HL Deb 10 July 1854 vol 134 cc1436-40

Order of the Day for receiving the Report of the Amendments read.


rose to state the course which he intended to pursue with respect to this Bill. In consequence of the determination of the Government not to proceed with the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill in the present Session, he would not ask their Lordships to assent to those clauses of the present Bill which transferred the matrimonial jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts to the Court of Chancery. There was considerable force in the objection that although it would be difficult, and perhaps inconvenient, to transfer all the business of the Ecclesiastical Courts at once to the Court of Chancery, yet it was desirable that the whole subject should be dealt with in one large measure; and therefore it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill neat Session which would deal with the whole question of the Ecclesiastical Courts. In the meantime, however, he saw no reason why their Lordships should not pass that other portion of the present Bill which related to the creation and constitution of a separate tribunal for the trial of those questions of divorce a vinculo matrimonii which were now so ill dealt with by their Lordships in the way of retrospective legislation for each particular case. He therefore moved the omission of the first eleven clauses and the last clause in the Bill.


said, he was sorry that this important subject should be brought forward in so thin a House, and expressed his sincere regret at the announcement which his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack had just made. He thought it would be much better to postpone the Bill altogether than to let it pass in the mutilated form which it would assume if the first eleven clauses were omitted. He heard with astonishment and dismay that the Government had dropped the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill. He had received from his noble and learned Friend a solemn pledge that the Government would do its utmost to pass that Bill in the present Session, and an assurance that there was no truth whatever in the rumour that the Bill was about to be withdrawn. Yet their Lordships were now told, without any reason whatever being assigned, that it was the intention of the Government to abandon a Bill which had received the assent of a large majority of that House. He did not think that was very complimentary to their Lordships or to his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack, who brought in the Bill, and who, after it had left their Lordships' House, still thought it would be passed during the present Session. Only one change had been made in the Bill by their Lordships—the omission of real property; but if that was disapproved by the Government, it might have been put right in the House of Commons, and probably their Lordships would have been prepared upon reconsideration to pass the Bill in its original shape. But, for no reason that he could possibly conjecture, the Bill was entirely withdrawn. He had a most sincere desire to support the present Government. He thought it was for the interest of the country that it should be supported, and he gave it his most hearty support when he could; but he could not but deplore and condemn the abandonment of the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill without any reason whatever, and without even making an effort to carry it in the present Session. But the thing was now inevitable—the Bill was consigned to oblivion, for a time at any rate; and that being so, he could not say that it would be prudent to proceed with the Divorce Bill in the present Session, although their Lordships were perfectly willing to pass it into a law, not only with respect to divorces a vinculo matrimonii, but with regard to all matrimonial causes whatever, and although he had no reasonable doubt that, if it had been sent down to the House of Commons in conjunction with the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill, it would have been agreed to there also, and that both Bills would have been passed into a law. His noble and learned Friend on the woolsack had said again and again that it was much better to bring in the Bills that were necessary for reforming the Ecclesiastical Courts, one by one, than to present one mighty measure for the consideration of their Lordships; but now his noble and learned Friend had changed his opinion, for he withdrew not only the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill, but that portion of the present Bill which referred to matrimonial causes, except that of divorce a vinculo matrimonii, and announced his intention to introduce a measure next Session which would deal with the whole subject of the Ecclesiastical Courts. Now, he must say that, under these circumstances, it seemed to him the better course would be to allow both Bills to remain over till another Session. He was as eager as any person could be that the jurisdiction which had been exercised by Parliament in granting divorces a vinculo matrimonii should immediately be put an end to; but he thought they could not do that unless they knew what was to be done respecting matrimonial causes generally. In the Queen's Speech from the Throne, Her Majesty recommended their Lordships and the other House of Parliament to take into consideration the subject of divorce and matrimonial causes, and he could not see how it was possible with any advantage now to separate that subject into two parts. He could only express his opinion that the less evil would be to withdraw the present Bill, as well as the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill, and to allow them both to remain in a state of suspended animation until next Session, in the hope that he and those who thought with him might then gain the object which they had so long been anxious to attain.


trusted the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack would follow the advice which had just been tendered to him by the Lord Chief Justice. He for one was perfectly convinced that this great question, touching as it did the family life of England and those domestic ties which lay at the very root of all their chiefest blessings, could not be satisfactorily dealt with in the way in which the Bill, as it now stood, proposed to deal with it. The present Bill was only a part of a large and comprehensive measure, and standing thus alone, the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill having been withdrawn, and even some of its own most important clauses proposed to be omitted, he should be disposed, in a fuller House, and at an earlier hour, to contend—if not for the indissolubility of the marriage tie in cases of adultery—that the effect of the Bill, as it now stood, being carried into execution, would be to give an encouragement and facility to that which all good legislation sought to check and control. He trusted that the whole question would be dealt with in another Session with the calm consideration which it so manifestly required, and that they would not be even asked to proceed to-night a step further with the fag-end of a mutilated Bill upon so important a subject.


expressed the Lope that his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack would yield to the feeling of the House by withdrawing the Bill, which touched only a small portion of a subject that would be much better discussed as a whole at an early period of next Session.


in reply to the remarks of the Lord Chief Justice, said it was perfectly true that sonic month or six weeks ago he told his noble and learned Friend that it was the intention of the Government to press the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill. It was also quite correct that upon various occasions he had expressed his belief that the most effectual way of accomplishing a reform of the Ecclesiastical Courts was to deal with the subject by separate Bills, and not to have one great measure that would present many points of attack, and be open to many objections from different quarters. He repeated that statement now; but unfortunately it was anticipated that large parties would be united in the other House against the Bill, and petitions had been presented in great numbers from parties out of doors, urging that the whole subject should be considered in another Session. In consequence of this, the Government came to the conclusion, that it would be a mere idle waste of time to proceed with the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill in that House during the present Session, or to attempt to resist the opinion which had been expressed both there and elsewhere, that the subject should be dealt with as a whole. It occurred to him, however, that while it would be impossible for him, that being the feeling of the House of Commons and of many of their Lordships, to deal with I that part of the Divorce Bill which transferred the matrimonial jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts to the Court of Chancery, Parliament might still be disposed to pass into a law that other portion of the Bill which did not interfere with the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts at all, but referred to a totally different matter. He should have been very glad if that had been done; but as their Lordships on both sides of the House appeared to hold a contrary opinion, he did not feel that he was in a position, even if he had the power, to oppose a wish which hail been so generally expressed, and therefore he would not proceed any further with the Divorce Bill in time present Session.


desired to express his firm belief and knowledge that it was not his noble and learned Friend's fault that the Divorce Bill and the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill would not appear upon the Statute-book at the cud of the present Session. He knew that Ids noble and learned Friend had done his utmost to pass both measures.

Order discharged; and Bill, by leave of the House, withdrawn.