HC Deb 11 February 1891 vol 350 cc393-422

Order for Second Reading read.

(2.50.) MR. J. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

This Bill has been before the House so constantly, and the arguments that have been used on the one side and the other are so worn and threadbare, that I do not feel it necessary on this occasion to trouble the House at any great length with what I have to advance in its favour. I may say, however, in reference to the particular measure for which I now ask a Second Reading, that the proposal it contains has year by year more and more obtained the favour of this House, until some two or three years ago its supporters achieved a greater majority in favour of the Bill than was ever before known under a Conservative Administration. That majority rose in the following year to 50, and was still further increased in the succeeding year to 70. I think, therefore, that hon. Members who support this measure have ground for congratulation in the fact that year after year the opposition to the Bill has become more and more feeble. The mode by which it is proposed to alter the present law is that which has been put forward over and over again in the measures introduced to this House, and amounts simply to a declaration that a marriage which has long been, and is still, very common in this country shall be declared valid in the only country in the world in which it is not valid at the present moment. We acknowledge that the question is one on which there may be, and undoubtedly is, great divergency of opinion, and we do not desire in rendering these marriages valid to do violence to the feelings or prejudices of anyone. Still less do we wish compulsorily to override the scruples which we know to be entertained on this subject by the great majority of the ministers of that Church to which most of us belong. Consequently, while we urge that those of our brethren who wish to contract these marriages should be allowed to do so in their own Churches, as every son and daughter of the Church ought to be permitted to do, we nevertheless shrink from attempting in any proposal for altering the existing Marriage Law to put pressure on the ministers of the Church by insisting that they shall take part in these marriage ceremonials. The other portions of the Bill relate to matters with which the House is already familiar. For instance, we decline to alter the law in cases of misconduct with the sister of the deceased wife. Taking the Bill as a whole, it is as short and simple as any measure on this subject could well be. Having said this, I will now offer a few words in reference to the history of this question. Hon. Members are well aware that for centuries marriages of this kind were perfectly legal in this country. At any rate, from 1603 down to 1835 these marriages were constantly celebrated in all places of worship throughout this country; and there can be no doubt about the fact that this House, and even the opponents of the Bill, have recognised their validity, because, when the Act of 1835 was passed, it was enacted that all marriages up to that date should be considered valid and legal contracts of marriage. Therefore, even the opponents of the Bill can hardly contend that there is anything unnatural in the measure. I think that the law would never have been altered in 1835 had it been possible to have found any person who was interested in maintaining it. Of course, when every marriage which up to that time had been solemnised was declared to be legal, there was not a single individual who could have had any direct or indirect interest in the marriages of the future. Consequently, that Act was passed under circumstances which rendered opposition almost impossible. Nevertheless, I think that the law which existed before the passing of that Act was to some extent unsatisfactory, and that we should not at the present time be justified in going back to it; inasmuch as it was open to either of the contracting parties to terminate the contract. This gave the opportunity to a bad man who had married his deceased wife's sister to contract a third marriage with somebody else, thereby conferring the rights of legitimacy upon a stranger and her children during the lifetime of the second wife and of the children he might have had by her. But we do not ask in this Bill merely a recognition of the legality of the marriage with the deceased wife's sister; we ask for something more. We ask that the marriage shall not only be valid is between the parties but that it shall be valid also as against the whole world. This is the difference we ask the House to sanction as between the law before 1835 and the law as it now stands. I would here point out that these marriages are celebrated at the present moment, and have been celebrated for years, under the sanction of the English Law, in this sense—that the English Government, under the sanction of the Crown, has assented to the Colonial Law which has made all these marriages legal. This has been the case for more than a quarter of a century, and as it is one of those cases in which the Crown has reserved to itself every sort of right, no alteration could have been made in the Marriage Law of the colonies without the express sanction of the Crown. The opponents of the Bill know, as well as I do, that this kind of marriage is in all our colonies as good as any other. Throughout the whole of the Continent of Australia no difference is recognised or known in either colony as between these and other marriages; and, beyond this, there are other colonies in which such marriages have been legalised for more than 40 years. A law validating marriages with the deceased wife's sister in Ceylon was passed in the year 1847. A similar law has been enacted in Canada, Barbadoes, Bermuda, and other portions of our Empire, while in India, except as far as the Church of England people are concerned, the law is practically what it is in the Australian Colonies. It is an acknowledged fact that while every man in India who happens to be a Roman Catholic may validly contract this marriage, it is not valid in the case of a Protestant. This, I think, is the difference which is not very creditable to us. I have said that these marriages are valid in all our colonies; but I will go further than that, and say they are valid throughout the entire civilised world, this country being the only one which treats them as no marriages at all, and brands the children of such marriages as bastards. In the case of the Roman Catholics it is true that this kind of marriage is against the Canon Law of their Church; nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church has long recognised the necessity of such marriages, and the heads of that Church have always been willing to grant dispensation whenever any good or sufficient reason has been advanced in favour of their so doing. Moreover, the Church has not only granted dispensations in this matter, but it has also granted them habitually where there has not been immorality, and they have been granted free of charge, under the idea that the poor have more need of these marriages than any other class of the community. Now, Sir, I venture to assume, and I think rightly, that the great majority of the people of this country are in favour of the alteration of the law which this Bill would bring about. I think I may say that our colonial brethren not only look with approval on such a change as we propose, but they demand, and have a good right to demand, it. There have been instances in this country of distinguished men who have come back from the colonies after having contracted these marriages, and who having found, to their bitter indignation, that their wives have been treated with contumely and contempt, have returned to their old homes in the colonies, severing all ties with England, in order that those wives might hold the position which was their due, and that their children might not be branded with the frightful stigma of illegitimacy. Touching upon another point, I would remark that there is no class of people in the world in which there is more unanimity of opinion in favour of this Bill than exists among the working class, and I may add that there is no direct representative of labour in this House who ever has, or ever will, vote against this Bill. At the recent Trades Union Conference held in Liverpool some persons interested in the subject took the trouble to ascertain the views of 450 delegates, male and female, representing a million and a half of working people, on this question of the Marriage Law, and it is a singular testimony in favour of this measure that out of the whole number of delegates only one solitary individual was found who was opposed to the change we are asking the House to make. The infinitesimal number of eight expressed themselves as having no strong views upon the subject either way, and the remainder were in favour of our Bill. I think I may fairly rely upon this fact as furnishing sufficient evidence that the working classes generally look upon the measure at least with approval. Indeed, I think it would be strange were it not so, because the alteration we propose in the law is one that will prove of vital importance to the poor, in the sense of its being a step towards the removal of a legal restriction which operates in one way with the rich, and in a totally different manner with the poor. I may here say that I have myself no personal interest in this matter. I do not know a single living person who has contracted such a marriage. But I have heard of one who contracted the marriage, and who was subsequently High Sheriff of his county, and who, with his wife, was received everywhere, as if the marriage was the same marriage as that which he had contracted with his first wife. I have known cases in which at school the children of poor parents who had contracted such marriages, were pointed at by other children and called bastards. I say the law is one for the rich and one for the poor. The rich man may go—and it not unfrequently happens—abroad, or to any one of our colonies, and contract such a marriage, but when the poor man desires to celebrate the marriage the clergy absolutely refuse him. Consequently, if the poor man does marry his deceased wife's sister, it is looked upon as a mere form. We of the middle classes make no sort of distinction between the second and first wife in these cases, and there is none, I venture to think, who would dare to do it. The law is wrong in the sense that it is set at defiance with the connivance and almost the approval of society. The case of the poor is very different. The rich man has not the same temptations. He has a large household, a retinue of servants, and nurses, and governesses for his children. He is not necessarily thrown frequently into the society of his deceased wife's sister if she is looking after his children. The poor man's position is totally different. Nine-tenths of poor families live in two rooms, and in such cases it is a choice between immorality and a marriage which is not recognised. This Bill would remove the difficulties of many a virtuous girl who wishes to take care of the children of her deceased sister. It would make the position of a young and innocent girl far safer than it is now. In the case of a young and handsome woman who takes charge of her deceased sister's children, it is idle to say that the breath of scandal does not now often rest upon her. I myself have no sort of doubt about it, that if the breath of scandal is not to rest upon the girl who gives up her life and even prospects of marriage for the purpose of devoting herself to the children of her dead sister, her position would be far safer if the law were altered in accordance with the provisions of this Bill. I noticed that the Member for Oxford University laughed very much when I talked about the numbers of these marriages. I admit frankly that I have not exact data on which to go. In 1847, it was admitted by the Commission that it was almost impossible to get the number of these marriages among the poor, but from 1835 to 1847 they put the number at 500 a year. The population then was about half what it is now, and I think the assumption that the number of such marriages is now 1,000 a year is more than justified. In France they have obtained statistics with reference to marriages of that kind, and in the large towns, where I venture to think the French people are not noted for their morality, they find that these marriages, the population being of very similar extent to ours, number about 1,000 a year. I think the House, therefore, will feel that I am justified in my assumption, that there can be very little doubt the number is 1,000 a year, I should note this point, that in France two dispensations are required—one from the civil authorities and one from the Catholic Church, and these go to show that there is a very large number of these marriages year by year. Now, about the thin-end-of the-wedge argument, for which I confess a very hearty contempt. I never knew of an instance in which a well grounded reform was advocated, but this argument was trotted forth. It is trotted out now. But is it a fact that those who urge this change in the law also desire a further change in the marriage law, and wish to see marriage with a deceased husband's brother? That was never a valid marriage in this country. And all we ask by this Bill is that marriages once common in this country shall be declared valid. We have never asked, we do not intend to ask, nor have we ever had a single word in our Bill to warrant the assertion that marriages which were never valid in this country shall now be declared valid. If there is any doubt about that, when the Division occurs on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe, it will be seen whether those who support the Second Reading of this Bill have no sympathy with his proposition. I would point out that marriage with a deceased wife's sister has been legal for 20 years in South Australia, and for 17 years in some of the other Australian Colonies. And in reference to the social argument which is used against us, we have never heard that society in the Colonies has suffered by the changes which took place in their law, nor have we any right to say that such changes have been prejudicial to society. If they had we should have heard of it a long time ago. The absence of any suggestion of such a prejudicial change, in my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of the House, goes a very long way—that if we took the steps taken 30 years ago in such Colonies, we should have no reason to fear the prejudicial change which is used as an argument by our opponents. Now, with reference to the attitude of the Church. It has been always a favourite theory of those who are opposed to this Bill that those who are in favour of it cannot represent any section of the Church whatever. No doubt it is the fact that this Bill would have been passed years and years ago, but for the attitude taken by the Bishops in another place. I very much regret that action. Still, I would remind the House that there have been distinguished Prelates very much in favour of it. Among them I would cite Bishop Lonsdale, who presided over the Commission in 1847; and later, the distinguished Prelate who recently resigned the See of Worcester, who, in another place, never failed to vote or pair in favour of the Bill. The Primate of all Ireland is not only in favour of it, but has been an eloquent advocate of it. If I had time I could name between 20 and 30, some of them most eminent members of the Anglican Church, who have steadily and uniformly advocated a change of the law. I do not deny that one section of the Church, High Churchmen, are strongly against this Bill; but it is a curious thing that I have no personal knowledge of opposition in the Church, except on the part of High Churchmen. I received a letter from a distinguished Prelate of the Church of England in the City of London, who, so strong is his feeling on the subject, told me that if I did not abandon my support of the measure, he would take action against me at the next election. The day before yesterday I had another letter from a minister of the Church of England, who reminded me of our acquaintance in 1855, when I was 11-years of age, and who upon the strength of that early friendship asked me to abandon my position. On the other hand, it is a fact that there are clergymen in favour of the measure. A clergyman, exceedingly well known in connection with public movements, the Rev. Hugh G. Chapman, has told me over and over again that he is strongly in favour of an alteration of the law on this subject. There is a difference of opinion among the clergy. To those who say that the Church is practically unanimous against this Bill, I reply that there are few of the more liberal-minded of our clergy who are not in favour of it. I decline to treat this question as one affecting the Church rather than society. We do not go back to the Old Testament for our marriage laws in these days, and I think it high time we dropped discussing the meaning of a marginal note in Leviticus. It has often been said that the agitation in favour of the alteration of the law has been undertaken on behalf of a few interested wealthy people. That statement is absolutely without foundation. It is in the interests of the poor rather than of the rich, of the working classes rather than of the upper and middle classes, that I wish to see this change effected. Why should the innocent be punished bitterly for the sin of their parents—if it be a sin. I appeal to the House not to overlook the position of the children of the marriages which this Bill will make lawful. At present a stigma rests upon them, and they are made to suffer for the sin, if there is a sin, of their parents. Why should they be branded with a brand, which when they grow up almost makes them think that they had better have never been born. Upon what grounds are you to continue this stigma upon them. Is it in the cause of religion? I say that religion has not suffered in our Australian Colonies, and will not suffer in England if you make this change, which is demanded not only by those who suffer, but also in the name of Christianity, enlightenment, and civilisation. I appeal to the House to again read this Bill a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

(3.25.) MR. A. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)

I beg to move as an Amendment that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. Although I am aware that the arguments for and against it have already been thoroughly threshed out in former years, yet I must ask the House to bear with me a few moments while I repeat them. My hon. Friend has just said that the country is with him in favour of this Bill. I deny that altogether, and I say that the country is thoroughly apathetic on the subject, and so, too, is this House, for that is indicated pretty clearly by the fact that for three quarters of an hour to-day a House could not be made. The measure has been before the country for no less than 50 years. Surely, if the country really desired that it should become law it would have been passed long ago. There is, in fact, no strong feeling on the subject. And as to the Bill having passed this House many times, I may point out it has been introduced 19 times in this House, and only six times has it passed through the House. Four times it has been thrown out by a majority, and the remaining times it has been withdrawn in Committee. These facts should be borne in mind by those who declare that the Bill has passed through the House many times. The greatest majority ever recorded in favour of the Bill was in 1869, when it was 99, and since that year the majority has decreased. This year I hope it will be still further diminished. There is no agitation in support of the measure; we do not hear of meetings held to advocate it, and Members are seldom, asked by their constituents to vote for it. The fact is, the public are apathetic on the subject. Few people have asked for it at all, and one great body, whose opinion has not been sufficiently considered—the women of England, Scotland, and Ireland—are opposed to the measure, and have held meetings to protest against it. The late Miss Lydia Becker wrote many articles in opposition to this proposed alteration of the law, and many other well-known women have written on the same side, pointing out how disastrous its adoption would be to home life, and how it would prevent girls who had no homes of their own from going to live with a brother-in-law. If the Bill is passed the sister of a man's deceased wife will either not be able to live with her brother-in-law and his children, or she would be compelled to contract what, to her, might be a most distasteful marriage. The Bill will abolish the maiden aunt and introduce the stepmother in her place. But my principal objection to the Bill is that it will unsettle the whole of our Marriage Law, which has been handed down from ages and has prevailed ever since the introduction of Christianity into this country. The hon. Gentleman has said that what he proposes was the law up to 1835. It was nothing of the sort. Occasionally these marriages were contracted, but it was possible for either party to have them annulled by going before the Ecclesiastical Court. In 1835 the Lyndhurst Act was passed to settle the matter once for all, and to say that such marriages were void instead of voidable. These marriages have always been looked upon with the greatest disgust and distrust in this country. If the hon. Member will look into his Shakespeare he will see that the marriage of Hamlet's mother is called incestuous and horrible, and such has always been the feeling with regard to such marriages. The hon. Gentleman has said that the Churches are not against the Bill. The Established Churches of England and of Scotland are opposed to the Bill, and the Roman Catholic Church is also opposed to it, although dispensations may be granted. It is perfectly evident that the Churches are totally against the Bill. I will not enter into the Biblical argument, as that is so well-known. The hon. Gentleman appeared to sneer at what he called the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument; but that is an argument which must be used. We must look to what has been done in other countries. In America and in certain parts of Australia marriage with a deceased wife's sister is allowed; then it came to pass that a man might marry his niece, and ultimately, in the United States, the law was so extended that anybody might marry anybody who was not a blood relation. In 1855 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian made a most energetic and eloquent speech against a similar Bill, and he made use of the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument, for he said— That by assenting to this measure we should, be opening a flood-gate which no earthly power could shut, and introducing principles which would not admit of limitation. That is exactly our point. We say you cannot stop at this. If you allow this, why not allow a widow to marry her brother-in-law? In the same Debate Lord Selborne made a great speech against the Bill, and he still carries on his opposition to it. If a man can marry anybody who is not a blood relation, it may be the case that, having married a widow with daughters, who come to live with them, the man, after the death of that widow, may actually marry one of her daughters. In the States of the American Union, as a matter of fact, it has happened that after his wife's death a man has married his step-daughter. That is repugnant to all right feeling. The effect of the relaxation of the Marriage Law is bad in many ways. In the United States divorces have increased to an enormous extent. In San Francisco the divorces, as compared with the marriages, were in one year as one to five, in Colorado as one to three, in Kansas as one to 12. Surely that is a horrible state of affairs. Only in two countries in Europe does this law prevail—Prussia and Holland. In other countries they have to get a dispensation which it is often difficult to obtain; but in some way a man can get a dispensation to marry his own niece or his aunt, and it has been done in our own day. In the year 1792 France passed a law such as the hon. Gentleman proposes; but on account of the trouble it brought in families and the increase of unhappiness and of divorces, Napoleon, 13 years after, actually repealed it. Thus it was a failure in France. No doubt this law is in force in the colonies, but that is no argument. If the colonies, as younger people, set us a bad example, we, as older people, ought not to follow it. Why do we not follow their example with regard to protective laws? Hon. Gentlemen opposite will not say that we ought to do so. A Colonial Conference was held in 1887, and representatives of Australia, Canada, and the Cape were drawn together; but although the representatives of some colonies asked that our law on this question should be made similar to theirs, the representatives of Canada, Newfoundland, and the Cape all said that, though they had for their particular interests made this law, they would not ask the Mother Country to alter her law. The representative of South Australia said that in his colony it was practically a dead letter, as such marriages scarcely ever occurred there; and Sir J. Fergusson, who had been Governor of the colony, stated that the measure was passed in opposition to the whole religious convictions of the colony, and that there was not at that moment one clergyman of the Church of England there who would celebrate such a marriage. It has been used as an argument in favour of the Bill that people domiciled in the colonies contract these marriages, and when they come home they find that the marriages are not recognised as legal. But that is not strictly accurate. Lord Cairns has said that if a man who is domiciled in a colony where such a marriage is lawful, and his sister-in-law, who is also domiciled there, have contracted marriage with one another in the colony, it will be considered a legal marriage in this country. But no doubt it is illegal for a person to go out to the colonies simply to contract such a marriage. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian that this Bill is the thin end of the wedge. The law, if passed, would break up many homes and bring jealousy and distrust into many a domestic circle. Who is a more natural guardian of the children of the dead wife than her sister, who has probably lived with her for many years? I have known cases in which the sister has taken care of the deceased wife's children without scandal or reproach under the honoured name of sister-in-law. I ask the House to pause before putting such a woman in an invidious position. Why should a sister-in-law, who may have no home but that of her brother-in-law, who is willing that she should remain in the same relation as before, be turned adrift in the world? At present, as we know, sisters-in-law do live with their brothers-in-law, and no one points the finger of scorn at them. Those men who wish to marry their deceased wife's sister must be very few, and why should harm be done to the many in order to benefit the few? If you are going to alter the law on account of a man who knowingly transgresses it, why do you not alter the law on account of a in who has committed bigamy? The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill said that the proposed alteration in the law was desired by the poor rather than by the rich, but in my opinion this alteration is desired by the rich rather than by the poor. The late Lord Hatherley took the trouble to go into this subject thoroughly. He had examined very carefully the state of things that existed in connection with this subject in two parishes close to Westminster, and he found that out of a total population of 60,000, which included 40,000 poor, only one case of a marriage with a deceased wife's sister had occurred. The Royal Commission which sat to inquire into this question in 1848 reported that whereas in the 13 preceding years 1,608 marriages of this kind took place amongst the rich, only 40 took place amongst the poor during the same period. I trust that the House, before they take a momentous and deplorable step, before they assent to a measure of this kind becoming law, will endeavour to ascertain the feelings of the women of England, Ireland, and Scotland with regard to it. I ask the House to consider what misery and unhappiness will be carried into many domestic circles if this Bill becomes law, and to hesitate before thus injuring the domestic homes of this country. I beg to move that the Bill he read a second time this day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Jeffreys.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

(3.48.) MR. HALL (Oxford)

I rise to second the Amendment. I am sure the House owes a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Gentleman who has moved the Second Reading of the Bill for the ability he has displayed in dressing up the old arguments by which measures of this kind are usually supported. The hon. Gentleman told the House that these marriages have been regarded as being valid for centuries. My own notion, on the contrary, is that the universal voice of Christendom has always condemned such marriages. The hon. Gentleman then proceeded to assume that the majority of the people of this country are in favour of this Bill; but the fact that so few out of the whole number of Members of the House take sufficient interest in the subject to enable a quorum to be made for three-quarters of an hour after the usual hour for commencing business is a sufficient answer to the assertion of the hon. Gentleman. The truth is that this is a question in which the constituencies take absolutely no interest. Of the five elections I have contested in the last 20 years no single creature has said a word to me on the subject of this Bill. There is no public opinion in favour of, nor popular demand for, this Bill, and it is put forward in the interest of a class only. There is, indeed, a persistent class demand for it. A certain minority of men take a view of the status of marriage very different from that taken by the law of England and by the universal voice of Christendom. They desire to alter the law to suit their views. I believe if there is any subject to which the old saying—quod semper, quod ubique, quod omnibus—applies, it is that of the Marriage Laws of this country. What is the root and idea of marriage to an ordinary Englishman? Surely it is the oneness of a man and his wife. If that idea be false, by all means pass this Bill. You will be logical in doing so; but if it be true, and if this measure is permitted to become law, marriage will degenerate from a status of sacred union to that of a mere civil contract. No one disputes the proposition that the deceased wife's sister is the proper person to take charge of the children of the marriage; but that is no reason that the widower should be allowed to marry his deceased wife's sister. On the contrary, by altering the law you will be preventing the majority of widowers from being able to ask their deceased wife's sisters to act as the guardians of their motherless children. It is very difficult to find anything fresh to be said upon this subject. But there is one aspect which I think has been overlooked. I believe that the passing of this Bill will jeopardise one of the most beautiful traits of English family life—the sweet confidence of sisters one towards the other. Hitherto the younger sister has clung to her elder sister, and has been as a sister to her sister's husband. If you pass this Bill you will, even if you do not destroy that trait, put it in considerable jeopardy. The experience of other countries on this subject shows that the change in the law now proposed would work most unsatisfactorily, and that it would lead to a degradation of the marriage status. In the Colony of Victoria the statutory term of a matrimonial contract is three years, and absence during that period constitutes a valid reason for putting an end to the partnership. We do not want to come to anything of that sort in this country. A mere partnership! Is that what the sacred notion of English married life is to come to? In parts of Connecticut the ratio of divorces to marriages is one to seven, and in one of the other States it is one to three. What does all this mean? I do not think it means that these people are greater sinners than others, but that their root idea of married life has come to be different from ours, and that, whilst our idea is that marriage is a sacred union, their idea is that it is a contract tending more and more to become one of a temporary character. The House ought not to pass this Bill out of pure good nature to accommodate a few, but it ought to consider the far-reaching consequences, which go deep down into English family life. Of course, you can Americanise, you can Continentalise, and you can abolish, all your Marriage Laws, but think of the terrible responsibility you incur. It is true that nowadays men do not care much for the decrees of Churches; but, at all events, Parliament ought not to indulge in legislation for which there is no popular demand whatever, when confessedly such legislation involves the heavy responsibility of contravening the root idea of married life in this country. I beg to second the Amendment.

(4.5.) MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

Although I also rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, I do so from a very different point of view to that of the hon. Gentleman opposite. The point of view which leads me to offer the Bill my opposition is stated in the Amendment which I placed on the Paper, but which, unfortunately, the Forms of the House will not permit me to move. That Amendment is— That this House is unwilling to pass a measure which, while it has for its object the alteration of the law that now prohibits marriages in certain cases, does not deal equally with both the husband and the wife, but gives to the husband a privilege with regard to his wife's sisters which it denies to the wife with regard to her husband's brothers. The hon. Members who had precedence of me preferred that the Division should take place on the direct negative. I am not greatly concerned to disagree with the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Kelly) who moved the Second Reading. A great deal of what he said was true, and I confess that although I have no desire to change the law, still, if the Bill were a fair and equal Bill, I should not offer any opposition to it. Still, the hon. Member for Camber well did very considerably over-colour his picture, and in some of his statements was guilty of very remarkable inconsistencies. He told us how colonists, who had made marriages with the deceased wife's sister, which were legal in the colonies, were affronted when they came over here, and went home embittered because they had been looked up on in English society as living in concubinence. He also told us of a High Sheriff, whose wife—his deceased wife's sister—was received into society and regarded as properly married. I think those statements were inconsistent. The hon. Gentleman declares that the working classes are overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill. The working classes cannot be strongly in favour of this Bill if they look with disfavour upon a working man who has contracted one of these marriages, and if his children are pointed at at school as being bastards. The fact that people have broken the law is not a reason why the law should be amended for their convenience. I should not oppose the Bill if it maintained the principle of equality between the husband and wife which has always existed in reference to these matters. At present the law is absolutely equal between husband and wife, and neither is allowed to marry into the family of the other. The Bill will change the existing equality, and it will give to the husband, in case of his wife's death, a privilege with regard to his sisters-in-law which, it denies to the wife in the case of the husband's death with regard to her brothers-in-law. It has been said that the Bill will create jealousy as between a wife and her sisters. I think there are cases in which that jealousy will be created. The wife would dislike to have sisters in the house on free and sisterly terms, and, if the Bill made the law equal, what would the husband say with regard to his brothers? A former Member of this House said— If it was possible for my widow to marry one of my brothers, I would not let a brother come into the house again. Yet you are putting all the wives of the country into a position which a Member of that House said he would not tolerate for himself. Lord J. Russell denounced a Bill which, like this, created injustice as between husband and wife. The supporters of the Bill do not say, "Let us pass this Bill, and then pass a Bill legalising marriage with a deceased husband's brother." On the contrary, the hon. Member for Camber well is bitterly opposed to any such extension of the law. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) is equally opposed to my view. In a letter which the right hon. Gentleman wrote condemnatory of my action a couple of years ago, when I moved an Instruction to the Committee he stated he was opposed on principle to allowing a widow to marry her deceased husband's brother. But he has never stated what that principle is, and I ask him to do so now. It is perfectly clear that this Bill is not to be regarded, in the minds of its supporters, as a stepping-stone to an equal and just state of the law. Some Members have been good enough to tell me that if I would only support this Bill what I desire would necessarily follow. That is not my view, as founded on experience. Take the analogous case of the Divorce Law. That is not equal as between husband and wife; it gives the husband power to get a divorce for reasons for which it does not give the wife power to get a divorce. There is no attempt to remedy that defect and injustice. So it will be if this Bill passes in its present form; Parliament will not be likely to remove the inequality afterwards. It is estimated, I believe, that for every 100 marriages with a deceased wife's sister there are four with a deceased husband's brother. There is not the smallest reason why, if an amendment of the law is to be made, it should not be made to cover both classes, because it is as great a hardship for the children to be bastards in the one case as in the other. Although, as I admit, there is a considerable body of public opinion in favour of the Bill, I am certain that if it were generally known that the Bill is of a one-sided character there would be considerable opposition to it. I earnestly impress upon the House that in assenting to the Second Reading hon. Members will be adopting in principle a measure which is unjust and unfair, which cannot be regarded as a settlement of the question, and which, in my opinion, every one who is desirous to see equal justice as between husband and wife should strenuously oppose.

(4.15.) LORD W. GORDON LENNOX (Sussex, Chichester)

I am anxious to oppose this Bill, because I believe it will strike a blow at the very foundation of our social morality. Who really wants the Bill? The Mover of the Second Reading naturally trotted out the old argument that the Bill is intended to benefit the working classes. I maintain that the Bill will not benefit the working classes, and that it is not asked for by such classes. Young women of the working classes, generally speaking, leave their homes at an early age. They either go to service or they get married and go away altogether. In either of these cases, in the case of the death of the wife, you will very seldom find the sister will leave her present occupation to go and look after the children. In the general life of the working classes again, it will be found that a man remarries in a very short time after the loss of his wife. Moreover, the neighbours and friends of a bereaved husband are in almost every case anxious and willing to help their neighbours in their distress. I do not know what may be the opinion of the constituents of those delegates who went to the Congress at Liverpool, but I undertake to say that if any large district in the East End of London were canvassed it would be found that very few people among the working classes are in favour of the Bill. With regard to the middle classes, the Bill is entirely unnecessary on their behalf, and it is in that class of life where the number of sisters-in-law are not only most numerous, but most helpful to the family both during the life time of the wife and in the event of her death. And in the case of the upper classes I fail to see that the Bill will have very much effect one way or another. It has been said in the course of the Debate that if the Bill passes, a rich man may still have his sister-in-law to look after his household. I think you would find there are extremely few people in society who would dare to live with their sisters-in-law if the Bill were passed into law, and few who would associate with any such people if they did. The real object of the Bill is a retrospective one, having for its object legalising the illegality of several people who have chosen to break the law. The question has been argued from the men's point of view, but surely it is only fair we should look at the interest of the women in this matter. We do not hear a great deal from the women of the country on the subject, for the simple reason, in my opinion, that they have a delicacy in discussing a very unpleasant question. I undertake to say, however, that if you could get the women of the country to speak their minds you would find that there is not a single woman in the country who does not hate the object of the Bill. The Bill is as unfair as it is undesirable, and I shall most decidedly give my vote in favour of the Amendment.

(4.22.) MR. W. H. CROSS (Liverpool, West Derby)

I should like to point out the peculiar difficulty in which we on this side of the House are placed by the tactics of those in charge of the Bill. The hon. Member for Camber well (Mr. J. Kelly), in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, dismissed with a wave of his hand all the arguments we might use by saying, "We shall have all the stale arguments trotted out." No doubt we have trotted out our old stale arguments, but the other side has not paid their old stale arguments even the poor compliment of trotting them out at all. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. M'Laren), we welcome his vote with more enthusiasm than we are likely to bestow upon his speech, because while he made the very best speech for the Bill, he wound up by saying that he would vote against it. The hon. Member for Camber well described as the chief of the stale arguments that of the thin end of the wedge, and described it as a mere "bogey," but since his speech the thin end of the wedge has risen in its place in the person of the hon. Member for Crewe, whose only reason for not accepting the Bill was that it was not the thick end of the wedge. The hon. Member for Camberwell showed himself to be a man of wide social experience, but he said he did not know a single person who had contracted one of these marriages, and upon whom the present law inflicts the very slightest semblance of hardship. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his experience, and I think if he could poll the Members of this House he would find that a very much larger number than he believes are, in this respect, in the same position as him self. I do not believe that these marriages are so common as he has implied, and, even if they were, I see no reason why a Bill should be passed to relieve persons so married of responsibilities which they have knowingly incurred. I must protest against the statement that the only opposition to this Bill comes from the High Church Party of the Church of England. I believe the chief opponent of the Bill in former years was the late Earl Cairns, who surely could not be regarded as a High Churchman, and he was supported by the vast majority of the Low Church Party. The entire body of the Established Kirk of Scotland and of the Free Church are also on the same side. My hon. Friend has thought it necessary to put into the Bill a clause which preserves in its integrity the present Law of Divorce. As we know, adultery alone is not a ground on which a wife can divorce her husband, but incestnous adultery is by itself an ample ground for divorce. The reason is that incestuous adultery is so gross an offence against the moral law and so gross an offence against the wife that nothing more is needed to dissolve the bond which ties the wife to her husband. The assumption on which this Bill is founded is that the wife's sister is no more to the husband than any other woman, and yet the promoters are bound to put in a clause preserving the law of divorce, to which I have referred, and which declares that adultery with a wife's sister is incestuous adultery. It is idle to pretend that the Bill does not very grossly offend the feelings and opinions of a large propor- tion of the English people. The promoters know that so repulsive would this proposed new law be that they do not even seek to compel clergymen to marry people who come within this degree of relationship, and they are obliged to put in a clause exempting clergymen from liability for refusing to perform these marriages. I must protest against the assumption that the Liverpool Trade Union Congress represented the views of the great mass of the working classes on the subject. No doubt the working men, as my hon. Friend said, paid the delegates to meet in Liverpool, and the delegates passed a certain resolution, but I am confident that these delegates were not paid to express an opinion on this subject at all, and that they did not represent the views of the vast body of the working classes of the country in regard to it. For these reasons I shall cordially vote against the Second Reading of this Bill.

(4.35.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)

I am somewhat surprised to hear the taunts thrown out by Members opposite about our inability to make a House punctually at 2 o'clock, to-day. We were most anxious to give every opportunity for full and fair discussion, and it is not we but the opponents of the Bill who, whilst the Speaker was in the Chair, showed discourtesy to the House by stopping in the Lobbies and declining to assist in making a quorum. I would point out also that it was well known that the House could not be counted out before 4 o'clock, so that the only consequence of keeping out of the House was to prevent the Debate coming on. It has been urged as an argument against the Bill that there is no agitation at the present moment in the country for it; but the fact is, that public agitation in favour of the Bill took place 20 years ago, and the demand for it has continued ever since. Year after year it has been brought before Parliament, and has been carried in this House by increasing majorities under both Liberal and Conservative Governments, while it has only been stopped from going to the other House, or receiving proper attention there, by want of time. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. M'Laren) said he would not support the Bill unless it made women and children equal with regard to the law of marriage. Those who support the Bill, however, do not believe that there is any demand for marriage with a deceased husband's brother. We look upon the measure as altogether in the interests of poor people and children. The greater part of the arguments that have been urged against it are of the old society or social character that have been trotted out over and over again, as if the whole question affected only a small part of society in London. The fact is, that the class of people who most require this change in the law know comparatively little, as a rule, of their relations, and the wife's sister, is not often or long in the home of the labourer or the artisan during the lifetime of the wife. In most cases she, like the other members of the family, has to go away to seek her living, and, therefore, the argument about the sister-in-law creating jealousy in the family falls to the ground in the cases where the Bill is most desired. We believe that the person who would be the kindest to the children who have lost their mother would be the deceased wife's sister, and, of all others, she is naturally the most likely to take care of them; therefore, if the husband is to marry again, she is the most natural person to marry in the interests of the children. Marriages of this kind take place now regardless of the law. We wish to revert to the old law, and not to bring about a new law, and we do not propose to bring in either the thin or the thick end of the wedge. The chief argument of the hon. Member for Chichester (Lord Walter Lennox), was that divorce was easier for men than for women, and he thought that was a reason why we should not pass this Bill. If the noble Lord disapproves of divorce then let him attempt to deal with the Divorce Laws. Then the Bill has been dealt with by the hon. Member for Oxford, who seemed to be under the impression that it is a Bill to compel marriage with a deceased wife's sister. But I can assure him we have no idea of any compulsion of the kind, we wish to permit such marriages, and such are very often desirable in the interest of the children. The hon. Member stated that there are few cases of such marriages known, and I do not myself know of one single case in what is called society, but I do know of many cases in the country; and in every such case I know of, the marriage was entered into simply out of consideration for the interest of motherless young children. I recollect two tenants of mine married in this way, and I know that after a struggle against the strong feeling excited against them among the clergy and others, they had to leave their native county and settle in another county where their previous circumstances were not known. This is the unpleasant state of things I want to put an end to. We are told that we have only argued the Bill on the old lines. Well, we have waited to-day to hear some new argument which has not been answered over and over again, but not a single argument has been used to-day that has not been met in previous Debates during the last two Parliaments, and amply and thoroughly dealt with. The fact is the arguments against the Bill are getting feebler every year. Ever since our opponents have dropped the Biblical argument there has been nothing to take its place. We are told such marriages have been disastrous in the colonies. If that is so how is it that when the colonial delegates were here a few years ago they were unanimous in favour of this change in the law, and pointed out the injustice and disadvantage a colonial subject of Her Majesty is under, who having married according to law in the colony finds that his wife cannot be recognised here? I do not think there are any arguments I can add to those so well brought forward by the hon. Member for Camber well, or that there has been any argument used since he spoke to which I need reply, and so I express a hope that the House will agree and give the Bill a Second Reading.

(4.45.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND (Sir CHARLES PEARSON Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

In supporting the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, I will not deal with the more general subject; but if I pass by arguments that have been used, I desire to protest against the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that the Biblical argument has been given up. I take it that the reason why that argument is by tacit consent not advanced, is that it is felt that it is not fitting that these discussions should turn largely upon theological considerations. Really the answer is that those who have taken sides on this question have agreed to differ on that particular point. On that ground alone those with whom I think on this subject are disposed to give it the go by. If I do not touch on the social and domestic argument used in former years, it is because I think in regard to that part of the subject enough has been said by other speakers this afternoon, but I rise because there is one aspect of the subject which has not been touched upon, and I am disappointed that it has not been touched upon this afternoon, because there are on the back of the Bill the names of certain Scottish Members who, I think, at all events, might have been here to give us those views of this Bill, which, in their opinion, are held in, that part of the Kingdom. I observe in the last clause it is proposed that the Bill shall extend to every part of Her Majesty's dominions. Now, Scotland occupies a somewhat peculiar position upon this question. It differs altogether from the relation and attitude of England towards this matter, and has so differed for centuries. Of course, in the old time when the canon law prevailed, there was, to a certain extent, similarity in the laws of the two countries; but since the Reformation the basis upon which this matter has stood in Scotland has been totally different to that in England. In Scotland, ever since the Reformation, it has been within the sweep of the Criminal Law, and not merely the Civil Law of the land. That makes a vital difference when we are considering the social aspect of the question, and in considering what the attitude of the public in different parts of the country is towards it. I assume that all Members who represent the northern part of the Kingdom, are aware of this aspect of the question I am just touching; but I will occupy a few moments in the endeavour to make my meaning perfectly plain. I may remind the House that immediately upon the occurrence of the Reformation an Act of the Scottish Parliament was passed by which the crime of incest was made punishable by death. Though I do not, for a moment say that that is a law which we ought to revive or continue, at the same time it is noticeable, as it bears very closely on the view taken by the people of Scotland on this subject, that it was so punishable according to the strict theory of the law until a very recent date; but taking it according to the degree of criminality, that is borne out by actual punishments awarded, a test that will be admitted on all sides. Actual punishments awarded for crimes of exactly the same nature as this of which I am now speaking—this shows the Scottish view on the subject—have within living memory been long terms of transportation or penal servitude.

MR. A. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean this has been the ordinary practice in Scotland?


Perhaps I have not sufficiently explained my position. My position is that this is not so much a question of the Civil Law in Scotland as primarily, and in the first instance a question of the Criminal Law.


But as a matter of practice at the present time, are severe punishments awarded?


I think my hon. Friend will allow me to proceed with my argument. What I am anxious to make out is that inasmuch as this is not a question so much of the Marriage Law primarily in Scotland as of the Criminal Law; it is rather a question how the law has viewed the matter with reference to the punishments it has inflicted; and although in recent times no prosecutions of this kind have taken place, yet it is the fact that offences which are in the same category have within living memory, been visited by long terms of penal servitude, as for example, incest between an uncle and a niece, or between a man and the sister of his living wife. It seems to me it is hardly necessary for me to go in detail into the matter; but I do say that what I have said bears very close relation to the question how a Bill like this will be accepted in Scotland. I have not, either outside the House or during the Debate this afternoon, heard any argument whatever to convince me that there is any movement in favour of this measure in Scotland. There is absolutely no agitation on the subject; but on the contrary I believe that to pass this Bill would lead to most disastrous consequences and shock the moral sense of the whole community in Scotland. [Cries of "No, no!"] There are exceptions, no doubt, but I should like the ordinary tests to be applied to the question. There are a few petitions on one side or the other, but in Scotland there are the two large Presbyterian bodies which represent the larger part of the population distinctly against the proposed change in the law on the ground of principle. As a principle it is firmly imbedded in the law of Scotland, and has been for centuries, that these marriages are not only illegal, but criminal also; and it appears to me, even assuming, what I cannot for a moment assume, that there has been a recent change of opinion on the question, it is far too recent a change to justify a change in the Civil Law affecting the status of marriage. I submit that it lies on those who represent Scotland in the House to show that they have received a mandate on the question, or that they have been approached by any considerable body of opinion in Scotland to vote in favour of the Bill. I should particularly like to hear from those Scottish Members whose names are on the Back of the Bill whether there has been such an expression of opinion. Having regard to the relation which the mind of Scotland has borne to this question over a long period of years, I humbly submit I am entitled, not using exaggerated language, to say that the passage of this measure would be received with the utmost disfavour in Scotland, and I go so far as to say would shock the moral sense of the country.

(4.55.) COLONEL MAKINS (Essex, S.E.)

It does not appear to have been noticed that this is a jubilee Debate on this subject, it was first introduced in 1842. I do not think it appears to excite quite so much enthusiasm as jubilee celebrations usually do. But I rise to repeat what I said last year, expressing the very strong objection I feel to a question of this magnitude being dealt with in a fragmentary manner, and by means of a private Member's Bill. The question of an alteration in the marriage laws is so important that, if dealt with at all, it ought to be taken up by a responsible Government, and dealt with in the fullest possible manner. I quite agree that there is a strong feeling, not only on the part of many hon. Members, but on the part of many people in the country, in favour of this measure; but there is an equally strong feeling on the opposite side held by members of the various religious bodies in the country. If there is any way of compromising a question of this kind it is by making all marriages civil, the religious bodies solemnising those which came within the regulations of their own particular religious section. The State would then be answerable for the proper publication of the marriage banns, the legitimacy of children, the devolution of property, and other matters. Independently of the benefit this would be to the State generally, it would be an opportunity of bringing into accord the law of marriage in the different parts of the Empire, which now widely differ in theory and practice. I certainly am not now going into the religious question, or into arguments repeated to-day for the fiftieth time. I content myself with saying that this is a subject which should be approached and settled in a far different manner than it can be by a private Member's Bill on a short Wednesday afternoon.

(5.0.) The House divided:—Ayes 202; Noes 155.—(Div. List, No. 55.)

Main Question put, and agreed to; Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.