§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, the object of this Bill is to place on the Minister of Pensions the duty of making provision for the care of any child suffering from neglect or want of proper care, for whom a pension on account of the death of a parent in the present war is being paid by the Minister under the various instruments providing for compensation on disablement or death of members of His Majesty's Forces, the Mercantile Marine, the Civil Defence Services and the civilian population. The Bill covers children in the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man, The Minister cannot extend his statutory responsibility beyond these limits, but this will not prevent him from doing what he can for children living elsewhere.
A similar duty was imposed on the Minister of Pensions by Section 9 of the War Pensions (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1918, in respect of children of members of the Armed Forces of the Crown serving in the Great War. At the outbreak of the present war, Section 2 of the Pensions (Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine) Act, 1939, was passed in order to revive this duty with respect to children of the same classes where death occurred as a result of service in the present war, but this duty was not sufficiently comprehensive, as it did not cover orphans of members of the Mercantile Marine or the Civil Defence Services or of the civil population killed as the result of enemy action. The object of this Bill is to cover the children of all classes of persons with whom the Minister of Pensions is concerned.
In common with his predecessors in office, the Minister has never regarded his duty towards an orphan child as being 926 completely fulfilled by the mere payment ox pension. It has been accepted as the duty of every Minister to see that a general oversight is exercised over all orphans to ensure that they are receiving proper care and that their pensions are used for their benefit. Any attempt at complete supervision by the Ministry of children residing with a surviving parent would be impracticable and unnecessary. But where it comes to the notice of the Ministry that such a child is suffering from neglect or want of proper care the Minister does not hesitate to intervene. Happily such cases are rare, though the sources from which the information could come are many.
The Ministry's long experience of this problem has shown as a rule that ordinary persuasion, advice and warnings—and perhaps the temporary administration of the pension in kind—have secured the proper treatment of the child. And here I would like to say that the neglect of a child has been frequently found to be due to ignorance, ill-health or indolence rather than to a wanton disregard of the child's interests or to deliberate cruelty. In cases where the neglect has been wilful and more serious or perhaps incurable, and the milder methods have not availed, other measures for securing the care of the unhappy child have to be taken. In these cases the Ministry of Pensions have secured the help of the National Society, and of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This help has been invaluable and is still available. Sometimes it becomes necessary to apply to the Courts for an order committing the child to the Minister's care. During the present war it has, I am nappy to say, been necessary on one occasion only to take this step. From all this the House will see how necessary it is that the Minister should be given a statutory mandate to secure the care of any pensioned war orphan who may be suffering from neglect.
In order to secure the necessary supervision of war orphans the Minister has appointed specially selected women officers to each of his chief regional offices, whose duty it is to acquaint themselves with the case of every pensioned child in their area who has been bereft of both parents, and to ensure that the child is being satisfactorily treated. It is their duty also to make immediate inquiry 927 into any case of neglect brought to their notice, even though the child may be in the care of its mother. The Minister I of Health, the President of the Board of Education, and the Secretary of State for Scotland have ensured that the children's officers have the loyal and very effective co-operation of the local education and health authorities. The number of orphans in receipt of pensions from the Ministry of Pensions is, at the moment, comparatively small. There are, in fact, about 1,500, of which about two-thirds are the children of Civil Defence personnel or civilians. Most of them are in the care of relatives or friends, or are evacuated and happily placed in billets secured for them by the local authorities. It is the practice of the Ministry when taking a neglected child under its care to place it in a private home with foster parents who, it is hoped, will help it to forget its past unhappiness, and in this connexion hundreds of kindly people have offered to open their homes to orphans of the war. So far, largely because relatives or friends are acting as guardians, the Minister has only needed to accept one or two of these offers.
I should perhaps say that great care is taken in the selection of foster homes and in the subsequent supervision of the child. The success of the boarding-out system has been shown by the high proportion of cases in which children of the last war who have suffered from early neglect have become healthy and useful citizens, and by the numerous cases in which children have formed lasting ties of affection with their foster parents. I do not think your Lordships will expect me to say very much in support of a Bill, the objects of which must, I feel, spontaneously commend themselves to all. I will merely add that it is, and always will be, the Government's aim to minimize, as far as is practically possible, the adverse effect on these children of their tragic loss, and to secure for them the care which they would have enjoyed had their parents survived. The provisions of this Bill will, I hope, materially assist to this end. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Viscount Clifden.)
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.