HL Deb 22 March 1938 vol 108 cc292-310

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the intention of this Bill is to secure recognition by Parliament that under certain circumstances the killing of infants is provoked by illness and not always by criminal intent, and to procure for such cases appropriate handling. The subject matter of the Bill belongs to the territory where law and medicine meet, and to some extent carries with it difficulties which attach to both. Though the Bill is small in compass it deals with a subject that has vexed the minds of both lawyers and the public for no less a period than seventy years. If we go back to the sixties, seventies and eighties of last century, child murder was prevalent and such institutions as baby farms and other means were put into operation, ending in the destruction of many children. At that period no fewer than 5,000 inquests per year on children under five years of age would be an ordinary happening. The horse sense of the public detected that amongst these cases of child murder there were two groups. There was what we know as the child-birth group, and there was the group which constituted the murdering of unwanted children; yet offenders in both groups of cases alike were treated for murder and condemned to death, and in course of time public feeling became so moved that juries refused to convict. That, of course, led to a certain number of guilty people escaping the punishment for murder.

Then, about 1861, a Bill was passed for offences against the person which gave a loophole and created the offence of concealment of birth. Thereafter juries escaped from their difficulties by finding the defendants innocent of murder but guilty of concealment of birth, and that resulted in a number of people escaping who should not have escaped. The next episode was that the Judges began to feel uneasy and they were often finding pretexts whereby they could avoid bringing forward charges of murder by means which permitted of an escape from those charges. So it happened that the divorce between law and opinion became complete. Towards the end of last century many attempts were made to get through the impasse. Several attempts were made by legislation, but they all came to nothing. When we come to this century we find that an attempt was made by Lord Loreburn in 1908 to solve the problem. That failed, and, finally, in 1909, a Bill passed your Lordships' House of which Lord James of Hereford was the substantial author. That Bill, briefly, provided that, should a Judge think proper, he could direct the jury to acquit the defendant of murder and to convict of manslaughter and the sentence was left to the Judge.

So, even up to this late date of 1909, there was no comprehension that there is a group of cases in which the cause is illness rather than criminal intent. At last there came, in the year 1922, a more far-seeing measure of which the late Mr. Arthur Henderson was the author. This Bill was amended in your Lordships' House and became the Infanticide Act of 1922. Thus it happened that: theory lagged behind practice for no less a period than sixty years. This lag of theory behind practice can be embarrassing, for it cannot be in the interests of justice that Courts should be forced to find loopholes to get away from Acts of Parliament, or, when they fail to find those loopholes, forced to put up these wretched people on charges of murder and to pass sentences of death which both the Judge and jury know perfectly well will be respited within twenty-four hours, or at any rate a few days. Such procedure is unjust and even cruel to a number of these defendants. The 1922 Act did try to remedy this disability, but, unfortunately, it was drawn in such a way that it has resulted, in a large measure, in being of no effect. At the same time it did establish that diseases of the mind, temporary though they may be, do con- stitute an illness which renders the defendant irresponsible.

With your Lordships' permission I will read the first subsection of the first section of that Act: Where a woman by any wilful act or omission causes the death of her newly-born child, but at the time of the act or omission she had not fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to such child, and by reason thereof the balance of her mind was then disturbed, she shall, notwithstanding that the circumstances were such that but for this act the offence would have amounted to murder, be guilty of manslaughter. That section has difficulties. There is no definition in the Act of what was meant by "newly-born," and it soon became apparent that "newly-born" was a description that was restricting the operation of the Act to a short period after birth. That can be illustrated by a case not so long ago, which was heard at the Old Bailey and in which I was called as an expert witness. This was the case of a woman who had given birth to her second child. Under ordinary circumstances she was sane; she was happily married, and a good mother. She had given birth to a child, and when the child was three weeks old the nurse appeared one morning to put the child to the breast and left the room. She came back in about ten minutes to find that the mother and the infant had disappeared. A search was made and the infant was found with its throat cut by means of a patent razor blade, and there was a small incision in the mother's throat also. That defendant was put on trial at the Old Bailey for infanticide.

Then the question arose: Was that child newly-born? and it turned out that there was no legal definition of "newly-born." I was asked afterwards for a medical definition of "newly-born." I had to reply that there was no such definition, but that there was a custom, a practice which was acted upon both at the Ministry of Health and elsewhere, that any child at any rate up to four weeks old was newly born. This child was killed at the age of three weeks. The Judge said he was controlled by the judgment of the Court of Appeal in a previous case which had decided that a child three weeks old was not newly born and therefore he would have to try this unfortunate woman for murder. As the proceedings went on, however, it was so obviously discordant with the Judge's feelings to try this woman for murder that when he summed up he expressed the hope that some amendment of the infanticide law would be made. When it came to the prospect of a verdict he suggested to the jury that if they thought the woman was not responsible they should pass the following verdict—that the defendant did the act with which she was charged but, not being responsible owing to illness, she was not guilty. The jury adopted that and so she was brought in "Not guilty" without the necessity of saying she was insane.

The hardship of these cases is that these people have the alternative either of being convicted of murder, with all the slur that that involves to themselves and their families, or of being committed to Broadmoor, which leaves upon them the stamp of insanity, because, however well Broadmoor may be administered—and we know that it is very well and justly administered—nothing can affect its associations and it has the associations of criminal insanity. That is the reason why this debate is taking place to-day and why I am asking your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. The Bill has been altered in the following way. The term "newly-born" has been deleted. The words "including the effect of lactation" have been added, and a time limit of one year has been inserted. Clause I therefore will read: Where … at the time of the act or omission she had not fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to such child, including the effect of lactation following upon such birth, and by reason thereof the balance of her mind was then disturbed"— as a result of that the woman shall be tried for infanticide. I may add that the jury will have power under subsection (2) to bring in a verdict of infanticide on their own initiative.

I would further submit that when illness is the cause of an offence of this kind, we should go a little further, and that in so far as it is compatible with the administration of justice the machinery of crime should be avoided. For instance, when the defendant is before the court of first instance it is not fair, nor is it necessary, that such a defendant should be remanded to prison. On the contrary, where possible bail should be given or if bail cannot be given the remand should be to a hospital or a home. It is damaging to such a defendant and it is damaging to the prospects of her recovery of health to be remanded to prison. I would remind your Lordships that a large proportion of these cases, unless severe, get perfectly well. The problem is not such a small one as might be thought. Taking the returns of female admissions to Broadmoor in one year no less than 42 per cent. were for child destruction, and of these women admitted for child destruction 5o per cent. got well. It is an unfortunate thing that no less than 5o per cent. of these people have to be stamped with the Broadmoor stamp, and it is a direct reinforcement of the desirability of treating them as they ought to be treated and recognising them to be clear cases of illness. They are as much cases of illness as any other complications of child-birth, as much as the physical complications, quite as much as streptococcal septicæmia, quite as much as white lead. The majority of them, not all of them, get quite well. They are in a short time able to be restored to their families. It is not difficult for those acquainted with this subject to demarcate. They bear perfectly clear evidence of temporary insanity.

We all admit that in wishing to be merciful to these people we have to be careful that we do not provide a means of escape for the murderer of the unwanted child. That is one of the reasons why I have limited it to one year. I have received a good deal of correspondence on this point. There is quite a group of influential people who think that I should have tried to extend it beyond a year. My reason for being against that is that the group of people for which I am concerned at this moment is quite clearly a group of ill people, of people who can be proved to be ill. When you get past a year there will be very few of these cases which will not have been dealt with. It is rare to have the insanity following child-birth not better within a year. At any rate the cases which escape are so few that I think the argument would be all on the side of limiting the period. On the question of bail I speak subject to correction by my noble and learned friends, but I believe that by statute law it is possible to give bail to any person except one charged with high treason. It is the practice of the law, however, never to give it in charges of murder. I would like to see discretion given to the magistrate and that he should have the power of remanding either to a home or a hospital. It is in his power to do that for children, I understand, but he cannot do it for adults.

When the case goes to the Assizes, I hope it will be possible to follow what I submit to your Lordships is the excellent precedent set by Mr. Justice Humphreys when he avoided a verdict which practically amounted to "Guilty, but insane." It has long been a matter of surprise to me that my colleagues in the law as masters of reason have so long stuck to the verdict of "Guilty, but insane." It seems to me fundamentally unsound. Surely it should be "Insane, therefore not guilty." I now find that until the year 1883 the verdict which was brought in did amount to "Insane, therefore not guilty"; that is, when insanity was proved, the defendant was brought in "Not guilty." That seems to an amateur not only more logical but certainly more merciful. I find that a bit of history explains the change in practice. It is rather a matter of interest in these days. In the year 1882 Queen Victoria was shot at by a lunatic with a pistol. He missed her, and was tried for high treason. As a result of that trial he was established insane and therefore declared to be not guilty. This verdict caused that great Queen considerable annoyance, I take it, and she said that it was not the way to deter people from crime, and that in any case of murder or attempt to murder the first word in the verdict must be "guilty," and that anything you added was another matter. As a result, I take it, of her intervention in the year 1882 an Act was passed—I again speak subject to correction—in the year 1883 which altered the verdict to "Guilty, but insane." There was an interesting account of this change in a letter to The Times in December, 1920, written by that distinguished man Sir Herbert Stephen.

May I commend to your Lordships this small but, I venture to think, not unimportant measure? The Bill implies that certain offences can be due to illness, and if and when that mental illness amounts to irresponsibility for the offence charged, I suggest that the patient should neither be punished nor dubbed a lunatic but bound over for appropriate treatment. I suggest that that would be a practice more in harmony with present-day thinking and with sound humanity, and I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Dawson of Penn.)


My Lords, my noble friends on this side would wish to give to this Bill their general support. As the noble Viscount has explained, this subject is a technical one on which differences may develop between the medical profession and legal practitioners. It will probably be our privilege to look on while they settle the more difficult matters between them. We all, however, have a very keen general interest in the subject with which the Bill deals. The noble Viscount has explained that as time has gone on there has been a divergence between the law as it is written and court practice. This Bill, I think, is designed to bring the matter more nearly up to date. We therefore welcome the Bill as far as we, with our laymen's minds, understand it. While, however, one would hesitate very greatly to criticise a Bill which has such an authoritative backing in your Lordships' House, we are perplexed with what looks to us to be one or two limitations. It is agreed that it is frequently a cause of ill-health rather than of criminality.

As far as we see, one cause is stated in the Bill as being subject to consideration, but there are other causes, I am told, of equal importance which are excluded. I will not attempt to use either medical or legal terms, because I do not understand either; but if a patient is to be sentenced to a hospital, we are concerned with the kind of hospital to which she should go. Everybody agrees, I hope, that a criminal place is not suitable, and I also feel that a mental hospital is not really the right place for a patient of that kind to go to. It is true that in a mental hospital the patient gets the advantage of specialised treatment. At the same time, some kind of certification is necessary, and as the illness may be quite temporary it seems inadvisable that certification and the stamp of insanity should be placed upon a patient if it can be avoided. When I was a member of the Royal Commission on Lunacy and Mental Disorder I learned from the evidence before us that a prisoner might have to be sent to a mental hospital, but that the causes of that dis- order of mind were physical, and physical treatment was required and would probably quickly cure the mental disorder. All that I wish to say to-day is that we welcome this Bill as far as it goes, and we should like to think over seriously whether we shall not put down an Amendment for the Committee stage to enlarge its scope in the direction that I have indicated.


My Lords, I merely desire, following the noble Lord, who leads the Opposition, to express the satisfaction which I feel that my noble friend Lord Dawson, speaking with all the authority that he has in your Lordships' House, has been able to bring in this important measure of reform. For many years it has been an occasion of serious distress to all of us laymen outside that in these cases a woman, who if not technically insane is undoubtedly not sane, should have been condemned to death with all the terrible ceremonies of the law—the black cap and the solemn words of the Judge. It has been found, as my noble friend explained, extraordinarily difficult to discover a form of law which, without allowing the escape of those women—and there must always, I am afraid, be a number of them—who merely desire to get rid of unwanted children, will provide a remedy for the difficulties which the noble Viscount described. I trust that noble and learned Lords who speak will give the Bill their support. The particular point which the noble Lord who leads the Opposition has raised will, no doubt, receive full consideration when the Bill is dealt with in Committee, but I feel sure that your Lordships will desire to give it a Second Reading.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words in hearty support of this proposal. I speak as one who has been acquainted with the difficulties in administering the law, having unfortunately tried a number of cases such as those that are contemplated to be dealt with under this Bill. The trouble in the law is, of course, as it has always been, not to weaken the protection that is given to the lives of infant children. Of course it would be an example of the very worst that it should be thought that taking the life of an infant child is not as serious a form of murder as taking the life of anybody else. That has always been present, I am sure, to the minds of persons responsible for the making and administration of the law. On the other hand, cases of alleged murder by mothers who have not recovered from the effects of childbirth are always of a most distressing kind, and until the Infanticide Act was passed in 1922—which provided that where a woman who has killed her newly-born child has not recovered from the effects of child-birth and her mind is affected she can be convicted of infanticide and not of murder—there used to be a series of most distressing cases in Court in which either the Judge, counsel and jury were in a kind of friendly conspiracy to see that the woman should not be convicted of murder, or else the woman was convicted of murder and the well-known form of solemn ritual was gone through in a case where everybody, except perhaps the woman in the dock, understood that the sentence would never be carried out.

To my mind that was a very serious defect in the administration of justice and a most unfortunate one ever to have come about. The effect of the Infanticide Act has been that where a child is newly born—and I thought the Court of Criminal Appeal had rather accepted the view that the time could be extended to four weeks or a month—a woman can be convicted of infanticide, although she is far from being technically insane, and thereupon the Court is able to deal with the unfortunate woman in the way she should be dealt with, and, if necssary, order institutional treatment. As I understand, the effect of the Bill now before your Lordships is to preserve all the conditions of the present Act. The condition will still be there that the woman has not recovered from the effects of child-birth, as well as the condition that the balance of her mind is still disturbed; and in those circumstances, acting on the medical knowledge which my noble friend possesses and which I know he shares with his medical colleagues, where it can be said that those conditions extend beyond the month then the verdict can still be returned of infanticide, with the consequence that sentence of death is not pronounced and the woman can be given the necessary treatment. Perhaps I might be inclined to extend the period further, but as a lawyer I rather fear that if you went beyond the twelve months you might be imperilling the lives of infant children, and I am therefore inclined to think that my noble friend has adopted, in this case, the happy medium.

I would not like to say anything further about the verdict of "Guilty, but insane," to which the noble Viscount referred. It is a very old problem, but in reference to his criticism of that verdict I might perhaps say this. More than fifteen years ago I presided over a Committee appointed by the then Lord Chancellor to consider this very matter. We had a Committee which consisted of Sir Herbert Stephen, the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, Sir Richard Muir, Sir Archibald Bodkin, and Mr. Marshall Hall, and other persons, who made the Committee very representative of persons acquainted with the administration of the criminal law, who were not likely to err on the side of leniency. We made certain recommendations, and one recommendation was that this very verdict should be altered on the ground mentioned by the noble Viscount—namely, that it was illogical and ridiculous to say that a person was guilty of an act when one really meant that he was not guilty of a crime. No step was taken upon that recommendation. The recommendation of lawyers, who know something about the subject, I can quite understand is not quite so convincing as the suggestion of a layman who comes with the professional knowledge and weight of my noble friend. Now I hope that a change such as was recommended by this Committee may come about. So far as this Bill is concerned, I think it can be heartily recommended to your Lordships' acceptance.


My Lords, I think there can be no question that the women with whom this Bill deals are entitled to our compassion; women, that is to say, who, owing to the effects of child-birth and the instability of mind which it sometimes occasions, have committed an act for which they either cannot be regarded as responsible or of which they could not, at the time, be supposed to be able to discern the wrong. Nor, I think, can there be any question that the old custom of bringing in a verdict of murder, when it was well known that it would be immediately followed by a respite, was both very cruel to the woman and also inconsistent with the due solemnity which ought to be attached to the administration of the law.

I confess, however, that I have a difficulty about this Bill. There is abundant evidence that too often the mother of a child that is unwanted, because its conception was due perhaps to the failure of precautions which it had been hoped would be sufficient to prevent birth, or through some sudden act of passion whose consequence might be inconvenient, has taken steps to prevent actual birth by procuring miscarriage or other means. I wondered whether there would not be a risk under this Bill that the mother of such a very unwanted child might be tempted to avail herself, after the child was actually horn, of the merciful provisions of this Bill in order to get rid of it; but I am assured by my noble friend that by no possibility could the mere act of infanticide alone be regarded as evidence of disturbance of mind, but that in every case it would have to be clearly proved that there was, quite apart from the act itself, evidence of that natural illness. I am told that the evidences of this unhappy form of insanity are well known and can easily be recognised. I have also a little difficulty about the time of a year. It is arguable that it might be shortened, but that is a matter for medical opinion. I do hope, however, that no attempt will be made in Committee to lengthen the time, for I am sure that that might lead to abuse. I suggest that in cases of infanticide after the period of twelve months the procedure should follow the ordinary cases when a plea of insanity is made.

I think we should all agree that if there be clear evidence that the act was due to mental illness the treatment of the woman should be as little as possible associated with crime. I am sure we should agree with my noble friend that, both before the magistrates and on committal for trial, it should be permissible to send the woman to a remand home or hospital, certainly not to prison. As to a hospital, with regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Snell, has said, I was surprised that he thought it necessary that there should be certification in such a case, but that is a matter for experts. At any rate, where there is clear evidence that there was no criminal intent in the act, it is, I think, most unjust that the woman should in any way be regarded as a criminal. For these reasons on the whole I cordially support the Bill in the interests of justice and pity.


My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I desire to support this Bill, which appears likely to receive unanimous or almost unanimous approval in your Lordships' House. While supporting it, I would express the hope that its provisions may be extended. I was rather discouraged to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, deprecate the extension of the term beyond twelve months. As a matter of fact, if the Bill is to be passed as it stands it would not have applied to any one of the cases of this kind—or rather cases of the "black cap" kind—which the noble and learned Lord and the most reverend Primate spoke about so eloquently, which have occurred in the last ten years—not a single one. In the last ten years, or rather, in the ten years down to 1936, there have been fifteen cases which come under the category of what the Press call the "black cap farce," that is, the sentencing of a woman to death for the murder of her child when it is perfectly well known that the sentence will not be carried out.

No mother has been hanged for the murder of her child in this country for ninety years, and it is of course inconceivable that there will be any retrogression in that respect. In those circumstances the Bill, admirable as it is, would in practice have been inoperative in all those "black cap" cases during the last ten years. Therefore I submit that there is prima facie strong ground for considering the extension of the term. I am not going to dilate upon the horrors of what is called the "black cap farce," but I believe I am correct in saying that some Judges in these cases in pronouncing the sentence deliberately utter the words unintelligibly so that the wretched woman in the dock cannot understand what is being said. In one of these cases in the last few years the Judge told the woman not to take any notice of the words, and in another case a learned Judge said "For God's sake tell her it will not be carried out." We shall all agree that happenings of that kind ought to be stopped if it is possible, but this Bill will not do it. In these cases in the last ten years, of which there are fifteen, the age in several of them—I think about six out of the fifteen—was more than one year; in every case, with the exception of one, it was below three years.

But there is another consideration. It is not merely a question of the time limit, it is the question of the cause of the crime; and there also I think consideration should be given in this Bill to the extension of the causes of the crime—not merely the mental disturbance due to the birth, or to the effect of lactation, but also I would like your Lordships to consider—because this would cover the cases of which I am speaking—whether the Bill could not be amended so as to cover mental disturbance due to distress and despair arising from solicitude for the child and extreme poverty, or either of these. I recognise that this is a matter for Committee, but I am just making the point now. If those words were incorporated in the Bill and the Bill had been on the Statute Book, then all the "black cap" cases of the last ten years, with the exception of one, would have been avoided.

We are very fortunate in your Lordships' House in having the highest legal authorities here, and the Lord Chancellor, by the by, a few days ago told us that even lawyers may be sincere. That seems to suggest that even Judges may have feelings, and as a matter of fact those of us who have the privilege of knowing some of His Majesty's Judges know how very true that is. I cannot help thinking that some change would be welcomed by the Judges themselves. But I know how very difficult it is to get any change effected in the law of this country. No doubt many of the objections have great substance in them. I am not suggesting that if I were to put these Amendments down that would be the best way of carrying out what I personally and a great many other people desire to see, but what I would like to add is this. As I say, we have the highest legal authorities here. In fact I am so over-awed by their presence that I am sometimes nervous of even mentioning the word "law" when they are here; but they have been from time to time extremely helpful, and I should like to appeal to the noble and learned Lord who has spoken in this debate as to whether he would bring his great experience to bear on this problem to see whether some Amendment could not be introduced which would end the "black cap farce."


My Lords, I think it appropriate that some remarks should come from this Bench to give your Lordships an indication of the view which His Majesty's Government hold on this Bill. In so far as the object of the Bill is to reduce the number of cases in which sentence of death has to be pronounced by a Court on a woman who has killed her child in distressing circumstances, and to whom it is clear that a reprieve will be granted, everyone, I think, must sympathise with my noble friend's object. It was with a view to relieving the Courts in certain cases from the necessity of passing such sentences that the Infanticide Act of 1922 was passed. The proposal in this Bill is to get rid of the limitation under the Act of 1922 to cases where the child is newly born, and to substitute a limitation to cases where the child is not more than twelve months old. It is true to say that the term "newly-born" has been criticised on the ground that it is somewhat indefinite. I am informed that in a case which came before the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1927 the judge had ruled that a child four weeks old was not "newly born," and the Court of Criminal Appeal upheld this ruling. I do not think this decision will settle the question whether a child aged one week or a fortnight can properly be regarded as "newly-born" within the meaning of that Statute.

It can, of course, be contended that it is theoretically possible that in some future case the Court might have difficulty in determining whether a child was or was not "newly-horn," but experience does not suggest that this difficulty will in fact be felt. In the cases where a verdict of infanticide is returned, the death of the child has generally occurred within the first few hours of birth. If, therefore, the only argument in favour of getting rid of the term "newly-born" were its indefiniteness, it is very questionable whether an amendment of the law could be defended on that ground. I am advised that the Courts have had no difficulty whatever in interpreting that term. No doubt the indefiniteness of this term is not the only, nor indeed the main, ground which has prompted my noble friend to bring forward this Bill. The main object of the measure, as I see it, is to extend the verdict of infanticide to cases where a mother kills her child several weeks or months old, if at the time of her act she is still suffering from the effects of child-birth and the balance of her mind is, by reason of these effects, still disturbed.

The question for how long a period child-birth may be liable to have a disturbing effect on the mother's balance of mind is undoubtedly a medical question. In certain exceptional cases there may be a very long and possibly lasting effect on a woman's mental balance. But in considering these questions it is necessary to have regard to what normally is the longest period in which the effects might produce a state of comparative irresponsibility for an act leading to the death of a child. At first sight it would appear that twelve months is a long period if regard is to be paid to normal cases and not to quite exceptional cases. It has been recognised by the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of this Bill that legislation of this kind cannot properly be extended to those very exceptional cases where the effects of childbirth may still be operative after a period of twelve months. But if the general principle be admitted that the Bill cannot be extended to exceptional cases, I might ask this question: Is it right to fix the period at twelve months? Is it not a question whether some shorter period would be sufficient to cover the generality of cases? This is a question which will require the very careful consideration of this House, and no doubt your Lordships will be assisted by the views of my noble friend who has moved the Second Reading, and whose great experience in the world of medicine qualifies him to speak with great authority on this subject.

Whatever period is fixed, it must necessarily be an arbitrary period, and the result of fixing that period is that two cases may arise in which the circumstances are identically similar, but in the one the woman would be liable to be convicted of murder because the child was just over the age limit and in the other to be convicted of infanticide because the child was just under the age limit. The contrast between the treatment of similar cases cannot be avoided if a time limit is to be inserted, and it is generally recognised that some time limit must be inserted if the term "newly-born" is to be omitted from this Bill. It would, of course, be quite inappropriate that a verdict of infanticide should be returned in cases where a woman may kill her child aged fourteen on even twenty. On the question how far the substitution of a time limit of twelve months for the term "newly-born" will result in an increase in the number of verdicts of infanticide and a decrease in the number of verdicts of murder, the following facts which I have ascertained should be taken into account. Since 1930 there have been thirteen women who have been reprieved after being convicted of child murder. One killed an imbecile son aged thirty, one a daughter aged eight, and four killed children whose ages ranged from twelve to twenty months. In six of the thirteen cases which have occurred during the last seven years, the Bill with its limitation of twelve months would have had no effect whatever. The remaining seven women killed children whose ages ranged from one to nine months.

So far as an examination of the information available about these cases shows, there was no suggestion that in any of these seven cases the mother's mind was still unbalanced by the effects of child-birth; but whether in some of these cases, if the Bill had been law, further investigation might have shown that it was possible to put up a plea for a verdict of infanticide, is a point on which it is quite impracticable to express a definite opinion. All I can usefully add is that the experience of the Department which I represent does not suggest that the effect of the Bill will be to enable verdicts of infanticide to be substituted for verdicts of murder in any considerable number of cases. While, of course, His Majesty's Government appreciate the motives which have prompted my noble friend to bring forward this Bill, they believe it necessary to indicate to the House that the practical effects of this measure may be comparatively small. Nevertheless, should the opinion expressed by my noble friend, whose authority on medical matters is unquestioned, influence your Lordships to think that this measure is of a very desirable character, the Government would not wish to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and would be prepared to give it most careful consideration when we reach the Committee stage.


My Lords, there have been some very interesting questions raised. When the very painful case at the Central Criminal Court was brought up, which had an effect on everyone who heard of it, and is typical of others, I did not go into the question in my personal capacity, but took good care to refer it to a committee of experts, as I was able to do in my capacity as President of the College of Physicians. They went into the matter, and the conclusions I have put forward to-day are the result of that united wisdom. When their report was in my hands, I got together an interesting gathering of leading King's Counsel and some of these medical men, and there was an agreement such as I have indicated. I would remind my noble friend opposite that, thank Heaven, infanticide is not a common thing if you take into account the number of births per year. We are dealing with something which appeals to us not so much by its quantity as by its quality. But if I could demonstrate six cases that brought about such an unfortunate state of affairs that innocent women were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, I say that is a discredit to the law of this country and has been a discredit for years. I submit, therefore, that the law ought to be put into order and brought into shape.

I now turn to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, raised. It is a very interesting one. He asked, as I understand him, should it not be a mental hospital? I purposely did not put in "mental" because my own view is that there should not be this division in hospitals between mental and physical. For instance, if I may refer to the distinguished body over which he recently presided, there is in one of their recently constructed hospitals, St. Pancras, a ward for psychological cases, and when they occur, either in the hospital or outside, instead of the patients being sent off to a place labelled "mental hospital" they are sent to the psychological medical ward in St. Pancras. This I hold to be a much better arrangement.

As regards the interesting point made by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, my first difficulty is this. If I were to accept what the noble Lord suggested, I would have to alter the title of the Bill. We all recognise that an infant ceases to be an infant when twelve months old. That is understood, and if I were to widen this Bill I think His Majesty's Government might be even more nervous than I find them to-day. I am astonished at their nervousness as it is, and I am very glad that I did not widen my Bill in the sense suggested. I will tell my noble friend this. I am well aware of the figures; I have studied them. Recent figures have shown that the killing of children only takes place within a very short time of birth. That illustrates very well the danger of founding conclusions on too small a number of cases. I referred that question to a number my distinguished colleagues who know about these things in the mental world, and they very soon showed me that the insanity which follows child-birth is often delayed and occurs during the period of lactation. These cases were far more numerous than even I thought myself, and, therefore, the noble Lord's list of cases, with which I am well acquainted is, I think, a little misleading.

If I may say so, I think the Bill does follow the middle course. People who, whether for mental reasons or not, kill their children when they pass the stage of infancy, must, I am afraid, go through the ordeal provided by the law, but in the case of a woman who has, after all, done a great public service in bringing children into the world, and who goes through a time of great stress, especially in these days, I think we are entitled to treat her better than the law does at present. It is reasonable, I submit, to keep this Bill within the limits to which I have referred, and I have stated the reasons why I have done so. I was interested in what my noble friend the most reverend Primate said about the unwanted child. If he will permit me to intervene with a rather professional answer to the question it is this: that the woman who gets rid of her child before it is born is not in the same psychological position as the mother who looks down upon her living child and has held it to her breast. The maternal instinct then is much more profound, and in such a case is stirred to its very depths. If she has not got that feeling—there are very few women who have not—there is nothing to be said. You cannot legislate. Still it is an interesting point. You cannot, however, in my view, put the woman who kills her child before it is born in the same category as the woman who kills her newly-born child. I hope, my Lords, you will be so good as to give this Bill a Second reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a.