HL Deb 11 November 1884 vol 293 cc1440-2

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that its object was to remove the disability of all persons, including married women, to give evidence in Courts of Justice.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Bramwell.)


said, in reference to what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord as to the Custody of Infants Bill, he quite agreed that it was not treated with the slightest contempt in their Lordships' House. It was introduced in the House of Commons in February last, and was not brought up to their Lordships' House till the 4th of August. It had passed through the other House after much discussion, and its rejection was moved on more than one occasion. No doubt it came up to their Lordships with the very high sanction of the Law Officers of England and Scotland, and of Sir R. Assheton Cross and other leading Members of Parliament, and he undertook the charge of it in that House. It was a Bill dealing with a very important matter, as it proposed to alter the law in reference to the custody of infants. Objections were taken to the Bill by the noble and learned Earl opposite (Earl Cairns), who asked him not to press it on at that late period of the Session, as, if he did, he should be obliged to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. He (Lord Fitzgerald) felt the force of the observations of the noble and learned Earl, and could not resist a Motion to refer the measure to a Committee upstairs. It was only in consequence of the late period of the Session that he felt compelled to withdraw the Bill. He had hoped to introduce the Bill again this Session, and would have done so if he knew that there would be an Adjournment, and not a Prorogation. At all events, he hoped to introduce it next Session.


said, it was certainly somewhat irregular for a conversation of this sort to take place on the Bill before the House, as it was irrelevant to it; but as they had not much to do that evening, and as they had excused his noble and learned Friend, so he hoped their Lordships would excuse him if he made a few observations in reference to the statement made by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell). He confessed that he shared in the disappointment very naturally felt by those who, with great labour and pains, had conducted the Custody of Infants Bill through the House of Commons almost against hope. After the best study that he (the Lord Chancellor) could give to the Bill, he thought that the general object and principles of the Bill were sound, and its provisions well considered, and that their Lordships' House would be justified in passing it. He would, therefore, have been very glad if his noble and learned Friends, whose assistance the House looked for, had been as far advanced in their judgment upon the merits of the Bill as himself. But he could not but say that it appeared to him improper to deny the right of such great authorities as his noble and learned Friends to have time for the deliberate consideration of changes in the law on a subject of such great importance. His noble and learned Friends thought at that time — the Session being close at an end—that there was not sufficient time for consideration. He felt, therefore, unable to resist the proposal of his noble and learned Friend (Earl Cairns), that the Bill should be postponed, because he did not think it would be reasonable—or, indeed, possible—to press the matter at that time against the opinions of his noble and learned Friends.


said, that his noble and learned Friend (Earl Cairns), who was not then present, was himself very much influenced by the fact that the Bill had not undergone any careful or exhaustive discussion in the House of Commons, and that it had passed through its several stages at very late hours of the night. He had thought that the subject was not one of trifling importance, because the Bill, if passed, might have made a revolution in the domestic concerns of a vast number of families in this country. Therefore, his noble and learned Friend thought that under those circumstances it would not be seemly, right, or safe to put upon the Statute Book a law of this kind, without the certainty that it had been fully considered by at least one of the Houses of Parliament.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.