§ 4.58 p.m.
Mr. W. T. Williams
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Affiliation Proceedings Act 1957.It is fortuitous, but, perhaps, not as inappropriate as it may seem at first sight, that the House should briefly—and I promise to be brief—leave for a moment the world affairs with which it is concerning itself today to try to deal justly with the little people.
The modest Measure which I seek leave to introduce may serve the just needs of some who have been caught between the upper and nether millstones of statutory law and judge-made law. My Amendment is limited to the addition of two words in Section I of the Affiliation Proceedings Act, 1957. That Section states:A single woman who is with child, or who has been delivered of an illegitimate child, may apply by complaint to a justice of the peace for a summons to be served on the man alleged by her to be the father of the child.These are words that have an honourable parentage throughout the Bastardy Acts, or, if I may change the metaphor, they have been adopted from the first Bastardy Act in the nineteenth century without modification in each succeeding Amendment of those Acts. Nevertheless, they are words that have always been regarded by the judges as unsatisfactory.
From as early as 1878, they have been modified by the courts to include within the definition of a single woman a married woman who has been reduced to the condition of a single woman by widowhood or otherwise. In practice, this has meant that courts have always allowed a married woman to sue a putative father as long as she can satisfy the court that she is living without access by her husband even if that is as a result of force of circumstances.
In former years, as I believe, the test was whether there had been physical access by the husband to the wife. Since 1947, however, the courts have been limited, following the judgment in a case called Watson v. Tuckwell, to the test of whether a woman is living in a completely separate household from her husband.
1547 Within my experience this has led to injustice. In the first place, to the wife, for it is possible nowadays for evidence to be given in the divorce courts against an adulterous wife that she has borne a child other than to her husband, if the husband can prove physical non-access, yet this is insufficient to establish by the wife that the child is that of the putative father for the purpose of the Affiliation Proceedings Act.
It is also greatly unjust to the child. It is possible for the husband to repudiate the maintenance of a child which he declares is not his, and which he can prove to be so. It is also possible for the putative father, as the law stands, to repudiate the maintenance of his child by relying on the aid given by the limits of judicial interpretation of Section 1 of the Act. Perhaps even more important, it is possible under the provisions of the National Assistance Act for the child not to be eligible for National Assistance, but to be referred by the Board to the husband, even though, if the husband chooses to repudiate the child, the Board has no remedy against that husband.
My proposal is to amend the Section so that it will now read:A single woman who is with child, or any woman who has been delivered of an illegitimate child, may apply by complaint to a Justice of the peace for a summons to be served on the man alleged by her to be the father of the child.The effect would be to resolve the ambiguity and the artificiality of the interpretation which has, in practice, worked injustice to many women. It in no way would extend the law so as more adversely to affect the child's status.
1548 The question of the child's status as legitimate or illegitimate has already been amply provided for by other Acts. All that the amendment does is to give every woman the same right before the law to prove her allegations before a court. If she finds it necessary, and can prove her case, she can ensure, if the Bill is acceptable to the House, that the law's assistance is available to all children born illegitimately, and that no child is shut out from the protection of the law merely by an unfortunate phrasing of a Statute which, from the beginning, courts have recognised as unsatisfactory, but which remains so still and will continue to do so until Parliament puts it right.
In those circumstances, I ask the leave of the House to bring in my Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. W. T. Williams, Mr. Leo Abse, Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop, Mr. William Hamling, Mrs. Lena Jeger, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Eric Lubbock, Mr. Geoffrey Howe, and Mr. David Walder.