HC Deb 28 January 1931 vol 247 cc975-9

I beg to move, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to matrimonial causes."

This Bill is supported on all sides of the House and is identical in terms with the Bill passed last year by a very large majority. Shortly, it proposes to amend the law relating to matrimonial causes by adding to the grounds of divorce the ground that the respondent has been incurably insane and has been so certified for a period of not less than five years continuously before the presentation of the petition. In order to avoid any abuse which might arise from this form of relief, there is added a proviso that if the condition of insanity has been caused by the conduct of the petitioner, the relief shall not be granted.

This ground was part of the recommendations of the majority of the Commission on Matrimonial Matters in 1912, and I should like to recall to the House certain words which the Commissioners set out in their report, showing the extent of the condition which this Bill seeks to remove. [interruption.] I would like to remind the House that behind these changes of the law lie flesh and blood and the private agonies of many citizens, and I beg the House with great respect to give me their attention for a few minutes only. The Commissioners said: Indeed, incurable insanity is more effective in destroying the marriage relationship than any of the other causes which we have recommended as grounds for divorce. I will not trouble the house now by giving the figures which I recited last year showing the number of cases to which the Bill will afford relief. I desire merely to say that the relief provided in the Bill is optional. No person is compelled to seek it. If spouses are prepared to concur in the unhappy condition which in many cases goes on from year to year, the Bill puts no pressure on them to seek relief from the position which they are prepared to accept. The condition of in- curable insanity has to be proved to the satisfaction of the Court which has to consider all relevant circumstances as to whether or not this relief should be granted.

I have received notice that this Measure is again to be opposed. I understand that the objection is taken that in no circumstances should the marriage tie be severed. That is a view which commends itself to large numbers of men and women, but unfortunately it is a view which the country has not supported for many years, and it is impossible now to ask the State to end the law which contemplates the severance of the marriage tie in specified circumstances. This Bill asks that in proper circumstances this relief should be afforded. I have received many letters from different parts of the country showing that the introduction of this Bill has brought a ray of hope to the minds of many men and women, and, as it is a matter which affects very large numbers of people, I beg to ask leave to introduce the Bill.


A year ago, when my hon. and learned Friend sought the leave of the House, I opposed that permission being given, and, although a rather small House saw fit to give leave, I am entirely unrepentant to-day in seeking to oppose the Motion. His conception of the reasons for opposing it are as inadequate as the reasons he gave for it. There is very much more than any question of ecclesiastical opposition; in fact, I would not desire to-day to deal with the religious side of it at all. That would be proper and valuable in a full Second Beading Debate. I wish to-day to repeat briefly what I said last year. I ask the House whether it really thinks that a definition of five years' insanity is a proper basis upon which permanently to dissolve the marriage relationship. I should have thought that our experience in the long and important Debate in this House upon the Mental Treatment Act must have taught us the extraordinary state of flux of medical opinion about insanity, and I should imagine that very few competent doctors would care at the end of five years' continuous insanity to certify any person as permanently insane. Since this Motion was last before the House I have received many letters—most of which, I agree, were against the view I take—and among them was a letter giving the case of a woman who had been in an asylum for 10 years and nine months; she was then restored to full sanity, and is now happily living with her husband. The possibility of divorce and re-marriage of the healthy person, and then this contretemps is too terrible to contemplate.

It is dangerous to loosen the marriage tie to this extent. There can be no value in the pledge to take for better or for worse if five years of incurable illness is to be the basis for breaking it down. I understood from the text of the Bill last year that any contributory negligence could make the petition invalid, but surely it must be obvious that that proviso can never be of any value. The person most concerned is the person certified as insane. How can there be any proper preparation of a case of contributory negligence under the circumstances?

I suggest that this is a Bill for which there has been no real public demand from the general body of quiet people who live happily with each other, who, if diversity comes, thank God for power to comfort and help each other, and who will never give up hope of the restoration

of sanity and of peace and happiness to their homes. Those people, who are the salt of the earth, do not want this Bill. It is desired by a few eclectics and people like that. I have had hundreds of letters since the last Motion, but I regret to say that the overwhelming majority of them could be put in two files under the headings of "Lust" and "Finance," the one consisting of people whose only thought is sexual satisfaction, and the other of people who object to pay contributions to their wives or mothers and think that they would be relieved of that if this Bill were passed. The people who really desire permanent home life and understand what is meant by cherishing each other for better or worse, do not desire the Bill. If it gets on the Statute Book, it will be a first and very long step towards companionate marriages. That may not be intended, but all the possibilities are there. I hope that the House will refuse to give my hon. and learned Friend leave.

Question put, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to matrimonial causes."

The House divided: Ayes, 114; Noes, 148.

Division No. 94.] AYES. [3.58 p.m.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Muggeridge, H. T.
Ammon, Charles George Hirst, G. H. (York W.R. Wentworth) Naylor, T. E.
Arnott, John Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Noel Baker, P. J.
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley) Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Paling, Wilfrid
Barr, James Horrabin, J. F. Perry, S. F.
Benson, G. Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Peters, Dr. Sidney John
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Isaacs, George Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. John, William (Rhondda, West) Phillips, Dr. Marlon
Brockway, A. Fenner Jones, F. Llewellyn (Flint) Price, M. P.
Bromfield, William Knox, Sir Alfred Purbrick, R.
Bromley, J. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Rathbone, Eleanor
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield) Lathan, G. Rawson, Sir Cooper
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Lawson, John James Richards, R.
Burgess, F. G. Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell
Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland) Leach, W. Romeril, H. G.
Campbell, E. T. Lewis, Oswald (Colchester) Sanders, W. S.
Charleton, H. C. Lewis, T. (Southampton) Sawyer, G. F.
Chater, Daniel Lindley, Fred W. Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Clydesdale, Marquess of Longbottom, A. W. Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Courtauld, Major J. S. Lymington, Viscount Shield, George William
Culver well, C. T. (Bristol, West) McEntee, V. L. Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Daggar, George March, S. Shillaker, J. F.
Dallas, George Marjoribanks, Edward Shinwell, E.
Dalton, Hugh Marley, J. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Marshall, F. Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Ede, James Chuter Mathers, George Smith, H. B. Lees. (Keighley)
Ferguson, Sir John Matters, L. W. Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Ford, Sir P. J. Meller, R. J. Snell, Harry
Forgan, Dr. Robert Messer, Fred Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Gossling, A. G. Millar, J. D. Strachey, E. J. St. Loe
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Mills, J. E. Strauss, G. R.
Groves, Thomas E Montague, Frederick Thurtle, Ernest
Hall, Lieut.-Cot. Sir F. (Dulwich) Morley, Ralph Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Hall, F. (York, W.R. Normanton) Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Viant, S. P.
Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick) Watkins, F. C.
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Muff, G. Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)
Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood) Winterton, G. E.(Lelcester, Loughb'gh) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Whiteley, William (Blaydon) Wise, E. F. Mr. Holford Knight and Viscount Elmley.
Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U) Young, R. S. (Islington, North)
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Peake, Capt. Osbert
Altchison, Rt. Hon. Craigle M. Gunston, Captain D. W. Penny, Sir George
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Pole, Major D. G.
Alpass, J. H. Hail, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Potts, John S.
Astor, viscountess Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Pybus, Percy John
Batey, Joseph Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Raynes, W. R.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Harbord, A. Reynolds, Col. Sir James
Beaumont, M. W. Hartington, Marquess of Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Bellamy, Albert Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Haslam, Henry C. Ritson, J.
Bird, Ernest Roy Hayes, John Henry Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley) Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Bowen, J. W. Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow) Rothschild, J. de
Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Boyce, Leslie Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Briscoe, Richard George Hopkin, Darriel Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Brooke, W. Hurd, Percy A. Scrymgeour, E.
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire) Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R. Sexton, Sir James
Buchan, John Iveagh, Countess of Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Buchanan, G. Jenkins, Sir William Sinkinson, George
Burgin, Dr. E. L. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Cameron, A. G. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Smithers, Waldron
Cape, Thomas Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton) Somerset, Thomas
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.) Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Somervilie, A. A. (Windsor)
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Law, A. (Rossendale) Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Cayzer, sir C. (Chester, City) Leighton, Major B. E. P. Spender-Clay, Colonel H.
Chapman, Sir S. Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handsw'th) Stamford, Thomas W.
Christie, J. A. Lockwood, Captain J. H. Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.
Cluse, W. S. Logan, David Gilbert Sutton, J. E.
Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Taylor, w. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)
Cranborne, Viscount Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)
Crichton-Stuart, Lord C. McGovern, J. (Glasgow, Shettleston) Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. McShane, John James Tillett, Ben
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil) Makins, Brigadier-General E. Tinker, John Joseph
Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert Marcus, M. Todd, Capt. A. J.
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Merriman, Sir P. Boyd Tout. W. J.
England Colonel A. Middleton, G. Townend, A. E.
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Train, J.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Fremantle. Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Ganzoni, Sir John Mort, D. L. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Muirhead, A. J. Wells, Sydney R.
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Murnin, Hugh Welsh, James (Paisley)
Gould, F. Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G.(Ptrsf'ld) Westwood, Joseph
Gower, Sir Robert Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.) Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Oman, Sir Charles William C. Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Gray, Milner Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Palin, John Henry Mr. Lang and Mr. Robert Wilson.