HL Deb 01 June 1815 vol 31 cc558-66
The Marquis of Lansdowne

moved, that the report of the earl of Roseberry's Divorce Bill be received.

The Earl of Lauderdale

rose for the purpose of moving the rejection of all those amendments, which went to annul the marriage settlement, and also that clause of the Bill by which the offending parties were prevented from contracting a legal marriage. Before he stated his reasons he was anxious to say, that no one could have a higher respect than he had for the noble earl in whose favour this Bill had been introduced; and he was far from contending that this case was not, in some respects, one of great atrocity. It had been settled as the law of England, that a divorce à mensa et thoro did not enable the parties to marry again. The husband, therefore, came to this House asking a boon from their lordships, the privilege of marrying again, which the law did not give him: but this Bill not only gave him what he asked, but also relieved him from the marriage settlement. Now the settlement was a civil contract entered into with the wife and her friends for her benefit, and could not at law be impeached on account of the adultery of the wife. Why, then, should their lordships, because the husband solicited one advantage, give him another? He had heard the highest legal authorities declare in that House, that these contracts ought not to be interfered with, and he knew of no principle upon which the Legislature could justify such interference, where the object was merely to enable the husband to marry again; and there was in effect this injustice in the case, that while a husband might have this advantage against an offending wife, the wife could have no such advantage against an offending husband. This Bill, though its avowed object was to give the husband the power to marry again, was, in effect, by the destruction of the settlement, a bill of pains and penalties against the wife, and that without any evidence to justify the infliction. Their lordships had had lately before them a Bill for disfranchising the electors of a certain borough; and it was held that a bill of that description was one of pains and penalties, and a bill which ought not to be passed without such proof as the House required with respect to bills of that nature in other cases. This, too, was a bill of pains and penalties, as far as concerned the annulling of the settlement; and their lordships ought not to adopt that part of it without similar precautions. In the preamble of the Bill, it was at first stated that the lady by her crime had forfeited all right and title to the provision under her marriage settlement. That proposition, he believed would now be admitted to have been false in law; and accordingly the Bill had been in that particular amended: but if it was false in law, he could not perceive upon what principle the House could agree to allow that part of the Bill to stand which did in fact provide for such a forfeiture. As to the clause prohibiting the intermarriage of the offending parties, that was founded upon a standing order of this House, that it would pass no divorce bill without such a clause. His first objection to that clause was, that it was not conformable to the standing order; for it only provided that such marriage, if contracted, should be adjudged and held to be illegal. If the marriage was only to be adjudged illegal, he presumed that it must remain legal till otherwise declared by the sentence of a judge. The standing order was, that such marriages should be illegal by the Act without any sentence of a judge. [The Marquis of Lansdowne said, the Bill has been amended in that respect, and such a marriage declared to be illegal.] He understood that the clause had been amended in this particular, and made consonant to the standing Order. Why, then, his first objection to the clause in that view was, that it was unnecessary, because it only did that which the law already did, provided any one member of the community chose to enforce it; and if it was of consequence that no such marriage should be allowed to remain valid, some individual would, in all probability, apply to the proper tribunal to have the marriage declared illegal; and it would be better to leave it to the ordinary tribunals to deal with these matters than to interfere in this way. His next objection was, that the insertion of this clause might endanger the fate of the Bill. Their lordships were aware that a general measure had been suggested, and had received the assent of that House, to render such marriages illegal in all cases: but that general measure had been rejected in the other House. Then the standing order was adopted in that House, that it would pass no bill without such a clause: but that had already, in several cases, been dispensed with, and ought to be dispensed with in the present, rather than expose the noble earl to the loss of his remedy by the rejection of the Bill altogether. The adoption of the standing order in question, under the circumstances which he had stated, would make it appear to the other House somewhat like an attempt to legislate by the authority of this House only; and the insertion of such clauses would therefore be regarded with peculiar jealousy. If it was fit that these marriages should be declared invalid, it ought to be done by a general measure, passed with the approbation of both Houses. These were the reasons which induced him, in the discharge of what he conceived to be his duty, to move, that the clauses annulling the settlement and declaring any marriage of the parties illegal should be left out.

Lord Granville

said, that he was very far from agreeing with his noble friend, that the only object of the Bill was to enable the injured husband to marry again. The object was completely to dissolve the marriage, and consequently all contracts depending upon it. The difficulty was, when the marriage between the parties was to be dissolved, to find a principle upon which the settlement could be supported. The settlement was a contract made in contemplation of the marriage, and of its continuance; and when, by the misconduct of the wife, the contract was broken, he could not well conceive upon what principle the settlement, which was made solely for the purposes and upon the foundation of the marriage, could be allowed to stand. The effect would be, with respect to the injured husband, to leave his estate burthened with the obligations of a contract which his wife had chosen to put an end to. It was even difficult under such circumstances to find a principle upon which to found the alimony which this Bill provided for the wife; for as the marriage was to be dissolved, on account of the misconduct of the wife, it did not immediately appear on what ground the husband was to be subjected even to this burthen. He totally disagreed with his noble friend, therefore, on the subject of the clauses annulling the settlement. As the marriage was to be dissolved, every contract which was founded upon it, and made in the contemplation of its remaining unbroken, ought also to fall. Then, his noble friend objected to the clause by which any intermarriage between the offending parties was declared illegal, and the objections rested on two grounds—1st, That this was only doing what the law already did, if any one chose to enforce it; and 2nd, That even the remedy given to the injured husband, by enabling him to marry again, would be endangered by the insertion of such a clause. Before he addressed himself particularly to these objections he could not help observing generally, that in his opinion it was much to be regretted that in these cases the remedy must be sought by application to Parliament in each individual case. It would be much better, as he thought, that a general law should be established in this as in all other cases, by which the parties would be enabled to see the whole consequences which must follow from their actions, and that this law should be administered in the ordinary way by the Judges. As it was, however, they had only to consider what was proper in each particular case, and do that which appeared to be just and proper under all the circumstances. Then with respect to his noble friend's first objection to the clause, declaring the marriage illegal, if it was fitting such a marriage should be held illegal, it was, in his opinion, necessary that it should be declared so in this Bill. Under the existing law, matters of this kind were left to the Ecclesiastical courts; and he understood that it was only under particular circumstances, and at particular times, that the object could be attained. The parties by living abroad and out of the jurisdiction of the court, till the death of one of them, might render it impossible to annul such a marriage, and by this contrivance the issue might be legitimatized. He was informed also, (for he could only speak from, information,) that a sentence of nullity might be avoided by a species of collusion, not very creditable to any court of justice, by setting up an informer, and in this way preventing such a question from ever being fairly brought to issue; and, after the death of one of the parties, the legality of the marriage, he understood, could net longer be questioned. With respect to the other objection of his noble friend, he admitted that a general measure would be much more preferable; and on that head he still remained of the opinion which he had given when that measure was introduced into that House, but which had unfortunately as he thought failed in the other. He was of opinion, that such marriages ought to be declared void by a general law, as contrary to sound morals, to the law of the land, and to the scriptures. When the general measure failed, this standing order was made: but he could not agree with his noble friend as to the object and view with which it was made. His noble friend who then sat on the woolsack, and who had introduced it, knew too well the nature of the British constitution, and had too great a value for it, to do any thing so subversive of its principles, as to attempt to legislate by the authority of this House only. The real object and design of that standing order he took to be this: that, as the Legislature could not agree in passing a general measure, it was desirable that the morals of society should at least have this security, that the propriety of having such a clause introduced should be brought under consideration in each particular case. There had been instances, accordingly, where, upon consideration, the clause had been dispensed with; and though he should have preferred a general measure declaring all such marriages void, yet since they were compelled to look into the state of each particular case, there were some of those instances in which he thought the clause had been properly dispensed with. But it was of the utmost importance, in his opinion, that there should be a general law on the subject, apprizing the parties beforehand of the consequences; for he was convinced, that the hopes of marriage with the seducer, in many cases, encouraged the crime; and as there was no such general law, their lordships ought, at least, to consider well before they dispensed with the clause in any particular case: and if it was important that such a clause should ever be introduced into such bills, surely, in this case, of all others, it ought not to be dispensed with. It was for that House to do its duty; and he did not believe that in the other House the remedy in this case, would be at all endangered.

Lord Ellenborough

said, that the observations of his noble friend had very much anticipated what it was his intention to have submitted to their lordships on this case. With respect to the settlement, it had been justly and properly stated, that when the marriage was to be dissolved, the contracts made in contemplation of it, and with a view to its continuance, ought to fall with it. The noble earl had said, that this was a bill of pains and penalties against the lady, by thus setting aside the settlement, and that there was no evidence to justify it: but it did appear from evidence given at their lordships' bar, that she had been guilty of a crime which called for the dissolution of the marriage; a crime than which, under the circumstances, nothing short of the higher felonies could be more atrocious. Let it not be imagined, however, that he placed her guilt on a footing with that of her seducer. His crime was unquestionably mere flagrant: but though he was disposed to consider her offence as of a milder character, yet it was undoubt- edly such as rendered it highly improper to allow the settlement to stand. He agreed with his noble friend, that it was difficult to find a principle upon which to found this allowance of alimony, which was generally made on these occasions: but as the practice had prevailed, he should be rather inclined to comply with it to a certain extent, more especially when he considered that it might be the means of enabling the wife to avoid, if she chose, plunging herself in still further guilt. When the noble earl said, that the law did not in these cases pat an end to the provision for the wife, he had forgot that the only provision which was fixed for the wife before these marriage settlements came in use, that of dower, was completely at an end by the commission of such an offence. The fact of her having eloped with an adulterer might he pleaded in bar of the dower, so that she remained bare and naked as her crime had left her. With respect to the clause for declaring any marriage between the offending parties illegal, he had suggested the amendment to which the noble earl had adverted, because the word 'adjudged' appeared to render a previous sentence of a judge necessary to the illegality of the marriage. It was fitting that such a marriage should by this Act be declared illegal, because, for the reasons stated by his noble friend, the law as it stood did not afford an adequate security. He concurred in the opinion that a general measure would have been preferable to annul marriages between the offending parties in all such cases: but as there was none such, they owed it to the security of civilized society, to the confidence and happiness of families, to the purity and honour of domestic life, that this clause in the present instance should not be dispensed with. Such marriages were contrary, not only to the laws of the land, but to the law of God—and it had been so decided; and what could be more contrary to the law of God, than any thing which might afford the least encouragement to offences of this nature? It was absolutely necessary to the interests of sound morality, to the peace and happiness of social life, and to the purity and honour of private families, that such offences should be marked out as something against nature. If such an incestuous intercourse was to be allowed to pass without suitable animadversion, where could families find security? Not only domestic comforts would be at an end, but the very recesses, the very nurseries of private families would become the objects of distrust and suspicion; and even in the narrowest domestic circles, jealousies might arise, lest the male part of the family should be the gallants of the females. He did not wish to dwell upon this, because he was aware how acutely the innocent connexions of the lady felt upon this subject: and he was afraid, lest through the ordinary channels by which their observations were conveyed to the public, any thing said by him should meet their eyes and add to their already too heavy distress: but in the discharge of his public duty, he could not avoid stating his strong sense of the necessity of this clause in the present Bill. It had been said, that it would endanger the remedy altogether: but it was for their lordships in the first place to do their duty. Let it be their maxim, "as for us and our house, we will serve the Lord," leaving it to the consciences of the members of the other House of Parliament, whether they could for a moment hesitate to declare that in this case at least such a clause was necessary. For his part, he was convinced that the same considerations of what was due to the interests of morality, to the security of social happiness, and the peace and comfort of domestic life, would induce the other House to look at the subject in the same way that their lordships did.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

said, that he felt it impossible, in a case of this description, to give a silent vote. In his opinion, the interests of sound morals would have been better consulted if the general measure of declaring all such marriages void had been adopted: but as that unfortunately did not succeed, it was at least fitting to consider the propriety of introducing such a clause as this in every particular case; and surely in this case it ought not to be dispensed with, for how could there be a case which called more imperiously for such a provision? He trusted it would never be his lot to meet with a case where such a clause would be more properly introduced. If their lordships rejected it, they would ruin the peace of families, destroy the best affections of the human mind, and poison the very sources of domestic security and happiness. He concluded by declaring his strong sense of the necessity of the clause.

The Earl of Caernarvon

said, that notwithstanding all he had heard, he still thought that such a general measure as that which had been suggested would, instead of being favourable to the interests of sound morals, prove highly detrimental to those interests: but a general measure would be preferable to the standing order of that House on that subject, for it had the appearance of insensibly and by stealth, as it were, introducing a practice which as a general measure the other House had rejected. If they thought that the object was one of such great importance, they ought again openly to come forward with a general measure.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

said, that with regard to the point of alimony, the earl of Roseberry had no wish but to do what the House thought proper. The sum in the present Bill was proposed by the noble lord who usually sat on the woolsack, and the earl of Roseberry would have had no objection to a greater sum, if the House had thought it right to recommend a larger, though he did not feel that it was for him to propose it. The only anxiety which, in his communications with him, he had evinced was, that the sum, whatever it might be, should be properly secured for the lady. As to the introduction of the clause declaring any marriage between the offending parties illegal, he had no doubt that in this instance at least such a clause was proper.

The Earl of Lauderdale

said, that as he saw that the feeling of the House was so strongly against his proposition, he should not press it farther.

The Report was then received, and the Bill ordered to be read a third time to-morrow.