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Adoption Of Children Bill

Volume 466: debated on Friday 24 June 1949

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( Changed from ADOPTION BILL)

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause—(Rights Of Inheritance Of An Adopted Child)

When an adoption order has been made in respect of any infant by a competent court under the provisions of this Act, or of the principal Act, such infant shall be entitled to the same rights of inheritance under the will of a deceased adopter (whether such will was made before or after the making of the adoption order) as would be possessed by a legitimate child of the adopter.—[ Mr. Parker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.12 a.m.

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

In Committee this new Clause and an Amendment to it by my hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford (Mr. McLeavy) were put down and discussed, and after debate there was a very close vote, the new Clause and the Amendment being defeated by 10 votes to nine. That Debate raised some important points which I think would be generally accepted on all sides of the House. It was pointed out that grandparents or relatives of an adopting parent might make wills without having regard to the fact that a child might be adopted, and the wishes expressed in the will might be set on one side. A man, while deciding to leave property to his grandchildren, might not specify in his will who they were, and his son might add to the number of grandchildren by adopting a child, and the wishes of the grandparent when originally making the will might possibly be set aside.

The case made out for the undesirability of trying to control wills made by people other than the adopting parents was quite reasonable, and I introduce this new Clause in order to try to limit the control of wills of adopting parents while excluding all attempts to control the making of wills by grandparents or other relatives of the adopting parents. There is a very strong case for this new Clause in its attempt to govern wills made by adopting parents. Under the Bill as now amended, if an adopting parent dies intestate all his children, both natural and adopted, benefit equally from the division of his estate. But an adopting parent might well decide to make a will leaving his property "to my children," and I am advised by competent authorities that there is no guarantee that the phrase "to my children" would necessarily be interpreted in the courts to include adopted children.

11.15 a.m.

That might lead to considerable grievance and unfairness. The property of a person who has not made a will might be divided among his natural and adopted children equally, while on the other hand-another person, possibly hoping to safeguard his adopted child, might say in his will, "I leave my property to my children," without specifying them by name, and without saying "my adopted and my natural children," with the result that the courts may rule that the phrase "my children" referred only to the natural children and excluded the adopted child. The position is not certain, and it is undesirable that a matter of this kind should be left open for a decision in the courts; this House ought to make its views on the matter quite clear.

This new Clause is intended to ensure that when an adopting parent makes a will leaving his property "to my children" the adopted child as well as the natural children is included. It would be unfair to leave the position so that if he dies intestate the adopted child is included, whereas if he makes a will leaving his property "to my children" the courts might interpret that as excluding the adopted child. Indeed, the adopting parent, hoping to safeguard the position of the adopted child, might in making a will damage the adopted child's interests; the adopted child might be in a much better position had the will not been made. I therefore press for acceptance of this new Clause.

When this matter was discussed in Committee the Under-Secretary for the Home Department pointed out that there was a very strong case for including a provision of this kind to govern the making of wills so far as adopted children were concerned. He then made a strong case against the other parts of an Amendment which sought to control wills made by grandparents and other relatives. A case was made out to exclude any attempt to govern wills made by grandparents or other relatives of the adopting parents, but there is a strong case for ensuring that the adopted child should be in exactly the same position as the natural child in the wills of adopting parents. The whole of this Bill is designed, as far as possible, to try to see that an adopted child is in exactly the same position as the natural children of the adopting parent, and it would be unfortunate if in this regard an exception were made to that general rule.

I beg to second the Motion.

There is very little to add to my hon. Friend's extremely lucid explanation of this fairly simple new Clause. Throughout the Second Reading and the Committee stage our object has been to equalise, as far as possible, the status of the adopted child and the natural child. Although the question of inheritance was admitted to present very great difficulties—such immense legal difficulties, that we have all agreed to let it lapse in part, and to refrain from the attempt to make a complete parallel between adopted and natural children—in the new Clause proposed by the Under-Secretary at least an advance is made in respect of intestates. But this new Clause which we are now discussing takes a further step, which I believe does not run us into any serious legal difficulties or complexities.

We have here, roughly speaking, the difference between contracting-in and contracting-out. If an adopting parent wishes to leave his money or his estate equally between his children, one of whom is adopted and the rest natural, instead of having to specify each child by name, including the adopted child, before that adopted child is able to receive its share, under this new Clause that will happen automatically unless the adopted child is deliberately and specifically excluded in the terms of the will. I should have thought that was an advance. It will avoid the possibilities of litigation which might leave the adopted child at an undesired disadvantage.

When this Bill was originally drafted, it contained no provisions relating to the question of succession. When I moved the Second Reading, I expressed the hope that later on we might be able to achieve something in this direction. In consequence, the Committee agreed to the insertion of Clause 9, which puts the adopted child in the position of a natural child in the event of intestacy. It is to be noted that the Clause is a two-way Clause. In other words, if the adopting person dies intestate the adopted child is to share equally with the natural child, and if the adopted child dies intestate the adopting parent is to benefit from the child's estate. I felt that that was the best I could do. I am by no means anxious to appear hostile to this new Clause. My difficulty is as to its feasibility and whether it will work, and I am very much afraid that in its present form it will not work.

I take the view that if we are to have this system of placing the adopted child in the position of a natural child so far as wills and settlements are concerned, there must be certain principles adhered to, of which there are three. The first is that if an adopted child is to be deemed a natural child for the purposes of succession, it must be severed from its obligations, duties and rights in regard to its real parents. In other words, we desire to remove the adopted child from one family to the other—it cannot have two families. The second is that we must have a two-way system; that the child's estate must be considered as well as the adopting parent's estate. Thirdly, the House would be quite wrong, I submit, to seek to interfere with wills and settlements made before this Bill becomes an Act.

I ask the House to take the view that the new Clause offends against some of these principles. For example, the new Clause is expressly made applicable to a will executed before the date of the Bill, which I cannot think is right. With important steps, such as marriage, testamentary arrangements are automatically ended, and the adoption of a child is also an important step. I suggest that the retrospective part of this new Clause is very difficult to defend.

In the case of a testament lapsing owing to marriage, if no will is made to supersede the one already in existence, does that mean that the testator thereafter ranks as intestate?

I should say that he does. That is the situation where testamentary dispositions lapse, but here they do not automatically lapse unless the Bill says so. The law has decided that on marriage a testamentary disposition comes to an end. I could not possibly recommend the House to adopt this provision which affects dispositions already made.

The new Clause also fails to cover the case of a testator who has already died and left his property to his widow for life and thereafter to such of his children as survive the widow, which is a very common form of devise. The position is not clear whether the adopted child is to be regarded as one of his children. Further, the new Clause ignores the problem of the will of the natural relative of an adopted person. That is going, back to one of my earlier points, that if the child is to benefit from one family it ought not to benefit from the other.

In these circumstances, I ask the House to resist this new Clause, or at least I express the hope that it will not be pressed. I am well aware that when this Measure goes to another place it will have distinguished sponsors, and I have no doubt that this aspect of the matter will receive very careful consideration. The House should be careful to see that something is not included in a Bill which will not work. I suggest that proper representations should be made elsewhere when the Bill reaches another place.

11.30 a.m.

I should like briefly to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) in moving the Clause. From the point of view of the Government the intention of the Clause is quite acceptable but although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) said, it may be a fairly simple Clause, the situation with which we have to deal is by no means simple. The hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) has already made it quite clear that the Clause as drafted has so many defects that we should be quite wrong to pass it today and then ask another place to put it into shape. That may be a suitable course when we are concerned with only minor Amendments, but when so many major aspects of this problem are not covered by the Clause the Government would not wish the House to pass the Clause and leave another place to put it right.

On the other hand, we sympathise with the object of putting the adopted child in the same position as the natural child, so far as that can be done, and while I cannot assure the House that we shall necessarily succeed in making the Clause watertight, we shall be willing to co-operate with those who will be sponsoring the Bill in another place in trying to find a formula which will meet the objective of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham. The only detailed point I need add to what the hon. and learned Member for Chester has said is that the Clause as it stands will apply to Scotland, whereas we know that the Scots have special problems in this respect. However, as I have said, we shall do our best, when the Bill comes before another place, to assist and, that being so, I hope the Clause will not be pressed.

I should like to thank the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the way in which they have received our representations on this Clause. All the points which have been raised are important and ought to be dealt with in trying to solve this problem. It is particularly desirable that any provisions covering questions of wills of adopting parents leaving property to their children, adopted or otherwise, should be on the same lines as those with regard to the Clause dealing with intestacy. While doing this job we should try to do it properly and put the adopted child in the same position, if possible, as the natural child. However, I am prepared to withdraw the Clause and, with my hon. Friends, to collaborate with the hon. and learned Member for Chester and the Home Office in trying to ensure that Members in another place will be able to deal satisfactorily with all the points which have been raised this morning. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause—(Removal Of Infants On Refusal Of Adoption Order)

Where any person applies to the court for an adoption order under the principal Act and the application is refused, then, if the infant in respect of whom the application is made is in the care and possession of the applicant, the court may, if it thinks fit, make an order for the removal of the infant to the care and possession of his parents or guardian or any suitable relative or friend who is willing to undertake the care of him, or, if no such person is available, the court may, in the case of an infant under seventeen, make an order for his removal to the care of the appropriate local authority for the purposes of section one of the Children Act, 1948.—( Mr. Somerville Hastings.)

Brought up and read the First time.

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

The House will be familiar with the fact that when an adoption order is refused by a court it is usually because the proposed adopters are unsuitable, or the conditions in which they live are not suitable for the upbringing of children. In such a case the difficulty then arises of what should happen to the child. I think it would be the wish of everyone that when an adoption order is refused for good reason, the child should be removed from the care of the proposed adopters as quickly as possible.

This Clause suggests machinery by which this might be done. I daresay it will be urged that machinery already exists under Section 7 of the 1939 Act, which is incorporated in Clause 5 (3) of this Bill. That, of course, is true, but from actual experience, as I am informed by those who are engaged in this work, it is a difficult process. The matter comes before a court of summary jurisdiction, and it is difficult to prove that the conditions under which the child lives in the care of the proposed adopters are not very desirable. The legal process is long and relatively complicated, and it is suggested that if this could be carried out more expeditiously through the machinery of the juvenile court it would be greatly to the advantage of the child.

I think I can meet the views of Members opposite in this matter to a large extent. My answer to the case they make is two-fold. First, as the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) said, the difficulty is met already in a large part, and, second, consideration will be given to certain further Amendments which, I think, should satisfy him. The position is this: it is important to make certain that where an order is refused the child shall be placed under proper care. The effect of Clause 5 (3) of the Bill is that not only after the refusal of the adoption order, but at any time after the welfare authority has been notified of the intention to apply for an adoption order, the authority may apply to the court of summary jurisdiction for an order for the removal of the child to a place of safety until other arrangements can be made for it, i.e., by receiving it into care under the Children Act, or restoring it to parents or relatives, or by taking care and protection proceedings under the Children and Young persons Act. Further, if there is a fear of imminent danger to the child's health or well-being application can be made to a single justice of the peace.

The other part of my answer is this: I am assured that consideration will be given to an amendment of Section 7 of the 1939 Act so that a juvenile court refusing an adoption order may have power, then and there, to hear an application under that Section. While I can only say that it will be considered, I feel that in the circumstances the difficulty foreseen will probably be overcome.

In view of what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield), and his hopes for further amendment of the Bill, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3—(Consent To Adoption)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, at the end, to insert:

"or, in the case of an infant committed to or received into the care of a local authority by virtue of the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, or the Children Act, 1948, with the consent of that authority."
Clause 3 deals with consent to adoption, and states that an adoption order shall not be made
"except with the consent of every person or body who is a parent or guardian of the infant, or who is liable by virtue of any order or agreement to contribute to the maintenance of the infant."
The Children's Act, 1948, puts local authorities under certain conditions in loco parentis, and we feel that these local authorities or the children under such local authorities should have similar rights and powers as a parent or poor guardian of an infant concerning whom Parliament has conferred similar duties.

Here again there may be some misunderstanding which I may be able to clear up. As I understand it, the suggestion is that a welfare local authority should be required to consent in the same way as a guardian or parent is required to consent. My view is they are in ordinary circumstances, for these reasons, that where a child has been committed under the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, to the care of a local authority as a fit person, the local authority has the same rights and powers as if it were a parent. That is embraced within the terms of the statute. Further than that, a local authority, as the House knows, may be allowed under the Children Act, 1948, to assume in respect of a child under its care all the rights and powers of a parent. It seems to me in those circumstances that the authority is deemed, in effect, to be in the position of a parent whose consent is required. I feel that that should be sufficient to satisfy my hon. Friend that there is no need for the Amendment.

I do not feel fully satisfied that these powers, which should exist, really exist at the present time, and I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman if it would not clarify things and do no harm at all if we made sure of it by inserting this Amendment.

Perhaps I may make one additional comment. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) is quite right in saying that in all cases where under the Children Act local authorities are put into the position of parents with parental rights at the present time their consent would be required. I would also point out that under this Bill welfare authorities will have three months' notice of all those cases of children living in the area. Perhaps I could help by telling my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) that it is the intention to make rules under the principal Act, whereby the courts will give to the local authorities an opportunity to make representations on the application for adoption and also—this is rather a detailed point—for a local authority to be informed when notice is given to some other welfare authority of the intention to apply in respect of a child in the care of one authority but living in the area of another. I should have thought myself that the certainty of notification, coupled with the right under the proposed rules to make representations at the hearing would, in effect, achieve the object which my hon. Friend has in mind.

In view of what has been said by the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.45 a.m.

I beg to move, in line 13, to leave out "or deserted," and to insert,

"neglected or persistently ill-treated."
The House will appreciate that Clause 3 is concerned, amongst other things, with the right of a court to dispense with those consents which should be given to the making of an order. The reasons are set out in the Clause, and included is the case where a parent or guardian has abandoned or deserted an infant. My purpose in moving this Amendment is to add these other causes or reasons why consent should be dispensed with, namely, where a parent or guardian has neglected or persistently ill-treated a child. It would hardly seem that there can be much opposition to this Amendment. It would appear quite wrong that such a parent or guardian should, by refusing his consent, deprive a child of its new home. I would add this—there is a provision in the Scottish enactment dealing with this question, the Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930, of a similar nature, so that one is happy to think that one is coming into line with the law of Scotland in this particular direction. I have left out the word "deserted" because it appears to me that "abandoned" is quite adequate.

I hope my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State will see his way to support this Amendment, because there is a definite distinction between the question of desertion and what is referred to in the Amendment. It is highly desirable that words of this nature should be inserted, giving protection for the persons concerned. It should be known that there are others in this House who hold the same view as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) in this respect.

I should like to add my word of commendation in regard to this Amendment. I have had considerable experience of this type of thing where one parent, even in prison, has been able to prevent a child from being removed to a good home, and the courts were anxious not to break up a family, which was satisfactory in other respects, such as the good character of the other natural parent. That always seems to me to be looking at the benefit of the parent rather than the best interests of the child, so I am anxious for the acceptance of this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in line 20, to leave out paragraph (d).

This paragraph was added in Committee against my recommendation, but I am anxious to meet the intention of those who moved it, though in rather a different way. The problem which the House should appreciate is this. There is obviously much to be said for the principle that the name and address of the applicant for an adoption order should not be disclosed without his consent, in order that both adopters and adopted children may be protected later on from unsettling interventions by the natural relations of the child. On the other hand, it is reasonable that a parent should have some assurance that the child is going to a good home. What one wants to do is to find a means of trying to protect both interests.

My suggestion is to leave out paragraph (d) of subsection (1) and to add at the end of subsection (2) words which would provide that where a person has given a general consent to the adoption of a child and, after an order has been applied for, withdraws that consent only on the ground that he does not know the identity of the proposed adopter, then his consent shall be deemed to be unreasonably withheld. Otherwise, under the Clause as it stands, the court may dispense with such consent. By leaving out subsection (1, d) and inserting later the provision I have outlined, we shall preserve the principle of not disclosing the identity of the prospective adopter and will not prejudice the rights of the parents, who obviously wish to be assured of a good home for their child.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in line 21, at the end, to insert:

"(e) that the parent of the infant has failed to comply with the duty imposed upon him by subsection (1) of section ten of the Children Act, 1948."
The Amendment is related to local government assistance. Very long experience of cases of adoption has shown that difficulties arise over the question of consents; it arose also on the last Amendment. Most adoption cases come before summary courts, and benches of magistrates are sometimes very difficult people to convince. Magistrates are very chary of exercising the various discretions permitted to them. It is very comforting and helpful to them if they can find in the Acts which they are administering what we may call a sense of direction, rather than to feel that in the exercise of their various discretions they may not be doing the right thing; or that they fail to exercise their discretion because they are dubious about their powers. In many adoption cases the failure to obtain an order has been due to the inability of the bench to make up their minds.

The Section in the Adoption of Children Act, 1926, which deals with consents is replaced by Clause 3, although there is not very much difference in it. Difficulties have arisen under the 1926 Act on the giving of consents. Very often local authorities have had children in their care—often in the care of foster-parents—and eventually the foster-parent applies for adoption. The Amendment suggests that consents, although very often necessary, can be dispensed with if the magistrates feel that the parent has not complied with the duty imposed upon him by the Children Act, 1948, Section 10 of which provides that it shall be the duty of parents to maintain contact with local authorities who have the care of their children, and prescribes certain penalties.

The insertion of the Amendment would be very helpful in enabling magistrates to arrive at a conclusion on the question of the abandonment or desertion. If it can be proved that the parent or parents have deserted or abandoned their children, consent could be dispensed with by the local authority which has had the care of the child being able to give evidence of the non-compliance by the parent with Clause 10 of the Children Act.

I am sorry that I cannot ask the House to agree to the Amendment, for reasons which, I hope, will appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall). Under the Clause one is concerned to ascertain in what circumstances a court is justified in dispensing with the consent of the parent or guardian, or whoever it may be, who has to give consent. There are set out the various grounds which shall be regarded as good reasons for dispensing with that consent. Two of those grounds, which already appear in the Clause, require consideration; namely, in the case where the parents have abandoned the child and, under subsecton (1, c), where the parents cannot be found. My hon. Friend wants to add another reason—that consent may be dispensed with where the parent has failed to keep the local authority informed of his address.

There is a twofold answer to my hon. Friend. First, if the parent is escaping his obligations and, for that reason, failing to keep the local authority informed of his address, it is more than likely that the child would come into the position where it could be said that the parent either had abandoned it or could not be found; so that already the court would be empowered to dispense with the consent. The other point is very important. If some unfortunate parent had quite inadvertently failed to notify the local authority of his address, it would surely be very wrong thereafter to make that a reason for dispensing with his consent in the case of an adoption being applied for.

12 noon.

I am sure my hon. Friend had the best of motives in mind, but I suggest that he will find, if I have rightly explained the previous provisions of the Clause, that he has little to fear and that the position will be safeguarded already. It is noteworthy to remember that under the Children Act this failure to notify an address, if it is done wilfully, will result in a penalty, and a £5 fine may be inflicted. It would seem very curious that if it was not wilful it should be made a reason for dispensing with the consent.

In view of the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 2, line 23, to leave out from "given," to "whether," in line 24.

May I point out that this and the next Amendment link up with the removal of paragraph (d) as a result of the last Amendment which I moved. This is to give effect to what I said when moving the Amendment as to the new provisions to be inserted in the Measure in place of the old paragraph (d) which was added on Committee stage.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 25, at end, insert:

"and may be given either generally in respect of the adoption of the infant or only in respect of the adoption of the infant by a specified person; and where any such consent is given generally as aforesaid by any person and is subsequently withdrawn, after the making of an application for an adoption order, on the ground only that he does not know the identity of the proposed adopter, his consent shall be deemed for the purposes of the last foregoing subsection to be unreasonably withheld."—[Mr. Nield.]

Clause 5—(Probationary Period)

I beg to move in page 2, line 41, at the end, to insert:

"(a) the infant has been for not less than six weeks in the care and possession of an adoption society or of a children's committee of a local authority or their representative or of a relative as defined in Clause twelve of this Act, during which period but not subsequently the natural mother may reclaim possession of the child:
Provided that—
  • (i) the adopting parents shall be entitled to take charge of the child before the six weeks shall have elapsed, having been advised in writing by the placing authority that they are liable to be deprived of the child if the natural mother should wish it before the six weeks has expired; and
  • (ii) that the above subsection (1) (a) of this section shall not apply if the infant is more than eighteen months old."
  • When moving the proposed new Clause which stood in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and myself, we received a comment from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that, although the Clause was simple, the situation was not. Here I think the position is reversed. The Clause is not very simple but its purpose is. In a few words, the purpose is simply to protect adopting parents from unnecessary pain. The Bill does a great deal to safeguard the interests of the child. It does a great deal to safeguard the interests of the natural mother. But no Clause and no paragraph of it, so far as I can see, makes any attempt to protect or safeguard the interests of the adopting parents.

    This, I would say, is almost the only shortcoming, within its scope, of the Bill, and one which puts it at variance with the sentiments of the Committee, and of the House when we discussed the matter on Second Reading. Then on all sides there was a very clear desire evinced that adopted parents also should receive adequate protection. As a matter of fact, as the Bill stands—and this is the point to which the Amendment is directed—at any time within three months a child may be wrenched away from the adopting parents—not merely because those parents are unfitted to take charge of the child; that we would assent to, that is a perfectly legitimate and indeed essential proviso. But a child can be wrenched away also simply because the natural mother has changed her mind, simply because perhaps through illness, perhaps through lack of imagination, perhaps through sloppy-mindedness, she did not know her own mind at the time she decided to hand the child over to other parents. I use those terms not censoriously, because this is a perfectly natural situation. But it is a situation for that reason which is all the more likely to be encountered.

    As a result of this Bill, or at least after the Bill has been passed, what the placing authority will have to say, in effect, to the prospective adopting mother is, "After you have nursed and cherished and learned to love this adopted child; after you and your husband have rebuilt your lives around it, it is a reasonable possibility that the child will be torn away from you. As a matter of fact, that possibility has been increased by a recent Bill which in fact we are discussing today. The placing authority will have to say to the prospective mother, "That is the condition of adoption, and you can take it or leave it."

    I think that is very serious, and something to which we should turn our attention. It contrasts very markedly with the attitude towards the natural mother. To her the placing authority says, "Get rid of your child if you want to; but don't distress yourself unduly, because at any time within the next three months, if you should be pleased to change your mind, you can get it back. You can get it back at the expense of some other wretched woman who, out of the goodness or the emptiness of her heart, has contracted to take care of your child."

    Quite obviously nobody in this House wishes that situation to persist unaltered. I am quite sure the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) does not, if it can be helped, want his admirable little Bill to go forward with this grave blemish upon it. The only reason why we have tolerated this situation so far is because, on the face of it, it does look extremely difficult to solve. It looks as though we are faced with the insoluble problem of breaking the natural mother's heart or breaking the heart of the adopting mother. With two maternal claimants nobody, except my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and myself, has had the temerity or the impudence to emulate that self-confident monarch, King Solomon, and attempt a judgment. We attempted one on the Committee stage which I agree was faulty. We have now made a second attempt, which if perhaps less spectacular than Solomon's, we believe is no less workmanlike.

    What it amounts to is this. We propose that the probationary period of three months should be retained so that at any time during that three months, when the child is once lodged with its new parents, it can be withdrawn if those parents prove to be unsatisfactory. We also propose that that probationary period should be preceded by another period of six weeks—a time which I might call the neutral period—during which the child shall be left in the charge of the placing authority and during which the natural mother shall be entitled to reclaim possession of the child if she wishes. For the whole of that period, she will be advised, she may change her mind. But after that period has elapsed and if the child has then been removed into the bosom of another woman she shall be advised that she may not tear that child away. In other words, there is a reasonable deadline of which she will be given fair notice in advance.

    That is the proposal and we believe it to be a practical one. There are attached to it three qualifications as a result of the discussion which took place during the Committee stage. The first is that this shall apply to infants of not more than 18 months. This age limit was put in in answer to a criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol). The second reservation is that the adopting parents can, if they wish, dispense with the neutral period of six weeks. They may say "We will take the child over at once and take our chance." It seems to me that, provided they are properly warned in writing of what they are doing, as it is laid down that they shall be, it is reasonable to allow them to take the chance of a personal tragedy if they want to. Therefore, that reservation has been added. My own view is that it is extremely probable that the great majority of adopting parents will take advantage of this provision and will not leave the child for a neutral period, in which case the physical practicalities are rendered all the easier.

    The third reservation deals with another question raised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. He pointed out that we might encounter a case where a grandparent, an aunt, a sister, or some other close and responsible relative, was ready to take over the charge of the child immediately the natural mother wanted to get rid of it. He suggested that it was absurd and unnecessary to refuse such relatives the right to do so and to put the child into a local authority's or adoption society's care for an intervening period of six weeks. I am bound to say that I think that is a valid argument and we have, therefore, incorporated it in our Amendment. In the Standing Committee the Under-Secretary of State said:
    "… in every case, whether there are grandparents or other relatives prepared immediately to take over the child with a view to adoption, that cannot be done and … the children will have to go to public care."
    That is what he said would happen if the Amendment we had then proposed had been accepted. The hon. Gentleman continued:
    "If my hon. Friend"—
    which is I—
    "can tell us"—
    which I can—
    "that he does not intend that"—
    which I do not—
    "we shall have to think again.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 31st March, 1949; c. 58.]
    I know of course that "thinking again" is a non-committal phrase and that it is possible to think twice and arrive at the same conclusion; but I hope that in view of the manifest seriousness of this issue my hon. Friend will not be disposed to treat the matter in that way. Some of us feel that this is of really fundamental importance to the Bill. It is a matter of such palpable and crying-out humanitarianism that I hope that the Committee will take the trouble to provide—either in the way we have suggested or in some other way as they may think fit—some protection, for adopting parents, against avoidable pain.

    12.15 p.m.

    I beg to second the Amendment.

    I have little to say in addition to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) who has most admirably put the views already expressed on Second Reading and in Committee. I have only one point to add. It is that I think the various provisos here would mean that few children would actually be left to the care of a local authority, with the possible expenditure involved. Most children would either remain in the care of an adoption society or of a relative. Alternatively, the position would arise in which the adopting parents were willing to take the child for the intervening period. Therefore, I do not think that the likelihood mentioned during the Committee stage that this might put a good deal of heavy expenditure on local authorities would materialise. The steps taken to meet the various criticisms advanced in Committee would cut out the need for any very heavy expenditure of that kind.

    I hope that this Amendment will not be accepted. It does not give anything like enough protection to the natural mother. I agree with many of the views held by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), but this seems to be essentially an Amendment put down by people who are not natural mothers. I am a natural mother, and I think that mothers need far more protection than is provided in this Amendment. Even where a woman has a baby under ideal conditions, in happy married life very often for weeks after the birth of the baby she is ill and unfit to make decisions. Fortunately, in ordinary life most women are not called upon to make serious decisions in the first six weeks after the birth of a baby. The child belongs to its natural parents and no question arises. It is most serious to lay down a rule that after six weeks a natural mother, whatever her state of health may be, whatever condition she may be in mentally she should be called upon definitely to decide whether she will keep or renounce her child.

    I fully appreciate that it is hard on adopting parents if they take a child and the child is snatched away from them, but I appreciate still more the importance of protecting the natural mother as much as possible. This situation arises particularly in the case of illegitimate children. The mother of an illegitimate child often suffers a great deal before her child is born. There may be a great deal of mental suffering which may lead to both mental and physical illness for a considerable time after the birth of a child.

    There is another situation which has arisen quite frequently, and which we seek to do away with in this Bill. Adoption societies believe, quite wrongly, I think, that anyone rather than the real mother of an illegitimate child—I mean any respectable, suitable person—is a better parent than the natural mother.

    Quite often, in the early stages after their child has been born, women have been persuaded to sign an order stating that they wanted their children adopted, and then, at some later stage, which may be any time from two to three months, they have wished to reverse their decision, because they have become physically strong again and have felt able to undertake the care of the child they love and long to have back. They wish to reverse their decision and have their own babies, and, quite often, even at great cost to themselves, to have the opportunity of bringing up their babies themselves.

    It is absolutely essential that everything shall be done, first and foremost, to safeguard the child; everyone will agree about that and therefore if there is a loving mother with a real affection for her baby—and she will not want it back unless she has that affection—then she is likely to be the best person to bring up that child, and I should like to give her the opportunity of doing so.

    Therefore, I think that is the best way to safeguard the baby, and I also think that, if we have a woman who is a natural mother and who is going to offer a good home to the child—and if she wants to do that she probably will be a good mother—she is the next person whom we ought to protect. Much as I deplore the sorrow that may be caused to adopting parents, I think this Amendment is not fair and does not give anything like enough chance either for the baby to grow up with the love of a natural mother or for the natural mother to have the opportunity to which she is entitled to keep her own child.

    Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, may I ask her this question? Presumably, she agrees that the natural mother should not have the right to reclaim the child indefinitely, and she will accept that there has to be a limit to that period? She has not said in her speech what that limitation, in her opinion, should be—whether it should be six weeks, or, if not, what she thinks is the right period. If the principle is accepted that there should be a limit, what we are really discussing is whether it should be 6, 8, 10 or 12 weeks.

    It is not the principle to which I object. I quite agree that it is not possible to have an indefinite period during which a mother can reclaim her child, but I think six weeks is much too short, and that it should be at least three months; indeed, I think six months might be better. I do not want to commit myself absolutely on this point; I should like to discuss it with a gynaecologist, because I am not a medical woman, before suggesting a definite period. From the point of view of the mother, however, it should certainly be a very much longer period than six weeks.

    I should like to support this Amendment, especially as I put forward one point during the Committee stage which it is proposed to meet in the Amendment. Of course, this is a very delicate situation concerning the feelings of the natural mother, and I think we made it perfectly clear, both on Second reading and during the Committee stage, that all of us who are interested in this question of adoption in this Bill have been scrupulously careful to express our deep concern for the rights of the natural mother, and to make perfectly certain that she is to have the opportunity of bringing up her child if she is willing to do so.

    We all realise that the perfect person to bring up the child is a good natural mother, and that is beyond argument, but there comes a point at which, if the mother is contemplating adoption, she has to make up her mind. She cannot put off the decision indefinitely, and she cannot indefinitely keep changing her mind. There comes a moment when she has to make the break and decide whether she is able to support her child or not, or whether she wishes it to be taken into a good home. It is a very moot point whether that period should be six weeks or three months. I am a natural mother, but I hope I have enough imagination to see the point of view of parents who are contemplating the adoption of a child. In any case, they are in a precarious position vis-a-vis the natural parents.

    Usually, married people without children who contemplate this step are willing to rebuild their entire lives and generally prepare for the adopted child in very much the same way as a mother expecting a child. They plan for the future and surround the child with a great deal of love and affection, and it is a dreadful thing if, after a very short time, when they have become really attached to the child and given it a warm place in their hearts and home, the natural mother should come along and say that, after all, she has changed her mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) knows of the experience of one of his close friends to whom this dreadful thing happened twice in a very short time, and it is a dreadful experience.

    We are dealing with children who are deprived of a natural home and who can be accepted into a good home as the next best thing. We must not place any deterrents in the way of parents who might contemplate this step. It takes a great deal of courage, far more than most people have got, to take a child into one's home and give it all the love and affection which any other child receives and then to find that it is to be taken away. Those of us who are dog lovers know how we feel when we lose a favourite dog, so what must be the feelings of these people when they are told that they must lose the child which they have taken into their homes?

    I hope that, if this Amendment is not accepted in its present form, some way will be found to protect the prospective adopting parents, and I hope we shall improve the Bill to that extent. It is a splendid Bill, to which we have all looked forward, and I hope it will be possible to find a way of making certain that people who are going to take children into their own homes shall at least have some guarantee that they are not going to be placed in the distressing position of having the child taken away from them. At the same time, I want to make it clear that I realise the rights of the natural mother. I have made that clear over and over again, and I insist that we must do three things—we must protect the child, we must protect the natural mother and we must do something for those who are going to provide a good home for that child.

    12.30 p.m.

    There is obviously a great deal in what the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) said. It is most difficult fairly to hold the balance between possibly competing interests concerned, but I share the view of the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) that the period of six weeks does unduly diminish the rights of the natural mother. There is a great deal, of course, in what the hon. Lady said, particularly about the case where the adoption takes place when the child is very young and, therefore, the natural mother's mind may be a little affected by the consequences of the birth of the child. It is well known, and our jurisprudence recognises, that at such a time decisions made by a woman may be affected by those circumstances. I would remind the House that in the Infanticide Act, passed before the war, statutory recognition was given to the fact that that disturbance might last as long as 12 months.

    In those circumstances, the six weeks' limit seems to be unduly restricted. I quite agree with the hon. Member for North Bradford that there must be a limit, but six weeks is unduly short. This is an extremely important decision for all the parties concerned. I share the view of the hon. Member for North Hendon that if it is possible for the natural mother to continue to look after her child, in the majority of cases it is more in the interests of the child that that should be done than that the child should be within the care of even the most kind and thoughtful of adopting parents. That is so because we have so much of the natural forces of nature there to reinforce the natural kindliness of human beings to each other.

    I hope the supporters of the Amendment will not press it, at any rate in its present form. I think also that the intermediate period—in theological terms the period of purgatory—before proceeding to the adoptor's home is subject to certain disadvantages and that is recognised by the imposition of an age limit in the Clause. The process of adoption obviously involves some disturbance to the child. In the non-political sense, children are very conservative and resent changes in environment and even changes in the faces of those looking after them. I appreciate that there would be a limited number of cases but even so this would be adding to the disturbance by causing changes to take place in their lives at two stages, instead of one.

    The two hon. Members who put forward the Amendment deliberately made the age 18 months because it is appreciated that up to that time the child does not suffer much disturbance.

    I appreciate that that was the reason, but I rather doubt that it really meets the difficulty. One can only speak from the experience of one's own family. In the case of my own children they were conscious of and resented changes considerably before reaching the age of 18 months. It is difficult to argue from one child to another, but the hon. Lady will agree that many children are conscious of these changes well before that age and the very fact that an arbitrary age limit is to be inserted is an implicit recognition of this very difficulty. It is a factor which the House should consider. I think that on balance the Bill is better in its present form and I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.

    I did not mean to intervene in this Debate but, as two natural mothers have intervened and they take a different view, perhaps my intervention may weigh down the scale on the side of the natural mother. The adopting parents are being considered in this Amendment. They want a child, a blue-eyed fair-haired little girl of two years of age—anybody's little girl. One person's little child is to those adopting parents as good as any other parent's little child. But what is the position of the mother of that child? What is the position of any father who is the proud possessor of a blue-eyed, fair-haired little girl of two? There is only that one little girl in the whole world. To the natural mother there is only one child and she yearns for that child.

    I have experienced this in my work on Glasgow welfare committee where the mother, after parting with the child, has become distraught and not knowing what to do, nor how her life was to shape. She did not know if the man would marry her or not, and she consented quickly to adoption and then, after she had "come to herself," came to the committee complaining day after day, with tears running down her cheeks, that she wanted the baby back in any circumstances.

    I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) and with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that even our jurisprudence recognises the abnormality that follows a birth. It is very difficult to put a period on it. The gestation period before the birth is usually nine months. From my own experience I should put the same period after the birth. It was grand when the courts recognised that abnormality, and I think it would make for peace and happiness in many homes if it was recognised generally. We ought to recognise the abnormality and come down in favour of the natural mother, wait until her senses come back to her and get the real bond, the real affinity between the mother and child re-established always, if we can. I hope the House will reject the Amendment.

    I take the same view as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I appreciate that there is a very real conflict of interests here. That was made plain by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) when he moved the Amendment. On the one hand, we have the right of the natural mother to have a reasonable time during which she can change her mind and, on the other, we have the very natural and proper desire of the intending adopters to have certainty and security and the knowledge that the child cannot arbitrarily be taken away, if they are considered suitable parents. Thirdly, we must not lose sight, and the House has not lost sight, of the interests of the child, independently of the feelings either of the natural or the adopting parents.

    It will be possible under this Measure for adopting parents to achieve certainty within three months of giving notice of intention to adopt and, under this Amendment, the certainty so far as objections from the mother are concerned, but not in other respects, will be attainable after six weeks. What we have to consider is whether six weeks or three months is the more suitable period. We have to consider whether the difficulties raised by the machinery are so great as entirely to outweigh any advantage there might be in shortening this period. I wish to say a word about the interests of the child. It is a perfectly valid point, to which no doubt all of us would attach varying weight, which was made by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that children are conservative and that we should not change their environment more often than is absolutely necessary. I should have thought that probably modern doctors would say that that applies to a very early age indeed, although I would not profess to be an expert upon the subject.

    I think it is possible that under this Amendment there might be cases in which a child was placed out very soon after the birth, not necessarily with any intention of adoption, and that child might stay a number of months, at the end of which time an intention to adopt and a willingness on the part of the natural mother to allow adoption might develop. Under this Clause that child would have to be moved from the person with whom it had already been for three or four months, because no adoption order could be made unless there had been this six weeks period during which it had been in the care of an adoption society, a children's committee or their representative, or a relative.

    I should have thought there would be not an inconsiderable number of such cases where a baby is placed out, the mother being in hospital perhaps after the birth, and, the baby having spent some months there, the intention to adopt develops and everybody is willing for an adoption order but the order cannot be made unless this condition which is laid down in the Amendment is fulfilled. I think it is a rather serious objection that the child should have to be taken away from the people with whom it is placed and who ultimately are going to adopt it, in order to spend a useless and futile six weeks possibly in a children's home of the local authority or somewhere else.

    Let me turn to this question of the period of six weeks. I should have thought that that was much too short a period from the point of view of the natural mother. I need not elaborate what has been said about the medical aspects of the case, and the fact that certainly for more than six weeks many a mother may be in a somewhat abnormal state of health. Quite apart from health, there is another point which has not been mentioned and which I think is very relevant. One of the reasons why a natural mother might be willing to allow her child to be adopted, although she felt great affection towards it, would be grave doubt whether she could maintain it and give it a home.

    Are we to say that within six weeks of the birth she ought to make up her mind and make any necessary arrangements, for instance, to get a job where she would be able to take her child—perhaps a domestic job—where she could support herself and the child and have the child with her, and ascertain whether the natural father was prepared to maintain the child or assist her to maintain the child? Are all these things to be settled in six weeks? I think it is an altogether outrageous proposition from the point of view of a natural mother, and I should have thought that even a three months period is a short period in which to require her to make up her mind on that sort of subject. It is very likely that she could not even start looking for some employment until at least five or six weeks after the time of the birth.

    Therefore, I should have thought that on the merits, it is altogether too harsh to reduce the period during which she might still refuse her consent to six weeks. For other purposes the Bill chooses three months as a probationary period during which the parties concerned and the court can have sufficient evidence whether the proposed home is suitable, and so on. I should have thought that it was much wiser to stick to that period for all purposes and to give the natural mother at least three months in which she could make up her mind.

    12.45 p.m.

    I would point out that there are very many unpractical aspects of the machinery which it is proposed to lay down. This was raised in Committee in relation to adoption societies. I think it is very doubtful indeed whether the provision that the infant must be in the care and possession of an adoption society for six weeks has any reality at all in most cases, because a very large number of adoption societies have no means whatever of taking charge of a child for six weeks. There are exceptions, of course, but normally an adoption society has no means of carrying out that obligation at all.

    As regards local authorities, I do not want to stress this, but I would point out that although by implication a duty is put upon the local authority to accept the child in such circumstances, in fact it has no power to do so at the present time. There is nothing in Section 1 of the Children Act which would justify a local authority, merely on the grounds set out in this Amendment, taking care of a child. In a number of cases it might be that some of the conditions in Section 1 of the Children Act were fulfilled, but there would be cases where the local authority would be obliged to say, "We cannot take the child," and if there was no adoption society available, we should have to fall back on the third alternative, the relative, who might be available—we do not know—and we might find ourselves in the position of everybody wanting adoption and the adoption order being impossible under this Clause. There are great difficulties, quite apart from whether the intention is really correct. I should have thought that it would be very much better to leave the period of three months and not try to introduce any shorter period for this purpose.

    I have deliberately refrained from intervening at an earlier stage because the Debate has shaped itself on such lines that for an ageing bachelor to express an opinion would be a bit difficult. I have listened to the arguments, and it has appeared to me that the balance lies with those who are opposed to this Amendment. I say that with regret because the hon. Members for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) and Dagenham (Mr. Parker) have seen me on this matter. I hope I am not unsympathetic, but I think, on the whole, it is really right that the natural mother's interest should be very closely protected for an adequate period so that she may make up her mind one way or the other.

    I am told that the number of cases where a mother reclaims a child after consenting to adoption is very small, and it does not seem to me that the number is sufficient to justify depriving the mother of the right to recover the child before the order is made. I feel, on the whole, that the period of three months might be uniformly applied so as to give a proper right to each of the parties concerned.

    I am afraid that, in view of the fact that there has not even been a proposal to try to examine further what we regard as an important issue, my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and I will have to divide the House on this Amendment. I should like to say a word as briefly as I can in reply to the objections which have been made to the Amendment, only one of which in my view seems to have any validity whatever and which both of us would be perfectly prepared to meet.

    The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made the perfectly reasonable point that it was undesirable to subject a child, even an infant, to a shifting environment. This was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. First of all, I should say that one can exaggerate enormously the deleterious effects on an infant of 18 months of being moved from one home to another. It can be a grossly exaggerated point, though it is fair to recall that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames put very little emphasis upon it. In any case, precisely the same thing can happen under the present Bill. A child can be taken to its adopted parent and the natural mother can change her mind, in which case the child is whisked back and it has been subjected to two environments. What the difference is between what we propose and what is already in the Bill in this connection, I cannot really understand.

    Surely the difference is this: under the Bill as it stands the child will be submitted to two environments only in the very rare cases in which the mother reclaims the child. My hon. and learned Friend has pointed out that they are rare. Under the Amendment, on the other hand, it will be submitted to two environments in almost every case.

    I really cannot accept the argument of rarity. If it is a damaging or injurious thing to do at all to the child, then it should not be done, and the argument that it does not matter because there are only a few cases seems to me a frivolous argument.

    It is not the argument that because it happens rarely it does not matter. Surely the difference between the Bill as it stands and the proposal of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) is that, all of us agreeing that it is a harmful thing to do, he is proposing that it should be done in all these cases whereas we are saying that it is better that it should be done in only the very small number of cases where, unfortunately, things work out that way.

    I accept that difference. It is true that if it were injurious it would be better that the injury should be restricted as far as possible.

    But I have yet to learn that there is really any serious injury in moving such a child. I think the whole point is sadly exaggerated and does not really deserve much more emphasis than that placed upon it by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter).

    My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made two or three further points. He drew attention to the case where a child was adopted by its relatives or other suitable adopters immediately it was born, and he asked what would happen then. Would they have to give up the child for six weeks and put it in public care? If the child were adopted immediately it was born, that situation would not arise. It can arise only if the child were placed with relatives and they had not previously decided to adopt it but, while it was with them, they then decided to adopt it. In those few cases they would, indeed, have to surrender the child for a period of six weeks, but those cases will be infinitely fewer than the cases of mothers who change their minds. The rarity here is much more than the rarity used in the argument against the total Amendment. If the rarity argument is to be used in one instance, it is fair for me to use it again and with much greater force; because this can only happen very rarely and, even in those cases, nobody would pretend that it is a very injurious thing that there should be a six weeks' intervening period.

    My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said that six weeks was not a long enough period for a mother to make up her mind. He said that after suddenly having a child a mother does not know what to do; she has to re-organise her circumstances and to look around to find out whether, in fact, she can or cannot look after the child. As has been pointed out, I am not a natural mother, but I learn with surprise that the actual birth of a child is the first intimation the mother has that she is going to bear a child. The argument that for the previous eight or nine months she will not be able to think about the problem of what she is going to do about the child strikes me as a very odd argument.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), who has come forward this afternoon in the rôle not only of natural mother, but of sob-sister, appears to need certain enlightenment from me—and I am neither. The idea that a mother is not going to make any plans for her child, is not going to dream about her future, simply on the ground that it may not be born alive is one that I, frankly, just do not believe.

    She may not be able to make any plans. A mother who is incapacitated for nine months before her child is born is hardly in the economic position to make plans. Her plans may depend on the putative father.

    Are we to accept the idea that a woman is completely incapacitated for nine months before the birth of her child and another three months afterwards, and that only then is she able to think about what she will do with her child? If we were to accept that proposition, I think we should be rather extravagant.

    All this turns on the question of whether six weeks is an adequate period. It turns on what, in my opinion, is the only valid objection to the Amendment. We are perfectly prepared to revert to the three months period if the only serious objection to the Amendment is that the period of six weeks is too short. Personally, I would not dissent from that. When we are discussing a question of a period one is always obliged to be somewhat arbitrary and the idea that the principle of the Amendment should be abandoned because the period of six weeks is not the right period is one which I hope we shall reject.

    Finally, there is the argument advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) who said—and I was surprised to hear him say it—that, after all, there are only a few cases. But that is to say that there are only a few cases in which the natural mother changes her mind. There are precisely as many cases, no more and no less, in which the adopting parents suffer. Every time a natural parent changes her mind the adopting parents suffer. There may be few cases, but there are as many of the one as there are of the other. If the fact that there were only a few cases was an argument against our taking any notice of the matter—which the hon. and learned Member for Chester certainly does not believe—it would be an argument, equally, for not taking any notice of the predicaments of those mothers who change their minds; and none of us consents to that.

    There well may be only a few cases of mothers who change their minds, but this House, quite rightly, has thought that we ought to protect those mothers. We have not been deterred from doing so by the argument that there are only a few of them. Why in the world should we be deterred by the argument that there are only a few—though, indeed, an exactly equal quantity—adopting parents who will suffer as a result of these changes? There may be only a few heartbreaks, but even a few heartbreaks are worth a little trouble and a little ingenuity on the part of this House.

    Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

    The House proceeded to a Division, and no Members being willing to act as Tellers for the Ayes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.

    1.0 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 3, line 10, after "Where," to insert "under subsection (1) of this section."

    I think that it would be convenient to consider with this Amendment my next, in page 3, line 11. These two Amendments provide that those of the child life protection provisions of Section 7 of the 1939 Act, which are attracted by this subsection of this Clause, shall not apply if the child, of whose proposed adoption notice is given to the welfare authority, is over compulsory school age. It has been estimated that about three out of every 100 adoption orders are made in respect of children of 15 years of age or upwards, and it is felt that, since the court is under the duty, before making an order, to give due consideration to the wishes of the infant, having regard to his age and understanding, it is unnecessary to require the welfare authority to "visit and examine" children of this age, who are quite capable of speaking for themselves.

    In these circumstances, the first Amendment brings up into line 10 the words "under subsection (1) of this section," which the second Amendment proposes to omit from line 11 in order to insert "who is not over compulsory school age." The House will later, as we proceed with the Bill, see that "compulsory school age" is to be defined, if an Amendment to that effect is carried, as having the same meaning as in the Education Act, 1944.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 3, line 11, leave out "under subsection (1) of this section," and insert, "who is not over compulsory school age."

    In page 3, line 14, at end, insert "section thirty-seven of."—( Mr. Nield.)

    I beg to move, in page 3, line 15, after "1948," to insert:

    "but subject to the provisions of subsection (2) of the said section seven."
    This is intended to make it clear that the duties imposed on welfare authorities and on prospective adopters by the subsections of Section 7 of the 1939 Act, which are attracted by this Clause, do not continue after the adoption order has been made, and again that they do not continue if any adoption order is made after the child attains the age of 18. The Amendment brings the provision into line with the ordinary application of Section 7.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 6—(Arrangements Made By Adoption Societies)

    I beg to move, in page 3, line 24, at the end, to insert:

    "(2) So much of subsection (2) of the said section six as prohibits the making of an application for an adoption order in respect of a child until the expiration of a period of three months from the date on which the child is delivered to the adopter pursuant to arrangements made by an adoption society shall cease to have effect.
    (3) The period within which, under subsection (3) of the said section six, art adopter is required to apply for an adoption order or give notice to the adoption society of his intention not to apply for such an order shall be six months from the expiration of the period specified in subsection (2) of the said section six instead of three months from the expiration of that period."
    This Amendment is designed to deal with two points in connection with the cases of children who are placed for adoption by registered adoption societies. Under the provisions of the 1939 Act it is laid down that where arrangements are made by a registered adoption society for the adoption of a child by an adopter resident in Great Britain no application to the court for an adoption order in respect of the child shall be made by the adopter until the expiration of the period of three months beginning with the date upon which the child is delivered into the care and possession of the adopter. On the other hand, under Clause 5 (1) of this Bill it is provided that an adoption order shall not be made—there is a distinction between applying for an order and the making of an order—unless the child has been continuously in the care and possession of the applicant for at least three consecutive months immediately preceding the date of the order.

    It is considered that there is no sufficient reason for maintaining the difference between the two enactments, and that it is right that the adopters may make their application for an order before they have had the child for three months, if they so desire, whether or not they obtain the child through an adoption society. This Amendment will not enable them to obtain an order before the end of the three months, but the initial steps can be taken so that the order may be granted as soon as possible after the end of the probationary period.

    I take the view that the Amendment will be particularly helpful in the cases of older children where there is no need for delay before being satisfied with their mental and physical health. The proposed subsection (3), on the other hand, will help in the cases of the younger children, as it is proposed to lengthen from three to six months the period after the probationary three months within which an adopter who has received a child from a society must apply to the court for an order or return the child to the society. It appears to me that this Amendment goes some way to meeting the views expressed by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) in our discussions in Committee, when he had in mind an extension of the period from the three months I proposed to the six months, and I feel that the Amendment will commend itself to the House.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 10—(Other Effects Of Adoption Order)

    I beg to move, in page 5, line 14, at the end, to insert:

    Provided that where the infant is adopted by his mother, and the mother is a single woman, the order or agreement shall not cease to have effect by virtue of this subsection upon the making of the adoption order, but shall cease to have effect if she subsequently marries.
    The House will observe that in drafting this Measure I had in mind the desirability of making a clean break in the event of an adoption order, so that after its making, the child shall be as nearly as possible in a position similar to that of a natural child. With that in mind I inserted in Clause 10 the provision that, where there is in operation an affiliation order it shall cease to have effect on the making of an adoption order. One of the things I had in mind was that there should be no seeking of an order for gain in order to benefit from an existing affiliation order.

    I regret to say that I had overlooked the situation which would arise if a single woman adopted her own child, she at the time being in receipt of payments under an affiliation order. I think the House will have little hesitation in agreeing with my new proposal, that in that event, where the mother, a single woman, obtains an adoption order in respect of her own child, any financial benefit which she obtains from the father by way of an affiliation order should continue, so that she may benefit by it until she subsequently marries. That is the effect of this Amendment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 11—(Registration Of Adoption Orders)

    I beg to move, in page 6, line 21, to leave out "and any copy of an entry," and to insert:

    "(6) Where the Registrar General is notified by the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Scotland that an adoption order has been made under the Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930, in respect of an infant to whom an entry in the Registers of Births or the Adopted Children Register relates, the Registrar General shall cause the entry to be marked "adopted (Scotland)," or, as the case may be, "re-adopted (Scotland)"; and where, after an entry has been marked in pursuance of this subsection, the Registrar General is notified as aforesaid that the adoption order has been quashed, or that an appeal against the adoption order has been allowed, he shall cause the marking to be erased.
    (7) A copy of any entry in the Registers of Births or the Adopted Children Register."
    This Amendment and the next three Amendments, in lines 22, 30 and 39, all affect the machinery of the Registrar-General. The Amendments in lines 21 and 22 go together, and there is some substance in them; the Amendments in lines 30 and 39 are purely drafting improvements.

    The purpose of this Amendment and the Amendment in line 22 is to secure that if a child born or adopted in England is adopted or re-adopted in Scotland, its English birth or adoption entry is noted in the margin to show the fact of adoption in Scotland, as is at present done in the case of children adopted in England. It is a very technical point, but I think it is one with which the House will agree. Under the existing law there is no power to make that marginal note in the register. Perhaps I should add that although the note would appear on a certified copy of the original certificate, it would not appear on a short certificate.

    In asking this question I apologise in advance for not knowing the answer. I am sure I ought to. I see that one of these Amendments refers to the quashing of an adoption order. Nothing in this Bill appears to relate to the quashing of orders, and I was wondering in what circumstances such a quashing would take place.

    I am not sure that I can give an answer to that offhand. I suppose there is provision under the main Act. After all, this Bill follows up the Act of 1926, but I am afraid I do not carry in my head the precise provision in that Act. I should imagine, speaking offhand, that there are circumstances relating to fraud, or something of that kind. I know that there are provisions for quashing, and it is to them that this relates.

    1.15 p.m.

    I do not know whether this is a convenient moment to raise a point I have been wanting to raise throughout these discussions. If it is not the appropriate moment I hope that I shall be stopped at once, because I do not want to take up time unnecessarily. There is a point in the adoption of children legislation which in recent weeks and months has given considerable anxiety to a great many people, and I am wondering whether this Amendment has any bearing upon it. The point is this. There have been one or two recent cases in the courts of cruelty by adoptive parents to adopted children, and I gathered from an intervention just now that those are circumstances in which an adoption order may be quashed. In the case I have in mind the cruelty has occurred in very exceptional circumstances which aroused considerable sympathy in favour of the adoptive parents guilty of the cruelty. It is the case where a child has been adopted in all good faith from an adoption society, which no doubt has also acted in good faith, but where it has turned out that——

    I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but as I understand it, this Amendment deals purely and simply with entries in the register. I do not know whether or not what the hon. Gentleman is now saying has anything to do with the merits or demerits of the right of quashing by courts. On the face of it, it would not seem to be relevant here. I do not know at what point the hon. Gentleman could make his speech, but I cannot see that it is in Order on this Amendment.

    That may very well be the right view, and if it is I do not want to press the point. I rather gathered from what had taken place that nobody knew whether this Amendment was purely formal or whether it covered the circumstances in which adoption orders could be quashed. If it were the latter I would contend that this is the appropriate place to raise the matter. But if it is not I do not press the point. No doubt I can raise it on Third Reading, or at some other appropriate moment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 6, line 22, leave out "in pursuance of such directions," and insert "under this section."

    In page 6,In line 30, leave out from beginning, to "by," in line 33.

    In page 6,In line 39, at end, insert:

    "(9) In the case of an adoption order made before the commencement of this Act, the power of the court under the last foregoing subsection shall include power to amend the order—
  • (a) by the insertion of the country of the adopted person's birth;
  • (b) (where the order does not specify a precise date as the date of the adopted person's birth) by the insertion of the date which appears to the court to be the date or probable date of his birth;
  • and the provisions of that subsection shall have effect accordingly."—[Mr. Younger.]

    Clause 13—(Interpretation And Construction)

    I beg to move, in page 7, line 25, at the end, to insert:

    "'compulsory school age' has the same meaning as in the Education Act, 1944.
    (2) Any reference in this Act to any enactment shall be construed as a reference to that enactment as amended by any subsequent enactment."
    This Amendment is designed to define the phrase "compulsory school age" as used in the Bill. It is to have the same meaning as in the Education Act, 1944. The additional words are the common provision for interpretation of other Acts referred to as they may have been amended since they were originally passed. Perhaps I might here refer to the Amendment to Clause 14, in page 7, line 42, which brings the definition of "compulsory school age" as applied to Scotland within the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 14—(Application To Scotland)

    Amendment made: In page 7, line 42, after "child" insert:

    "for references to 'compulsory school age' and to 'the Education Act, 1944' there shall be substituted references to 'school age' and to 'the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946.'"—[Mr. Nield.]

    I beg to move, in page 8, line 16, at the end, to insert:

    "and in subsection (2) after the word 'consent' where that word first occurs there shall be inserted 'except the consent of an infant'."
    This Amendment deals with the Scottish position. It is to ensure that the consent of a minor child in Scotland is obtained at the time of the adoption proceedings.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 8, line 32, after "Registrar General," to insert "for Scotland."

    In page 9, line 13, after "Registrar General," insert "for Scotland."

    In page 9, In line 19, after "Registrar General," insert "for Scotland."

    In page 9, In line 25, after "Registrar General," insert "for Scotland."—[ The Lord Advocate.]

    I beg to move, in page 9, line 28, to leave out "and any extract of an entry," and to insert:

    "(6) Where the Registrar General for Scotland is notified by the Registrar General that an adoption order has been made under the Adoption of Children Act, 1926, in respect of an infant to whom an entry in the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages or the Adopted Children Register maintained by the Registrar General for Scotland relates, the Registrar General for Scotland shall cause the entry to be marked 'adopted (England and Wales)' or, as the case may be re-adopted (England and Wales)'; and where after an entry has been marked in pursuance of this subsection the Registrar General for Scotland is notified as aforesaid that the adoption order has been quashed, or that an appeal against the adoption order has been allowed, he shall cause the marking to be erased.
    (7) An extract of an entry in the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages or the Adopted Children Register maintained by the Registrar General for Scotland."
    This is the counterpart Amendment to the one moved by my hon. Friend to Clause 11, page 6, line 21, and makes similar provisions for Scotland.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In line 30, leave out "in pursuance of such directions," and insert "under this section."—[ The Lord Advocate.]

    I beg to move, in page 9, line 36, to leave out from the beginning to "by," in line 39.

    The words to be excluded are reintroduced in fuller form by an Amendment in page 10, line 9.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In line 44, after "General," insert "for Scotland."—[ The Lord Advocate.]

    I beg to move, in page 10, line 8, at the end, to insert:

    "(8) In the case of an adoption order made before the commencement of this Act, the power of the court under the last foregoing subsection shall include power to amend the order—
  • (a) by the insertion of the country of the adopted person's birth;
  • (b) (where the order does not specify a precise date as the date of the adopted person's birth) by the insertion of the date which appears to the court to be the date or probable date of his birth;
  • and the provisions of that subsection shall have effect accordingly."
    By this Amendment the new subsection introduced in Clause 11, page 6, line 39, is similarly introduced into the Scottish Application Clause. The terms are exactly the same as the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend.

    Amendment agreed to.

    1.23 p.m.

    I beg to move "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

    I move this Motion with some degree of confidence, since to my great gratification I feel that the provisions of this Measure have attracted very general approval. There are four particular points which I think are publicly commended. The first is that provision which enables children resident in this country, but of foreign birth, to be made the subject of adoption orders and also citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies. Many instances were cited in the course of our discussions, and I recall in particular the case of refugee children from the Spanish civil war who came to this country. There are many cases of children of foreign birth living here who may well be embraced within families in this country.

    The second point that is particularly welcomed is the provision dealing with the probationary period of three months in every case immediately preceding the making of the order during which the child is to be in the care and possession of the applicant and under the supervision of the local welfare authority. I have in this connection been particularly anxious to seek to strike a balance between the need to protect the mother from a hasty parting with her child, and protecting the adopters from having the child removed after they have come to care for it. I am glad to say that we have not divided on this issue. The matter has been raised here today during the Report stage, and it may well be that the final and perfect arrangement has not yet been found. I am quite certain that when this Bill goes to another place that aspect will receive very careful thought.

    The third point was that provision which enables an adopted child to benefit equally with the natural child when the adopting parent dies intestate, and also enables the adopting parent to benefit if the child dies intestate. This Clause, as the House is aware, was added during the Committee stage following the hope I expressed when moving the Second Reading. Here again, as far as wills and settlements are concerned, I have no doubt that consideration will be given to the matter elsewhere.

    The fourth point arises out of those Clauses which seek to amend the law as to the form of birth certificate. Without going into any details, I hope sincerely that these provisions will be a further step forward in eradicating the stigma of illegitimacy. There was one Amendment which was not called, which shows that there are those who take the view that there is no such thing as an illegitimate child but only illegitimate parents.

    If this Bill goes to another place, I know that it will receive distinguished sponsorship and also very careful and sympathetic consideration. I do not doubt but that it will return to us in better form. In conclusion, may I express my thanks to all those who have helped in the progress of the Bill, to those hon. Members who have backed it and those who gave anxious thought to it in Committee, to the Under-Secretary who has been most helpful and to the officers of his Ministry, particularly of the Children's Department, and to the many others outside this House who have given wise counsel and advice?

    1.29 p.m.

    I think the whole House appreciates the work which the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) has done in bringing this Bill forward. Although a small Bill, it is a Bill full of good things. I am sure he will look back on it, as very few private Members can, as an achievement in his Parliamentary career. I am particularly anxious to say this, because I have been responsible perhaps for the only contentious passages during the consideration of the Bill.

    I wish also to say that I appreciate the remarks which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just made in that respect. It is true that my hon. Friend and I decided not to divide on the issue, not because we did not feel very strongly about it, but because it is, after all, a complicated Amendment, with not very readily recognisable repercussions and to expect a considered judgment from people who have not been in the Chamber but would be called upon to troop into the Division Lobby, was really expecting too much. I am particularly glad however that the hon. and learned Gentleman volunteered himself that he would try to see whether our point could be met during the passage of the Bill through another place because there is no doubt that, as a point of principle, it is of fundamental importance.

    1.30 p.m.

    May I be permitted, as a member of the Curtis Committee, to express my great gratification at the passage of the Bill through the House so far, and to thank the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) for promoting the Measure? It will I am sure, go a long way towards implementing the children's charter, and will result in a great deal of happiness to those concerned and clear up some of the anomalies which have hitherto existed on questions of adoption.

    1.31 p.m.

    I was not, unfortunately, a member of the Committee on this Bill, although I had something to do with some of the Amendments which were tabled to it, and I should like to associate myself, as one who has had life-long experience of these questions, with the congratulations which have been offered to the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield). Those fortunate enough to draw in the Ballot the right to bring forward a Private Member's Bill often find that their constituents have grandoise ideas about the type of thing which can be dealt with. This Bill is precisely an example of the kind of thing which can be dealt with, and also an example of the need to restore Private Members' time so that Members in all parties can associate in bringing forward Measures of social reform which are small but, nevertheless, of importance to particular sections of the community.

    The 1926 Act sprang from the Victorian conception of the inviolability of the family and the rights of motherhood, and was a charter of real importance. It had the widest possible aim, in particular in cases of illegitimate children where there was no hope of finding means of adequate upbringing except by adoption. I remember, in my years as a practising solicitor, tragic cases of people who cared for and brought up an adopted child for years only to be threatened by the parents of the child when it was approaching an age at which it could earn its own living. Such people were deprived of their right to the child and had no recourse to the courts. The 1926 Act has worked well, but has shown the need for Measures of reform such as this Bill, which has been admirably conducted throughout its proceedings by the hon. and learned Member for Chester. I am glad the Bill has reached its present stage.

    1.33 p.m.

    I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) on having succeeded in bringing to its present stage a piece of legislation which will cause much happiness to those who have been troubled for years in trying to administer Acts covering adoption. The Bill does not appear to be a major Measure, but my hon. and learned Friend can feel satisfaction in the knowledge that it will bring happiness to many people and will considerably help authorities who have to deal with adoption cases.

    I hope that if I add my congratulations to the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) he will not feel entirely overwhelmed. On behalf of my right hon. Friend and the Home Office, which will be principally concerned with the operation of the Bill should it become law, I should like to say how much we appreciate the way in which the hon. and learned Member has conducted the Bill through the House with such admirable lucidity and expedition. I hope it will get a fair wind in another place.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Bill read the Third time, and passed.