§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Earl of ELGIN)
My Lords, I do not think that in submitting this Bill to your Lordships I need trespass on your attention for any length of time. I think it will be accepted that in the consideration of this Bill it is not 317 necessary to enter upon the controversy as to marriage with a deceased wife's sister, which has provoked a considerable amount of discussion in this House, and discussion sometimes characterised by a good deal of difference of opinion. This Bill, I think it is agreed, does not affect that question. It does not on the face of it alter the marriage law of this country, or, I may say, of any part of His Majesty's dominions. It arises from the fact that the position of the law in different parts of the Empire has created an inequality. It is the object of this Bill to remove that inequality, an inequality which may be said to be a consequence of this difference in the marriage laws, but not an inherent part of the laws themselves. Still, as they are felt oppressive by subjects of His Majesty, His Majesty's Government have thought it desirable to bring in a Bill on this subject.
There is another reason why I think I may be brief on this occasion, and it is that my noble friend opposite, Lord Strathcona, brought in Bills on this subject in 1898 and 1900, which, if not substantially the same, were at any rate on similar lines to that which I have the honour to introduce to-day, and on both occasions, though exception was taken in this House to the principle of the Bill and divisions were claimed, the Second Reading was carried by a large majority. I think, my Lords, that under these circumstances, though perhaps it is necessary for me to set forth briefly the objects of the Bill, I may count on the general knowledge of Members of the House, and, perhaps, on their sympathy in so doing.
Marriage with a deceased wife's sister has been legalised by Acts of the Legislature in all the self-governing Colonies except one, and those Acts have been approved by the Sovereign. They are of considerable standing in many cases. I find that the first of the Australian Acts was passed in 1871, and the last, that of Queensland, in 1878. New Zealand followed in 1880, Canada in 1882, Natal in 1888, and the last was the Cape in 1892. In addition to that, there are Acts or Ordinances in many of the Crown Colonies and Protectorates—altogether there are, I believe, about twenty Acts or Ordinances on this subject; and I may remind your Lordships that, so far from this question 318 being a Party one, eight of those Acts were sanctioned when a Liberal Government was in office and the remainder when the Party supported by noble Lords opposite were in power. It is, therefore, the fact that a very large part of the Empire has Acts of this description, and has been long interested in the matter.
I find that on previous occasions it has sometimes been used as an argument that there has been an absence of agitation on the subject, and it has been held that that shows either a want of interest, or that there is no real grievance. My noble friend Lord Strathcona, in proposing the Bills in 1898 and in 1900, showed that there was no ground for that view. My noble friend spoke strongly himself, and he is recognised not only as the trusted representative of Canada, but I might also say as a representative of colonial feeling throughout the Empire. In addition, at that time a petition was presented to this House, signed by the Agents-General, in favour of the Bill; and since then, in November, 1904, a despatch came from the Governor-General of the Commonwealth, of which I will read the last sentence—I am assured that the anomaly is seriously regarded in Australia, and my Ministers most earnestly desire that the grave hardships and personal degradation arising from the existing conflict between British and Colonial law in this respect should be removed by Imperial legislation.I might also, perhaps, appeal to a number of noble Lords in this House who have acted as Governors in the various Colonies of the Empire. All of them, I believe, will agree with me as to the feeling on this subject in the Colonies, and that it is in the interest of our connection with the Colonies that their grievance should be removed.
I think that an examination of the nature of the anomaly to which I have referred will show by itself the justice of the complaint. As I have said, there is no proposal in this Bill to make an alteration in the law of marriage. The title of the Bill is—An Act to declare the law with respect to a marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister domiciled in parts of the British Possessions where such a marriage is legal.The Bill is no longer, as it has been on some former occasions, a Bill to amend the law of marriage. It has been practically accepted in the latest discussions 319 that, even as the law stands, such a marriage, if it was contracted under the conditions which are described in this Bill, namely, between two persons who at the date of the marriage were each domiciled in a part of the British Possessions in which such a marriage was legal— is even now legal throughout the British Empire. Such a marriage, I believe, is a valid marriage in the United Kingdom, and the children of that marriage are legitimate children. But, although that may be so, a difficulty has arisen, and it arises not as regards the marriage itself, but as to the succession afterwards to real property and to honours and dignities. I should have been diffident in making a statement on such purely legal matters in the presence of noble and learned Lords in this House if I had not been confident that that was a position which had already been accepted. The debates on the more recent Bills have been more a defence with reference to the law of real property than with reference to marriage with a deceased wife's sister. I am not competent to discuss the reasons for making distinctions of this kind, but if it is the case that this is the real issue, I think there cannot be a stronger case for the Bill which I have the honour to lay before your Lordships.
We have no longer to deal with questions of ecclesiastical law or of morality. The Bill is intended to remove a bar which prevents a person who has been honourably united in legal wedlock within the Empire from enjoying the rights and privileges in this part of the Empire which we ourselves enjoy. It seems to me to be contrary to a just conception of the Imperial connection to deny to our fellow-subjects in the Colonies this claim; and if we turn to a less sentimental reason I cannot see that anything but loss could result if we wore to throw an obstacle in the way of the colonist who desired to return home to take up his abode in this country and to add to its resources the wealth which he had accumulated in other regions. Nothing would be more contrary to the feeling of real kinship and of Imperial unity and solidarity.
It is a matter of no small importance also that there should be a removal of restriction in the matter of honours. We have been proud to welcome in this House Members from the Colonies. Some have dreamt, and I have some sympathy with 320 their imaginings, that it would perhaps be possible to find in the future some solution of many Imperial problems of administration and action in the further expansion of that system. But, whether for that purpose or otherwise, I do not sec how we can fairly offer our Colonial brethren less than we possess ourselves.
My noble and learned friend Lord Davey pointed out in one of the last debates that we had not only in this country to look to new creations, but also to the possibility that sons of Members of this House might go to the Colonies, and that in course of time they might have descendants tracing their descent from marriages such as those with which this Bill deals, and their descendants might thereby be debarred from succession to the honour in this House. From whichever way you look at it, it appears to me that in this matter of honours and dignities it is in every way desirable that we should not place those who succeed to them and are of Colonial descent in any inferior position to that which we ourselves occupy. I consider myself fortunate that I have been the first to present a Bill on this subject on behalf of the Government, and I hope it will be accepted by the Colonies as a proof that we are animated in this matter by a spirit of justice and sympathy. I beg to move the Second Reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Earl of Elgin.)
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this Bill, if it becomes law, will do two things. It will introduce a fundamental change in the English law of inheritance in respect of real property; and it will make the right of succession depend upon the law of the Colony in which the claimant was born, and not on the lex loci, the law of England, where the property in question is situated. Moreover, it will enable the inhabitants of the United Kingdom who desire to do so to break the existing marriage law of England with absolute impunity.
I would ask your Lordships' permission to say a few words on these two points. First, as to the Colonies. I am the last person in the world to desire to thwart the Colonies in the management of their 321 own affairs. On the contrary, I think they ought to be allowed to manage their own affairs free from interference from home. Your Lordships know how disastrous I have felt the action of His Majesty's Government to be in this respect in relation to South Africa. But it is no reason, because the Colonies should be free, and entirely free, to manage their own affairs, that therefore they should be allowed to interfere in ours. It is one thing to sanction the laws they choose to make for themselves; it is quite another to alter our laws at home in order to bring them into conformity with the laws passed in the Colonies.
It is urged, on behalf of this Bill, that it is a hardship in respect to the succession to real property in the United Kingdom that the children of certain marriages, legal in the Colonies, are regarded as illegitimate by the laws of England and cannot inherit such property by descent. This is a misleading statement of the case. They can inherit such property by will, and the only case in which they would not inherit would be where those from whom they inherit die intestate. Is that any great hardship? Those who own landed property very seldom die intestate, and the case of colonists holding land in England who die intestate is rarer still. In fact, the noble Lord Lord Strathcona, and those responsible for a similar measure to this introduced on a former occasion, were challenged to produce a single case where hardship had occurred under the present law, and they were not able to produce one.
I venture to say that this question of inheritance has no real substance in it, and that the real object of the Bill is not primarily to alter the law of inheritance, but by a side wind to facilitate an alteration of the existing marriage law of England. Now, in regard to that law, it is said to be a grievance that those who are considered legitimate by the law of the Colonies should be considered illegitimate by the law of England. Are your Lordships aware that precisely the same thing applies to Scotland? By the Scottish law, subsequent marriage legitimatises the children born before wedlock; by the English law it does not. Did ever any one hear that it was a grievance that children considered legitimate in Scotland, and capable of inheriting by 322 descent in Scotland, are considered illegitimate in England, and incapable of inheriting by descent in England? Did any one ever propose that the law of England should be altered and assimilated to the law of Scotland in that respect? It was, indeed, proposed once in early English history, and what was the answer this House gave then? The answer was—Nolumus antiquas leges Angliae mutari.What the barons of England said then I think their successors should say to-day. We do not choose to alter the ancient laws of England because our Colonies have made laws for themselves which conflict with the principle on which the whole of our immemorial marriage law is founded.
In all these matters you must act on a principle. Is it proposed to legitimatise the issue of a marriage between a man and his niece? That is a marriage allowed in some of our Colonies. If the principle of this Bill is sound, why not? Is it proposed to legitimatise the issue of marriages contracted after a divorce because- the husband or wife is an habitual drunkard or has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment for not less than three years? Yet such marriages are legal, and the issue of them legitimate, in the Colony of Victoria, My Lords, there is no principle in this Bill except that of setting all principle at defiance.
I turn to my second objection to the Bill. Under it a man or a woman will be able to go to the Colonies, profess to get domiciled there, contract a marriage illegal in England, and later on return to England legally married, and with a marriage which could not be questioned by English law although it is one which the English law forbids. Was there ever such a violation of reason and of principle, such a temptation to collusion and dishonesty, and, I will add, to immorality, or one so calculated to bring, not merely the marriage law, but the whole law into contempt? My Lords, in respect of all these matters, in regard to the growing and increasing scandal of the divorce laws, in regard to the injury they are doing to morality, in regard to the confusion and increasing confusion which attaches to the whole of our existing marriage law—a law which is different in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Colonies, there is only one sensible thing 323 to do. It is that His Majesty's Government should appoint a Commission to inquire into the whole of the marriage and divorce laws, and should consider the question of making, as is the case in almost all other countries in Europe, civil marriage compulsory everywhere and upon all. If this were done there might be some hope of seeing principle and peace and reason prevail in regard to these questions. As it is there is none, and I am obliged to say that this Bill is only another step in the direction of making in regard to all these matters our present confusion worse confounded.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I only desire to interpose for a very few moments in this debate, and I feel I ought almost to apologise for doing so, considering that, as the noble Earl the Colonial Secretary has pointed out, the Bill confines itself entirely to the legal question of succession, and makes no interference of any sort or kind with the law of marriage either in England or in the Colonies. The noble Earl emphasised that point more than once in his speech, and it is on that ground that I feel no inclination to press to a division any objections which we may entertain to legislation of this character, because of its indirect bearing, as we think, upon the possibilities of change in the English marriage law at home. I think, however, that the point to which the noble Viscount has just referred is worthy of note, that whereas the Colonial Secretary has told us that the object of the Bill is to remove inequalities between England and the Colonies and that such inequalities where they exist are, I think he said, a just hindrance to the Imperial spirit, these inequalities will not really be removed by this Bill if it passes in its present form.
It is not my wish to increase the exceptions to or variations from the English law which are to be legalised in this country supposing the marriage to have been contracted in the Colonies. I know that there are Colonies in which a woman may marry a deceased husband's brother, and that there are other Colonies in which a man may marry his widow's niece. I believe there are other Colonies in which there are still further variations from the English law. What this Bill 324 proposes to do is to pick out from among those anomalies one particular variation and to give an imprimatur here in England to that special form of variation. It may thus be said to give, in an indirect way, a kind of sanction here to the theory that that particular kind of marriage is harmless or desirable, whereas such a marriage as that of a man with his widow's niece is undesirable, inappropriate, and ought not to be legitimatised in England, or, rather, that succession ought not to be possible in England to a marriage so contracted in the Colonies. That does not seem to me exactly to bring, about equality; but those are questions which are so intricate that I do not desire to follow them out in detail.
My main objection to any change-whatever in the existing marriage law of England is that I have seen no proposal made which would not have the effect of reducing the whole thing to a condition of confusion and chaos; and it must not be said hereafter that, because we do not, on this question of succession to property, press our objections to a division, we have abated our objections to such a change as has sometimes been proposed in our own law and which may conceivably come before Parliament again. We still object as strongly as ever to the expediency of such changes; but, because we feel that this is a question of property, some of us are prepared, reluctantly, to acquiesce in a change which has been declared by the colonial authorities to be in their opinion essential. That is the attitude which I personally shall take on the subject; but I am anxious that a protest should be made on our part to-night, lest there should afterwards be some misunderstanding as to our position.
LORD STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL
My Lords, I am in a somewhat different position in this House from that occupied by the noble Lords I have the honour to address, in that I represent in England the Dominion of Canada. I am therefore outside Party politics and I feel that I can be at home in the House on one side or the other. This is a measure which ought to be regarded wholly apart from politics and I have much pleasure in congratulating Lord Elgin on the introduction of this Bill. It is most appropriate that it should be 325 brought in by him, not alone because he is Secretary of State for the Colonies, but also because of his intimate connection with the outlying parts of the Empire he has served so well.
It is appropriate for another reason that this Bill should be introduced by the noble Earl, because his illustrious father was Governor-General of Canada. He also served in Jamaica at a time of great difficulty there; and we know also that in India he distinguished himself as a statesman and an admirable representative of the Crown. The noble Earl's grandfather on the maternal side was also Governor-General of Canada, and it was in a great measure owing to his memorable report that responsible Government was extended to Canada and to the other Colonies. And, lastly, we in Canada are proud of the fact that the noble Earl was born in Canada, and that we are, therefore, able to include him as one of Canada's sons.
I can assure the noble Earl that the introduction of the Bill under the auspices of the Government will give the utmost satisfaction in Canada and in all the Colonies of the Empire. It has been regarded as a great grievance by our Colonists that, while they may legally contract a marriage with a deceased wife's sister in their Colony, when they come to the mother country, their home, if they happen to do so, their marriage is looked upon as illegal and their children as illegitimate. Let me ask any noble Lord to imagine himself in that position, and to think what his feelings would be in the circumstances. This is but a measure of justice to the Colonists; and I hope that, now that the Bill has been taken up by the Government, it will be passed into law, and that the Colonists will have the satisfaction of knowing that their marriages legally contracted place them at no disadvantages, and that their privileges and rights are equal in all respects to those enjoyed by their fellow-subjects in this country. I trust that this Bill will be passed unanimously, and am sure that it will be another stop towards the closer union of the different parts of the Empire.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, as is well known to your Lordships, no one speaking from this Bench (the Front Opposition Bench) can say 326 I that he represents all who sit on this Bench on either side of this question,, because, though on nearly every subject we are agreed, on this subject we are not wholly agreed. But this, however, I think I can say, that no one in your Lordships' House desires to throw any kind of difficulty in the way of the Colonies, much less do we wish to throw obloquy on any of our Colonial fellow-subjects. But I am amazed to hear this Bill advocated, as it was by the noble Lord who has just sat down and by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on the plea of equality. This Bill will establish not equality, but inequality; it will enact an absolute inequality between those British subjects who reside in the United Kingdom and those who have been domiciled in the Colonies whose legislatures have passed enactments legalising marriage with a deceased wife's sister.
It is not true to say that those of us who view this Bill with disfavour are in favour of inequality. We are anxious to give our colonial fellow-subjects every privilege which we ourselves possess. At present an Englishman does not possess the privilege, if it be a privilege, of marrying his deceased wife's sister, and, so far as our law is concerned, our colonial fellow-subjects stand on precisely the same footing as we stand ourselves. May I say that equality of the kind which the Colonial Secretary and the noble Lord who has just sat down advocate —that is to say, a state of things under which whatever has been enacted in a colonial legislature should have effect in the United Kingdom—is impossible of achievement. In the course of this evening's debate it has been pointed out to your Lordships that marriage with a deceased wife's sister is not the only variation between the marriage law of this country and that of the Colonies. In some Colonies marriage with a deceased husband's brother is legal, and in others marriage with a deceased wife's niece. So that the ostracism of which the noble Lord spoke with so much feeling, if there be such ostracism, will still be applied to colonists living in this country who have come from Colonies in which these exceptional forms of marriage are permitted.
But, my Lords, what I think is the most significant feature of to-night's 327 debate is the announcement by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies that in his view—and I presume he speaks on behalf of the legal advisers of His Majesty's Government—this is merely a question as to the succession to property. Are we to lay it down that whenever the law of succession to property differs in the Colonies from our own we 'are so to modify our law that colonists coming into this country may take advantage of their colonial law in regard to the succession to property in this country? That is what it comes to. I think it will be found, if the legislation of the Empire is studied, that there is every conceivable variation of the law of succession to property, including, I believe, though I speak with some trepidation before all the legal luminaries in your Lordships' House, the French law, which gives a widow an absolute right to a part of the property of her deceased husband. We could not alter our law in that respect.
If it is argued that a woman who has certain rights under colonial law should have those rights secured to her by British law when she comes to this country, we should have to grant the franchise, which is conferred on women in New Zealand. The mere fact that Colonial law differs from our own is not a reason why any modification should be made. But if it be contended that such should be the case there ought to be reciprocity, and laws under which we live in this country ought similarly in the case of persons going from the United Kingdom to the Colonies to be acknowledged in the Colonies. Is that the case? Your Lordships know that it is not the case. Under the common law of England every British subject has a right to come into England, Indeed, we let almost everybody in, and it was with the greatest reluctance that we excluded even undesirable aliens. Is; it over suggested that because that is the law of England the colonial legislatures should therefore modify their law and allow every British subject to enter the Colonies? Nothing could be more resented in the Colonies than a suggestion of that kind.
I need not repeat what has already been stated in this debate, that within the ambit of these islands there are differences in the law; but never has it been contended that the law of Scotland 328 should govern the law of England. In my opinion it is not the question of succession to property that gives the motive power to this Bill. I believe it to be absolutely true to say that what is really intended is, by a flank movement, to give strength to the case for the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill. If the Bill were one for legalising marriage with a deceased wife's sister in England then it would be our duty to give reasons for, or against, that proposal; but I do think that to try and carry such a fundamental change in the marriage law of this country by a flank attack is an unworthy method of procedure. Let those who are in favour of marriage with a deceased wife's sister say so, and come forward with a proposal that can be discussed on its merits. I certainly concur in the protest which has been uttered against this Bill.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
My Lords, feeling strongly as I do that justice requires that this Bill should be passed, I desire to notice several matters that have been mentioned in the course of this debate. The suggestion has been made, both by the noble Viscount and by my noble friend who has just spoken, that this is a flank movement in support of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. The answer to that is very plain to those who know the facts. Who are the persons promoting this Bill? Nominally the Government, but they are not the real promoters. The promoters of the Bill are the Colonial representatives who have again and again demanded this legislation in the most emphatic way.
In 1897 every Colonial Prime Minister saw Mr. Chamberlain at the Colonial Office and demanded this Bill. Do you charge them with being accomplices in a flank movement to secure marriage with a deceased wife's sister in this country? At the time of the Coronation the Colonial Prime Ministers were again in this country, and renewed their application for this Bill. The Bill was again asked for in the despatch which my noble friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies read from Lord Northcote, who spoke on behalf of the whole Commonwealth of Australia. Is the Governor of the Commonwealth to be included as an accomplice in this act of political duplicity? Then there was the speech of my noble friend the representative of Canada in this country. Is he a culprit 329 and an accomplice in this matter? Surely such an argument as that cannot prevail.
I now turn to the merits of the Bill. The indignation of the noble Viscount rests merely upon the difference in regard to succession to leasehold and freehold property. A child of such a marriage is entitled under the Statute of Distribution to leasehold property of 999 years, but the noble Viscount is shocked that he should be able to inherit freehold property. Let me point out how absurd this law is. A man comes to this country after having married his deceased wife's sister in the Colonies, and dies disposing of freehold and leasehold property by will. Thereupon his representative in making a return would declare that, A B having made a will leaving to his son C D, lawfully begotten, certain leasehold property, that property should pay 2 per cent. duty. Then he would go on to say that the same A B having left the same C D, not born in lawful wedlock, certain freehold property, the latter being stranger in blood, should pay 10 per cent, duty; such is the inequality in the law the Bill is intended to remove. It is a constant grievance, a slur, and an insult.
I remember some thirty years ago hearing Mr. Disraeli, in the House of Commons, depict the career of a successful colonist. Great enterprise and great industry had secured to him great wealth, and he became, as Mr. Disraeli said, a lord of flocks and herds. This lord of flocks and herds, according to the picture, returns to this country. He obtains possession of a country house, he becomes Member for his county, he becomes high sheriff, and finally he attains the honour of a seat in this House. That was the picture Mr. Disraeli drew. It may be a picture that many a colonist may reproduce. But, if he has married his deceased wife's sister, over that picture a dark shadow must be cast, for if he comes to this country and dignities are conferred upon him, the father's honour is the son's shame. The slur of illegitimacy is cast upon his son, and he could not succeed to the honour which the Sovereign had given to his father. If he went to a public school he would not be Mr. So-and-so. I have only to add that my noble friend Lord Lansdowne is unhappily called away by family bereavement, but I am authorised by him to say that it was his intention to have supported this Bill.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTH-WARK
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will feel that it is difficult for an unpractised layman like myself to put in any word upon this matter in a manner against what has fallen from one to whom we look with such respect as to Lord Strathcona, and from the noble and learned Lord who has just addressed the House, but I cannot help feeling what a remarkable discrepancy there is between the arguments which have been used, and the conclusion to which we are brought. The pictures which have been drawn for us of persons who suffer, or who are put in an unwelcome or unpleasant position, are pictures which do not apply to the particular case we are asked to deal with. The noble and learned Lord who spoke last said that he-would apply the principle to this particular case, because it has been asked for in this case and not in others. But that is rather an uncertain ground for a-distinction of this importance.
It is said that the object of the Bill is to remove the inconvenient effects upon a Colonist which come from his having married a deceased wife's sister; but though it is very perplexing to a lay Member of your Lordships' House to ascertain exactly what position such a person stands in, whether his marriage is valid or invalid, it would appear from what we have heard to-night that he suffers no disability except that his children are unable to inherit real property. At any rate, it does not bring us to the conclusion that by passing the Bill we shall remove the difficulties under which he labours.
While the Bill singles out and deals with a particular case, the argument for it covers a number of cases. It is not desirable that I should indicate to the House how many cases the argument might cover—some of them of a questionable character occuring even within the Colonies. That being so, it is not surprising that those who feel strongly upon the main question of the marriage laws should be anxious as to the use which may be made of this precedent at some later period when we are asked to make a change which we greatly deprecate. I would like to know whether the legal advisers of the Government have; 331 considered the possibility of the evasive use of the powers which the Bill gives by persons going out to the Colonies to do there what they cannot do at home.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I can assure the right rev. Prelate that there is no danger of any evasion. The principle on which the Bill rests is the recognition only of certain marriages between persons domiciled outside the United Kingdom. The right rev. Prelate appears to be animated in this matter by the disapproval in which he holds another proposal of a different character. It would not be logical or reasonable to use anything done in connection with this Bill as an argument for or against another. We are now concerned with a particular Bill dealing with a particular and limited subject. We are asked why we have not got the courage of our opinions, and why do we not say at once that we would recognise as valid here marriages that are valid in the Colonies. We are not likely to make or assent to any such proposal and I do not believe what noble Lords who make such a suggestion have in mind the multifarious marriage laws of the Empire.
The Hindu marriage laws, for example, allow marriages which are revolting from our point of view. He would be a wise man who would be able to say he could give a ready answer to many of the problems relating to the international conflict of laws connected with marriage. Accordingly I would say, "Never take a step forward or backward in regard to the marriage law without knowing exactly where you are going, or you will step into a quicksand." There is no law more full of quicksands. That is why this Bill assumes the modest proportions it does. I wish to dissipate the notion that in voting for this Bill we are committing ourselves to something else beyond the limits of the Bill.
The law at present I believe to be that this country recognises as valid all marriages abroad or in the Colonies, unless they are ropugnant to the common religion of Christendom, if they were contracted by persons domiciled in the country where the marriages wore legal. Accordingly, I believe that these marriages are valid now for all purposes except for one class of law, and that is 332 the law relating to the land itself and to the honours and dignities which descend like realty. That I believe to be the law generally accepted by authorities. I am not aware of an express decision on the subject, and there may be a doubt in the minds of some; and for that reason there is inserted in the Bill the phrase "for removing doubts." The only exception is that in the case of real property in England the English law of succession does not admit as a capable inheritor any person who would not be legitimate according to the law of marriage in England itself. It is a peculiar rule limited entirely to real property.
The Bill does not propose to alter the law of succession to real property; it proposes to alter the incapacity of certain persons to come within the law of succession. The law of succession will remain as before, only a person who in every other sense as I believe, and most legal authorities believe, is legitimate at this moment will have the same legitimacy in the line of inheritance to real property. It seems to be rather a strong thing to say that when we have had the sanction of both sides of the House to Acts of Parliament passed by British Colonios legalising unions which they and many people in this country regard as perfectly legitimate, we should, for no public object that I can see, affront the sense of self-respect of our Colonial brethren by refusing to place them on the same footing as their own countrymen place them, and as we ourselves place them except with regard to one class of property. The present state of things might easily be regarded as an absurdity, and the sooner we comply with the reasonable demands of our fellow countrymen in the Colonies the better.
§ On Question, Bill road 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I should like to ask the noble Earl when he proposes to take the Committee stage.
§ THE EARL OF ELGIN
I have not yet fixed the day, but I shall be glad to moot the noble Duke's convenience.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I only desire that we should have sufficient time to consider Amendments.