I move amendment No. 21:
In page 14, line 33, to delete "£1,000" and substitute "£3,000".
This section seeks to re-enact a provision that was in the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders) Act, of 1930, extended to apply not merely to children born out of wedlock, but, as I would understand it, to children born within marriage. The current position is that when a child is born to a mother outside marriage the mother can recoup certain expenses, by way of court order from the father of the child, additional to the moneys that can be obtained by way of affiliation order, or what will be a maintenance order under this Bill.
The Bill provides that expenses incidental to either or both of the following matters can be obtained, first, expenses incidental to the birth of the child and also, in the context of a child who, unfortunately, dies expenses arising as a result of the funeral. In the context of the expenses ordered under the Bill, it is provided that any lump sum order shall direct the respondent parent to pay to the applicant a lump sum not exceeding £1,000. It goes on to say that no such order shall direct the payment of an amount exceeding £500 in respect of the birth of the child or £500 in respect of the funeral of the child.
We should first explain what are expenses incidental to the birth of a child. The courts, in practice, have interpreted such expenses as, first, medical expenses incurred by the mother with regard to the birth of the child and, secondly, expenses incurred by the mother for the provision of clothing for a baby to be taken home from hospital. It can include also, in practice, the expenses of a carry cot which might have to be purchased for the purpose of bringing a child home from hospital. It can be interpreted as including the other types of expenses a mother might incur such as the purchase of nappies to be used by the baby while in hospital — some maternity hospitals now require mothers to supply these whereas previously they supplied them.
Expenses incidental to the birth of the child can also relate to medical expenses incurred by the mother relating to the birth of the child, such as visits to a gynaecologist for check-up pending the birth of the child and other types of expenses. Regarding expenses incidental to the birth of a child the maximum sum a mother can receive in the District Court under this provision is £500. No similar financial limit is applied in the Circuit Court though I may be wrong in that. Perhaps, the Minister would clarify that for us. Certainly, at present there is no financial limit with regard to the amount the Circuit Court can order.
In the context of this Bill, the District Court will be confined in making an order for expenses incidental to the birth of a child to a sum of £500. That is not enough; it is not a realistic sum. A mother when incurring expenses incidental to the birth of a child can incur a great deal more expense. Admittedly, many mothers nowadays when a child is born will have some of their maternity expenses met either through the health service or by way of supplement through the VHI but that is not the case in regard to all mothers. Secondly, the amount of expenses which can be incurred on some of the basic items I have referred to can considerably exceed the sum of £500. It would seem that there is no rational reason for this Bill to impose a limit which does not allow the mothers to receive a full sum.
Let me illustrate what I am talking about by giving a very practical example. In a court case of about 18 months ago a mother sought a sum of money for expenses incidental to the birth of her child. The case was determined in the High Court on appeal from the Circuit Court in March 1986. In seeking expenses incidental to the birth of her child items of expenditure incurred or relating to the child were held by the court to come to a total sum of £952. Under this Bill the mother could not get that £952 back, she would be limited to receiving a sum of £500. There is no rationale for so limiting it. The amendments I have tabled, if accepted, would allow the mother to receive a sum of up to £2,000 for expenses incidental to the birth of a child. Bearing in mind that the courts have been making orders in the region of £900 to £1,000. I do not understand why this House should curtail to £500 the sum the courts can order.
In this amendment I propose that the courts be empowered to make an order for up to £2,000 for expenses incidental to the birth of a child. That is a sum which is well within the limits of the District Court and if this provision extends beyond the District Court and into the Circuit or High Court jurisdictions it is quite clear that there is little sense in this House reducing the protections which mothers have and requiring the courts to make orders of a lower nature which they currently regard as being acceptable and correct under the provisions of existing legislation. Secondly, in the event of the death of a child funeral expenses are limited to a sum of £500. I propose that that sum should be increased to £1,000. Again, this is to allow some degree of flexibility and we should also bear in mind that our financial limits in these areas very rapidly become irrelevant because of inflation.
The reality is that the courts will not order sums to be repaid to a mother unless she can properly in court proceedings prove that valid expenditure has been incurred. It would seem that the financial limits laid down in this measure are unnecessarily narrow and do not accord either with the interests of the child or of mothers. The third part of this amendment seeks to allow a total overall sum of £3,000 to emerge if expenses incidental to the birth of a child and funeral expenses are incurred. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, fortunately, the question of funeral expenses will not arise. Of most importance to mothers are the expenses incidental to the birth of a child. Therefore, amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 23 are designed to increase the financial limits and to make them more realistic in the context of current costs incurred by mothers when they have babies.
Amendment No. 24 seeks to add a further subsection to this section. The amendment seeks to insert subsection (4) to section 21 and would read that, "for the purposes of the section expenses incidental to the birth of a child shall include expenses incurred by the mother incidental to and arising out of the period of pregnancy relating to such child together with any earnings lost by the mother due to her pregnancy during the aforesaid period". I, again, emphasise that in that section there is an upper limit of £2,000 by virtue of the earlier amendments to this provision. The Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders) Act, 1930 refers to expenses incidental to the birth of a child, as does this Bill, but nowhere in that legislation is it defined exactly what encompasses expenses incidental to the birth of a child.
In my opening remarks I dealt with expenses which are generally agreed among all judges as being expenses incidental to the birth of a child — gynaecological expenses, expenses for clothes immediately required to bring the child home from hospital, for nappies, for a carry cot and so on. There is no dispute about any of these items. In the case ofMcV v. McG of March 1986 which is unreported in the Law Reports a member of the High Court sought to delimit what was meant by expenses incidental to the birth of a child. He held that a mother's loss of earnings was not an expense incidental to the birth of a child. He also held that where a mother, for example, gives up work some weeks before her child is born and does not receive any payments or where the payments which she receives through some form of maternity payment are below what she would have received through her salary or wages, that the moneys she loses are not an expense nor are they referrable to a birth. The High Court judge said that it is a loss referrable only in part to the fact of the birth and in the main to the period of pregnancy. He also held in that case that the cost of maternity clothing was not something incidental to the birth of a child but was referrable to the period of pregnancy.
Many mothers outside marriage are in very difficult financial circumstances and cannot afford the additional expense which is incurred as a result of having to buy maternity clothes solely out of their own funds. Where loss of earnings results they find themselves in some difficulty. What I seek to do in inserting a new subsection (4) is to provide a definition of expenses incidental to the birth of a child whereby they shall include expenses incurred by the mother incidental to and arising out of the period of pregnancy relating to such child together with any earnings lost by the mother due to her pregnancy.
It is taking legal reasoning to a tortuous extent to say that expenses incurred due to pregnancy are not expenses which relate to the child being born. Of course, the two are interwoven. It is probably futile to urge the Minister but nevertheless I urge him to accept the amendments which I have tabled along those lines with a view, as I have said on the previous amendments, to giving greater protection to children both inside and outside of marriage and with a view to ensuring, in the context of "expenses incidental to the birth of a child" some uniformity of judicial approach in the courts with regard to applications made by mothers when they seek such expenses.