HC Deb 25 August 1857 vol 147 cc2083-8

Message from the Lords,— That they do return the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Bill, with some of the Commons' Amendments agreed to; some agreed to wit Amendments: and one disagreed to; together with their Reasons for disagreeing to the said Amendment.


said, it was desirable to know whether the Amendments were to be taken into consideration then or what course the Government meant to take. The Amendments during an interval in which nothing had been done had been carried out of the House and considered by hon. Members outside of the House, and those on the other side knew nothing about them. He was speaking on behalf of the decency of their proceedings. As soon as the Clerk had announced that the Bill had been brought back from the Lords with Amendments, instead of its being moved in the ordinary way that they might be read, there was a pause in the business of the House while the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) went out of the House to ascertain what the Amendments were. He thought this not a decent mode of conducting the business of the House.


said, that the pause in the business of the House was caused by their waiting for the Bill to come down from the other House, and when it came he looked over the Amendments and found that an important Amendment, which was said to have been made by the Lords, was not in; and he accordingly sent to the Clerk of the House of Lords, who stated the announcement of the division in the Lords in the newspapers was wrong. It was stated that by a majority of four, an Amendment that "a single act of adultery on the part of a husband should be a bar to a divorce" was agreed to by the Lords; whereas the majority was the other way, and it was disagreed to. The only Amendments of the slightest consequence which had been made by their Lordships were in the clause which gave a local jurisdiction in matters of divorce to the Court of Quarter Sessions, in that they had made an Amendment, leaving such jurisdiction in the hands only of the Judge of Assize, or a Commissioner appointed by him. The Lords had also disagreed to the Amendment made on the suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) "that adultery by a husband in the conjugal residence" should give a right of divorce to a wife. Those were the only two material alterations made by the Lords; the others being merely formal and verbal.

Ordered, That the reasons assigned by the Lords for disagreeing to one of the Amendments made by this House to the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Bill be taken into consideration forthwith. Reasons read.


then moved that the House should not insist upon the Amendment, which it had introduced into the Bill giving the Quarter Sessions a local jurisdiction in questions of judicial separation.


said, he should offer no objection to the House agreeing to the Lords' Amendment, as it involved no principle. The Government having consented to the establishment of local juris- dictions in matters of divorce, that was just as well provided for by the clause as it was amended by the Lords. He thought the Assizes and the Quarter Sessions both highly unfit tribunals to deal with such questions; and if, as he believed, the plan could not work, the Government would have to make some other arrangement. He was glad, however, that the Quarter Sessions were struck out.


inquired, at what times the Commissioner appointed by the Judge of Assize would sit?


said, that it was only when the business of the Assizes was pressing that the Judge might appoint a Queen's Counsel or Serjeant whose name was on the Commission to sit for him. He could not sit at other times.

Lords' Amendment agreed to.


said, that inconsequence of the omission of the words "Quarter Sessions," it would be necessary to omit them in another part of the clause which related to fees, the House of Lords having purposely not struck them out in that part of the clause on the ground of the privilege of that House.

Amendment agreed to.

Resolved, That this House doth agree with the Lords, in the Amendments made by their Lordships to the Amendments made by this House, as far as the Amendment in p. 7, 1.7, with a consequential Amendment in Clause E.

The Amendment of the Lords, striking out the clause giving a right of divorce to the wife on the ground of adultery by the husband in the conjugal residence, was read, together with their reasons for doing so—namely, that the words were indefinite, and would give rise to questions of fact and law, and that the enactment was calculated to lead to collusion.


said, he should move that this Amendment be accepted by the House.


said, it was of but little use for him to express any opinion on this matter, but he must remind the House that this Amendment was inserted in the Bill with the full concurrence of the Government, and none of the reasons which were now alleged against it were brought then forward by the Government. Undoubtedly the withdrawal of the clause would very much augment the injustice which the Bill inflicted upon women. A profligate man may now seduce his lady's maid, his governess, or any of his domestics, in the con- jugal residence; he might, in fact, convert his house into a brothel, and the poor wife would be without any remedy. He could not conceive any state of things more intolerable for a woman than to have a husband living in open adultery with one of his domestics. He was sorry to see the Government departing from the principle which it had set out with, and thus inflicting additional cruelty and insult upon woman. He would not himself press the point to a division; but, certainly, if any other hon. Gentleman should move the rejection of the Lords' Amendment he would accept the opportunity thus afforded him of placing his opinions upon record with reference to this clause.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken in his recollection when he said that the objections and reasons given by the Lords for striking out the words in question were not stated by the Government when the proposition was discussed, for he (Lord Palmerston) stated the words "adultery in the conjugal residence" might open the door to a good deal of collusion; but at the same time he said, that on the whole, and on the balance of reasons, it did appear to Her Majesty's Government that the Amendment was one to which it was proper to agree. For no one could disguise from himself the fact which the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned, that such a state of things was calculated to outrage the feelings of a wife, and strengthened her claim to a separation. On the other hand, it might be said that such a proceeding was so contrary to the feelings of a man and a gentleman, that public opinion and the opinion of relatives and friends, except in cases of extreme profligacy tended to prevent such a state of things. However, the Government would have been glad to have had the words retained, and were still of opinion that the balance of reasons was in favour of the Amendment, as it stood before it went to the other House. The right hon. Gentleman must however remember that the Motion for striking out the words in the other House was made by a noble Lord connected with the party to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged; it was made by the Opposition and not by the Government; it was resisted by the Government and carried against them on a division by a large majority, 44 being for the omission of the words, and 27 against it. Under these circumstances it appeared to the Government that it was not likely that the Lords would see any reason to reverse their decision; and it was not a question of such importance as to justify a conference being held with the other House. He hoped, however, that it would be borne in mind that the omission of the words was not proposed by the Government, but by those who were opposed to the Bill; that it was resisted by the Government in debate, and carried on a division against the Government.


said, he perfectly concurred in everything that had fallen from his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). The noble Lord at the head of the Government announced that he thought the balance of reasoning was decidedly in favour of the proviso. Well, if that were so, he hoped an opportunity would be allowed to the noble Lord of placing his views on record, and of having the sincerity of his opinions tested. He would like, however, to know whether proxies had been used in the division with regard to this Amendment, and if not, why not? With regard to the Bill itself, he must once for all declare that it completely failed in one great act of justice, namely, in not giving the injured and innocent wife as full, easy and complete a remedy as was offered to the injured and innocent husband. He hoped his right hon. Friend, the Member for Oxfordshire, would divide the House against the Amendment.


The hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that I stated in the latter part of my observations the reasons why, notwithstanding the retention of our opinion on this question, we thought it expedient to agree to the Amendment of the Lords.


said, that he thought Mr. Henley right in saying that a man living in adultery in the same house with his wife was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, outrages he could commit on his wife. He would remind the House, however, that when the Amendment in question was made in that House, a suggestion was made by the hon. and learned Attorney General that the words should be "habitual adultery," but that was refused by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the clause was retained as it stood, so that a single act of adultery by a man in his house, perhaps in a moment of intoxication, was sufficient. If, therefore, a hardship on the wife was continued, it was in a great measure the fault of hon. Gentlemen opposite. If it was competent to the House to do so he should be glad to see the Amendment with those words added re-introduced into the Bill, but if the question was between no clause and the clause as it stood, he should prefer it as it stood.


said, if he remembered rightly, the term "habitual adultery" was rejected in that House on account of its indefiniteness. He deeply regretted that the Lords had rejected this proviso; and now, more than ever, he deeply regretted that a discretionary power to determine with regard to what might be considered "aggravating circumstances" had not been vested in the Court. Indeed he thought it was scarcely yet too late to insert a proviso of the latter description in the Bill.


remarked, that it would have been monstrous to have allowed a wife to have petitioned for a divorce on the ground of what might be termed an accidental adultery, and to have prohibited her from seeking it for adultery habitually committed in perhaps the next house to her own.

Motion made, and Question put, "That this House doth not insist upon the Amendment at page 7, line 7, to which the Lords have disagreed."

The House divided:—Ayes 43; Noes 11; Majority 32.

Resolved, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the other Amendments made by their Lordships to the Amendments made by this House to the said Bill, without Amendment.

House adjourned at a quarter before Four o'clock, till Friday.