is growing in favour of some action being taken.
I should like to thank all those who have assisted me with the Bill. First, I should like to thank the person who gave me legal assistance outside the House and the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) who seconded the Bill, for all the help he has given me in trying to pilot it through to this stage; and the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), who suggested this Bill to me when I was looking round to find a useful subject after I was fortunate in the Ballot. I thank him for his help. I thank the Home Office for the very ready help which it has given me in drafting the Bill and the Solicitor-General for the great efforts he has made to marshall the cohorts behind him in Committee. I also thank the Joint Under-Secretary for the assistance which he has given me in discussion and in correspondence on various points.
In commending the Bill to another place, I would point out that there has been a very wide measure of agreement in this House on this Measure. I feel that opinion in the country, as well as in this Chamber, is rather different from what it was thirty years ago on a number of these issues. I hope that the Members of another place will bear that point in mind and be as agreed on this matter as this House has been. The Bill does justice to many innocent people, particularly children. The principle behind it is that it is wrong that children should suffer for the wrongs of parents. Inasmuch as the Bill makes a contribution in that matter, I commend it to the House.
I should like to say to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) that it has given me very great pleasure indeed to co-operate with him in the passage of the Bill to its present stage. As has been said, it can be regarded as an all-party Measure. For many years, the step now taken by the hon. Gentleman was wished for by many Members of the House, and there have been previous trials. He has brought his Bill to this stage. To use the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, I hope that the Bill will have a good and happy future.
The title is the Legitimacy Bill. On Second Reading, I described it as a children's Bill. I wish that some emphasis could have been given to take the Bill away a little from the divorce courts and the other matters which have been explored in our proceedings. It has much to recommend it. Although illegitimacy has lost some of its stigma, it is an unpleasant and odious thing to impose upon a young child. I hope that the words of my hon. and learned Friend will come true and the hon. Member for Dagenham will ultimately see his intention enshrined in an Act upon the Statute Book.
Finally, I support what the hon. Gentleman said about the help, kindness and forethought shown by the Home Office and its officials in aiding him in this matter.
I join with the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) on his Bill reaching this stage in the form it now has. In our debate on a previous proposed new Clause, I expressed myself with regard to the term "illegitimate child."any interest I have been able to show in the Bill has been with that idea in mind. I know that we are not going the whole way, but I hope that the Bill will achieve in another place the success it has achieved here. It will go a long way towards filling some of the gaps.
The new Clause which the House has just accepted, which is in a form different from the original Clause 5, I regard as a very important piece of legislation, apart from the main point of Clause 1. Anyone who has been concerned with the working of the courts of this country in recent years appreciates the tremendous advantage that domestic proceedings and, in a lesser degree, proceedings in our children's courts have been held in semi-privacy instead of before a large public in the gallery listening to the case, the whole story being drawn through the mud.
Steps are taken by the new Clause to provide that in the case of affiliation orders hearings shall be heard in circumstances of privacy. This is most desirable. All the girls who bear illegitimate children are not "bad lots." In many cases, even if a man is accused unjustly of parentage in these cases, it is desirable, I believe, that what is said should be said in the quiet of a small court. This object is accomplished by the new Clause and I am sure that it is a step forward in our social legislation.
I welcome the Bill at this stage, and I join with other hon. Members in wishing it well in its further progress.
I congratulate the hon. Member for bringing the Bill forward. I introduced a Private Member's Bill dealing with the subject matter covered by Clause 1 of this Bill a few years ago, but I did not have the good fortune to persuade the House to give it a Second Reading. We have had to wait for this further Bill which is very much more extensive than the one I wished to put before the House.
When I was dealing with my Bill, I received a voluminous correspondence, and I assure the House that there is great feeling among people generally that something must be done along the lines of Clause 1 to rectify the wrong which, over thirty years ago, the House hoped to put right but was baulked in so doing by action in another place. By withdrawing the controversial matters, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) will have given the Bill a much greater chance of success. I commend it to the House and to another place. I hope that the volume of support which has been evinced for provisions of this type will ensure that the Bill will shortly reach the Statute Book.
When I intervened on Second Reading, I pointed out that, although all my hon. Friends who had spoken from this side had been in favour of the Bill, it was the fact that an equal number of hon. Members opposite had spoken in favour of the Bill. It was quite clear that it was in no sense a party matter but one which had the general support and interest of the House.
Progress since then has shown that this is so. I very much hope that in another place this fact will be taken into account so that we may not only congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) on the success he has had with the Bill so far but we may congratulate him also on living to see the Bill regarded, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State suggested, as "Parker's Act."
I see no reason why the Government should be left out of this chorus of congratulation, but I do not wish to add to the eloquent words which have already been used to praise the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) except to say that I think that his finest moment in the passage of the Bill was when he withdrew his new Clause this morning. I congratulate him upon the very good Parliamentary judgment which he then showed.