HC Deb 13 April 1921 vol 140 cc1210-1

The following notice of Motion stood on the Paper in the name of Mr. Rendall: To call attention to the Matrimonial and Divorce Laws; and to move, That this House, being of opinion that the amendment of the Divorce Laws is long overdue, and that proposals on the lines of the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce affords a basis for valuable reform, requests the Government to find time for their consideration as soon as they shall be introduced into this House in the form of a Bill.


It was my intention to move the Motion standing in my name requesting the Government to introduce legislative proposals on divorce which are now before another place as soon as they had passed through that House. These proposals, as introduced there, were based on what is known as the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce. Unfortunately great misapprehension has arisen since I gave short notice of my Motion. Both inside and outside the House it was thought that I was going to introduce the same Resolution as last year. At that time I sought approval for the Majority Report of the Commissioners. Statements to this effect were circulated broadcast by Church organisations, and Members have received thousands of postcards asking them to vote against "Mr. Rendall's Resolution in favour of the Majority Report." Many Members, relying on their correspondents conveying correct information of my intention, sent hundreds of replies promising to do so. Although those replies were sent under a complete mistake of facts, these Members, I am informed, naturally feel bound to keep their pledges. They are in a position where they must vote against a Resolution which seeks to support the Minority recommendations as a basis of reform. I have worked hard to obtain general assent to a Bill which might, I hoped, have led to a compromise between con- tending factions. The action of Church organisations in giving—I hope by mistake, and not by intention—untrue information to Members about my Resolution, has prevented a vote on the merits of this question being taken. I refuse to be a party to a Debate and a Division which must be taken on a false issue, in which many Members would have had their hands tied against their will, and which might convey an impression which would be, I believe, untrue, that this House is against all reform of our divorce laws.

There is the further fact that the insertion of desertion as a ground of divorce into a Bill being discussed in the House of Lords has rather altered the position, and it might be contended against my Resolution that there are no legislative proposals likely to arise here except those which contain this new ground of divorce, and therefore my Resolution, which seeks to get the support of this House for the Minority proposals, would really be abortive if it were carried. Lastly, I find that a considerable number of Members "who were in favour of the Majority Report, are not prepared to support the Minority proposals, and some, in fact, are prepared to vote against them. Under these circumstances, it appears that neither party will accept a middle course, which I had hoped would have got before the House eventually a Bill which was capable of being made a real measure of reform. I feel, therefore, that I consult the dignity of the House and my own dignity, and also—which is most important of all—I best serve the interests of the cause which I have so deeply at heart by withdrawing a Resolution which cannot procure a straight vote on its merits. Therefore, I do not move the Resolution which stands in my name, but I should like to say that I am most grateful to my Seconder, the hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), for having concurred in this arrangement.