§ 3.9 p.m.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It has been said, de minimis non coral lex. This is not the case to-day, when we are considering a little Bill introduced in another place by my honourable friend Dame Joan Vickers. I am very proud to be associated with her in this matter, which is one of the many in which she has furthered the interests of women and children. Though this is a little Bill—because, of course, it will affect only a very small number of people—nevertheless, to those people it will be very welcome and a very great relief. There was in earlier times a strong element of the criminal law in the affiliation law. This put the mother of an illegitimate child, as compared with the mother of a legitimate child and the State, at a disadvantage in obtaining a maintenance order. I shall very briefly explain the provisions of this Bill.
Clause 1 will remove the necessity for the mother to appear in person, except of course in contested cases when her evidence is necessary. In many cases paternity itself is not contested; what is contested is the amount of payment. Under this Bill it will not be necessary for the mother to go to court if her claim can be proved to the satisfaction of the court by other means—for instance, by the admission by the father of paternity. Illness or unavoidable absence—for example, abroad—would at the moment invalidate an application. Clause 2 extends the time limit for making the application from one to three years, and thus brings it into line with the period allowed when the State or local authorities apply for the recovery of maintenance for a child from a putative father. As I am sure your Lordships realise, there may be many reasons why a mother may not apply far maintenance in the first 12 months. She may hope for marriage; she may be ill; she may have hopes—subsequently dashed—of being able to support herself and her child, or she may find that unanticipated difficulties have grown to such an extent that she cannot cope. If the State can apply within 1292 three years, why not the mother? This will put her on the same basis.
Clause 3(1) takes the application for the revival or cancellation of an affiliation order out of open court and back into the domestic court where it originated. This will bring to the mother of an illegitimate child the same protection against distressing publicity as that afforded to the mother of a legitimate child. Clause 3(2) enables a court, at its discretion, to treat variations of an affiliation order as domestic proceedings. These provisions bring the procedure in affiliation proceedings in relation to an illegitimate child into line with matrimonial proceedings in magistrates' courts. In practice, the courts almost always treat variations as domestic proceedings.
My Lords, I hope that this very brief explanation of the three clauses, which are designed to mitigate the anxiety of mothers in difficult circumstances, will dispose your Lordships to give this Bill the same unanimous approval as it had in another place. There are no doubt Amendments which one would have liked to see put forward; and some were indeed advanced by both Dame Joan Vickers and Mr. Abse; but they were advised that the chances of getting this Bill through this Session made it inadvisable to put forward any further Amendments, and that they should be content with these steps forward. In any case, as your Lordships probably know, the whole of the matrimonial procedure is being revised by the Law Commission at the present moment. I trust, therefore, that your Lordships on both sides will give this very little Bill your full approval. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Baroness Emmet of Amberley.)
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, on Friday last we had a small Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton—the Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Amendment Bill. On that occasion your Lordships were able to say that it was a small, humane Bill which helped a small section of the community. To-day, I am very happy that the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, has equally brought 1293 in a small but very humane measure, one to which we on this side of the House are delighted to give our support. I should like to thank the noble Baroness for her work in this field in many ways. We all know of her splendid work with the Law Society and her work for women generally. I am also very pleased to see that my noble friend (if I may so describe her) Lady Elles is also to speak. We share membership of a very august body, the Women's National Commission, which should shake your Lordships because of their power and their eloquence.
This small Bill will indeed deal with a section of the community who, I would say, are often young, very vulnerable and inexperienced in dealing with legal matters. Those of us who sit in the domestic courts know that, on the whole, this is rather a sad business. The break-up of a marriage is always a sad business, whether it ends in separation or in divorce. Dealing with affiliation orders is also often a very sad business, though I may tell your Lordships that sometimes there is a lighter note. I can recall a case quite recently in which we had what is known laughingly as the putative father on the one side and the young lady on the other side, and when the clerk said to the girl, "Madam, you allege that this man is the father of the child born to you at such-and-such a time?", there was a monetary silence and the girl then said, "I have never seen this gentleman before in my life". The clerk said, "But, madam, what are you saying?". She said, "Actually, I did not come here in a case; I only came with a friend". It seemed to me, my Lords, that it was rather on the level of the gentleman who had his appendix removed when he merely went to visit somebody in hospital.
My Lords, this small Bill is important. I think it is very wise of the noble Baroness to have used this time to get it through Parliament. I am delighted to give it my wholehearted support.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLES
My Lords, as a member of the Committee which, under the chairmanship of Anthony Cripps, produced the Report about legal discrimination against women, I naturally 1294 welcome this particular Bill. We were aware that this branch of the law in fact discriminates against women as compared with men; and, looking at the working of the Affiliation Proceedings Act 1957, we were naturally aware that there were certain inconsistencies with other procedures which inflicted unnecessary hardship and difficulties on women who were in a position to claim against the putative father and which consequently also damaged the chances of the child. My noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley has outlined the provisions of this amending Bill, so I need not go into the details. But the Bill may have one or two social effects which are desirable.
First, there will be an increase in the number of affiliation orders which are made each year. At the moment the total represents only something like 10 per cent. of the number of illegitimate births; and for those who like numerals instead of percentages I may say that it is about 7,000 out of 65,000 illegitimate births since 1970. On the other hand, there is of course an advantage in having a three-year extension period for the welfare worker; and here I pay tribute to the tremendous work done by the local authorities' social welfare workers who attempt to bring about conciliation between the putative father and the unmarried mother in the hope of at least establishing some form of stable relationship, if not eventual marriage. At the same time, she has room to manœuvre without putting at risk the chances of the child's being able to claim at a later stage some form of maintenance against his or her father.
The Report that will eventually be produced by the Law Commission's Working Party on Domestic Procedure will no doubt produce many more radical proposals, but I wanted this afternoon just to explain the grounds on which we made these particular recommendations. I think the introduction of this Bill now, not waiting for this Report but at least eliminating immediate hardship and difficulty, is timely and that is why I warmly commend it to your Lordships' House.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I have no personal interest to declare, but I am wondering whether we can have a little further explanation of Clause 1, 1295 and particularly the proposed new subsection (1) which says that the court shall not adjudge the defendant to be the putative father unless the mother's evidenceis corroborated in some material particular by other evidence …I am wondering if we could have a little further explanation of that.
§ 3.19 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, it is nice to be able to move into slightly calmer waters than my last utterances and to be able to echo very warmly the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and my noble friend Lady Elles in welcoming this Bill, and to pledge the support of the Government to it. My noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley has explained its purpose—to deal with a small but (as I know well, having been for ten years President of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Child) important section of the community which deserves this kind of amelioration of the law when it can get it. I was glad that my noble friend Lady Elles mentioned the Cripps Report. Bit by bit this is being implemented. I answered a Question for Written Answer the other day showing how we are getting on, and I referred to the provisions of this Bill as being part of the implementation. We are glad to be able to be working through the detailed, somewhat diverse, divisions of that Report as we get the opportunity.
The noble Lord, Lord Leatheriand, asked about Clause 1. I know that it is not my business to explain the noble Baroness's Bill, but I think the part with which the noble Lord was concerned is merely a restatement of the existing law where the mother comes to give evidence. The point about Clause 1, as I understand it, is that at the moment she has to give evidence, whether her evidence is necessary or not. If the putative father, to use the noble Baroness's phrase, admits that it is his child and signs the birth certificate, it is perfectly plain that the dispute is not about percentage but about the amount of the order; yet, as the Act stands, the wretched mother still has to come to give evidence. Where there is a situation like that, Clause 1 dispenses with the need for the mother to come to give evidence. If there is a contested case the law will still in practice be that 1296 the mother has to come and show reason why she says the man is the father of her child; and, as now, one would have some corroboration. The corroboration may well be a blood test or something of that sort, which is now getting a very sophisticated matter. It is only a restatement of that part of the law that we are preserving.
I cannot see why, where her evidence is not required, the proceedings should not be able to go ahead without the evidence of the mother; and that is what the Cripps Report said. Under Clause 2, I cannot see why, if the Supplementary Benefits Commission, or the local authority, can apply for an affiliation order within three years of the time they have paid out money for the benefit of the child—any time—the mother should be confined to doing so within a year of the child's birth. The Cripps recommendation also was along this line. Finally, I cannot see why affiliation order proceedings have to be heard in open court when very similar matrimonial proceedings are held in a domestic court in closed circumstances, I think to the benefit of everyone. It may not look a very large or important Bill but I think it is, and that it can have social consequences, as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, suggested. I welcome it and I hope that the House will be unanimous in giving it a warm Second Reading.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the Bill has been received on both sides of the House, and especially I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and for the help I have received from my noble friend Lady Elles. As I saw a slight appearance of mystification over the noble Baroness's face when I ventured to start in Latin, perhaps I should say that de minimis non curat lex means "The law pays no attention to little matters". This is a little matter to which it has paid attention, and I am grateful.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I would only say to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, that, as a good Catholic, for me Latin was a compulsory subject.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.