HC Deb 07 April 1905 vol 144 cc914-58


Order for Second Reading read.

*COLONEL DENNY (Kilmarnock Burghs)

said it was only a few days ago that he was asked to take the place of the Member for the Epping Division, who was unable to be present to take charge of this Bill on the back of which his name appeared, consequently he felt a disadvantage in attempting to *Approximate. replace him. He felt so strongly of opinion that a change in the law was necessary and advisable, that he had put his name on the back of the Bill. It had been alleged that those who supported this Bill represented a small number of people, and that the Bill was not in consequence worthy of the serious consideration of the House. They were told that those who transgressed the present law, or who would contract such marriages if the law were altered, were seldom met with, and that matters might safely be left in statu quo. As an argument that was futile. They had to consider not only the masses, but the wants and desires and the real good and well-being of the few. The small number aggrieved might not be able to bring pressure to bear upon the electorate, and their views might not be pushed at general elections, but if there were a hardship, and there was no reason of great strength against removing it, the House abrogated its functions if it did not notice complaints and make some effort to remedy the situation. They knew that many Members felt strongly from points of view which every one must respect, even if they thought they were wrong or far-fetched, and consequently he would endeavour to be scrupulously careful and adopt a courteous tone, giving due weight to their opinions.

He would first consider the grounds of the opposition to this Bill. What was it that was specifically alleged against it? If any opponent could prove that in supporting this Bill they were acting in defiance of the highest law, that was the Divine law, then there was no more to be said. But he found in the discussion of the Bill of 1903 that point was specifically abandoned by the hon. Member for Stretford, who said that, in his opinion—and that was of no small weight, because he held a high position, not only in the legal profession but in the Church—there was no such question, and so they were left, if other hon. Members agreed, to find other grounds. Now, what justification had they from the point of view of the opinion of the country? They knew the opinion of the Treasury. The deceased wife's sister was as far removed from being a relative as any stranger, and was treated as an absolute stranger to her brother-in-law. This question was first raised after many years by the Act of 1835, under conditions which the hon. Member for Stretford said few could justify. The purpose of that Act was to place such marriages upon a strictly legal footing, but the promises given at that time were never redeemed. So that in the view of the hon. Member for Stretford there was no justification for the present condition of things, because if Lord Lyndhurst had carried out his intention, as his hon. friend said there was no excuse for not doing, finality would have been attained, and the question of these marriages would not now have been in a condition which needed any argument. The House was so dissatisfied, however, upon tins question that since the year 1835 this Bill had passed seventeen Second Readings in this House, and had passed entirely through it no less than seven times, while it had also passed the Lords, but unfortunately in a different year. The majorities had constantly grown larger, and in 1903 the Bill was sent to a Grand Committee, whose peculiar constitution allowed such close scrutiny and prolonged discussion that the Bill got no further. But for that scrutiny it would probably to-day have been the law of the land.

By whom was it opposed? Almost entirely by one Church, which was, no doubt, powerful, but whose action consisted mainly of setting up peculiar views in regard to the marriage laws directly in the teeth and against the wishes of this and the other House. Consequently this Church was arrogating to herself the interpretation, if not the making, of the laws relating to marriage, a matter which was entirely apart from her proper functions. Was the Church of England the only church whose opinions were worth having? There were the great Scottish churches, containing clergymen and members who were certainly not less attached to the observance of the moral law and securing the sanctity of marriage than the members of the English Church. Did Scotch churches hold out upon this question? No, they did not. The Nonconformist English churches were in favour of the Bill, and surely they were as anxious to maintain the moral law as any other church. Then there was a church which took closer cognisance than any other of the intimate life of its people—he alluded to the Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church, recognising no danger to morality, granted dispensations much more freely than to marriages with which fault could be found upon the ground of consanguinity. If this measure were favoured by the people represented in this House and by the hereditary Members of the other House, and by most, if not all, of the churches, why should this reform be denied? Had they not met many of the objections raised to the Bill of 1903? The Bill which he held in his hand was practically as it had emerged from the Committee, after the fullest discussion and scrutiny. They were told that the Bill was not wanted. The hon. Member for Tunbridge said he never heard anybody ask for it except a few highly-placed law-breakers. Then why was it brought up again and again? Why was it that in his own constituency, among hundreds of people who had been asked, the average result was that thirty or forty were in favour of the Bill to one against it. He knew of cases, and could easily find many more if he looked for them, in which these marriages had been of the greatest possible advantage to the children, and which had turned out to be of the happiest description. The cases that had been brought to his notice were not those of wealthy people.

Surely there should be one law for the whole Empire. What did they find now? The Synod of the New South Wales Church recognised the position, and had put itself in conformity with the law of the State. The Australian Commonwealth had now taken the matter up, Cape Colony had followed, and he understood the Dominion of Canada was on the point of giving these marriages complete official and Parliamentary support. He was by no means in favour of being governed by the Colonies, but what he went upon was that the action of the Colonies showed no evil results. Was it not a strong argument for doing that which would prevent much harm to innocent children? Parents were legally married in one part of the Empire, but in other parts they were not, and the children were illegitimate in the eye of the law. The hon. Member for Tunbridge, in 1903, in an earnest, well-meaning speech, said that, no doubt, all excellent sisters-in-law throughout the world must in future be unable, if the Bill passed, without reproach to be treated as members of their brother-in-law's family. He must know cases where terrible results had arisen, or he would not make such strong statements. He could not have said what he did say without having cases to quote, for he should not attack the characters of many women merely on hypothesis. Surely, instead of indulging in futile prophecy, unsupported by a scrap of evidence from the numerous countries where the custom existed, those who desired to prevent these marriages should give other reasons. Many marriages ought to be prevented—marriages of consanguinity, marriages of the physically weak, and so on, but surely they should not brand many of their fellow-citizens throughout the Empire as incestuous and corrupt by holding out against a beneficent change in a law which was never intended to remain on our Statute-book. He begged to move.

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


said that when he heard that this Bill was going to be introduced again, his first thought was to take a leaf out of the Government book and treat with contempt. He believed the question was purely academic, and certainly the Bill was not likely to pass in the present Parliament. They had the extraordinary spectacle of a Bill which carried behind it, according to its supporters, a tremendous demand on the part of the people, and yet when it was called there were only twenty-one Members present in the House, many of whom were opponents of the measure.


I hope the hon. Member has not forgotten the all-night sitting.


said he had not forgotten it. If there was any desire for the Bill he should have thought that hon. Members would have sacrificed their rest in order to do what his hon. friend described as a just act demanded by so many people in various parts of the country. When the Bill was last sent to a Standing Committee it was found to contain so many illogicalities and absurdities that, notwithstanding every effort to accelerate the proceedings, it took no less than nine days to get it through, and even then the Bill was inadequately discussed. If it went to a Standing Committee again it would have no chance of being passed by the House when it came back, because only two days were allotted to private Members Bills on the Report stage. Some very big Bills, including the Trades Disputes Bill, had been referred to the Standing Committees, so that there was not the slightest chance for this Bill passing into law this session. He regretted that his hon. friend had embarked on a course so fruitless and likely to lead to so little result.

This Bill had no real backing either in the House of Commons or the country. His hon. friend had tried to show that the Bill had a backing in the House of Commons because it had been passed by growing majorities, but he could hardly have studied the figures for recent years. In 1901 only 401 Members were found willing to vote on the Bill at all—that was rather more than half the House. The majority in its favour was 157. In 1902 only 373 voted, and the majority was 125; and in 1903 only 258 voted, and the majority fell to 27. Therefore it was not strictly accurate to say that the House had shown an increasing interest in the Bill. Why was it that the Bill had passed the Second Reading seventeen times and had never been carried into law? It was because in the crowded state of the Legislature nothing could be carried into law which had not a strong popular backing outside. A few people, most of them well to do and holding big social positions, who had broken the law such as it was at the present time, were in favour of it. It was not a poor man's Bill. It was a rich man's Bill. He had no recent figures to quote, but in 1847 a Commission was appointed to collect statistics of all the marriages which had taken place since the passing of the Lyndhurst Act. It was found that 1,048 marriages had taken place, and they were mostly among people who were comparatively well to do. There were only forty among poor people. These figures showed that this was not a poor man's question at all. It had been stated that a large number of his own constituents in the Tunbridge Division were in favour of the Bill. Having represented the Division in three Parliaments, he claimed to know a little more about the constituency than his hon. friend. Perhaps he had done wickedly in many things, but no one had ever blamed him for having taken a prominent, part against this Bill.

He had not acted on his first thought of treating this measure with contempt, for the reason that a very serious question was involved. It was all very well to say that they were going to legalise a certain form of marriage which was desired by some people. What was really proposed was to alter the whole system of marriage law which had existed in this country ever since it had been a Christian country, and it was not proposed to offer any logical substitute. What was the present basis? It was the oneness of the flesh between man and wife, which resulted in the perfectly clear doctrine that a man must not marry any relation of his wife whom he could not marry if she were his own relation. That was a clear doctrine which had been acted upon in all times since this country became Christian. It was the doctrine held by all branches of the Christian church. He knew that in recent years some Christian bodies had revolted from that doctrine. He very much regretted their action. His hon. friend had stated that the Roman Catholic Church did not hold that view, and that these marriages were permitted by dispensation. But dispensation implied a law, and if there was no law no dispensation would be necessary. Dispensations were granted by the Roman Catholic Church not merely for marriage with a deceased wife's sister, but for other marriages within the prohibited degrees. If they took the line that there should be no prohibition on the ground of affinity and that the only prohibition should be with respect to blood relationship, they would, at all events, substitute for the present Christian law a law which was not opposed by physiology and science. But they were doing nothing of the sort by this Bill. Why did they not say also that a woman might marry her deceased husband's brother. Why not abolish all the prohibitions on the ground of affinity? As it was, by the present Bill they would be introducing a state of chaos and discrediting the whole marriage Law.

The Bill was, as was discovered in Grand Committee last year, full of illogicalities and absurdities. It sought to remove what was called a colonial grievance, and it applied to this country the colonial law that the children of such unions were in law legitimate, and could inherit property in cases of intestacy. He should be quite willing to meet that objection by accepting the Colonial Marriages Bill; but he would point out that by accepting the proposals in the present Bill all the difficulties were not removed. No doubt the children of such marriages would be legitimatised; but, by the retrospective clause, the rights of others who had inherited property under the existing law would not be touched. The honour of legitimacy was given to the children, but the effects of illegitimacy were not interfered with. Then, another example of the inconsistency and absurdity of the Bill was in its effect on the law of divorce. For the purposes of marriage the Bill would enact that a deceased wife's sister was no relation, and being no relation a man could marry her. But the divorce law was left to stand as it now was; and if a man married his deceased wife's sister it would be regarded under the law of divorce as an incestuous relationship. Again, there was the point connected with the treatment of the deceased wife's sister after marriage with her brother-in-law by the Treasury. For the purposes of the income-tax a married couple were regarded as one; but for the purposes of the estate duty they were two. After all, the Treasury did, by this inconsistent attitude, gather in a large amount of money to support the State expenditure; but the Bill of his hon. and gallant friend would do nothing in this respect but institute a large amount of uncertainty. He would give another instance of the illogicality of the measure. The Bill said that in all cases, the Bill being retrospective, where a man had gone through the form of marriage with his deceased wife's sister, he would be legally married for all possibilities to come till the marriage was dissolved. But what would be the result? A man might have gone through the form of marriage with his deceased wife's sister. At present that was no marriage; and if the man chose to treat the woman badly, he might desert her and never intend to live with her again. Notwithstanding the fact that these people were separated and that they did not want to live together again, the effect of this Bill would be that they would find themselves compulsorily married. Now, did his hon. and gallant friend really begin to see that that would be an advantage? His hon. and gallant friend must see that, whatever might be said for the general principle of the Bill, when it came to be applied in practice it was impossible and absurd and would introduce chaos into our marriage law.

As to what had been done in Committee the last time the Bill was considered, he insisted that the same would be done again. He did not wish to lay too much stress on his opposition to the details of that Bill. His objection to it was grounded on principle. He believed that the Bill was unfair to women generally. Women were not on the Parliamentary register; they were not heard in this House under a women's suffrage. He believed that if there was any means of ascertaining the opinion of the great majority of women in this country it would be found to be strongly against this Bill. The Bill introduced a new inequality between the sexes. At the present time they were absolutely equal in the prohibited degrees between men and women. But under the Bill there would be twenty-nine restrictions in the case of men and thirty restrictions in the case of women. The House had no right to introduce that inequality without taking steps to discover the real opinion of the women of the country on that point. But the graver point was how a Christian nation ought to consider the effects of this Bill. He maintained that upon the sanctity of the marriage tie the moral health of the people depended; and he claimed that our Christian religion had tended successfully to make the marriage tie more respected in this than in any heathen country. Were they going lightly to throw that over? For his part he protested, and would ever protest, against tampering with the marriage tie in any shape or form in this country no matter what had been done in our Colonies or in other countries. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.


said that an intelligent foreigner who had happened to come into this House that day must have been surprised to learn that the subject under discussion in the British House of Commons was the great and important change in the marriage law contained in the Bill of which the Second Reading had just been moved. Like himself, the hon Member for Kilmarnock Burghs had passed through the night in this House; and when he thought of the crowded state of the benches on that side of the House and on this, a few hours ago, when they were discussing the question as to whether three half-pence should be paid for a soldier's breakfast, and the state of the benches now, when they were discussing this infinitely greater and more important question; when, moreover, one cast one's eye up to the public gallery and saw how meagre was the attendance, he believed that his hon. friend the Member for the Tunbridge Division was amply warranted in saying that his first notion as to how this Bill should be treated was that of contempt.

His hon. and gallant friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill spoke of it as if it were promoted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. He did not think that that was quite accurate. This Bill had behind it the support of the very strongest organisations in the country. He did not in the least wish to say that people who wished a change in any law had not a perfect right to organise to secure that end, and get together large funds for that purpose. The Marriage Law Reform Association was a body, with its office and paid secretary, which carried on a very active propaganda. But this Bill had behind it, also, the support of another very powerful and important body—the great Liberation Society, consisting of persons who conscientiously desired to see the Church of England disestablished. That body comprised very wealthy and influential persons who had, in times past, collected enormous sums of money, and, by one means or another, had brought great force to bear in Parliamentary elections. His hon. and gallant friend might say that this question was not one which played a great part in general elections, and that there were many arguments that might be advanced on the one side or the other for or against the Bill. He recognised the tone and temper with which his hon. and gallant friend had discussed this question; but, after all, it was one of those subjects on which they might differ profoundly. That, however, was no reason why they should differ bitterly, or think unkindly of each other. He fully admitted the excellent motives of his hon. and gallant friend in moving for a change in the existing law, and he hoped that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would feel that those who were obliged to oppose him did so also from conscientious motives.

He did not think it necessary to go into the religious aspects of this question. These had been stated in many books and in speeches in this House in former years. The law, as far as that aspect was concerned, had been stated with unrivalled eloquence by the late Mr. Gladstone. And if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would read that speech he would find the view which the Church of England had consistently held on this matter stated with the greatest precision and in language of surpassing beauty. His hon. and gallant friend had spoken of the action of the Roman Catholic Church on this matter. He did not know if his hon. and gallant friend had had the privilege of personal acquaintance with the late Cardinal Manning. His lamented Eminence was essentially a Cardinal who was in sympathy with democratic movements; and yet there never was a Marriage with a stronger opponent of this measure than that great Churchman, unless it were another great philanthropist differing from him widely upon questions of theology—he meant the late Lord Shaftesbury. These two great men, though they differed widely in their theological standpoint, were united in their opposition to the principle of this Bill. He denied that this was a poor mam's question; and in regard to the argument that the Bill would strengthen the golden link of Empire, he repudiated the notion that we were called upon to change our marriage law at the bidding of the Colonies. He was not a married man himself, but from such inquiries as he had been able to make from friends of his who were that the great majority were not in favour of the measure. The Bill would create as many difficulties as it would remove, and its opponents were resolved, by every legitimate means in their power, to prevent it being passed into law. He begged to second the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day fortnight.'"—(Mr. Griffith Boscawen.)

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


said he found himself in the same difficulty respecting the question of marriage with a deceased wife's sister as he did with regard to free trade, for he had never heard any real argument brought forward against it. Though the hon. Member for Tunbridge taunted them with the small number present when Mr. Speaker counted the House, he never told them that those who were opposed to the Bill left before the House was counted. The hon. Member also remarked upon the small majorities secured for the Bill during the last few years compared with previous years; but since he first had the honour of presenting the Bill the rights of private Members had been very much infringed, and they could not get the same House on a Friday as on a Wednesday. The hon. Member for Tunbridge had remarked upon the hardship of a man and his deceased wife's sister who had married and lived together but who had separated; but a year's grace was allowed them to go to the Law Courts, and by mutual consent get their marriage annulled. The fact was, the opposition to this Bill was not a matter of argument, but merely one of sentiment, honest sentiment on the whole no doubt. This was why in the speeches of those opposing it they seldom found anything which would bear an argumentative answer.

He felt that the feeling in favour of the Bill was steadily growing, and this year they had one new feature in the fact that both the Commonwealth of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope had sent to country strong petitions in favour of the Bill. But the Colonial Marriages Bill would not meet the grievances of those in this country. Moreover, that Bill provided that at all events one of the parties must be domiciled in the colony, and he could not help thinking that a great deal of confusion would arise over the legal definition of the word domicile. It would give an opportunity to rich people to acquire domicile in a colony, but to the poor his would be prohibitory. Even now the law favoured the rich man, because there were plenty of rich men who had leisure to go and live in foreign countries or the Colonies in order to have their marriages legally celebrated. The poor man had no such loophole. The poor man had no means of evading the present law, although he might want to do so. He pointed to the fact that the Bill had always had the support of the Labour representatives in the House, and he argued that it was a poor man's Bill. He declared that there was no law on the Statute-book whose history was so disgraceful, and, proceeding, he admitted that they would never get a great wave of feeling to make it absolutely imperative upon the House to pass the Bill because it affected very few people. It was only supported by those few people, and those who were honest and unselfish enough to support it on behalf of those who were suffering He did not know whether the people of his county were more honest and unselfish than others, but he knew that there had never been a candidate for Norfolk, on whatever side of politics, who had not pledged himself to support this Bill. It was because those who suffered this injustice, hardship, and cruelty were so few in number and perhaps weak in influence that they who supported the Bill thought it all the more necessary to make strenuous efforts to pass it. He felt that the tide was on their side, and that the day would come when the present iniquitous law would be amended.

*MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)

said any question affecting the marriage law must of necessity be of extreme importance. He was bound to say at the outset of his remarks that he did not take the same view of the religious and divine aspect of this question as was taken by some of his friends. He founded his objection to this measure on other than directly religious grounds. The question he desired to put to the House was this, supposing the marriage law was altered as proposed, would it tend to enhance the social and moral purity of society or would it tend to deteriorate the level of our social and moral purity as it existed to-day. It was because in his view the tendency of this Bill as a whole would be in the direction of deterioration in the moral atmosphere that he was opposed to it, and it was on those lines that he wished to address the House.

One of the first matters they had to remember was that they were dealing with the question of affinity and not of consanguinity, because whatever might be the view of the principle and doctrine underlying the marriage law, it was essential to realise with what they were dealing. He admitted that the question of affinity did not affect his mind to such an extent as would the question of consanguinity. Now this question of the principle and doctrine of marriage must go to the root of the whole system of civilised society, and they could not deal with a doctrine of this kind without realising that the marriage relationship, and the relationship between man and woman in respect to marriage, constituted one of the great barriers and foundations upon which the whole of our civilised life depended. Therefore those who proposed to make any alteration in the law and established practice in regard to the marriage law ought to show a very strong case for upsetting the very complicated social relationships, and the customs that had sprung up, having regard to the state of the law as it stood at the present time. Had they considered what marriage meant? He took the view of Lord Stowe that they had to look on marriage partly as a civil contract between the parties, and partly as one of the great religious rites. If for a moment they looked on marriage merely as a matter of contract, it was a contract entirely unique in its character and incidence, and it could not be approached from the point of view from which many of the advocates of the measure had approached it, viz., that if the two parties, the widower and his deceased wife's sister, desired to enter into a contract of this kind, they ought as a matter of freedom of contract to be allowed to do so. But there were wider reasons of social custom, against it, and this was no justification for proposals to alter the marriage contract which was the foundation of the whole system of civilised society.

So far as the question was a religious question, he approached it not from the point of view of Divine sanction, but from the point of view of the partially sacred character of the contract in question. Christianity as a whole, apart from any doctrine or dogma, had always regarded this rite as of primary religious importance, and some of the denominations regarded it as a sacrament. All religious denominations of the Christian Church regarded marriage as a rite of primary religious importance. What had been the effect? The effect had been that up to a comparatively recent date the marriage law was entirely under the cognisance of our Ecclesiastical Courts. To his mind great inconvenience and disadvantage arose therefrom. One of the primary causes of the breach between this country and Rome was the rebellion against foreign intervention in appeals on the marriage question. But if they went a little back and came to more modern times they found there were gross cases of irregular marriages which took place under the marriage laws, and what was almost as bad, the continual friction between our ecclesiastical and civil tribunals with regard to this great doctrine of marriage, which gave rise in this country to the distinction between "voidable" and "void" marriages, which led to the introduction of what was celled the Lyndhurst Act. He thought Lord Lyndhurst's Bill undoubtedly introduced an innovation in the right direction. It said that whether they dealt with consanguinity or affinity this distinction between voidable and void was to come to an end, and that marriage within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity (he would not enumerate those degrees now) in which marriage was not allowed were to be in the future void altogether.

He did not wish to say anything about the conditions which brought about Lord Lyndhurst's Act, but he would say one word as regarded the history which was told in so interesting a way by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton on a former occasion when this question was before the House. The right hon. Gentleman seemed then to think there was something in the nature of a common agreement that after the Lyndhurst Act had been passed an Act was to be passed making legal the marriage between a widower and his deceased wife's sister, and, that this not having been done, the Bill then before the House ought to be passed. He did not agree with that argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, but if any one could convince him that marriage with a deceased wife's sister would conduce generally to increased social purity and morality, he was open to conviction, and he would support the Bill. It was because he did not believe that this alteration could have anything but a bad effect that he should oppose it. There were, no doubt, a certain number of cases where difficulties if not harshness, had arisen owing to the deceased wife's sister not having been able to come in in the capacity of a mother to her deceased sister's children. When such cases arose everyone must sympathise with that individual, but he protested against their allowing their sympathy to run away with what was the real principle. This was a most important matter, and it must be argued apart from these so-called especially hard cases. It should be considered on a much broader ground. The broad ground on which he approached the question was this: ought the sister-in-law to be in the position of a possibly marriageable woman or not? That was the real question, and he did not think that anyone could look at the social conditions of this country without coming to the conclusion that the sister-in-law in the interest of public morality and purity ought to be as nearly as possible in the position of a sister and not of a marriageable stranger. What was in the knowledge of everyone was that the present relationship between a brother-in-law and his sister-in-law was one of the closest and nearest, and that any alteration in the law would tend to make an alteration. He could not agree that the relationship between a man and a marriageable woman was the same as that which now existed between a man and his sister-in-law, and what he could not appreciate in this controversy was that people did not see how this would be upset if this Bill were passed. Attention was continually being called to exceptional illustrations, but fortunately, after all, there were limitations. The number of widowers who had sisters-in-law were limited, and it was not always that a widower wanted to marry his sister-in-law; there was a further limit in the fact that a sister-in-law did not always wish to marry her brother-in-law. He did not base his opposition on the grounds of religious or Divine sanction, but he did say that when, they came to this question which was of extreme importance as regarded our social life, there was a strong preponderance of argument against the proposals of this Bill and in favour of keeping the marriage law as it was at the present time. He knew of no instances of hardship such as those given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton on a former occasion, but he knew of many instances where the existing relationship between a man and his sister-in-law would be most unfortunately interfered with and upset if this Bill became law. Let hon. Members keep their minds on the larger question and let them consider what the women themselves think about it. Were they desirous of an exceptional liberty in particular cases in order to be deprived of one of the greatest liberties they had? He did not believe there was any wide demand for this Bill and he believed if it were passed it would upset one of the purest and best of social relationships for an infinitely small class.

The framing of the Bill involved some complications of an extremely difficult kind. So far as the colonial argument was concerned it was perfectly possible to put all the colonial difficulty right to-morrow by a Colonial Marriages Act without upsetting all those social relationships, which were so dear to us. He looked upon our marriage laws as the essential part of the foundation of our social life, and he should deeply regret the alteration that would ensue if this Bill were sanctioned.

*MR. EUGENE WASON (Clackmannan and Kinross)

said he supported the Bill because be believed it would make for the public morality and social purity of the community, and he hoped the House of Commons would once more testify its approval of the principle of the measure. Judging by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division the religious argument had been practically abandoned.


said he expressly reserved his opinion on the religious question.


said that, at any rate, the hon. and learned Member based his argument on other than religious grounds. So far as the Colonies were concerned, it was said that the disadvantage under which they laboured could be put right by passing the Colonial Marriages Bill. But if this measure were carried, that of itself would put the Colonies in a right and proper position in relation to the mother country. He could not conceive why any Members should object to this Bill's becoming law except those who, like the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich, strongly objected to it on religious grounds. On this matter he believed the noble Lord was as absolutely wrong as he was right on the fiscal question. Reference had been made to Scotland. But Scottish law was in many respects entirely different from English law. He remembered a Scottish minister who, when performing the marriage ceremony, always said to the couple, "My friends, marriage is a blesing to few, a curse to many, and a great uncertainty to all; will you venture?" They always did venture, and having ventured and found marriage a blessing, what greater compliment could be paid to the deceased wife than that her sister should marry the widower? Was it not strong evidence that the first wife had been well and kindly treated? He had known many of these marriages, and he defied any person to find happier unions. It was a scandalous injustice to the poor children that such marriages should be illegal, and for their sakes, if for no other reason, the Bill ought to receive a Second Reading. With regard to the old argument that man and wife were one flesh, he remembered Mr. Justice Maul once saying that if a man killed his wife it was murder and not suicide, so that that argument might be pushed too far. If by the marriage of A and B they became one flesh then C who was A's brother, could not marry D who was B's sister. He submitted that it was not in the interests of public morality or decency in this country that there should be a great many citizens who obeyed the law in all other respects, and yet in this matter went outside the law. Such marriages could not be made penal, they were simply illegal. He hoped that illegality would be swept away, and that those men—of whom he was not one, as he would never have the chance—who wished to contract such marriages would be permitted to do so.

MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)

opposed the Bill because he believed it would do harm to the social welfare of the people. Nothing should induce them to change the marriage laws but overwhelming testimony of the necessity for such a change. But no such necessity had been shown. A very few cases had been mentioned as happy marriages between the brother-in-law and the sister-in-law, but no one had suggested that the general acceptance of such marriages would be a benefit to the people as a whole. The attenuated state of the House indicated there was no enthusiasm for the Bill. It might be asked what testimony there was against the Bill. He submitted that the burden of proof that the change was generally wanted lay with the promoters of the Bill. He agreed with those who believed that this was a class measure in favour of the rich and not in favour of the poor, a view which seemed to be proved by the extraordinary regularity with which the Bill was passed in another place. There was the testimony of Bishops and clergy in the East End of London and those who lived among great populations that the Bill would do extraordinary injury to a vast number of poor people in their charge. The House was asked to look to foreign countries and our Colonies. But that argument might be pushed a little too far. If the Colonies felt they laboured under a grievance, he was one of those who would vote for the Colonial Marriages Bill and thus remove that grievance. The present Bill bristled with enormous difficulties, and on previous occasions it had been interesting to notice the conflict of legal opinion on the one side and the other. He felt very strongly that the Bill would dislocate the family and social life of the country, and on these grounds he protested against it, and would do all in his power to prevent it passing into law.

*MR SLACK (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)

supported the Second Reading because he regarded very seriously the transcendent importance of the sanctity of the marriage tie. The speeches in opposition to the Bill seemed all to rest on the assumption that the measure was intended to make marriage with a deceased wife's sister, not permissible, but compulsory. The apparent indifference, as shown by the members present that afternoon, to which reference had been made, was due to the fact that a similar Bill had been successful on seventeen occasions in the division lobby; therefore it was no wonder if Members assumed it would again pass its Second Reading. It was an extraordinary fact that with regard to this social and moral issue, Members of both political Parties, who invariably acted in obedience to the dictates of conscience, found themselves at variance, although some of the greatest Englishmen, Churchmen, scholars, and divines had exprienced no difficulty in approving of these marriages. There was no doubt as to the absolute sincerity of those who opposed the Bill. Its supporters claimed an equal admission of their sincerity and conscientiousness in believing the present state of the law to be entirely subversive of social purity and morality. Lord Grimthorpe, one of the earliest and most capable writers on the subject, described the position with regard to these marriages as one which had been foisted into the law of England by two Bishops against the real consent of Parliament, and kept up by a singular combination of High Church and Puritanical intolerance. That seemed exactly to sum up the position.

In 1902 the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich based his opposition on high morals and the view of the Church. To which church did he refer? Certainly not to the Church Catholic, the household of faith, the whole body of Christian believers in the world. The noble Lord could not even claim that his view was that of the entire Church of England. Then there were 250,000,000 Roman Catholics who did not regard such marriages as a sin; there were also the Protestant Nonconformists and devout Jews, in the aggregate outnumbering the whole of the Anglican Church, who regarded these marriages with approval rather than disapproval, and for the most part raised, no ecclesiastical barriers; and reference might also be made to the Greek Church in Russia and to the Anglican Churches in America and the British Colonies, all of which permit them. In the Anglican Church in England and in the sister church in America entirely antagonistic canons on this question existed; while in Australia the Anglican Church had recently formally authorised these marriages as being in accordance with the law of God and the teaching of the Church as rightly understood. The teaching of the Articles of the English Anglican Church was that nothing should be enforced in the face of the precept and doctrine of Holy Scripture, and there was nothing in either Old or New Testament which gave any shadow of foundation to the claim that marriage with a deceased wife's sister was definitely forbidden. That was the opinion of some of the greatest divines, scholars, and commentators of the Church of England itself, and in support of this statement he would refer to the Speaker's Commentary and to the Commentary known as that of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, expositions which were the product of the highest learning in this country. Why should the law of the Church be set up as opposing these marriages? He had always been taught that when the shadow of the Church fell between the Church and the Church's founder, the man who allowed that shadow so to fall as lapsing into the very state of religious bondage and servitude from which Jesus Christ came into this world to release him. Were the Anglican Churches of America and Australia, with their Bishops, divines, and clergy, inspired with an inferior morality, or living less pure lives than the members of the Church of England in this country who opposed this Bill? The true explanation was that in these newer countries the heads of the Church were not cribbed, cabined, and confined by the narrowing medieval ideas which possessed many in this country, and consequently they ought to lift Christian truth above prejudice and mere ecclesiastical formulas and to awake the nobler because the freer Christian life. The prohibition of these marriages was originally based upon regal exigencies and ducal successions, and he had always felt that it was entirely unworthy of the keen and close reasoning powers of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich, as to whose sincerity of conviction and nobility of purpose there could be no question, that he should again and again seem to suppress his reasoning faculties in order to champion the present condition of the law.

Why should these marriages be dangerous in the charmed circle of the British Isles but not in other parts of the world? He agreed that it was highly undesirable that there should be one law for the Church and another for the State. That was a pernicious arrangement, but it would not be permanent. Wherever it had been the case hitherto, as was the case recently indeed in Australia, the Church had ultimately come into harmony with the State, and admitted that it had been in error in continuing to forbid these marriages. There was no word of Jesus Christ or of his apostles forbidding these marriages, and whilst the supporters of this Bill respected its opponents and the motives which prompted them, they felt bound to repudiate the illogical conclusions to which they came. To do otherwise would be to belie reason, to defy conscience, and to palter with the principles of liberty. Why should the sincere beliefs of the minority in Parliament and the minority of Christians and citizens in the country be allowed any longer to override those of the vast majority of the people? The great Nonconformist Churches were unanimously in favour of the measure. Why should the minority of one Church, especially when that Church was specially protected in the Bill, rule any longer? The noble Lord himself had consented to a measure legalising colonial marriages, thereby admitting the rights of the majority in the Colonies, and yet he refused the same rights to the majority in this country. For thirty years this measure had passed again and again its Second Reading, and had failed to reach the Statute-book only because no Administration had seen fit to make it a Government measure. In the United States, France, Germany, and Switzerland what was at first allowed only in certain cantons, States, or counties, was now permitted throughout the whole of the country; in this country alone were the people still hampered by the intrusion of dynastic and ecclesiastical forces? Henry VIII. forced Parliament to aid him to marry Anne Boleyn by declaring his marriage with Katherine of Arragon (his deceased brother's widow) void; then the Parliament of her daughter Queen Mary declared that same marriage to be holy and good before God and man. Then for Queen Elizabeth's sake Archbishop Parker again made that marriage unholy and void! Family life had not suffered in the countries to which he had referred, nor had any other evils followed upon the legalisation of these marriages; why, then, should evil consequences be anticipated in this country, which we believed to be animated by the best and highest moral forces and ideals in the world? The law as it stood did not prevent these marriages; the people married, or, if they did not, a worse condition of affairs often prevailed. In his practice as a lawyer he had often seen how evilly the present system worked, and therefore, as a Member of this House, as a citizen, as a Nonconformist, and as a man who endeavoured to be actuated in all things by the rule of conscience, he sincerely trusted the House would give a Second Reading to the Bill and that it would be passed into law.


said that this Bill seemed to reverse the old axiom that the lesser was included in the greater. Nobody could doubt that a deceased wife's aunt by marriage, a deceased wife's daughter-in-law, and a deceased wife's niece, were farther away from and therefore lesser in degree of affinity to a man than his deceased wife's sister, and yet they were not included in this Bill. Why was that? The only reason possible was that a sentiment existed in regard to a deceased wife's sister which did not exist in regard to the other relations. Moreover, why should the supposed injustice apply only to the one sex? Why should not a widow be enabled to marry her deceased husband's brother? The hon. Member for St. Albans had referred to the fact that there was no Biblical teaching against marriage with a deceased wife's sister. But in the later history of the Jewish race it was unquestionably the fact that a widow not only might but was compelled to marry her deceased husband's brother. Why, then, was not the hon. Member in favour of extending to the female sex that which he considered so essential for the male sex?

It was said that this Bill would assimilate the law in the mother country to the law in the Colonies. But in South Australia it was permissible for a man to marry his deceased wife's niece. In what way would this Bill assimilate the law of England to the law of the Colonies in that respect? While many Colonies permitted marriage with a deceased wife's sister, several others did not, and why should the law in this country be assimilated to the law in some Colonies and not in others? The South African Colonies had not this law: Canada had it, but Newfoundland had not; in the West Indies, Barbadoes was the only colony in which such marriages were permitted. Why should they accept everything which the Colonies did in regard to legislation? Were not the conditions of colonial life very different from what they were in this country? What might be a good law in one of our Colonies might be totally unsuited for the mother country. Hon. Members opposite knew very well that the law of Scotland with regard to marriages was different to the rest of the United Kingdom, children born before marriage being able to inherit entailed property, yet they did not seek to make these laws alike. From a practical point of view, there was really nothing whatever in the colonial argument. There were a great many of our Colonies which did not permit these marriages, and why should we assimilate the marriage laws of this country to one group of Colonies and not to another? And if we were going to assimilate those laws, why not begin at home and assimilate the laws of Scotland to those of England and Wales? What was the hardship complained of in regard to the Colonies? It was simply that if there was a colonial marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister, and there were children of that marriage, the only property which those children could not inherit was entailed property. Of course they could inherit the real and personal property of their parents, but because a man did not take the trouble to make a will were they to alter the whole of the law of this country simply because some individual was idle or superstitious.

When they came to look at this matter from a practical point of view it was a very small matter indeed. It had been said that this reform was demanded by thousands and tens of thousands of people in this country. As far as he was concerned he had never received a single representation from a poor person with regard to the inequality or the unfairness of the law in this respect, and the only representations he had ever had either from Poplar where he was candidate for six years or his present constituency were from those people who were comfortably off. His contention was that this being a movement coming more from the rich than from the poor, it could be argued from the standpoint of the well-to-do; he had personally known cases of the deceased wife's sister coming to manage the home of her brother-in-law and thus bridging over the most terrible time in a man's life. He held that if they were to pass this Bill unquestionably it would prevent such an advantage as a deceased wife's sister coming to manage the home of her brother-in-law during that time, and it would alter all the relations of a man towards his wife's sister. Why should they not be able to receive their wife's sister as their own sister? They should respect her with the same high sanctity as their own sister, and put all questions of marriage on one side. Surely in this respect this Bill would remove a very beautiful aspect of modern life in this country.

He also looked upon this question from a spiritual point of view. It had been said that there was no argument to be derived from the Bible in favour of the present marriage laws. The Bible taught that they possessed a spiritual being, and in marriage there, was a spiritual union with another spiritual being. Was not Christianity itself a spiritual kingdom which was in this world but not of it? Surely the world was not so full of spiritual ideas that they could afford to sacrifice any of them for what was, after all, simply a matter of convenience. He appealed to the House to respect that spirituality, and affirm that there was a higher law in this matter than the law of earth.


said that before the House proceeded to a division he desired to submit a few points which might assist hon. Members in arriving at a judgment upon this Bill. This Bill was now presented to them in some respects in a different form to that which it took upon a former occasion. They were often told that their discussions were fruitless, but he observed that some of their criticisms in regard to this question had borne fruit, though others, not less strong and valid, seemed to have been ignored. Even in its amended form he was sure the Bill would lead to a considerable amount of legal difficulty and confusion. It must be very clear to every one who remembered the discussions in Grand Committee that the most intricate legal questions were involved, and that this Bill created a great multiplicity of legal obstacles. An Amendment was carried when the Bill was in Grand Committee dealing with a certain difficulty which was raised. As had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Tunbridge, that difficulty was that a hard case had not been completely met in this Bill. The Bill proposed that where a man had married his deceased wife's sister, and the parties had afterwards parted, they should have a right to reconsider their position. It was quite true that the Bill said, as it did not say when it left the Grand Committee, that this choice was only to apply where people had ceased to live together. But the decision of the question of whether they had ceased to live together or not was one of great difficulty, their legal position would be open to doubt, and a very confused condition of things would be produced. There was a much more considerable legal difficulty. It had often happened that a marriage which had been technically irregular had been validified by a subsequent Act. But those Acts had always been applied to marriages which were believed to be regular at the time. This Bill, on the contrary, was intended to apply to marriages which the parties knew at the time were irregular. By Clause 3 persons were to be made married on the day that the Royal Assent was given to this Bill. So far as he could see, this applied not only to every living person, but also to every dead person. A person who married his deceased wife's sister sixty years ago, and had died leaving a will, although in the law he had not been married, would be made married when the Royal Assent was given to this Bill. Thereupon, according to well-known doctrines of law, his will would become waste-paper, because marriage invalidatde a will made beforehand. The rights of every person who benefited under that will would be prejudicially affected. That showed the extreme difficulty of this sort of retrospective legislation. They could not make a thing good ex post facto. They could not make good what was well known at the time to be an irregularity. The promoters of the Bill would be well advised to drop that part of their proposal.

But the objections of the opponents of the Bill were of a graver character. His hon. and learned friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill said he conceived it to involve no violation of divine law. He cordially believed that his hon. and gallant friend was representing his sincere thoughts in saving so. But he was a little amused at the authorities he quoted in support of his position. His hon. and learned friend the Member for Stretford was the first orthodox Catholic father who was quoted. The second, stranger still, was the Treasury. He had never supposed that the authority of the Treasury would be quoted in order to establish a proposition in divinity. He did not conceal from the House that it was very difficult to discuss this matter in the House of Commons tone. He protested against the discussion of this subject in the odds and ends of Parliamentary time as though it were a small matter. It would be more satisfactory to have the whole marriage law refounded on a new policy, after a full inquiry. They were justified in opposing this Bill because they believed it would transgress the fundamental laws of the morality to which they adhered. He did not wish to reflect on the characters of individuals who had contracted these marriages and who had done what he did not approve of. But while it was not their business to condemn individuals it was their business to form a definite opinion upon the character of the act. In opposing this Bill they were taking up a particular moral attitude towards certain acts. He was obliged to say that the relations which it was sought in this Bill to legalise seemed to him to be fundamentally immoral relations. What would Nonconformists say if a Bill were brought in by a private Member for the State regulation of vice? They would feel something like indignation if a Bill that seemed to them to outrage their moral conceptions was passed through a sparsely attended House without due consideration. The opponents of this Bill believed that it went to the root of the moral system, to which they adhered. They believed, as his hon. and gallant friend had said, that the relations of the sexes were essentially a spiritual matter, and to survey them in their natural aspect was to miss what lay at the root of all moral questions, and reduced the whole conception of purity to nonsense. They rejected any relation of the sexes as immoral that fell short of marriage. It was only possible to justify the doctrine that marriage was the only legitimate relation between the sexes on the principle that that relationship was essentially spiritual.

The history of the matter could be stated in a few words. In the first fourteen centuries of Christian history there would be no doubt that these marriages were deemed unlawful. How unlawful was shown in the episode of the divorce of Henry VIII. He consulted the Universities of all Christendom, and they all held that such marriages were not lawful, and that the Pope could not dispense with that obligation. That showed how deeply the general feeling of learned Christians was against the dispensation of the law in respect of such marriages. There was no systematic dispensation given until the reign of Pope Alexander VI., who certainly was not a Pope from whom Protestants would seek to receive their moral guidance. But it was the very essence of the Protestant position to deny that it lay with the ecclesiastical authority to alter the principles of morality. Morality was altogether above the region of ecclesiastical authority; and to suggest that ecclesiastical authority could alter in any degree the fixed boundary line between right and wrong was, in their view, to introduce the worst of the usurpations against which our ancestors rebelled. Then the authority of the Scottish Presbyterian Church was against the Bill; and the whole of the Oriental Churches were emphatically against it also. What was the authority on the other side? Was there any other authority than that of the people who had contracted these marriages? Was it really to be said that the idiosyncrasy of a few individuals should be made the rule of law, and the means of breaking asunder the Church and state?

This proposed change, which was supported by no weight of authority, was fundamentally antagonistic to the Established Church of the country. While he honoured the devotion which Nonconformists showed to their moral standard, he was surprised that they very often seemed to think that other churches had no moral standard to which they were equally devoted. He did not see why, in resisting such a law, they should be regarded as fanatical, whilst Nonconformists should be looked upon as suffering for conscience' sake. He thought it was unreasonable, and Nonconformists ought to recognise that those who were opposing this Bill were just as devoted to their opinions as they were. It was no exaggeration to say that the preponderating opinion of the Church of England was that this proposal would introduce a serious social disunion, from which even an enlightened Pagan would certainly shrink. Was it reasonable to violate the existing system, to introduce the sword of division into every parish where strong Church opinions were held, in order to relieve a difficulty which confessedly was felt by only a very few people, while at the same time, as had been very well pointed out, it would impose a difficulty on a great many other people who were perfectly satisfied with the existing state of things, and had, in fact, adjusted their family arrangements accordingly?

He respected Nonconformist feeling on the question very deeply. He appealed to Nonconformists to see who were their friends and who were their foes. They well knew the danger of a great attack upon the principles of Christian morality. They were alarmed at such attacks. He believed that such an attack was going to be the great event of ensuing years. Christianity had long been undermined as a theological system, but still, through the habit and custom of society and the weight of public opinion, the moral authority of Christianity had not been impaired. They could read in many magazines well written, ingenious, and, from the point of view of the supporters of this Bill, unanswerable arguments against the whole system of the marriage law. There were those who desired to reform the marriage laws. They had invented a new word to describe their theory. They called it the science of "eugenics." The whole aim was to bring healthy children into the world, and all the spiritual aspects of the case were to be put on one side. Did Nonconformists really suppose that, if they yielded to this movement, they would be able to restrain it within the narrow limits of this Bill? Did they suppose that they would be able to uphold that moral system for which they had contended so zealously? Materialism was threatening the whole fabric of Christian belief, and it was for Christians to stand together against its attacks. He believed it would be unwise for Parliament to pass this Bill. It would be unwise because it would loosen the fabric of society; it would be unwise because it would suggest to everybody that the marriage law, like other laws, after a certain amount of agitation, might be altered; it would be unwise because it would suggest the possibility of setting up an entirely illogical system of marriage law; and most of all, it would be unwise because it would be the first departure from that system of Christian ethics which up to our own time, according to the law of the Church and the State, had regulated the ineffable and mysterious relations of the sexes.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 149; Noes, 64. (Division List No. 126.)

Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Flynn, James Christopher Pemberton, John S. G.
Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.) Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward
Ainsworth, John Stirling Freeman-Thomas, Captain F. Pym, C. Guy
Arrol, Sir William Furness, Sir Christopher Rea, Russell
Asher, Alexander Goddard, Daniel Ford Reckitt, Harold James
Atherley-Jones, L. Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormsby- Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Barlow, John Emmott Griffith, Ellis J. Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine
Barran, Rowland Hirst Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B. Rickett, J. Compton
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Harcourt, Lewis Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
Beaumont, Wentworth C. B. Hare, Thomas Leigh Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)
Benn, John Williams Harmsworth, R. Leicester Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye
Bignold, Sir Arthur Hayden, John Patrick Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert
Black, Alexander William Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D. Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander
Boland, John Helder, Augustus Samuel, Sir H. S. (Limehouse)
Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn) Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H. Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Bright, Allan Heywood Henderson, Sir A. (Stafford, W.) Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos. Myles
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.) Schwann, Charles E.
Burke, E. Haviland- Hobhouse, Rt. Hn. H. (Somers't, E Seely, Charles Hilton (Lincoln
Burns, John Holland, Sir William Henry Shaw-Stewart, Sir H. (Renfrew
Burt, Thomas Hornby, Sir William Henry Sheehy, David
Buxton, Sydney Charles Horniman, Frederick John Shipman, Dr. John G.
Cameron, Robert Hozier, Hn. James Henry Cecil Slean, Thomas Henry
Causton, Richard Knight Jacoby, James Alfred Spencer, Rt. Hn C. R (Northants
Cawley, Frederick Jones, David Brynmor (Swansea Stanhope, Hon. Philip James
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.) Kennedy, Vincent P. (Cavan, W) Stone, Sir Benjamin
Cheetham, John Frederick Knowles, Sir Lees Sullivan, Donal
Coddington, Sir William Labouchere, Henry Thomas, A. (Carmarthen, E.)
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Lamont, Norman Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Laurie, Lieut.-General Thorburn, Sir Walter
Condon, Thomas Joseph Leese, Sir J. F. (Accrington) Thornton, Percy M.
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S. Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark) Lundon, W. Ure, Alexander
Crombie, John William MacIver, David (Liverpool) Wallace, Robert
Crooks, William MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.
Cullinan, J. M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool) Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)
Dalziel, James Henry M'Crae, George Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardigan M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North) Weir, James Galloway
Delany, William M'Laren, Sir Charles Benjamin Whiteley, George (York, W. R.)
Devlin, Joseph (Kilkenny, N.) Mooney, John J. Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Dilke, Rt. Hn. Sir Charles Moulton. John Fletcher Wills, Arthur Walters (N Dorset
Donelan, Captain A. Nannetti, Joseph P. Wilson, Fred W (Norfolk, Mid.)
Doogan, P. C. Newnes, Sir George Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)
Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark) Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Ellice, Capt. E C (S Andrw's Bghs. Norton, Capt. Cecil William Wrightson, Sir Thomas
Ellis, John Edward (Notts.) O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Mid) Wyndham-Quin, Col. W. H.
Emmott, Alfred O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Young, Samuel
Evans, Sir Francis H. (Maidstone O'Connor, Jas. (Wicklow, W.) Yoxall, James Henry
Eve, Harry Trelawney O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Fenwick, Charles O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith) Parrott, William Colonel Denny and Sir
Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond Paulton, James Mellor Brampton Gurdon.
Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F. Campbell, J. H. M. (Dublin Univ. Dimsdale, Rt. Hn. Sir Joseph C
Allsopp, Hon. George Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph
Baird, John George Alexander Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Chapman, Edward Duffy, William J.
Bartley, Sir George C. T. Clancy, John Joseph Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir Michael Hicks Coghill, Douglas Harry Ffrench, Peter
Blundell, Colonel Henr Crean, Eugene Fitzgerald, Sir Robert Penrose
Caldwell, James Cripps, Charles Alfred Forster, Henry William
Campbell, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Glasgow Dalrymple, Sir Charles Gardner, Ernest
Gibbs, Hon. A. G. H. Morrell, George Herbert Sharpe, William Edward T.
Gilhooly, James Mount, William Arthur Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Myers, William Henry Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ.
Greene, Sir E W (B'ry S Edm'nds O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork) Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.
Greene, W. Raymond (Cambs. O'Donnell, John (mayo, S.) Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. H (Sheffield
Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F. Percy, Earl Warde, Colonel C. E.
Heaton. John Henniker Pierpoint, Robert Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E. (Taunt'n)
Hoare, Sir Samuel Plummer, Sir Walter R. Wilson-Todd, Sir W. H. (Yorks.)
Howard, J. (Midd., Tottenham) Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Worsley-Taylor, Henry Wilson
Jameson, Major J. Eustace Purvis, Robert
Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool) Reddy, M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.
Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage Robertson, Herbert (Hackney Griffith-Boscawen and Sir
MacVeagh, Jeremiah Round, Rt. Hon. James Ernest Flower.
Malcolm, Ian Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-

Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c."—(Colonel Denny).


said he felt great interest in the work of the Standing Committees because he was perfectly sure that the business of Parliament could not be fulfilled unless they adopted more or less the principle of devolution. Mr. Gladstone often spoke in that sense, and it was greatly owing to him that the Standing Committees were inaugurated. But the Bills sent to a Standing Committee must be of such a character as would permit of the Committee's dealing adequately with them. He was perfectly sure that if the House referred this Bill to a Standing Committee such a reference must end in disappointment and failure. No one would think of referring the question of Home Rule to a Standing Committee, but in the present case it was proposed to refer a Bill dealing with a question of great social importance to such a Committee. Many hon. Members believed that this Bill dealt with an important aspect of the social life of the people, and that it involved considerations for the discussion of which the procedure of a Standing Committee was not suitable. The Bill had already been before a Standing Committee, and after the time of the Committee had been, wasted, disappointment and failure resulted. He ventured to say that this experience would be repeated if the Bill were sent to the Committee. This was one of the Bills which should be dealt with by Committee of the Whole House.

MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe

, speaking as a supporter of the Bill, and as one who had had some experience of Standing Committees said he was bound to tell the House that he did not think this was a suitable Bill to send to a Standing Committee. It must be evident from the discussion that the Bill was one which touched the deepest and strongest emotions of our nature.

*MR. TALBOT (Oxford University)

also urged that the subjects dealt with by the Bill were of such grave importance that they could only be properly discussed on the floor of the House. He was a member of the Standing Committee to which the Bill was referred two years ago, and while the Bill was before the Committee serious inconsistencies were disclosed in the measure, involving not mere matters of sentiment, but matters on which the deepest possible feelings were aroused—matters of acute controversy which made it impossible to suppose that the measure could be treated as one of detail only. A number of the constituents whom he represented in this House might, he supposed, be rightly said to entertain more deeply-rooted objections to this Bill than the constituents of almost any other Member. In discussing the question whether the Bill should or should not be sent to a Standing Committee, they should consider the kind of work for which the Standing Committees were originally suggested. It would be remembered that Mr. Gladstone declared that only Bills which did not involve acute Party divisions should be submitted to these Committees. This was not a Bill which divided Members of the House on Party lines. No one who had listened to the debate that afternoon could fail to realise that it was a Bill which went down to the very roots of their convictions, and the convictions of a vast number of people outside the House. He knew it would be said in answer that it was only by sending the Bill to a Standing Committee that it could be passed into law. He could almost assume the rôle of prophet on this occasion and say that, looking at the state of the Order book, it was practically impossible that the Bill could advance to the stage which would enable its being passed in this House. This was not a matter to be decided by a Party vote.


hoped the House would not send this Bill to the Grand Committee. He remembered that last session the Government decided to send the Aliens Bill to a Grand Committee. He prophesied beforehand that such a course would be disastrous, and his prophesy was not altogether unjustified by the actual event. The truth was that the Grand Committees were not formed for, and, with their present procedure, were not capable of, dealing with measures which aroused great feeling, and which involved large principles. They were intended to deal with measures about which there were no great controversial feelings, but which involved the consideration of a great quantity of complicated and, very often, petty detail, with which it was not proper or necessary to occupy the attention of the whole House. The Aliens Bill involved principles, excited passions, and was very complicated. In addition to that nearly all hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House thought it was a most unjustifiable thing for the Government who possessed all the time of the House to send such a measure to a Grand Committee. The result was not only disastrous to the measure, but disastrous to the procedure and status of the Grand Committees. The measure now before the House was one which excited even warmer feelings than the Aliens Bill. Of course, it would be easy to amend the practice and procedure of the Grand Committees; it would be easy to invent a drastic closure to be applied at every stage, and it would be possible to pass Bills through Grand Committees even more easily than through the House of Commons. Whether the House of Commons would consider that a proper practice or not he could not tell. The Grand Committees had absolutely no power to deal with obstruction. A minority of determined men could bring the proceedings of a Grand Committee to a stand still. They had done so frequently in the past, and they would do so in the future, whenever Bills of a highly complicated character were sent to a Grand Committee. He was not sure that it would be a good thing to give the power of the closure to the Chairmen of Grand Committees; but it was perfectly certain that the only result of sending this Bill to a Grand Committee would lead to friction, and, moreover, the proceedings of the Grand Committee might be interrupted by a dissolution. He had always opposed controversial measures of this kind being sent to Grand Committees as constituted at present, and if it were undesirable in any year not to send such a Bill as this to a Grand Committee, it was still more undesirable this year when it was sure to lead to heated controversy when passing through that Committee.


said that when he had the honour of introducing this Bill four or five years ago, he referred it to a Committee of the Whole House. But since the new rules of procedure had been passed, every private Member's Bill had practically to go to a Grand Committee if there was to be any hope of proceeding with it. Therefore, while he agreed to a great extent with his hon. friend the Member for Rushcliffe, he felt that the ground had been cut entirely from under their feet by these new rules of procedure.


said that the hon. Member opposite who advocated the sending of this Bill to a Grand Committee had entirely avoided the merits of the question. The new rules of procedure did not preclude the consideration of the merits of a Bill in Grand Committee. He had always voted for this Bill, and, in the interests of the Bill itself he thought it would be most unfortunate to send it to a Grand Committee. Did the hon. Gentleman believe that if this Bill were referred to the Grand Committee it would be passed this year? He was sure the hon. Member did not. There were serious constitutional objections to referring such a Bill as this to a Grand Committee, and he would point out to the House the great disadvantage of referring such a contentious and important Bill as this to a Grand Committee. Moreover, that procedure involved the loss of the Bill being considered by the Committee of the whole House. In his earlier Parliamentary days only the principles of a Bill were discussed on the Second Reading, while in Committee the discussions were on details to make the measure a workable one. There were always Members who were capable of pointing out defects in a Bill which had escaped the draftsman and even the Leaders of the House, and which would make the measure unworkable in practice. The only argument for referring this Bill to the Grand Committee was that it might pass this session, but no one believed that it would. Hon. Members knew perfectly well what was taking place in Grand Committee on the Trades Disputes Bill, and must admit that by referring this Bill to a Grand Committee the chances of its passing this year would not be improved. In Committee of the whole House a strenuous opponent of a measure got drowned in the common-sense of the House, but in a Grand Committee, with strong partisans present, all the passions for and against a Bill were accentuated, and the opponents and advocates of the, Bill fought like cats and dogs. He was favourable to the Bill; but nevertheless he, for one, would vote against its reference to a Grand Committee.

MR. SEELY (Lincoln)

said that the real objection to sending a Bill to the Grand Committee was where questions of principle arose on details; but in this case the whole question of principle arose on the Bill itself. He sat on a previous occasion on the Grand Committee on this Bill and heard hon. Members endeavouring to raise questions of principle apart from the details of the Bill itself. He regretted that his understanding was not capable of appreciating the reasons of the opposition to the Bill by the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich. The details of this Bill were purely of a legal kind, turning upon points with reference to property and settlements; and, therefore, he believed that it should be sent to a Grand Committee for quiet and reasonable discussion.

MR. McKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

said he had always supported this Bill on previous occasions, and he regretted that, owing to the late sitting, he had not been able to attend earlier and support it again. The state of business in the Grand Committee on Law was such that there was not the slightest chance of this Bill passing this session were it sent to that Grand Committee. Besides, if it were sent to the Grand Committee it might stand in the way of other Bills being passed. Everyone knew that when a Bill of this sort went to a Grand Committee it was impossible to get it through when there was no power of the closure.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said that the hon. Member for King's Lynn had argued that Grand Committees were unconstitutional; but these Committees existed, and that was enough for him. They knew perfectly well that this Bill could not come before a Committee of the Whole House. He admitted that there were difficulties in the way of sending the Bill to a Grand Committee, but he thought that the chances were better for the Bill passing if sent to a Grand Committee, than if it were remitted to a Committee of the whole House, considering that there was such a large majority in favour of the Bill.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said that he wished to associate himself with what had been said by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe. He had long felt how extremely difficult was the classification of Bills, according as they were fitted or not fitted to be sent to a Grand Committee. Here was an instance to prove how very necessary it was that the House should not adopt a rule-of-thumb method of classifying Bills. The Bill was supported in the House by a majority of nearly two to one, yet in Grand Committee last year it occupied a period of nine days spread over six weeks of Parliamentary time. He had been struck by the extreme gravity of the questions raised by the Amendments moved in that Committee. They were questions of the most far-reaching character affecting the rights of property and raising questions of morality. He entreated the House, before sending this Bill to a Grand Committee, to reflect on the awful waste of time which resulted from compelling them to meet from day to day to discuss a Bill which could give no kind of result.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

said he had always voted strongly in favour of the Bill; but everybody must recognise that it was a Bill which had powerful opponents as well as strong supporters; and, therefore, it became necessary to have the discussion of the details in Committee of the whole House. He hoped that his hon. friends would not press its reference to the Grand Committee upstairs.


said he thought a Grand Committee was the very worst Committee for such a Bill. He thought that if the House were to consider the question for a moment they would realise that it would be a strange anomaly to send a Bill to authorise breaking the law to the Grand Committee on Law. He wished to move to omit the words "Grand Committee" in order to insert the words "Select Committee."

Mr. JOSEPH DEVLIN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."


The hon. and gallant Member appears to me to be speaking somewhat against time. The Question is that this Bill be committed to the Grand Committee on Law.

A Division being called,


amid loud cries of "Order, order," addressed the Chair seated and with his hat on, and was understood to challenge Mr. Speaker's ruling.


I have told the hon. and gallant Member that in my opinion the Motion he proposed to make was an abuse of the rules of the House, and I am entitled to form my own judgment.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 149; Noes, 84. (Division List No. 127.)

Abraham, William (Cork,N. E.) Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S. Harmsworth, R. Leicester
Aguew, Sir Andrew Noel Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark Harris, F. Leverton (Tynem'th)
Allen, Charles P. Cremer, William Randal Hayden, John Patrick
Ambrose, Robert Crombie, John William Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.
Arrol, Sir William Crooks, William Helder, Augustus
Asher, Alexander Cullinan, J. Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.
Atherley-Jones, L. Dalziel, James Henry Henderson, Sir A. (Stafford, W.)
Barlow, John Emmott Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan) Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Delany, William Hobhonse, Rt. Hn. H. (Somers't, E
Beaumont, Wentworth, C. B. Devlin, Joseph (Kilkenny, N.) Holland, Sir William Henry
Benn, John Williams Donelan, Captain A. Hornby, Sir Win. Henry
Bignold, Sir Arthur Doogan, P. C. Horniman, Frederick John
Black, Alexander William Douglas, Chas. M. (Lanark) Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil
Boland, John Ellice, Capt E C. (S. And'ws B'ghs Jacoby, James Alfred
Burke, L. Haviland- Emmott, Alfred Jones, David Brynmor (Swansea
Burns, John Evans, Sir Francis H (Maidstone Jones, Leif (Appleby)
Burt, Thomas Eve, Harry Trelawuey Kennedy, Vincent P. (Cavan, W.
Buxton, Sydney Charles Fenwick, Charles Knowles, Sir Lees
Cameron, Robert Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith) Labouchere, Henry
Causton, Richard Knight Flynn, James Christopher Lambert, George
Cayzer, Sir Charles William Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.) Lamont, Norman
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Furness, Sir Christopher Laurie, Lieut.-General
Cheetham, John Frederick Gore, Hon. Sir F. Ormsby- Lawson, Sir 'Wilfrid (Cornwall)
Coddington, Sir William Grant, Corrie Leese, Sir Joseph F. (Accrington
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Griffith, Ellis J. Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S
Condon, Thomas Joseph Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B. Lewis, John Herbert
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Harcourt, Lewis Lough, Thomas
MacIver, David (Liverpool) O'Malley, William Sullivan, Donal
Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. O'Shauglnessy, P. J. Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)
MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Parrott, William Thorburn, Sir Walter
M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool) Pemberton, John S. G. Thornton, Percy M
M'Crae, George Pryce-Jones, Lt. Col Edward Toulmin, George
M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North) Pym, C. Guy Trevelyan, Charles Philips
M'Laren, Sir Charles Benjamin Rea Russell Ure, Alexander
Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W F Reckitt, Harold James Wallace, Robert
Mildmay, Francis Bingham Redmond, John E.(Waterford) Warner, Thomas Courtenay T
Mooney, John J. Rickett, J. Compton Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)
Moore, William Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.) Wason, John C. (Orkney)
Moulton, John Fletcher Robertson, Edmund (Dundee) Weir, James Galloway
Murphy, John Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye Whiteley, George (York, W. R.
Nannetti, Joseph P. Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Newnes, Sir George Samuel, Sir H. S. (Limehouse) Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)
Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South) Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland) Wills, Arthur W. (N. Dorset)
Norton, Capt. Cecil William Sandys, Lieut.-Col. T. Myles Wilson, Fred. W. (Norfolk, Mid.)
O'Brien, Kendall Tipperary, Mid Schwann, Charles E. Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Seely, Chas. Hilton (Lincoln) Young, Samuel
O'Connor, James (W cklow, W. Shaw-Stewart, Sir H. (Renfrew.) Yoxall, James Henry
O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Sheehy, David
O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.) Shipman, Dr. John G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
O'Dowd, John Sloan, Thomas Henry Colonel Denny and Sir
O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.) Spencer, Rt Hn. C. R. (Northants Brampton Gurdon.
Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F Fergusson, Rt, Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r Percy, Earl
Ainsworth, John Stirling Ffrench, Peter Pierpoint, Robert
Allsopp, Hon. George FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose Plummer, Sir Walter R.
Baird, John George Alexander Flower, Sir Ernest Powell, Sir Francis Sharpe
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Forster, Henry William W. Power, Patrick Joseph
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir Michael Hicks Gardner, Ernest Purvis, Robert
Blundell, Colonel Henry Gibbs, Hon. A. G. H. Reddy, M.
Boscawen, Arthur Griffith Gilhooly, James Remnant, Jas. Farquharson
Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Greene. Sir E. W. (B'ry. S. Edm Round, Rt. Hon. James
Bull, William James Greene, W. Raymond (Cambs. Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford
Caldwell, James Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F. Sharpe, William Edward T.
Campbell, Rt Hn. J. A. (Glasgow Hare, Thomas Leigh Skewes-Cox, Thomas
Campbell, J. H. M. (Dublin Univ.) Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert T. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Lanes.)
Cautley, Henry Strother Hoare, Sir Samuel Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Hope, J. F. (Shoffield, Brightside) Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G (Oxf'd Univ)
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Howard, J. (Midd., Tottenham Vincent, Col Sir C. H. (Sheffield
Chapman, Edward Jameson, Major J. Eustace Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E. (Taunton)
Churchill, Winston Spencer Joyce, Michael Whitmore, Charles Algernon
Clancy, John Joseph Kenyon, Hn. G. T. (Denbigh) Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R
Coghill, Douglas Harry Law, Hugh Alex. (Donegal, W. Wilson-Todd, Sir W. H. (Yorks.)
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage Worsley-Taylor, Henry Wilson
Crean, Eugene Lundon, W. Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart
Cripps, Charles Alfred MacVeagh, Jeremiah Wyndham-Quin, Col W. H.
Dalrymple, Sir Charles M'Kean, John
Dickson. Charles Scott Malcolm, Ian TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir
Dimsdale, Rt. Hn. Sir Joseph C. Milvain, Thomas Charles Renshaw and Mr.
Disraell, Coningsby Ralph Myers, William Henry M'Kenna.
Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred Dixon O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)
Duffy, William J. O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc.