HL Deb 05 August 1851 vol 118 cc1893-5

The Commons' Amendments considered.


moved, that their Lordships should dissent from the Amendment introduced by the Commons enabling wives to be examined in civil suits for or against their husbands. He said that this question had, when the Bill was originally before their Lordships, been very much discussed, and that he believed the unanimous decision arrived at was, that it would not be advisable to alter the law with respect to the admissibility of wives as witnesses. He contended that any clause which should render their testimony admissible, would be a direct violation of the confidence necessary to domestic life; that if such a law were to prevail, there would no longer be that unrestrained and familiar intercourse between husband and wife, which was essential to real happiness; that an attorney is not permitted to disclose his client's secrets, much less ought a wife to be compellable to betray her husband; and that if a wife were competent to be examined on her husband's behalf, she would constantly be liable to undue solicitation and pressure on his part, in order to induce her to overstep the boundaries of truth. He also moved to reject the Amendment of the Commons which had struck out from the Bill the clause requiring notice to be given whenever any party desired either to give evidence himself, or to call his opponent. He said that this was a most beneficial clause, which would save much expense, by absolving parties from the necessity of attending in court from day to day, in the event of no notice being sent, and that otherwise they would always have to attend lest their opponents should give some testimony which they could either contradict or explain away.


differed from his noble and learned Friend on both points. As to the examination of wives, he originally thought, and he was still of the same opinion, that a middle course ought to be adopted between the extreme views of the Commons on the one hand, and the extreme views of his noble and learned Friend on the other, and that wives ought to be competent to give evidence for their husbands; but not compellable, except in due course of cross-examination, to testify against them. There were many cases, especially among the humbler classes, where the wife acted as the husband's agent, and where to exclude her testimony, would be to deprive the husband of the power of establishing a just, or defeating an unjust, claim. He felt as forcibly as his noble and learned Friend, the expediency of preserving inviolate the sanctity of domestic confidence; but this argument did not in any way apply where the husband voluntarily tendered his wife as a witness. His noble and learned Friend's illustration with respect to attorneys was, in fact, his argument. He would place the wife in a position analogous to that which an attorney occupied, who might be examined for his client, but could not be forced to betray his secrets.


strongly urged his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack to yield to his noble and learned Friend's suggestion, contending that it was of the greatest importance to avoid any hazard of losing so inestimable a Bill as that before the House.


made a si- milar application, saying, that in order to render quite safe a Bill of such paramount importance, it was advisable to meet the Commons half way.


, however, declined to yield.


then said, that he would not divide the House.

Amendment respecting competency of husband and wife, disagreed to; that as to notice, agreed to; other Amendments, disagreed to.

House adjourned till To-morrow.