HC Deb 18 May 1809 vol 14 cc612-5
Lord Porchester

rose to move, that a committee be appointed to inspect the Journals of the house of lords as far as related to any Standing Order with respect to the introduction of Divorce Bills into the upper house. He commented at some length on the hard- ship of prohibiting any Divorce Bill from being admitted into the house of lords, unless such bill contained a clause prohibiting the intermarriage of the criminal parties. This, the noble lord contended, was calling upon an individual to mix and confound his own particular interests with an alledged great public object; it was violating that just principle of regulation observed in the lower house, by which a certain time was appropriated to private business, and the rest to public. He thought, too, that it was a measure of unparalleled cruelty to some individuals, who would be thereby deprived of all hope, and abandoned to a life of despair, exclusion and penance, that the hardiest of their seducers would shrink from the bare contemplation of; besides that, there was in the nature of such an Order an unwarrantable interference with the privileges of that house. He concluded by moving, "That a Committee be appointed to inspect the Lords' Journals for any Standing Order adopted in the present session on the subject of Divorce Bills."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could not follow the noble lord's argument to the conclusion which had been drawn from it. The alarm which the noble lord desired to excite on this subject appeared to him most unfounded. There could be no doubt that the lords had the power to introduce such a clause into a bill, without any Standing Order; and this house had nothing further to do with it than to canvass the propriety of the clause when it came up in any bill. The order, he said, did not provide that the bill should not go out of the house without such a clause; but went merely to regulate the mode in which Divorce Bills should be introduced. The lords had nothing more than abridge their own privileges to a certain extent. Both houses were perfectly competent to regulate their own modes of proceeding. They had nothing to do with bills till they came before them. This was a regulation binding merely upon the lords themselves. He therefore objected to the motion.

Mr. Ponsonby

thought the stile of argument of the right hon. gent, very extraordinary. He said that it was a regulation as to the introduction of bills; but the meaning was, that no bill should go out of the house of lords without such a clause. The object was, to compel this house either to do individual injustice by rejecting a bill, or to pass it with this clause. This, therefore, was an attempt to force legislation on the house of commons. It was a general measure of legislation; and an attempt to force this house to legislate according to the views of the house of lords. This was a most unconstitutional proceeding, highly derogatory to the other branches of parliament, and ought to be resented by this house.

Mr. Windham

contended, that the motion ought to be adopted, in order to see what the exact nature of the order was. If it should be found that it had any effect on the privileges of this house, then this house would have to consider how it should defend itself. He argued strongly upon the unfairness of not being permitted to discuss any individual case, without being shackled by such a clause as this. No evil could arise from an inquiry into the nature of the case; and there was sufficient ground to authorize such an inquiry.

Mr. Bathurst

said, that the house would have to discuss every bill on its own merits. If the clause in question should be rejected, than the lords themselves, would have to consider whether they would sacrifice the principle or the views of the parties. The inconvenience rested with the lords themselves, and not with this house.

Mr. C. Wynn

observed, that while this was confined to bills originating in the house of lords, he saw no objection to it. Both houses had a right to regulate its own proceedings. But these bills might originate in this house; and the words of the order were, that the lords would not entertain any bill without such a clause. It was possible, therefore, that they might apply to bills sent from this house. For this reason he would vote for the motion.

Sir S. Romilly

contended, that the spirit of the order must be, that the lords would not in any way entertain a bill of Divorce without such a clause. To prove this, he quoted the rules with respect to Naturalization Bills. If it could be supposed that this was the meaning of the order, then it was a most serious measure, and ought to be examined. The difficulty on this house would be extreme, as they would be called upon in every particular case, to beware, because, if they rejected this clause the bill would be thrown out. He was surprised at the objection of his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The object was to see what the order was. At present it appeared to be an attempt by the house of lords to legislate on an important point, without the concurrence of the other branches. The house was highly obliged to the noble lord who was so careful of its privileges, when by the course of nature he had a prospect of spending so great a portion of his life in the other house.

Mr. H. Smith

deprecated the injury to which individual parties might be subject by a difference of opinion between the two houses of parliament on an abstract question. With a view of giving an opportunity for an assimilation of their sentiments, he should vote for the motion of the noble lord.

Mr. Hawkins Browne

observed, that although the lords, by their Standing Order, declared that they would not receive a Divorce Bill without a clause to prevent the guilty parties from intermarrying, they had not declared that they would not receive such a bill from the house of commons. It was fairly to be presumed that they meant to confine the influence of their Order to bills originating in their own house. Conceiving that the noble lord had not made out any breach of the privileges of the house, as having been attempted by the lords, he should give his negative to the motion.

Mr. Barham

could not conceive that the lords would have been so foolish as to make a Standing Order without intending that it should have its effect. That purposed effect appeared to him evidently to be, that no Divorce Bill should pass them without such a clause as the one alluded to. If, however, their object were confined to prevent the introduction merely of a Divorce Bill, without the clause in question, till he conceived that the step taken by them was highly objectionable. Adverting to the principle of the standing order itself, he expressed his disapprobation of it, and his conviction that it would not contribute to the cause of morality.

After a short reply from lord Porchester, and a few words from Mr. G. Johnstone in favour of the motion, a division took place, For the motion 43
Against it 67
Majority against the Committee —24