HL Deb 20 August 1907 vol 181 cc348-419

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the subject which I have to bring to the notice of your Lordships this afternoon is a somewhat trite one, and one that has been on many occasions the cause of debate in both Houses of Parliament. Between 1851 and 1889 you rejected the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill thirteen times. In 1883 you read it a second time, and in 1896, on the Motion of Lord Dunraven, it was read a second time by a majority of 38, the figures being 142 to 104; and the Bill was in that year passed through your Lordships' House to suffer extinction in the other House. In the House of Commons, during the fifty-eight years between 1849 and this year, the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill was carried by large majorities nineteen times. So, my Lords, it has been a subject of very constant debate in both Houses of Parliament for a very long time.

On this occasion the Bill has two novel features. In the first place, for the first time it becomes a Government measure and is in charge of a member of the Government. The second novelty is that the Bill is drawn up exactly on the lines of the Colonial Marriages Bill which passed both Houses of Parliament last year and made valid such marriages in the United Kingdom provided that the parties had a colonial domicile. I think that was a very long step towards what we are asking you to do to-day, and I trust that your action last year is a good augury for the passing of this measure into law. I should like very much merely to move the Second Reading of the Bill in a few sentences, but I see opposite some doughty champions who oppose the Bill, and I hear by my side the rustle of the white wings of the right rev. Prelates, which induces me to think they are anxious, as in the past, to smother the baby of which I have charge.

I must go shortly into the history of the Bill and of the law which we ask Parliament to amend by this Bill. In the Roman Catholic Church a marriage with a deceased wife's sister is not sanctioned by canon law, but at the Council of Trent in the 16th century this rather strong law was passed— If anyone shall assent that only those degrees of consanguinity and affinity which are expressed in Leviticus can be an impediment to marriage and ground for its amendment, or that the Church cannot dispense with the prohibitions in any of the above degrees and create prohibitions in any other degrees, let him be anathema. That law of the Roman Catholic Church has relieved Roman Catholics during all these years from any trouble on this question, because dispensations for these marriages can be had for the asking. As far as the English Church is concerned, the law up to 1835 depended entirely, in the first place, on the Acts passed in the twenty-fifth and thirty-second years of King Henry VIII. The first of those Statutes was repealed altogether, and the one passed in the thirty-second year of King Henry VIII. was modified in the time of King Edward VI. and repealed in Queen Mary's time, but was recalled and revived in Queen Elizabeth's time.

What was the condition under the law from the time of Henry VIII. to the year 1835? It was this. A marriage with a deceased wife's sister was not void, but was voidable at law at the instigation of anyone who had an interest in the matter. But not more than one per cent. of these marriages, I am told, were questioned in the Courts. There was an ingenious way of getting round the law. A person who married his deceased wife's sister and wished to be relieved of the anxiety that his marriage might be questioned, got a friend to bring an action, with which he did not proceed, and the Court ruled that the fact of that action being in existence debarred anyone else from taking proceedings. This went on until 1834 when the seventh Duke of Beaufort married, not his deceased wife's sister, but her half-sister, and he had issue of that marriage of whom the eldest son was the late Duke of Beaufort whom we all remember with affection in this House. It so happened that the seventh Duke of Beaufort had a brother, and this brother had a son who, if he had chosen to dispute the marriage, would have been the successor to the title. Being alarmed lest the succession should be disputed, the seventh Duke of Beaufort induced Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst to bring in a Bill to make all such marriages legal. But in Committee, on the motion of two right rev. Prelates, the application of the Bill was limited to such marriages as had taken place prior to 1835. So far as the Duke of Beaufort was concerned it did not much matter. He had secured for certain the legitimacy of his own son, and so was satisfied; but I think very great injury was done, and that was the view taken by the House of Commons when the Bill went down to that House. The action of the two right rev. Prelates was very much criticised, and the Bill was eventually passed only on the condition that the Government would, in the following session, bring in a Bill making lawful all marriages with a deceased wife's sister. However, nothing has been done since then. Opposition succeeded opposition, and I think a great deal of it has been rather of a small and sordid character; but here we are now, asking your Lordships in all friendliness to accept this Bill.

I think you will expect me to produce some authority in support of the view we take. I would allude first to the Royal Commission appointed in 1847 to inquire into the state and operation of the law of marriage. That Commission was a very strong one; it was presided over by the Bishop of Lichfield, and the members included Mr. Lushington, Mr. Stuart - Wortley, and Mr. Vaughan Williams, all gentlemen in whom the highest trust was to be placed. In their Report these Commissioners say— 'We do not find that the persons who contract these marriages, and the relations and friends who approve them, have a less strong sense than others of religious and moral obligation, or are marked by laxity of conduct. Among the poorer classes of society we believe that in a great majority of cases where the sister of the deceased wife becomes an inmate of the house and the parties are not advanced in age the end of such a state of things is marriage or concubinage. The constant and familiar intercourse, the want of separate accommodation, and the entire privacy give rise to feelings which in the ordinary course of things naturally would produce the consequences we have stated. Where a poor man with a family has the misfortune to lose his wife, some assistance for his domestic concerns becomes indispensable, assistance, too, for which he cannot afford to pay and which must be rendered immediately. All circumstances and all feelings point to the sister of the deceased wife, and when once she becomes a permanent inmate, the result in this class is almost invariably cohabitation with or without the form of marriage. It seems to me that you could hardly have stronger authority than the authority of that Commission.

These marriages are legal in every country in Europe, in the United States, and in all our Colonies, and we ourselves have given our consent to that arrangement in the Colonies. All the civilised world acknowledges now the legitimacy of a marriage with a sister of the deceased wife. Let me quote one or two more authorities. I think your Lordships will agree that Judge Hannen, who was President of the Divorce Court, is a pretty good authority to quote. He asserted that his long, and, it may be unique experience of the revelations of his Court left the deceased's wife's sister unscathed, and to that extent implied that she was amongst. the purest of her sex. Then let me say that both Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Wiseman were in favour of this proposal, that the great Scottish divines, Dr. Chalmers and Dr. Norman Macleod, were equally in favour of it, and that Dr. Adler, who was Chief Rabbi at the time of the 1847 Commission, said in evidence— The marriage of a widower with the sister of his deceased wife is not only not considered as prohibited, but it is distinctly understood to be permitted, and on this point neither the Divine Law, nor the Rabbis, nor historical Judaism leave room for the least doubt. And he went on to say that these marriages were proper and laudable, and that when there were children the usual time for Jews remaining in widowhood was specially abbreviated to allow of more rapid marriage. Then, again, there is Justice Story, the great American authority. He says— In most of the American States marriage between a man and the sister of his former deceased wife are not only deemed in a civil, sense lawful, but are deemed in a moral, religious, and Christian sense lawful and exceedingly praiseworthy.

The opponents of this measure generally raise three objections—that to legitimise such marriages would be sinful and contrary to the law of God; that it would be contrary to all canons laid down by Church law; and that socially and domestically it is against all expediency. As to the first objection, I do not know exactly what the law of God is, or where we are to go for it; but even the opponents of the Bill, I understand, rest their case on certain passages in Leviticus. This question comes up very clearly in one verse of Leviticus. I have here the Authorized Version of James I., the Revised Version of Victoria, the Hebrew Version, the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate and the Luther translation. I am not going to read all these to your Lordships, but I will read the one in the ordinary Bible of James I.— Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, besides the other in her lifetime. All other translations exactly agree, that the disability only arises during the lifetime of the wife and that directly the wife is dead the man is free to marry his deceased wife's sister. I think there are other cases worth bringing forward. There is the fact, which you will all remember, that Jacob took two sisters to wife when they were both alive. In addition, there is a passage in the 22nd Chapter of Matthew:— Master, Moses said, if a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren; and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother; likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. Indeed, the Mosaic law not only allowed the converse custom of a woman's marrying a deceased husband's brothers to the number of seven, if she had no issue, but enjoined that practice; and I think that is a much stronger case than saying that a man should be allowed to marry his deceased wife's sister. I quite admit that the Church of England has always forbidden this particular marriage, but both in the Roman Catholic Church and in the English Church before the Reformation a way was found in which to get out of the difficulty. To remove the prohibition would certainly, I contend, be in the interest both of social comfort and social morality, particularly in crowded centres like Manchester or Birmingham. Of all the marriages coming under the law of affinity I believe nine-tenths belong to this category, and for that reason alone I believe it to be desirable that we should make this change in the law.

In conclusion, may I assure your Lordships that in making ourselves responsible for this Bill the Government are actuated by no spirit of hostility towards any form of religious conviction, and have no desire to do violence to any conscientious scruples, however sensitive. All that we ask your Lordships to do is to permit those men and women who do not share such scruples and who do not accept the premises on which they are based, to obtain legal sanction, the sanction of civil law, for a form of union which conflicts neither with their own moral and religious code, nor with the general feelings of modern Europe, the United States, and our own self-governing Colonies. We do not ask that any man who regards marriage with a deceased wife's sister as incestuous or uncanonical or undesirable on any grounds whatever, should be compelled or even encouraged to abandon his principles in the matter. We wish to leave entire freedom of conscience to all individuals and to all Churches to maintain their beliefs, and to shape their conduct accordingly. But we claim an equal degree of freedom for those who take a different view, and we do not think it right that the civil law of the country should impose grave disabilities and hardships on a number of men, women, and innocent children, who are at present penalised solely out of deference to the theological opinions of a section of their fellow-subjects. It is not, I submit, an unreasonable contention that in questions of theology the civil law of the land should adopt an impartial attitude and leave full liberty of conscience to all shades of opinion, provided that its abstention from interference cannot be shown to entail serious dangers to the religious, moral, and physical welfare the community at large. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

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


rose to move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months. The noble Earl said: My Lords, we once again witness a renewal in your Lordships' House of a campaign that has for its primary object an alteration in our marriage laws in the shape of a Bill to legalise marriage with a deceased wife's sister. I admit that this campaign has nothing of novelty to commend it to your Lordships, for thepros andcons of this proposal have been thrashed out time after time both here and in another place. Nor is there much to be said that is new in the matter. I believe most of your Lordships are hardy veterans in this contest, and I am content to rely on the old-established arguments, worn and familiar though they may be, for they have gained a freshness and vigour from the fact that we have enjoyed a long spell of inactivity in regard to this agitation. Those who, like myself, are opposed to any proposal such as that embodied in this Bill have come with renewed determination that, if possible, your Lordships should never consent to the change in the marriage law proposed and which we believe would be wrongful and pernicious, and fraught, both morally and spiritually, with endless possibilities for evil.

In leading off the opposition to the Second Reading, I need not do more than quote the title of the Bill— An Act to amend the Law relating to marriage with a deceased wife's sister, for ground upon which to base a Motion for its rejection. It is said that the result of the Council of Trent was to make such marriages legal in the Roman Catholic Church, but a dispensation which is granted on special grounds is entirely different in effect from an abolition of the prohibition and constitutes no argument for an abolition. The noble Lord cited Lord Lyndhurst's Marriage Act of 1835 as an Act making marriage with a deceased wife's sister impossible in future. But I read that Act in a totally different way. Lord Lyndhurst's Act made no difference in the table of prohibited degrees. All that it did was to make it more easy than before to detect and annul unlawful marriages. Up to the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act marriages within the prohibited degrees were what lawyers call "voidable." That is, though they were unlawful, yet the unlawfulness had to be proved during the lifetime of both parties, while if this proceeding were neglected, no proof could be offered after the death of the man or the woman. The trick resorted to was to set up a collusive suit, which was kept simmering till one or both of the couple died, so as to shut out any real action. Thus the man might marry his nearest of kin, and, by keeping up a collusive suit, he might have prevents the horrible union from being voided. All that Lord Lyndhurst's Act did was to put a stop to this great scandal by declaring all such marriages void for the future, so that they could be attacked whether the offending couple were still alive or not.

A good part of the argument of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill seemed to be built on a desire that those who had deliberately broken the law should have their offence condoned and the slur of illegitimacy removed from their children. This Bill is a hardy annual, and it is brought forward under the attractive guise of satisfying the poor man's needs. But there is, I maintain, no real or positive proof that the change in the law proposed by the Bill will be welcomed by the mass of the people of this country. On the contrary, I honestly believe that, if this matter could be settled by means of a referendum to the people, the Bill would be rejected by a vast majority. I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that where one petition during all the long history of this controversy has been presented to Parliament in its favour, at least ten have been received against it; and I think I am accurate in stating that during the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons only one petition was received in its favour while 159 petitions, representing 7,000 signatures, were received against it. So far as this is a poor man's question, I believe the poor man's interest is to retain the law as it is. Let us examine what the position of the poor man would be in the event of this change taking place. Take, for example, a poor man living with his family in two rooms. In the event of that man's wife dying, to whom is he to look for assistance? The wife's sister, by reason of this change in the law, would be debarred during his privation and bereavement from going to him; if she was living in the house at the time she must, out of decency, leave at once; and the direct consequence of any such change in the law as is now proposed would be to force the man to marry the deceased wife's sister if she was to remain in the family with him. But suppose neither party has any desire to marry the other; the indirect consequence of this Bill would be to force them to marry forthwith without regard for the sister's feelings or respect for the dead wife. I maintain that it is the poor man's interest to maintain the law, if only to enable him to have the loving services which his sister—and she is his sister and is always recognised as such—can so well bestow.

I have a case in point, but it cannot be cited as a poor man case. In my own native village in Dorset one of my tenant farmers had the misfortune to lose his wife when his children were still young. The wife's sister came to live with him, and has combined the faithful services of of a second mother to his children with all the advantages of housekeeper for the man, and thus the happiness of the home has been maintained ever since. If you ask them whether they want any change in the law, I can vouch what their answer will be. That is one case, but I am convinced that there are endless cases of a similar character thoughout the country. Another well-known argument always raised was the position of our kith and kin in His Majesty's Dominions beyond the Seas, who, under their own enabling laws, had married their deceased wife's sister, but who found, when they came to be domiciled in this country, that not only was their position as man and wife not permitted by the law, but also that their children were not recognised as legitimate by the law governing the whole land. But a Bill has been passed by Parliament to remove that disadvantage, and no opposition was offered to that Bill on the direct understanding that it should in no way affect the law in the Mother Country.

Now what are we told? A new kind of Imperialism is brought forward, and we are told that it is absurd to have one law governing marriage with a deceased wife's sister in one part of the Empire and another law in another. I submit that that is carrying the feeling of Imperialism much too far. Can any sane man argue that because the Colonies have seen fit to break through the barrier of affinity laid down by the Church and to allow marriage with a deceased wife's sister, we, because we are part of the Empire, must do likewise? Can any sane man allow that the Mother Country is to be bound by any legislation that the daughter States may see fit to adopt, orvice versa? I believe that one of the great dangers of any change in the law lies in departing from first principles. Once break through the table of affinity and where will you stop? It is frequently said that consanguinity alone is to be the limit imposed on marriage. If that argument is to hold good, where are we to find ourselves? It would then be possible for a man to marry even his wife's daughter or his father's wife. Once you destroy the great principle and open the door, you encourage a dangerous school of thought that may end in utterly destroying the purity of the home life of the people of this country.

It is the sanctity of home life, and the peace and purity of the English home, which are threatened by this Bill. It is essential to the peace and purity of the home that the husband's relations shall be regarded as the wife's and the wife's as the husband's; and the unquestionable result of a change of this sort would be to deprive every husband of his natural right to regard his wife's sister as his own and to inspire in every wife a feeling of suspicion and jealousy towards her own sister. What is the opinion of women on this matter? I believe the opinion of women is worthy of very careful study and consideration, for it seems to me that the Bill affects women just as much as, if not more than, it does men. Only a year or two ago the signatures of 50,000 women were attached to a petition received by Parliament against this Bill. Women must see the absurdity of a Bill which allows a man every freedom to marry his deceased wife's sister, while at the same time it denies to women the privilege of marrying their deceased husband's brother. I am convinced that women have a far deeper realisation of the sanctity of the ties of affinity in marriage, and I am perfectly convinced that most of them regard a desire to marry a deceased husband's brother with distinct aversion.

There is one new feature connected with this Bill which the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty mentioned and which I cannot allow to pass unnoticed—namely, for the first time in all the long history of this controversy a Bill to legalise marriage with a deceased wife's sister has received the official impress of the Government of the day. We were told that by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading, and I understood it must be so from the fact that a private Bill of this controversial nature has been passed through all its stages in the House of Commons, even in the present congested state of public business. Therefore I say that a terrible responsibility rests on His Majesty's Ministers. Not only are they encouraging one law of the State as against another of the Church, but they are joining in a direct attack upon what has been the Christian law of marriage in the Church from the very beginning.

Lastly, there is the ecclesiastical and the spiritual side of this question, on which I must say a few words before I sit down. Are we, my Lords, to barter away the heritage that has been received by us from successive generations of faithful members of the Church, and to do so for what, to me, can never be the common good? What is to be the attitude of the clergyman of the Church of England, who, by the precepts of his Church, can never countenance a marriage of this description? What is his attitude to be to one of his flock who may have been living, in the clergyman's view, in sin and who goes to him and asks to partake of the Divine Mysteries? I say that the sanctity of Christian marriage is at stake, and I think we have every reason to infer from Holy Scripture that the husband's relations should be the wife's and the wife's should be the husband's. I feel that the efforts I have made to put before you the other side of the picture, the side that holds out to you the danger of any change in the law of marriage, leave a great deal undone; but I make this one appeal to your Lordships to pause before it is too late and before you lay a hand upon the inheritance which has been handed down to us through generations of faithful members of the Church. And may I, in conclusion, quote the words which my grandfather used in one of the many speeches he made on this question? He said— In view of the terrible issues that lie before us, it is, I say, our duty at all cost to resist, even to the extinction of the House of Lords.

I beg to move.

Amendment moved— To leave out the word 'now' and to add at the end of the Motion 'this day three months.—(The Earl of Shaftesbury.)


My Lords, I shall follow the example of the two noble Lords who have just addressed you, and endeavour to be brief. It may, I suppose, be almost taken for granted that every noble Lord has already decided on which side his vote will be cast, though when I consider how far-reaching and delicate are the issues involved, it is almost too much to expect that every man present has had the opportunity of thinking the question out adequately in all its incidences and consequences. There is a great temptation to treat it in the rough and ready way in which it has just been presented to the House, in its practical form, by the First Lord of the Admiralty—to say that all we are doing is to give people power to make these marriages if they like, that to object to them is only a piece of outworn ecclesiastical prejudice, and that the Bill can do no harm even if it does no good.

Familiar as it is, that rough and ready sort of argument wholly fails to cover the ground. The change it is proposed to make, if it were made, would upset a rule which has prevailed since centuries before the dawn of Parliament and the beginning of the monarchy of the United Kingdom, and which goes far back into the earliest history of Christian life. I do not urge for a moment that mere antiquity in a matter of this kind is in itself a proof that the rule ought not to be changed, provided always that the change, be it what it may, is made by proper authority and satisfies these conditions—first, that it is, in the largest sense of the word, a right thing, or, at all events, not a wrong thing. in itself; secondly, that it is really and forcibly demanded, and thoughtfully demanded, by the people of these islands; and, thirdly, that the change is not liable to the difficulty that it would create evil or impose hardship greater than the alleged advantages it would bring.

We are told that the Bill before the House satisfies all those conditions. To me it literally does not seem to fulfil one of them. As regards its being right, or, at least, not wrong, in itself, that is necessarily to a large extent a question of opinion which must be based on theory rather than on evidence. We are of necessity compelled to conjecture rather than to know absolutely what would be the result to England's home life. We are not left so much to conjecture as regards what the women of England—and they, after all, are mainly concerned—really wish about it, for, as Lord Shaftesbury, in his interesting and suggestive speech, has pointed out, the evidence so far as women have come into the arena is overwhelmingly antagonistic to the Bill. I quite agree that on these points different theorists come to opposite conclusions, but the preponderance of evidence of the advantage such a change would bring ought to be overwhelming and irresistible before it should lead us to take the extreme step of upsetting a rule which experience has held to be right practically through the whole history of Christendom.

I doubt whether anybody will deny that there are tens of thousands of people in England who believe our existing rule to be, in its clear, consistent principle, based on the general teaching of the Word of God about marriage. For a good many of us that is enough. I am not speaking of Mosaic regulations or of particular texts in the Old or New Testaments. I respect what great authorities have said about them—I entirely accept the well-known interpretation of the verse in Leviticus to which the First Lord of the Admiralty referred—but I, personally, think it a mistake to rely in any literal sense upon such texts as decisive. What I rely on is what may be called the common judgment of Christendom, based on Scripture, and justified by Christian experience.

To my mind it is impossible to study the teaching of the New Testament about marriage and, above all, the words of our Lord, and not to feel that the conclusion they lead us to is clear. They lay for us a solid basis on which the Christian marriage rule has been rightly constructed. What is that rule? It is that a man is barred, not only from marrying his own near blood relations, but also his wife's near blood relations, say, to take an extreme case, his step-daughter, or his wife's mother. Once you admit that affinity, as well as consanguinity, is to be a bar at all then I maintain that the argument for leaving the law as it stands becomes almost irresistible. I do not contend that to violate the law of affinity is anything like being so bad, so terrible, as violating the law of blood relationship; I do not contend that the different cases of affinity are all on a level as regards their gravity. But I do maintain that if it scandalises you, as it does, to think of a man marrying his wife's daughter, his wife's mother, or his own step-mother, you will find it extraordinarily difficult to lay down any coherent, intelligible, and consistent rule other than the existing Christian marriage law of England. The older Christian countries are, in my judgment, in a special degree the trustees of that high and sacred inheritance; and I, for one, will not willingly tamper with it, believing in my heart that in the wide and weighty sense of the word, the sanction on which it rests is Divine. I apply to it words used in a different connection— We do it wrong, being so majestical, To offer it the show of violence. When we descend from those large principles to the lower, but not less sacred, level of what is called expediency, we are always met by the argument about the wife's sister being one of the most natural protectors of the motherless children. I wholly agree, and, like many other men and women, for that very reason I deplore this proposal. Looking back along the experience of a busy life, abundantly and continuously in touch with the homes of the poor as well as the homes of the rich, I say unhesitatingly that, so far as I can judge, for one case in which you would by such a change as this help the widower's children to find a new mother in their aunt, you would hinder them five or ten times. You would hinder it by keeping away from the home a young woman who would rightly feel that her continuous and responsible residence there was impossible if she were in what is called marriageable relationship to the widower over whose home she was presiding.

We are constantly reminded also that such marriages are allowed in other lands, notably in Germany, in the United States, and in our own Colonies. I have no wish to say any disrespectful word of these countries; but I am not one of those who wish to substitute the German system of home life for the English system as regards the position and dignity of woman. I decline therefore to admit as adequate reason, or as any reason, for a change of this sort that we should thereby approximate more closely to German usage and German law.

I turn next to the United States. We can learn much from the citizens of that great Republic. I speak too from grateful personal knowledge when I say that in no part of the world can we find more beautiful examples of a pure and lofty home life than in the United States; but it is precisely in those American homes to-day that you will hear it said sometimes with genuine apprehension that the weakest part of their domestic legislation, whether State or Federal, is the present condition of the American marriage law. So intense is the feeling on the subject, that it has been found necessary to form a National League for the Protection of the Family, and the League has received the support of some of the most thoughtful and influential of public men. You may remember Mr. Gladstone's solemn warning a few years before his death—a warning whose special significance in a matter of this kind is not less because he himself had been induced at length to favour a Bill of this kind—as to the alarm with which he viewed some of the American laws regarding marriage, and his fear that they might tend to alter and debase the whole idea both of marriage and of family life. No, my Lords, it is not in the department of marriage legislation that we are to make the United States our model. Then as regards our Colonies. Our Colonies are young and eager, and their home life in a sparse population is subject to conditions other than our own. They have made experiments legislative, social, educational, fiscal, which we are not called upon to follow. By our legislation last year, in favour of which I spoke and for which I cordially voted, we removed every vestige of disability or hardship which could press in England upon those who had been thus married in the Colonies. I would remind Lord Tweedmouth, when he urges what was done last year as a reason why we must now go further, that the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies in introducing that Bill last year warned us in express terms which were endorsed by the Lord Chancellor against being led away by the argument that such a use might be made of that Bill. Each of them assured us that it would not be so used, because the two things had nothing to do with each other. The legislation of the Colonies in relaxation of the ancient marriage law is very recent. It is far too soon yet to argue from experience as to the results and the working of the change. I confess I heard with some surprise from those who were declining a few months ago, rightly as I think, to be led by the Colonies on the path of fiscal change, the argument that it is the Mother Country's duty now to follow those young communities in a matter so intimately affecting our social and domestic life.

I pass to the question, Is this change really demanded by the people of these islands? I firmly believe it is not, It is true that in successive Parliaments there have been votes in favour of the measure after discussions in which, latterly at least, those who have advocated the change have been almost supercilious in the brevity of their remarks. But will the firmest believer in Parliamentary mandates maintain that it has been declared outside, in the country, to be at all the clear wish of the people of England, and, above all, of the women of England, that this change should be made? So far as I can judge, nothing of the sort has never been so declared. I was at the pains some time ago to examine a large number of Parliamentary election addresses, and I could find not the remotest allusion to this question, either on the one side or on the other. A friend of mine has been examining a series of election speeches with precisely the same result. I do not attempt to prove a negative, and say that no such reference can be unearthed. I only say I have failed to find it. There is no popular feeling, far less any popular enthusiasm, in the country upon the subject. It is a matter of common notoriety that the greater number of those who voted for this Bill in the Commons will tell you that they do not really care much about it, but that, on the whole, as the Bill is only permissive, and does not affect many people it is just as well that the permission should be given. There is no such pressure outside as to warrant anybody in saying that the people of England are calling for a change.

Although it may sound paradoxical to say so, the very fact that the Bill has been so long before Parliament, and has been so often accepted by the House of Commons tells a little the other way. If the feeling outside had been genuine and hot, would the Bill not have been taken up by one Government or another in the last quarter of a century? Yet year has followed year, and decade has followed decade, and until this week no Government has felt that the Bill had such a backing outside as would justify their taking it up, even with a House of Commons majority in its favour. Even now it is not quite clear whether this has become a Government Bill or not. Four nights ago the Lord Privy Seal said it was not a Government Bill, but that the Government merely intended to give it facilities. To-night the Second Reading has been moved by the First Lord of the Admiralty. To justify a legislative change of this magnitude, far further reaching than its advocates realize, the outside demand ought to be overwhelming; and at present, except on the part of a deeply interested few, there is, to the best of my belief, no such demand, while it is absolutely certain that there are many thousands in England to whom the passage of the Bill would bring the keenest possible distress.

I ask in the last place, whether such a change will not bring about greater mischief and hardship than the supposed gain. I have said nothing about the extraordinary position of difficulty in which the clergy will be placed if the Bill becomes law while their canonical obligations remain unchanged. That is a Committee question on which I hope we shall not have to enter. I rejoiced to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty declare that the promoters of the Bill had no desire to do violence to any conscientious scruple; and should occasion arise I hope to be allowed to remind him of these words. To-night I would simply point out what intolerable confusion will be created if this particular prohibition is removed from the series while the others are allowed to stand. It can be defended neither by logical reasoning nor by common sense. Marriage with a deceased wife's sister is to be legalized, but not with a deceased husband's brother; with a deceased wife's sister, but not with a more distant relation, a wife's niece. Is there coherence or reason in such a position?

If you are prepared to sweep away the whole Table of Affinity and say only that there shall be no marriage between blood relations, then we shall atleast understand the position, but I maintain that unless the whole were to be swept away, the drawing of a dividing line on any clear principle will be practically impossible. I beseech your Lordships to leave the marriage law as it is—a coherent, consistent whole, easily explained, easily understood, with the sanction of Christian centuries behind it and ratified by the experience of Christendom. If you wrench a stone from the carefully built and balanced structure, it will be vain to expect that it can continue to stand as now it stands; you will bring about consequences larger than are dreamed of and will inaugurate confusion and mischief which you will never be able to undo. I hope the House will not give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, I am sure that in what, I hope, will be the concluding period of this long-sustained controversy we shall observe two things—brevity in consequence of the many previous discussions, and full consideration towards the opinions of those who are opposed to us. Those who have listened to the speeches of Lord Shaftesbury and the most rev. Primate have had placed before them a full example of the moderation with which the controversy, acute as it is, should be conducted. I feel very deeply on this question, regarding it as a practical question; and I would remind your Lordships that as late as the year 1896 this House, by a considerable majority, determined that this law, not the law of the Church but the law of 1835, should be repealed; and it is material to ask what has happened since then to justify your Lordships in nullifying the decision at which you then arrived.

The very arguments which the most rev. Primate has used to-night were used in 1896 by his illustrious predecessor, Dr. Temple, and the House gave its decision after having heard everything that was to be said from the Episcopal Bench. The proposition which was then put forward and is now put forward is a very simple one. In this country there are many persons in the relationship to which the Bill refers and who wish to marry, and the Statute law of the Realm declares that they shall not carry out their natural wishes. I venture to think that if a law intervenes between the wishes and tendencies of mind of individual citizens in the State, good cause must be shown. You must bear the burden of that proof. You have no right to control your fellow-creatures unless you can give good cause for your action. I understand, from the speech of the most rev. Primate, that the technical words in Leviticus are not relied upon. Then Scriptural authority goes. It is not sinful. These marriages are not condemned by Divine law. Having that admission—


The noble and learned Lord must not take me as having made the admission in that form.


I understood the most rev. Primate to say that the passage in Leviticus was not relied upon in the matter. Therefore I say that such unions are not condemned by Bible law. What, then, remains? It is said that the law of the Church is what we have now to follow, but this which is termed the law of the Church springs from the decision of a Diocesan Synod. The opinions expressed by the councils of the pre-Reformed Church are not recognised as law in this country. These decisions of councils may instruct us, but they are not law and are no more to be tolerated as having the effect of law than the opinions of Convocation. Guided by my own conscience, and seeking such guidance as will assist me, I protest against this country, blessed with the results of the great Reformation, going back to the opinions of the early Bishops and learned men of narrow views for rules as to what is right and wrong for the social life of to-day. What can be said on this ground to our Nonconformist fellow countrymen? How can they accept the opinions of a Church with which they have nothing to do, as guides in the law of marriage? There can be no law in this matter but the law of Parliament.

My noble friend Lord Shaftesbury, who has every right to speak in this matter, being the grandson of one of the greatest English citizens that ever lived, said, "Do not give away this heritage." What is this heritage? It is the Statute of 1835. That is all we are attacking. Is that Statute sacred? The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty gave its history, and stated what took place before 1835. Prior to that year very few of these marriages were set aside; but in 1835 Lord Lyndhurst, having in his mind the interests of one man only and being moved by the Bishops, made such past marriages valid. Can you now say—and I appeal respectfully to those who sit upon the Episcopal Bench—that those marriages were sinful, were contrary to Divine Law, or had the taint of incest attached to them? My Lords, if that was so, what can be said of the Bishops—Bishop Philpot and Bishop Blomfield—who, with their own hands, wrote that these marriages, breaking that Divine Law—these incestuous marriages—should be good, valid, and binding for the sake of the history of the Church? Those Bishops—those illustrious representatives of your Bench—were admitting that marriages which were sinful, if not incestuous, should by Act of Parliament be rendered good and valid for all purposes. My Lords, I think it is a matter which cannot be passed lightly by. Bring against us what councils, and what authority, you like—we have the authority of the Episcopal Bench, which declared in modern times that these marriages should be good, valid, and binding.

Now when we thus get rid of the contention that these marriages are against the Divine Law, I hope that even in this House there will be no attention given to the authority of these local councils. I know, at any rate, that if weight be given to their authority here, no such weight will be given to their authority elsewhere. We shall be the only Chamber, and the only body, in which any weight will be given to the authority of Bishop Basil and those who sat around him.

But there is one great question which still remains for us to determine. Is it well—is it advisable—for us to reject the law—the practical law at any rate—which existed before 1835? The most rev. Primate has very fairly, I think, dealt with the subject. He says we have no proof that the people of this country wish for this measure. I will tell you what I think of the proof, but you cannot get it through the ordinary channels of expression. You cannot hold public meetings in favour of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Who would attend those meetings? The unmarried—the single man — would scarcely go and throw up his hat, and say, "I want to marry the sister of a wife I have not got—a woman I have never seen and know nothing whatever about!" That would not create much enthusiasm. Then, is the married man to go to these meetings and say, "I want to marry my deceased wife's sister"? I should not advise him to go home very promptly after doing so. And if you take away the single man and the married man, you have only the widower left to go to these meetings, and to support this Bill. Is it likely that he would parade his wish at a public meeting? That is one mode of obtaining an expression of public opinion. Then you have another mode of ascertaining public opinion, which I think must come home to the minds of your Lordships. I may perhaps be permitted to call your attention to the fact that we still admit the House of Commons to be representative of the people, and in February of this year, after many affirmative approvals of this measure, it came again before the House of Commons. This is not a Party measure, and the great majority of three to one was secured in favour of its principle in the Conservative Parliament of 1900. Now came this division in February of this year. At that time, on a division taken in full House, only some seventeen Unionist Members voted against it. There were thirty-four Members in the Lobby, but seventeen of them were, I believe, Nationalists, and probably belonged to a different faith. There were only about seventeen Unionists who voted against the measure, and notice who those seventeen were. You do not find there one representative of any large town, or of any town where any considerable industry exists. The nearest approach was one of the tellers, Sir Francis Powell, the Member for Wigan, and every other industrial town sent its representatives to the other lobby, to vote in favour of the Bill. Where were the Leaders of the Unionist Party? Where were those men, who are as anxious, no doubt, as Members of your Lordships' own House to listen to the voice of religion, the voice of sanctity, and the voice of morality? Where were those Leaders of the Unionist Party? They capitulated on behalf of their Party. Every Tory Member from a large town—every industrial representative of the Tory Party departed from the House, taking the brave course of not voting, and, as I say, capitulating in favour of us who are now appealing to your Lordships to pass this Bill.

This being so, why ask what public opinion is? You have gifted Conservative Members like Mr. Smith, on behalf of Liverpool, demanding this Bill; you have staunch Unionists like Mr. Jesse Collings pledging themselves to its necessity; you may go through every town, and you will find people everywhere telling you that they will have this Bill—demanding it as a matter of necessity, and above all as a matter of morality. Only one word more on this point. I first learned my lesson on this Bill when canvassing a provincial town from house to house. I can scarcely tell you how numerous were the instances in which I met a woman surrounded by children, and I would say to her, "I am sorry your husband is absent. Will you tell him that I called, and give him my message?" Then, after I had left, my agent would say, "Oh, that woman is not the man's wife; she is his late wife's sister; the wife died, and that woman came there to look after the children. He is a man earning 15s. or 16s. a week, and he cannot afford to pay anybody, and she was the only person to look after the children; but of course, the law does not allow him to marry her." I say that those instances are evidence of what the morality is which you are seeking, as you say, to establish by maintaining the law as it stands.

There were some objections made to this view, and I will refer to one or two of them. My noble friend Lord Shaftesbury spoke of these marriages as if they took place under conditions such as we read of in the fashionable intelligence of a newspaper. As if these working men could not marry except after a certain time! I assure my noble friend that such considerations do not at all trouble these working men. When they are left widowers, they have got their children unattended and uncared for, and it becomes necessary at once for someone to take the place of the dead mother. In a large number of cases the only woman able to take that place is the sister of the deceased wife, and at once that woman goes into the house, and how it is better for that woman to go unmarried into that house, instead of being married, has not been attempted to be shown either by Lord Shaftesbury or by the most rev. Prelate. It is often said that this Bill, if carried, will shut sisters-in-law out of a man's house. These statements are often made and never proved. Why does a woman who can marry a man go to his house, while the house is barred to the woman who happens to be his wife's sister? Why, every woman who goes to a man's house can marry him if his wife dies, and the knowledge of the fact does not keep them away. Yet that is the statement put forward, without any reason being given for it, except the vague assertions that in some way or other it is opposed to the interests of morality. If I may give my own experiences, I would say that mingling, as I have, for many years with the working men of this country, I have made it a rule to ask what they think on this subject; and I declare that out of the scores, and almost hundreds, whom I have asked, not one has done other than unhesitatingly say, "It would be a blessing to our people if we were sure that the children of our dead wives would be looked after." My Lords, I assure you that that is a testimony that has gone home to me far more than the hypothetical and theoretical arguments which have been addressed to your Lordship. I adopt my noble friend (Lord Tweedmouth's) quotation from the report which, I believe, was drawn by Bishop Lonsdale. But, may I point out to the most rev. Prelate that he never dealt with that report. It was carefully prepared after hearing Dr. Pusey, and after hearing witness after witness as to the effect of this law upon the poor man, and the case which was presented by those most learned Commissioners is the case which we respectfully present to you tonight.

My Lords, I do not know whether it is becoming in me—whether it will not be thought presumptuous on my part—to make a special appeal, but I will make it to those who sit upon that bench opposite. They are the very guardians of the Church. They are the guardians of a Church that is composed of a laity with its wants as well as of a clergy with very much learning. They have the care of their Church, and I know that they will seek, to the best of their ability, to conserve its best interests. My Lords, does it not occur to them that there is but one path of safety for them, theprima via salutis, and that path is the path that leads to the hearts of the people. And if they forget the great duty they owe to that people—if they stand athwart their path, and oppose the progress of this measure they will add nothing to the stability of our Church, and I fear, too, they will add nothing to the strength of this House.


My Lords, it is one of the disadvantages of this House that when those who sit upon this side of it take opposite views on a public question, there is sometimes great difficulty in hearing what is said, and I have been unable, in the course of the last ten minutes, to catch the whole of what fell from the noble Lord. There fore if I misrepresent him in any way, I trust that my noble friend will forgive me. But I must congratulate him on one part of his speech, which I think he used arguments which were some of of the strongest I have ever heard in favour of the thesis that the British public take no interest whatever in this question. He told us how, by overwhelming majorities in the House of Commons, and by dwindling minorities, this Bill had been passed. He told us — I am taking the statement from the noble Lord; I am not appropriating it myself—that we were deserted by our Front Bench—which, begging the noble Lord's pardon, is not quite correct—and he told us how there was only one Member of Parliament who voted on our side who represented a town constituency.


I did not say a town constituency. I said a representative of a labouring or an industrial constituency.


I do not know how that may be. I should have thought that most of the big towns of England represented the industrial classes.




If that is the case, my own son, Lord Percy, sits for a constituency which I believe is a town with probably some industrial classes in it, and he takes the very keenest interest in opposing this Bill. Therefore, without being able in other ways to test the accuracy of the noble Lord, I know that in this particular respect, at any rate, he is inaccurate. Surely if it is the case that year after year, Parliament after Parliament, the House of Commons has passed this Bill, which there is no doubt it has passed—if the minorities get smaller, and the majorities get bigger, and our leaders desert us, and yet there is no energy in the country for forcing this measure forward, and making it pass into law, surely it shows that there is no real feeling for it on the part of England. Can you conceive, my Lords—I put it to you as reasonable men—did you ever know a measure in which the British public took an interest—a Reform Bill or anything of the sort—which they could not force to the front against all opposition if, year after year, for forty, fifty or sixty years, they really desired it? I think that is a conclusive argument that the people of this country as a whole are not keenly in favour of the Bill.

The noble Lord told us a great deal about what working men had said to him upon the subject. I cannot controvert that. I have no doubt that there are some here who have had far more opportunity of judging of the feelings of working men than I have who will be able to answer it. But I must say that I cannot quite understand the idea that working men, or anyone else, cannot hold a public meeting in favour of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, because they are so—shy, shall I say? We are told that the unmarried men cannot do it. I forget why the unmarried men cannot do it, and possibly I am wrong in this—it was the unmarried man who could do it, perhaps, but at any rate we are told that the married man cannot do it because of his wife's jealousy, and the widower cannot do it because it would be thought that he wanted to marry his own deceased wife's sister in particular. Is that an argument that can be seriously put forward for a measure which is going to remove a great public grievance, which is going to make homes happy which are now miserable, which the people of England are longing and pining for, and in reference to which your Lordships' House, in the teeth of the Lower House of Parliament, is tyrannically, aristocratically, and—well, I cannot find an epithet bad enough to describe our conduct—preventing the aspiration of the people arriving at its due and proper end?

I am not going to attack the noble Lord, either, upon his theological principles. I do not agree with them, and I do not think he states in any adequate way the proper position of the authority of the Church. I do not speak of the Church of England, but of the Church at large, and I appeal to the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, for he himself showed conclusively that the Christian Church as a whole had always asserted that these marriages, and all marriages of affinity, were illegal and unallowable. It is perfectly true that one branch of the Church will grant dispensations, and that another branch of the Church has tolerated that "void and voidable" condition, but the whole Church—and he might have included the Presbyterian Church and the Lutheran Church as well—has invariably declared that the relations of the wife were the relations of the husband, and has consistently held up as the Christian law the Tables of Affinity which we have hitherto observed and kept.

I am sorry that, having complimented my noble friend upon his correctness as regards the history of the Church, I cannot compliment him upon the rest of his statements. I had occasion last night to criticise his authority upon political economy, the most rev. Primate has criticised his knowledge of history, and I am afraid I must on this occasion challenge his facts with regard to more recent days. It seems to me that the whole law of "void and voidable" has been misrepresented by the noble Lord (Lord Tweed-mouth) and by the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down (Lord James of Hereford). In the first place, the First Lord of the Admiralty carefully concealed the fact—I do not mean intentionally concealed, but he omitted to mention the fact—that it was not marriage with a deceased wife's sister alone which was prohibited by the "void and voidable" law, but the whole of the marriages of affinity, and "void and voidable" meant this—that the marriages were illegal, but could only be set aside if action was taken to do so; and although I admit that to sanction marriages retrospectively which were believed to be improper in order to prevent their ever taking place in the future was certainly a very serious compromise, yet at the same time it is perfectly untrue to say that it was done in the interests of one individual, as has been said here to-night. The reason of it was evidently this—that to make the law retrospective would not be to put those who had already contracted such marriages in a worse position than they were already in, and in order to start afresh, and to act fairly by all men, these past marriages were recognised, but at the same time it was made clear that the intention was that in future they should not be recognised. I think that has not been fairly stated by the noble Lords who have mentioned the matter.

Then I should like to call your Lordships' attention to one other remark which was made by the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty. He told us that he had no wish to wound tender consciences, and yet he told us that the opposition to this Bill was a sordid one. I must say that I think the expression had better not have been used. If it means anything, it means that the noble Lord is entirely unable to appreciate conscientious opposition to a Bill which those who make it think it right to make in the teeth of all opposition, not because they have any particular crotchet to serve, but because they conscientiously believe the step proposed is evil and not good. I want to ask one other question of the noble Lord. I should like to ask him what his authority is for saying that these marriages were very frequent before the year 1834. It is a statement which is quite new to me, and I believe that the exact contrary is true. I will tell your Lordships why I believe that. It is because I remember perfectly well being told, as an instance of the feeling of the country some fifty or sixty years ago, of a case where a man in Scotland married his deceased wife's sister, and had to leave the country because the feeling of everyone in the country was so much against it that he could not tolerate the way in which everyone avoided him and treated him. It does not seem to me very likely that if that was the feeling of the country at the time, these marriages were very common.

The great fault of this Bill is its absolutely illogical character. That topic has already been mentioned tonight, and I should not have mentioned it again were it not for one reason. The great argument for this Bill is: "If there are people who want to marry their deceased wife's sisters, why should they not do it? What reason have you to stop it? Unless you can prove some great evil, spiritual, moral or physical, you have no right to prevent these marriages." But they do not say, "or any other." I rather wonder why they have not, at any rate, the logic of the Colonies, who have extended this law to some other marriages, and so far advanced some way on the logical road to doing away with the prohibition of marriages of affinity altogether. But now let me read this letter which I received yesterday. It is written by a clergyman, whose name I am allowed to give—the Rev. F. E. Warren, Rector of Bardwell, near Bury St. Edmunds. I have not the honour of the rev. gentleman's acquaintance, but I have no doubt that what he states is perfectly correct. He says: A parishioner here has quite recently married his niece—that is, his deceased wife's niece. I wrote to Sir Brampton Gurdon to say that if his Bill covered such a case, I would advise the man to wait a few weeks so that at least he might marry under the shelter of statute law. Sir Brampton Gurdon replied that his Bill did not meet such a case. But what an anomalous state of things will be produced by a Bill which proposes to allow a man to marry his wife's sister and still leaves him prohibited from marrying his wife's more remote relation! Surely all affinity barriers must go, or none. I want to know what arguments have been used in favour of this Bill which are not equally good to relieve this man. Will any noble Lord give me an answer to this question? It has been asked over and over again in this House, and it has never had an answer yet, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, and I think I have heard most of the debates on this subject, even before I had the honour of being a Member of your Lordships' House. What reason, I ask, is there why this man, who has been forced to make an illegal marriage with his wife's niece, because your law is an illogical one, should not be relieved? What have you to say to the complaint of this man? Will you admit, in the Committee Stage, an Amendment to this effect in your Bill, and if you will not will you tell me why you will not do so? I am convinced of this—that no marriage law will be respected which is not defensible in reason and logic, and I am certain that if you pass this sort of piecemeal legislation, you will shake the confidence of the whole of the people in the marriage law of the country, and that moral consequences will ensue which you very little foresee at present. To put it briefly, this measure is not wanted, as I think other noble Lords besides myself have to-night shown. It is not based upon any logical argument which intelligent people can understand. It is a great grief to the consciences of many of your fellow-countrymen, and still more, allow me to say, to your fellow-countrywomen. It is a great departure from the traditions of the past in a matter in which it is of paramount importance that the continuity of Christian conduct should be maintained. Such a measure should not, in my opinion, be lightly entered into, and I trust that your Lordships will once again refuse to read this Bill a second time.


My Lords, I will only detain your Lordships for a very few minutes. I had not intended to speak at all in this debate, but the noble Lord who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill spoke in a somewhat pointed way of the view taken of this question by the Church to which I belong, and therefore, as I propose to vote in this division, I feel that it is only right that I should explain a little what is in my mind. I do not in the least speak for anyone else, nor do I in the least pretend to define, or support, or explain the law of the Church to which I belong. The noble and learned Lord, Lord James, seemed to know so thoroughly the law of the Church to which he belongs that he assured us that practically there was no law at all.


I beg the noble Duke's pardon. I spoke of the law of the country, not of the law of the Church.


I am one of those who believe that the law of the Church ought to have a great effect upon the conduct of these who are members of that Church, and who reverence its authority, and therefore I must join issue on that particular point. It is perfectly true, as has been stated, that the Church of Rome does not uphold the theory that this particular act of which we speak is in itself an immoral one. It does not maintain that it is against the law of God, but that it is against the enactments of the Church, and that being so, the same power that has granted those enactments can also grant dispensations if it should consider that such dispensations are on the whole less of an evil than the enforcement of the enactment to which I have referred. I have had to decide for myself, as I need not say everyone who is an Englishman and a Catholic has to decide, whether on the whole it is better to see the law of the country made in harmony with the law of the Church, or to see it made in harmony with the dispensations which are granted, and in that way made antagonistic to the law of the Church. Of course, many arguments have been brought forward, and I think that Cardinal Wiseman has been quoted as having argued in favour of a law which pressed so hardly upon the children of such marriages being amended, and I think he did endeavour to devise some means out of that difficulty. But I do not regard the law of the country as being merely a matter of enacting legislative devices for overcoming individual and exceptional grievances. I regard the law of the country as upholding, for the mass of the people, what, in the wisdom handed down by the traditions and the history of the country, is the right and the highest view to put before the people; and when I find that on a matter of this kind—on which, no doubt, there are arguments to be brought forward in favour of variations and infringements of the general practice—two such great authorities as the law of the Roman Catholics and the law of the English Church have always maintained, and do maintain, that it is for the well-being of the people that this restriction should be kept up, it does seem to me that I, as an Englishman, should be doing very wrong if I put my opinion against those authorities, and supported, merely for the sake of a certain number who desire dispensation in this case, any departure from the law which, in the opinion of these great authorities, ought to he maintained and it is most desirable to maintain.

I must say that I cannot but agree with those who have stated to-night that they have never yet had any great proof of a strong and widespread desire for this change. Your Lordships know that year after year this controversy has gone on, and that, as has been pointed out, no great section of the people has taken the matter up, and no Government has been forced to bring it forward, and that until the present occasion, when it has been hurriedly brought forward, no Government has been found to support this change. I think it is quite against the knowledge of anyone connected with public affairs that that state of things could exist for so long if there were a large momentum of opinion pressing for this legislative change. It seems to me, as has been pointed out, that we are on the threshold of a path which must lead to endless confusion and which will probably lead to further infringements of the marriage law. I think we shall have undertaken to alter that which has always been taken to be of extreme importance for the moral welfare of the people, and that we shall be making that alteration for the sake of benefiting a very few people, while causing pain and regret to a great number. It seems to me that no argument has been brought forward to justify so great a change. I only wish, in conclusion, to say that I desire that the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading shall understand that I do not in any way, in making these remarks, underrate the force of what he has put forward. I know that there are many Roman Catholics who do not agree with me upon this question, but for my part I fear that the step proposed is a a step of extreme danger, and that we shall be entering upon a downward path if we begin to tamper with the marriage law.


My Lord, the arguments on this subject were really worn threadbare before this debate began, and I shall not therefore dwell upon them at any length. There has been an argument used by the Duke of Northumberland and also by the Duke of Norfolk that this proposal is an illogical one. That means to say, that it is illogical that, having attempted to seek some underlying principle, you do not extend it to all imaginable cases of marriages of a similar kind so as to make it a consistent whole.

Last year, when I was speaking to your Lordships with regard to some marriage questions—for there were more than one last year—I took the liberty of warning your Lordships not to dream of trying to do more than one thing at a time in altering the law of marriage. The law of marriage is one of the strangest and most difficult laws to administer and one of the most confused, inasmuch as people of different nationalities, residing in different places, and governed by different domiciles, contract these marriages, and the confusion you already have is infinite. For my own part, one of the advantages of this Bill is that it deals only with one specific point, and I can only say that that circumstance ought to reassure the noble Duke who spoke last when he expressed his apprehension that we were going to embark upon some unknown journey. Let us always make up our minds to deal with one point at a time, and then we shall not get into difficulties.

The real arguments against this Bill during the debate this evening have been of two kinds. In the first place, there has been the ecclesiastical or canonical argument, and that has been confined really to the Church of England. With regard to that, may I say this, that I, being myself a member of that Church, claim the right to be governed by the laws of this country and not by the laws of the Church in regard to matters of this kind. With the utmost respect for the spiritual laws—the most sincere respect—I think it is our duty to exercise our own judgment upon what is for the welfare of the country at large, and that we are not bound by canonical distinctions or canonical interests. Certainly those who do not belong to the Church of England are not bound by them in the least degree, and they constitute a very large part of the population of this country That was an argument which did not seem to me to have very great weight, if I may say so, and I do not think it will have very much influence with your Lordships.

But the real argument which has been relied upon is that that law will tend to immoral relations rather than otherwise—that it will interfere with domestic peace and domestic happiness. That is the argument which has been put forward, and that is really the serious and important argument with which we have to deal. For my part, I think we are at liberty, all of us, to form our own judgment. I do not agree with the right rev. Prelate upon this subject at all, and if I want to ascertain what is the true and sound view, let me ask, for a few moments, what are the opinions of the Church and what are the opinions of the people upon this subject. In the first place the opinion of the Church. The Roman Catholic Church, as the noble Duke has just told us, does not regard these marriages as immoral. The Church of England did not regard these marriages as immoral until they were made unlawful by Act of Parliament. May I be permitted to justify that statement? These marriages were not void, but voidable. That is to say, until there was some interposition by a litigant, the marriages were good. Would that have been so if they had been regarded as immoral? But, beyond that, there was a fiction of law, kindred to many fictions which have been constantly repeated in the history of this country in order to remedy abuses—not a fiction of law exactly, but a fictitious process of law, which, once commenced, would stay interposition of those who might declare the marriage void. In other words, no such state of thing as the creation of a fiction in order to arrive at a right conclusion could ever have grown up in a country like this if it had been in any way held to be against public morality. That is my reason for saying that until the year 1835 the Church of England did not regard these marriages as immoral. I speak, I know, in most distinguished presence on that subject, but I think my contention follows from the observations I have made on facts which are not disputed by anybody. So far as morals are concerned the Church of Rome and the Church of England up to the year 1835 were agreed. I know not what the doctrine of the great Greek Church may be—the other branch of the Church of Christendom—but at all events those two Churches of which we know obviously do not—or did not—take the attitude that these marriages are against morality. I am sure that that must naturally and reasonably follow from the considerations I have put forward.

Then, what do the people say—I am speaking not of the people of England alone, although I will speak of them in a moment, but of the people of Christendom — upon the point of whether your home is invaded and destroyed, and its purity contaminated, and whether the home life of the people is invaded, where this change of the law has been made, by something in the nature of impurity and immorality? I say that upon a question of this kind the people are as good judges as are the Churches. And what do they say? The most rev. Primate, in speaking upon this matter, began by speaking of the opinion of Germany and the Continent. He put that aside on the ground that we were not going to take the domestic views of Germany. He then proceeded to the United States; and he passed a panegyric—I believe a well-preserved panegyric, which comes with great weight from so high and eminent an authority as the most rev. Primate—upon the purity of their houses and lives. But then he had to admit that the opinion of the United States was favourable to this Bill, because they have this law themselves; but he said that on the subject of marriage he was disposed to differ from them. Then he came to Great Britain—but before speaking of Great Britain let me point out that when we had dealt with Roman Catholic countries, with Germany and the Protestant Continent, and with the United States, we however very nearly exhausted Christendom—certainly Latin Christendom. When we come to Great Britain, the most rev. Primate, and also the Duke of Norfolk, are of opinion that the people are not really in favour of this Bill. By what means are we to ascertain what is the opinion of the people, if we are not prepared to accept the repeated verdicts for 50 years and upwards of the House of Commons in which there have been majorities of Conservatives and majorities of Liberals in every shape and form—enormous majorities in favour of this Bill, year by year, decade by decade repeated now for something like, I suppose, fifty years? My noble friend Lord James of Hereford has told me—for I confess that I have something else to do than to examine the division lists in either this House or the other—that there were only thirty-four Members of the House of Commons who voted against this Bill on its Second Reading, of whom seventeen were British Members and seventeen were Irish If that is so, what is the opinion of the Conservative Party? The Conservative Party is indeed reduced in number, but seventeen does not yet represent its strength. What has happened to those men of light and leading in the House of Commons on this great question of morality? It is impossible to doubt, when you know that for nineteen successive Parliaments in the House of Commons this Bill has been passed by enormous majorities, even in Conservative Houses, and when it has been already, I think, twice passed in this House—


Second Reading.


Second Reading once, and through all its stages the second time. Is it possible, I ask, to doubt that the preponderating opinion is in favour of this Bill by an enormous majority? It is not that everyone is affected by the Bill—it is a Bill which affects, happily, only a few persons; but everyone is entitled to form an opinion as to whether the measure is right or wrong, and whether it is likely or not to produce the disastrous results upon the home which have been so eloquently described by the most rev. Primate and by the Duke of Northumberland. If I may so put it, this is a matter which is not in itself of intrinsically great importance, but the origin of the Bill was not satisfactory. The laws of England were changed in the year 1835, not in favour of toleration, but in favour of rigidity, and of imposing your ideas of right and wrong upon other people who did not agree with you. That was the origin of the feeling that there is on this subject. And then there is a sense also, and I think a legitimate sense, that—if I may say so with real respect—there is in some degree a usurpation by the clergy over the consciences of the people in matters with which the Church is not concerned. I hope I shall not be misunderstood, or be supposed to treat spiritual Lords with any disrespect, but that is really the feeling—that we ought to be able, and that we intend, I think, to judge for ourselves in matters of this kind. This matter having been so long before Parliament, having so perplexed and distressed a considerable number of persons, and having worried us in this House for a great number of years, have we not now come to the stage when we can make up our minds whether it is not fair play to allow people to judge for themselves in these domestic affairs which affect their own homes, and no longer to stand in the way of a reform which, although not a great and far-reaching reform, is one which is just and right?


My Lords, I only wish to allude to one point which has been raised in this discussion. It would certainly seem the height of presumption on the part of one in my position to venture to call in question what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, but I would very respectfully ask him whether what he has said in regard to the morality or immorality of these particular marriages does not apply to other marriages within the prohibited degrees. As I understood, the noble and learned Lord's argument was that the Church of England did not consider these marriages immoral because, up to the year 1835, not only by the law of the Church of England but by the law of Christendom, they were only voidable. Is it not the fact that the same thing applies not merely to marriage with a deceased wife's sister, but to all incestuous marriages? Your Lordships will, I hope, give me indulgence for venturing to speak against the weight of the Lord Chancellor, but is it not the fact that what was really at issue was the legitimacy of the children? It was held to be unjust to call into question the legitimacy of any children resulting from any union after the death of one of the parties to that union. Therefore, in the case of children born of a union with a deceased wife's sister, a sister, an aunt or a niece—all those children would have been held legitimate unless that union had been called into question in the lifetime of the party. I venture humbly to suggest to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that the practice prior to 1835 had nothing whatever to do with the morality or immorality of those unions, but was simply a question of justice to the children born of those marriages, and if the argument is good that because those marriages were only voidable prior to that time, therefore the Church did not regard them as immoral, that argument is clearly good with reference to an aunt in blood, a niece in blood, or even a real sister.


My Lords, the most reverend Primate has stated the case against the Bill with his usual lucidity and completeness. We are all anxious, I think, upon this bench that it may be clearly understood that this is a layman's question and not merely a bishop's, and in reply to what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said I can only say that the arguments we address to your Lordships' House are merely advanced in order to influence your opinions. We are not seeking to domineer over you in any way, but we are asking you to listen to us, as to men who know something about the lives of the people, while we advance certain reasons why you should vote against this Bill.

I would very willingly have listened in silence to-night had I not in the first place been asked by some very prominent Members of your Lordships' House to speak, and, on the other hand, had I not feared that my silence might have been very much misinterpreted by the tens of thousands in my diocese who are watching these proceedings with the most eager anxiety and the keenest hope. During the short time that I have had the honour of being in your Lordships' House I have always found that your Lordships have given most patient attention to every speaker, even when that speaker has followed upon some very great authority. Therefore, I trust that your Lordships will bear with me while I endeavour to advance, very briefly, five reasons why, in spite of all that we have heard to-night, I must vote against the Second Reading of this Bill.

In the first place, those who feel that the authority of their religion is being shaken, and the purity and happiness of their homes undermined, do really and sincerely believe that what is proposed is against the marriage law of Christendom. I listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lord James said about being dependent upon the decisions of this council or that. It is not a question of this council or that, or of one Bishop or another. I defy anyone to prove to-night that the whole tradition and practice of the Christian Church from the very first has not been against such marriages as those which it is proposed to legalise under this Bill. When one speaks of the Church, one sometimes thinks of church and chapel, but we are speaking of things which go far beyond the time when it was possible to draw any such distinction at all—we are speaking of what was part of the law of united Christendom—and as I listened to my noble friend Lord James, I really felt inclined to ask him, what is the good of the Church if in every case it is considered to be almost an impertinence of the Church to have a standard different from that of the world? What was the Church sent to do? The Church was sent to uplift the world, and if it is impertinent of the Church to have a standard opposed to that of the world, what is the good of the Church at all? Therefore, when I ask myself why was it that the Christian society had this universal and unbroken custom with regard to the marriage law, I am not in any way relying upon some chapter in Leviticus, but I am relying upon the unbroken tradition of the Church, which we believe it inherited from Jesus Christ Himself. This unbroken tradition I believe—and the tens of thousands for whom I speak believe—is an inference from the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself with regard to the marriage law. That is my first reason.

My second reason is that when those who feel with me look a little closer, and when they ask themselves what is to happen when this barrier of affinity is removed, they find that the barrier of affinity underlies no less than nineteen out of twenty of the barred marriages in the Table of Degrees, and they find that there is absolutely nothing to take its place when that barrier is taken away. I listened very carefully to my noble friend Lord James, and to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, to see whether they threw any light upon that question, which goes to the very heart of the matter, but there was no answer whatever. On what, I ask, are we to take our stand? The idea that human instincts alone are sufficient to bar undesirable marriages crumbles to pieces the moment it is examined. Human instinct is at the best but a weak and precarious barrier against human passion. If a man were to desire to marry his stepdaughter, acording to this argument why should he not do so? She is no relation of his by blood, and those who object to this change in the law feel keenly that the disgust which is at present caused by such a proposal might easily be weakened once the principle upon which the Table of Degrees rests is swept away. It was proposed—as the most rev. Primate said—in a similar Bill on one occasion that the niece should be included, but the originator of that proposal was induced to withdraw it as showing too clearly where the tendency to go from one concession to another would probably lead.

Then there is a third reason why I object to this Bill. It may be said, "We feel sure that these fears are exaggerated, and we mean to confine the matter to the deceased wife's sister." But here comes in the dread which is possessing thousands to-day—that even if it is only to apply to the deceased wife's sister, the beautiful relation existing to-day in hundreds of homes would be broken up. I have here a description of home life written by a man who was described by one who knew him best as a man among men—a king of men—and a man who was a Liberal all his life. He described what he conceived to be the true idea of the marriage law— The principle begins with the consecration of the family. The purpose is to guard and defend the household—to consecrate a circle within which there shall be the warmest, strongest, deepest affection without the slightest touch or breath of passion. Then it follows immediately that when one of this consecrated family marries, he brings in the wife under the same consecration, because she is to find, in her husband's father and mother, a new father and mother, and in the husband's brothers and sisters new brothers and sisters. And she, too, should be a consecrated thing in their eyes, and there should be the deepest and warmest affection between them, never touched by the breath of passion. So, too, when a daughter marries, the husband finds in her father and mother a new father and mother, and in her brothers and sisters new brothers and sisters, to be sheltered and encompassed by this consecration founded on the Divine law.

Those are the words of Archbishop Temple when Bishop of Exeter in 1883. Now, my Lords, it is impossible that this happy relationship can possibly continue if this Bill is passed. One of the papers which supported a similar Bill some years ago said quite plainly, "It will mean that no man must be on terms of greater intimacy with his wife's sister than with any other young woman who comes to his house." I was much struck with the fact that no less a person than the Lord Chancellor of that day himself repudiated in the strongest terms such a dislocation of the happy family life of England. I am as certain of this as I can be of anything—that in the great middle class in this country, for every one person who will be relieved by this Bill twenty, or even fifty, will be made miserable by it.

That leads me to the question whether there is any great public demand for this Bill. I quite agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord James, that if, in spite of all that I have said, it could be asserted that out of deference to some far-fetched ideas about marriage we were making the houses of the poor wretched and promoting immorality, somemodus vivendi must be found, but I must make again the assertion to which Sir Henry Fowler alluded in the House of Commons—that during the whole nine years during, which I spent every day and every evening wholly with the working classes of East London, I never once heard this matter alluded to. Much of our time we spent in free and frank debate. I can remember evenings when your Lordships' House has not only been criticised, but swept away night after night, and I have seen the Church to which I belong disestablished time after time. We discussed funeral reform, land reform, the housing question, and any and every question which related to the well being of the people. We believe that the Church exists for the good of the people, and the subjects were always suggested by the working men themselves, and never once did I hear this question brought forward for discussion by a working man, nor was it once alluded to as a grievance to be redressed. Of course I only profess to be a single witness, but I feel certain that those who worked with me would bear the same witness, and I offer that witness to your Lordships to-night. Coupled with the fact that in all the election bills which have been examined there is not an allusion to this Bill, it amounts to this—that when there is no political interest at stake there is no popular demand for this Bill at all.

That brings me to the last, and, in some respects, the strongest of my reasons against the passing of this Bill as it stands. You would by it strain the consciences of thousands of good men, whose consciences we all ought to respect even if we do not agree with them—I mean the 20,000 working clergy of this country. It is well known that the clergy are bound by the canon law, and by the ninety-ninth Canon passed in 1603—and I would venture most respectfully to suggest this Canon to the notice the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as showing the attitude of the Church of England in its official teaching upon this matter long before the date he mentioned—it provided that— No person shall marry within the degrees prohibited by the laws of God, and expressed in a Table set forth by authority in the year of our Lord God 1563, and all marriages so made … shall be dissolved as void from the beginning, and the parties so married shall by course of law be separated, and the aforesaid Table shall be in every church publicly set up and fixed at the charge of the parish. I quite agree that these canons do not bind the laity, but every one of the 20,000 working clergymen of the Church of England is bound by that ninty-ninth canon, and by that canon, as your Lordships have just heard, such marriages are not only forbidden but declared to be against the law of God. It may be said that the clergy are not compelled by this Bill to perform the marriage, but they are bound to proclaim the banns of such marriages, and they are compelled to lend their churches to be used for them, and you have little idea of what the clergy feel towards their churches when you compel them to lend their churches for a marriage which they in fact believe, and are bound by the Canons to believe, is no marriage. I can imagine some person intent upon disestablishing the Church of England introducing such a measure for making the law of the State with regard to the marriage contradict the law of the Church, because it clearly tends to make the co-operation of one with the other more difficult; but what I cannot understand is how a majority of your Lordships, many of whom—probably most of whom—are earnest Churchmen, can possibly assist in driving in the fatal wedge which will force Church and State asunder.

Those, my Lords, are the reasons which compel me to give an unqualified opposition to this Bill. It contradicts the principle upon which the marriage law rests; it lays down no principle whatever to take its place; it destroys the happiness of many homes; it is not demanded by the people in their constituencies and in their homes; and it is a definite step towards the disestablishment of the Church of England. On those grounds, my Lords, I ask you to reject it.


My Lords, when I came down here to-night I had no intention to speak upon this Bill, but I am told that as I had charge of a similar Bill over twenty years ago in the House of Commons and for several years afterwards, I ought to say a few words upon it.

I have listened with great care to what has fallen from the right rev. Prelate, but I cannot help thinking that I heard all these arguments twenty or more years ago, and I do not know upon what ground the right rev. Prelate claims to represent the large number of people who he says are opposed to this Bill. We have been challenged because there appears to be no great interest taken in the country with regard to this Bill. No, my Lords, the people who are in favour of this Bill have become weary of waiting, but one would have thought that when a Bill had passed, the House of Commons with this large majority, and was coming before your Lordships with what I believe to be every prospect of success, those who are so terribly frightened about it, and so much against it, would have shown themselves, and would have organised petitions against it. But we have heard of nothing of the kind.

We are asked by the right rev. Prelate why this Bill should not be extended further than to marriage with a deceased wife's sister. I should have thought the very simple reason for that was that there has been no wish for it, and therefore, at the present moment, it has never been discussed before the country, and I do not believe that anyone has any great desire for it. The noble and learned Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill (Lord Shaftesbury) was very strong upon the desolation which, if this Bill were carried, would be brought into the homes of some people in society. There may be some cases in which it may be inconvenient, but for those few cases in which it is inconvenient among the rich there will be thousands and thousands of children among the poor who will bless the day when this Bill is passed. It is for the poor that this Bill is needed more than for anyone else. We hear the argument that a sister-in-law cannot go to her brother-in-law's house if this Bill is passed. Why not? Because it is asserted she is an unmarried woman, and under this law she will be a marriageable woman. But is not that the case now? The poorer classes have not got large houses, or a number of servants. They cannot leave their children with nurses; they are obliged to have a housekeeper, and to have someone residing in their house and nine times out of ten that is a young person who is most anxious probably to marry the man whose house she is keeping. Therefore, I cannot see what difference there is between the two cases.

It appears to me there is nothing in this argument whatever. But there is a great deal in another argument. If anybody were to go into the country, and to look round there, although they might find some instances where stepmothers have been extremely kind to the children before marriage, they would find that after their marriage many women who previous to marriage have been extremely kind, when they get children of their own, give the stepchildren very short shrift. Now I want to know who is more likely to be a kind stepmother to the children than the sister of the deceased wife. I heard earlier in the debate some story told about the woes of a deceased wife's sister. I can also tell a story, if your Lordships will allow me, of an incident that happened to me some fifteen or twenty years ago. A tenant of mine who had lost his wife, and had several young children, came to me after several years to say that these children were very fond of their aunt, and were most desirous that he should marry her. He himself said he was quite willing to marry her, and liked her very much, and his father and her father were quite willing that the marriage should take place. But he wanted to know what the consequences were likely to be if he did so, whether he would be boycotted by the clergy and the others upon the estate, or what line he should take. I strongly advised him to go abroad and get married, and to come back, and I said that so far as our own family were concerned we should receive his wife just as we should any other lady whom he had made his wife. That turned out an exceedingly good marriage for the children and for the man, but I am sorry to say that some of those who are now so bitter against his Bill—especially the clergyman of the village—set the people against him, and the result was that I lost a very good tenant and he lost a very good farm. I hope that after this year cases like that will not occur. This is not a rich man's question—it is entirely a poor man's question, and it is on behalf of the poor that I, for one, desire to see this Bill passed.

We have been told that the only real grievance in this matter was on the part of those who had lived in the Colonies, and who had come home to England, and whose wives were not recognised in this country. Some years ago—I believe on the first occasion when the Colonial Premiers came over to England—I was sitting at the banquet given to those Premiers, and I believe there were three Colonial Premiers present whose wives were deceased wives' sisters. They told me that their wives were not recognised in this country, and one went so far as to say this: "If I chose to leave my wife, and leave her to go to the workhouse, I could marry anyone else I liked in this country." The removal of that disability has only shown how ridiculous it is to maintain here the law as it exists at the present time. It has not removed the grievance which has been felt in the past, and is being felt now, by thousands of people. The Duke of Northumberland said the argument was: "Why should not a man marry his deceased wife's sister if he likes her?" That is not the argument. The argument is, why should not a man marry his deceased wife's sister if he thinks it better for himself and his children, when there is no sin and no immorality in doing so? I do not wish to labour this point in any way, but I say that after waiting all these years it is not unreasonable to believe that the people are waiting calmly and quietly for the measure of justice which they believe and which I feel certain this House will grant them, on the present occasion.


I should like to make a few remarks in regard to the historical statements which have been made, some of which I must confess rather surprised me. The noble Lord, my kind neighbour, Lord James, seemed entirely to forget the course of legislation in the fourth century, which I can hardly suppose so learned a lawyer is unfamiliar with. The opinion of the Church is, as far as I know, undoubted, although it was only expressed in one or two directions; but much more important is the fact that when the Empire became Christian it set itself to work rather rapidly to bring legislation into harmony with what were held to be Christian principles; and so in the year 355 an imperial law was passed entirely forbidding such marriages in future as are now contemplated, and speaking of them in strong terms of reprobation. I do not know that you can have stronger evidence that that was the mind of the whole Church than when you find that it set itself to work to influence secular legislation against these marriages, and succeeded in so influencing it.

I do not know whether I need touch upon the point of the somewhat scornful way in which that great master of theology, St. Basil, was spoken of. He almost seemed to be a stranger to my noble friend, who apparently had not at all appreciated the greatness of his mind; and I may say to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that his canons are, so far as I know, reverenced everywhere in the Eastern Church to-day. St. Basil wrote his Epistle to Diodorus a considerable time after the marriage law of A.D. 355. It was, therefore, not necessary for him to summon Church Councils to deal with this matter at all. He was taking the general law of the Empire, and commenting upon it in a Christian spirit, and that was surely a thing which anyone of us might do without our comment being spoken of as "the obsolete views of pre-Reformation divines," which I think was the phrase the noble Lord used with reference to the writings of St. Basil. It is quite true that St. Basil lived before the Reformation, but he spoke the mind of the Church and State in the fourth century, and that, I think, is a precedent worthy of consideration.

Then with regard to our own branch of the Catholic Church, the Bishop of London has pointed out quite conclusively that the mind of the Church of England, as far as it was expressed at all in words, was in the year 1604 entirely decisive, not in regard to these particular marriages only, but in regard to all the other marriages in the Table put out by Archbishop Parker in 1563. And then it should be remembered that that Table included all marriages of consanguinity and affinity, some of which would be reprobated by every Christian man and woman, and by every enlightened atheist. As Lord Halifax said quite truly, the marriages contained in that Table, and which were dealt with by Lord Lyndhurst's Act, were the whole body of marriages of consanguinity and affinity, and not particularly this one with a deceased wife's sister. That is a very important point which has been most extraordinarily forgotten.

We have been told that the arguments are all threadbare, but I am inclined to think that noble Lords who have spoken on historical matters to-night have not really looked up their arguments at all. They have apparently depended upon their ancient recollections, which have become somewhat dulled by time. Let me just say this word about Lord Lyndhurst's Act. We are told that two Bishops intervened, and I do not know what happened. I have no brief for Lord Lyndhurst, but I do say this, that he touched a very sore spot in the law of the country—perhaps not with the highest motives—that is to say, he pointed out the fact that all these marriages which your Lordships would reprobate quite as much as anybody else possibly could, were only voidable, and not void—that a man might marry his sister if he liked, and that up to that date such a marriage would hold good if it was not voided. That was the state of the law, and it was absolutely necessary that something should be done—absolutely necessary in a Christian country—and it was Lord Brougham, and not the Bishops, who seized upon that fact, and it was through Lord Brougham's action that the Bill was made what it afterwards became. That is really a very important fact which I should have thought it was hardly in my province, as a simple ecclesiastic, to state in a room containing so many eminent lawyers. It really seems to me, although we are told that this debate is threadbare, that it wants a little revising as regards matters of legal history.

I have said pretty nearly all that it is absolutely necessary for me to say, because I do not wish to say much more about the moral question than has been so well said by the Bishop of London and others. But I would like to say this—that when, as Bishop of Salisbury, in the first few years of my episcopate, I went into this question, I found that these marriages which are now in question were by no means the only grave infringements of the marriage law. There were five or six other kinds of marriages which were being contracted by people, not with the same frequency, but there was really a tendency in the public mind to be very lax indeed in regard to marriages of affinity, and even with regard to marriages of consanguinity, and I am of opinion that unless we get a clear rule such as that which lawyers express by the term "prohibiting marriages within the three degrees," or such as that which the Church has expressed by the Table of Kindred and Affinity, and unless we keep to those clear lines, we shall get on the downward plane. It has been said to-night that we must amend the marriage law step by step, but most of us would be very sorry to think that that amendment of the marriage law step by step should issue, as it has done in Germany, in permitting all marriages except between immediate ascendants and descendants. That is the state of the Imperial marriage law in Germany, which is a very great country, from which we can learn many things, but I should be very sorry to think that this present Bill should be the beginning of such a law as that. No doubt the present state of things began in Germany with the relaxation of this particular marriage law, but it has now gone on much further than we like to contemplate, and some day our descendents may say, "it is you who introduced this laxity of principle, and it is to you that this change of the law is due."


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in addressing the House, reminded us that the arguments connected with this matter are of a very threadbare character. It could hardly be otherwise considering the number of times which something like this Bill has been before the Houses of Parliament. I feel myself in this difficulty—that while we all listen somewhat impatiently to threadbare arguments with which we disagree, we all have to depend upon those threadbare arguments which commend themselves to us. I have therefore to ask your Lordships' indulgence while I detain the House for a few minutes with some of the more obvious considerations which have led me to the conclusion that the present law is better than the proposed law. I wish to avoid all exaggeration in discussing the matter, which is one of those matters which do not run along party lines, and upon which consequently persons curiously disagree. Some are influenced by the weight of one argument and some by that of another. Therefore I feel that the best contribution which any of us can make to the subject is to state plainly and simply the reasons why we are not able to agree to the proposal, and—as in my own case—the reasons why some of us hold on to the existing law as a better law than anything that has been proposed.

We have been reminded to-night and we are told almost every day in the Press, that the sentiment of the country is clear on the subject—that the mind of the country is made up in favour of this proposal. We have had what may be called the very weighty argument of successive majorities, on some occasions in this House, and on others in another place, and I am prepared to concede that these majorities declare that the opinion in Parliamentary circles is in favour of passing the proposed Bill. But I venture to add that this opinion is a very languid opinion, that it does not represent any deep conviction in the mind of the nation, and that it cannot be said to represent the result of any very serious thought on the part of a great many of those who vote in favour of the proposal. As the most rev. Primate reminded us this afternoon, the very fact that this Bill has been for so many years what is sometimes termed a "hardy annual" is in itself an indirect proof that the country does not really care very much about it, and therefore I venture to say that while we may fairly hold that the opinion—the Parliamentary opinion—of the country has been declared in favour of it, I think we are justified in holding that it is a very languid opinion, and ought not to weigh very heavily in the scale.

The fact is, unless I am entirely mistaken, that the real feeling about the proposed Bill, and the feeling which increases the majorities in its favour, is a desire on the part of many persons to get it out of the region of controversy—to be rid of it. I am quite sure that as a rule the wives of the nation dislike it, and will be glad to hear the end of the talk of it, and there are a great many persons who hold quite seriously that the less the husbands think and talk about it the better. So that if we endeavour to analyse the matter, I think we may fairly come to this conclusion about what is supposed to be the unanimity, or the general prevalence of opinion in its favour—that we might say, indeed, that this Bill before the Houses of Parliament, in its relation to this House, is very much like the importunate widow in the parable, and I myself see no reason to come to any conclusion that there is any very deep-lying conviction at the back of the support given to it. For myself, I have to confess that I have endeavoured, through a good many years consideration of the matter, to come to an unprejudiced conclusion, and the conclusion to which my consideration of the matter has brought me is this—that I cannot get over certain fundamental objections to it.

The first objection of all is that it is based on no sort of principle. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack this afternoon spoke of it as a recommendation of the Bill that it only dealt with one thing at a time. But on what principle does it deal with that one thing? As I endeavour to examine it, I can find no principle at all underlying the proposals of the Bill. It proposes to allow a man to marry his deceased wife's sister. Why, then, should it not allow a widow to marry her deceased husband's brother? There seems to be no sort of reason in the thing. It is simply what we might call a kind ofprivilegium, if I may venture to say so, being no lawyer—a sort of law which is the most objectionable form of all—and therefore on that ground alone I feel an objection to it which I cannot get over. It is not based on any intelligible principle. This being so, as I look at it, I can hardly remember a more flagrant instance of what I sometimes think is a common defect in our English legislation—that we pay too little regard to principles, and are too ready to compromise and to legislate for some particular object, without sufficiently examining the underlying principles involved, and the consequences which will necessarily follow.

If we look at the present law—and it is a law which has worn very well in history—we find that it is based—and it has worn well, if I may say so, because it is so based—on a principle which is quite intelligible and which a great many of us believe to be perfectly sound, namely, the principle that the wife and the husband should be placed on the same footing, that there should be no difference between the two in regard to their relationship, that the relations of the one become the relations of the other, and also that the relations of affinity should, with regard to this question, be put upon the same plane as the relations of consanguinity. All that is perfectly plain to every understanding; it is a law which works without any ambiguity; and its great recommendation is that in the inner circle of the home, whether on the side of consanguinity or of affinity, this law puts an end to all thoughts of marriage or of sexual relationship. To my mind, that is one of the greatest benefits that can be conferred upon the inner circle of the home.

Now this proposal comes in on this existing state of the law. What does it do? As I have said before, I desire to avoid all exaggeration, so that I would rather put my question in this way. In so far as it has any real effect, what sort of effect is it likely to have? I have dwelt for a moment on the circle of the inner domestic life and on the law of affinity. I venture to say that the tendency of this change—I will not call it more than a tendency—will be to destroy the character, the sacrosanct character, of that inner domestic circle. In so far as it will have any effect at all, I believe that will be the effect, and it will have that effect by breaking through, or breaking down, this safeguarding principle of affinity being on the same plane as consanguinity, and anyone who has given study to human nature, or has had experience of human life, must know very well what a dangerous thing it is to break through, or to break down, any of those common safe guarding principles which are really the protection of the common life. If you once do that, you confuse the minds of ordinary people; the ordinary man or woman would begin to ask what is right, and what is wrong. They would say, "A man may marry the sister of his deceased wife, but a woman may not marry the brother of her deceased husband: which of those relationships constitutes a barrier, to pass which is an immorality, and which of them is not such a barrier? And what about other relationships of affinity?" If they once begin to ask all these questions, and are brought into this confused state of mind, nothing but evil can follow.

And there is another thing which may fairly be said in connection with this, and that is, that if you once obscure and confuse your fundamental moral principles, the thing that is likely to happen in many cases, in many natures, is of this kind: that you let loose appetite and passion and morbid imagination, or rather, you allow them to invade an area never invaded by them before, and you do not know what harm may result. It may be said, perhaps, that I am exaggerating; but, in making laws, we have to consider that laws are not made for the righteous, but for those who are weak and liable to fall, and we should not forget the protecting power of a law in the field of ordinary life. Therefore, I say that in these small matters we ought to be very careful not to abandon any acknowledged principle which we know to be good, sound, and wise, and if we hold on to the principle that has guided us for so long a time, we shall at any rate be upon the safe side.

I have endeavoured to look without prejudice at the arguments in favour of the Bill. I have listened to the arguments adduced to-night, and I am sure that, if anything could have convinced me, it would have been the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. But I am bound to confess that the arguments which I have heard seem to me to be anything but strong—not at all sufficiently strong to overthrow such an ancient and generally well-established rule as the rule of affinity. One thing which I observe about all the arguments in favour of the Bill, or nearly all, is that they keep well away from these underlying principles. We have had the argument of general adoption in other countries, and soon. We have been told that in this, that, and the other European country, and in the United States, this principle has been adopted. I am not prepared to lay too much stress on that argument of general adoption. I say that, however general the adoption of any law may be, we have a right to ask: Upon what principle is that law founded? I am quite sure of this, if I may venture to say so, that if Moses had presented his code of restrictions on marriage to his contemporaries, they would have universally rejected it as of no value at all, and yet we find that the most important of them have worn for well over 3,000 years. So that those of us who defend the existing line of legislation with regard to such a sacred and important matter as marriage have at any rate a long experience behind us.

Then, again, we were reminded of the colonial argument—I suppose I might call it the Imperial argument. We have been told that we are putting our colonial fellow-subjects into an invidious and unfair position if we hold on to the ancient law of our own country, and we have even been told, if I remember rightly, that the fact of our having pissed last year the Colonial Disabilities Act is a reason why we should pass this Bill to-night. I venture to think, on the other hand, that that is a reason why we should not be in a hurry. I have always been one of those who were in favour of the Colonial Disabilities Act, because I have always felt that if we gave sanction to a law in our Colonies, and persons there, in abona fide spirit, took advantage of that law, and lived under it, it was hard upon them, when they came home, if they had to suffer from disability in consequence. But I do not see why it is in any way due to them that because this law, which some of us hold to be an inferior law, has become prevalent in the Colonies, the burden of that inferiority should be laid upon us in this country.

Then again, we have been reminded that it is a poor man's question, a working man's question. No doubt it may press a little more closely upon the working man or upon the poor man than upon men of other classes. But this agitation certainly did not begin as a poor man's question; and I think we ought always to bear that in mind when we are discussing it. For my part, I have never found that it was a very pressing question in the minds of any type of working men. For a period of forty years or more I have been in pretty intimate relationship with all sorts of working men, leading trade unionists in a great city, trades councillors, and working men in country places, and it is a literal fact—I was reminded of it as I listened to the Bishop of London this evening when he was speaking of his experiences—that never once in those forty years has any working man spoken to me with regard to the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill as a thing to be desired. And it seems to me to be a very marvellous thing, if there is this very intense desire, as some people would have us believe there is, among the great mass of the working people for this change of the law, that those of us who have come into a good deal of personal contact with them should never have been made aware of it. So that I am bound to say that I do not lay too much stress on the plea that it is a poor man's question. But if we are to take it, as a poor man's Bill, I say that that is an argument which may carry us a great deal too far; it is a dangerous argument to use, because, surely, it means something of this kind: Your working classes are living in such houses, they are so "cribb'd, cabin'd, and confined" in what are called their homes of one, two, or three rooms or what not, that it is not decent for a man and his deceased wife's sister to live together in one of these houses unless they are man and wife. I say that if there is force in that argument, then the argument amounts to a very imperative call to us to do something, a great deal more than we have hitherto done, for the housing of the working classes, I venture to say to the leading representatives of the working men—who voted as a rule, as I understand, for this measure it another place—that I have the feeling that the working men, in connection with their unions, and what might be called their corporate or public life, have no given so much weight and attention to the question of the home life, and of all that is required for the decencies and the happiness of home, as we would have expected them to give. On those grounds I am bound to say that I do not attach very great weight to the plea that this is poor man's question. No, my Lords, the real fact I believe to be this: that, as I said before, those who live within the region of Parliamentary life are desirous of getting this question done with and decided; and furthermore, I venture to think, they have not given quite so much attention as some of us who live outside the Parliamentary area—and perhaps in some cases closer to ordinary life—have been led to give to the real objections to the Bill. The real objections are those which I have ventured to enumerate—that it is based on no principle, that it disregards the good of the community, as we conceive it, for the benefit of a few individual cases. We are often reminded that "hard cases make bad law." I do not know whether that is so, but this seems to suggest that it may be so. Another objection is, that it tends to break up the safeguards, in so far as its influence may go, for a pure and happy family life; and it does this by vitiating, in some degree, the atmosphere of the family. It is on these grounds that I myself cannot give the Bill any support. I feel, when I think of how it is likely to work in various classes of society, that it might almost be described as a Bill for slamming the door in the face of the maiden aunt. The maiden aunt, in our English society, is very often a ministering angel in the family; and I am afraid that the tendency will be to make it more difficult, in many cases, for the person who occupies the position of the maiden aunt in a family to step in when occasion requires, and do the beneficent work which she has been in the habit of doing. Most of your Lordships, I have no doubt, grew up under the happy influences and affectionate care of a devoted mother; but here and there upon these benches there may be one or another who has had to depend for all the care and affection of a mother on a sister of his mother or a sister of his father. I am one of those, my experience being that I owe all that I ever knew of a mother's care and devotion to a maiden aunt, and my feeling has been that no one who has had that sort of experience would venture, without a good deal of thought, to take any legislative or other action which would be likely to shut the maiden aunt out of the home. My fear is that on the whole that may be the tendency of this proposed legislation. I do not imagine that any of us expect, or believe, that a very great number of persons are anxious, or likely, to marry a sister of their deceased wife, so that actual cases before us are likely to be few. I do not think anyone would deny that they will be at any rate comparatively few. But, on the other hand, my belief is that the homes are legion in which, by this legislation, you will so alter the relationship as detrimentally to interfere with the happiness of many homes while the wives are living, and with the purity of the atmosphere of the home. So that, altogether, I venture to put it to your Lordships that we should do well to pause before we alter the existing law irrevocably, and, it may be, to the permanent detriment of our family life.


My Lords, I cordially agree with the sentiments uttered by my right rev. friend, and I am very pleased to hear that he is opposed to this Bill. What really strikes me in the matter is this. Our present code, as the right rev. Prelate has pointed out, is simple and consistent. The Lord Chancellor appears to me to rejoice in destroying this code piecemeal. He seems to say that the great character of this Bill—the saving point of this Bill—is that it undermines the code by degrees. What does that really mean? It means this—that, if you pass this Bill allowing marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and do not break any further into the law of affinity, you really hold out a premium to break the law, and, when a sufficient number of people have married their nieces or other connections, then you are to give them also liberty further to undermine your code. I consider that the marriage code is one of the most essential things for the welfare of the nation, and that it is most dangerous in any way to undermine it. One of the things that the great Napoleon did, was to put forth the wonderful Code Napoleon. It is not generally known, perhaps, but we must not forget it, that in that Code Napoleon considered it was essential to adhere to the affinity law.

But we now go to the Bill, and that Bill is brought forward for the purpose of satisfying the Colonies, and in order that Colonists coming to this country may find that their marriage is recognised here just the same as it would be in their Colony. But let us just look at what the Colonies do. The Cape Colony allows marriage with a deceased wife's niece, but not with the brother's widow. So that we do not meet their requirement. New Zealand also allows marriage with a deceased husband's brother, and we do not, therefore, meet that case. South Australia allows marriage with a deceased wife's niece. And, therefore, it is idle to pretend that we are really solving the difficulties of our Colonial brothers who come to this country, because we find that the Bill will not do so in any way in its present form.

Then there is another point. It is urged that we are relieving certain people who are aggrieved who have already married, or desire to marry, their deceased wife's sister. But you cannot do that without upsetting the unity of family life throughout the country, by preventing the orphan children of those who are not prepared to marry their deceased wife's sister from deriving the advantage of the presence of their aunt in the home.

Then it is said that the people desire it. I think that is pretty well disposed of by the statement of the Bishop of London, and by a very few remarks which I will read to your Lordships from a gentleman whom I do not know, but who writes to me from Manchester. He says— As one who has lived daily for years among the poor and the working classs, I can honestly testify that there is not the slightest demand for it. I am convinced that such legislation would do incalculable harm to the domestic purity which we know only too well is gradually being undermined on every side.

A great many stories are told of the hardships of the working man who has no one to take care of his children when his wife dies, except that wife's sister. Now I have lived for many years, and I know a good deal about the people amongst whom I live, and in my experience it is very rarely indeed, when a working man loses his wife, that she has got an unmarried sister who can come and live with him. The people who generally come and live with him are some of his own relatives, very likely his sister; and it would be a most outrageous thing if, because there was a danger of evil coming from that, you were to propose to allow him to marry his own sister, and so break the consanguinity law.

There is one great danger hanging over the United States, and that is that their laws are diverse in the different States as regards marriage; and if we upset our code of marriage laws in a careless manner we shall run a very groat risk of destroying the whole happiness of our family life. I consider that it may be necessary that all our existing laws, the law of Scotland, the law of England, and the law of our Colonies, and so on, should be inquired into, and it may be necessary that there should be some attempt to unify our codes of marriage laws in some intelligent manner; but that ought to be done by a Royal Commission carefully going into all the particulars and deciding what sort of marriages should be civil marriages. I do not think it is right that a matter of this kind, with such dangerous results likely to arise from it, should be dealt with by a private Member, or by the Bill of a private Member suddenly taken up by the Government of the day.


My Lords, I think your Lordships are probably anxious to come to a decision upon this most important matter. The debate has been one of very great interest, and, although every speaker has said that the arguments are well worn, yet I am quite sure, from the zeal with which they were advanced, that the length of time since they have been stated to your Lordships has given them a freshness which twenty years ago they would not have been able to wear.

In speaking to the House to-night, I ought to say that I speak entirely for myself. Though I stand at this table, I cannot claim to represent in any way the official Opposition, But none the less I crave your Lordships' indulgence for a very few words.

One of the most interesting speeches delivered to-night was delivered by the noble Lord upon the Woolsack. I confess that since the noble Lord has sat in your Lordships' House, I have always witnessed his rising to address the House with great trepidation. The noble Lord has a tranquillity of utterance, and a sweet reasonableness, which conceal a very formidable argument, which we have been taught by sad experience greatly to fear; and therefore, when I saw the noble Lord make that double step to the left, which signifies that he is going to address your Lordships' House, I knew that one of the most formidable speeches in favour of this Bill was about to be delivered. But what did the speech amount to? In the first place he told us that we must not consider the question of marriage with a deceased wife's sister in relation to any other part of the marriage law. He said that the marriage law is one of the most confused things there is; and that the real path of safety is to look at each incident in it by itself. I must say, if it be true—and I am certainly not prepared to deny it—that the marriage law is a very confused law, it is a strange proposal which is made to your Lordships to-night, because it is sought by this Bill to destroy that one part of the marriage law which is completely consistent in itself, and completely comprehensible in its limitations. Moreover, is it in truth safe, as the noble and learned Lord would have us believe, to look at this particular incident of the marriage law apart from any other part of the marriage law? I remember a debate last year which was introduced to your Lordships by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who was supported by the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, in which those two noble Lords successfully urged your Lordships to pass the Colonial Marriages Bill. The noble and learned Lord has reminded us to-night that he, on that occasion, used the very same warning that he has given us this evening. "Let us go," he said, "step by step. Let us look at each of these questions by itself. "The decision of one question," he said last year, "will not in any way prejudice any future discussion." And yet what value is to be attached to those assurances of the noble and learned Lord, which he gives I am sure in the most absolute good faith? Why, his own colleague throws him over this year! His own colleague, speaking on behalf of the same Government, with almost the words of the noble and learned Lord ringing in his ears that nothing in the Colonial Marriages Bill of last year should be taken to give any precedent whatever for any future development of the marriage law in England—with those words, I say, ringing in his ears, the first thing which the First Lord of the Admiralty said was that having passed the Colonial Marriages Bill of last year you are committed to take another step. That is what he implies—that, a precedent having been established, you are obliged to take the next step—that next step which the noble and learned Lord asked us last year not to look at. No, my Lords, he cannot catch us again in that way. I am sure the noble and learned lord does not think that I mean any disrespect.

But I do not rely merely upon that. Other countries have gone step by step. We were told about Germany by the noble and learned Lord. He said, "The civilised world is against you and, among other places, Germany." And yet we know—the right rev. Prelate who presides over the Diocese of Salisbury was telling us to-night—the extent to which the German law has gone. I believe it has long passed—I speak under correction—violation of the prohibited degrees of affinity; it has even attacked the prohibited degrees of consanguinity as well. And then we have been told about the United States. I do not want to take up your Lordships' time by repeating for a moment the eloquent arguments advanced by the most rev. Primate; but I must remind your Lordships in one sentence that there is probably no part of the American law which we should seek to avoid more particularly than the marriage law as it prevails in that country. Every one of us knows that they have tried, in the States of the Union, experiments in marriage law and in divorce which every one of your Lordships would shrink from oven considering for a moment.

Then the next point, I think, in the speech of the noble and learned Lord was an argument that the prohibition of marriage with a deceased wife's sister was a thing invented in the year 1835.




I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon if I have misrepresented him.


What I said was that the legal prohibition making it void dated from then, and I also said, what the noble Marquess is no doubt referring to, that what took place prior to that seemed to me to show that the Church of England did not regard such a marriage as an immoral thing in itself.


I am very much obliged to the noble and learned Lord. It is the old argument that by the Act of 1835 these marriages were made void, whereas previously they were only voidable, and the noble and learned Lord suggests that therefore there could be nothing very objectionable in such marriages. But how far does he go? Does he say that a marriage between a brother and sister in blood is not objectionable? And yet the very same argument applies in that case. Before the Act of 1835 such a marriage was not void, but only voidable. I speak under correction in the presence of a great many people who are more learned in the law than I am, but that is the very essence of the ecclesiastical law. Wherever you look, you will find it true to say that that which is forbidden under the ecclesiastical law is not forbidden until it is brought under notice. It is not the spirit of that law to pronounce these marriages void, but only to make them voidable when they are brought under the cognisance of the proper tribunal, and therefore, if it be true, as the noble and learned Lord says, that these marriages were voidable and not void before the Act of 1835, and that in consequence of that circumstance we must hold that they were not objectionableper se, he would have to hold that all the marriages within the prohibited degrees stand upon precisely the same footing.

That argument, of course, figured also very largely in the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford, and I should make the same answer to the argument in his mouth that I have just addressed to your Lordships with reference to the argument of the Lord Chancellor. But my noble and learned friend used another very remarkable argument. He said that the burden of proof was upon us, and not upon himself—that we were seeking to establish an exception, and not himself. The fact is the other way. The present marriage law—the present table of prohibited degrees—is perfectly consistent with itself. It rests upon a perfectly logical plan, and the burden of proof is not upon us, but upon himself if he desires to make an exception in it.

Then my noble and learned friend said, "Ah, but think of the poor." I am quite sure that my noble and learned friend knows as much about the poor as I do, but I do not rate myself very high. I know it is said sometimes that your Lordships, or some of your Lordships, are not willing to accept ecclesiastical canons in matters of this kind. I think the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack used a rather strong phrase somewhat to that effect. I do not ask you for a moment to accept the ecclesiastical guidance of the right rev. Bench in this matter. But I do ask you to accept their experience as men who have been brought into close contact with the poor. Whatever may be the religious opinions of those I am addressing—to whatever school of religious thought they may belong—on one thing I think every fair-minded man will agree, and that is that there is no body of men in England which knows more about the conditions and feelings of the poor than the ministers of religion who work amongst them, and we have of course sitting in our midst in your Lordships' House many right rev. Prelates who have been in their time parochial clergy, and whose experience fully comes up to the standard I have ventured to mention. In that respect, then, apart altogether from their ecclesiastical character, I place the experience of the right rev. Bench against the experience of my noble and learned friend, and I say that if it be a question who knows most of the opinions of the poor, the Bishop of London or Lord James of Hereford, there is not a man in England who would doubt as to what the answer ought to be. What did the Bishop of London tell your Lordships? He told you that he had lived and worked amongst the poor for a great number of years, that he knew their feelings and their views intimately, that he had heard all sorts of subjects of interest, political and social, debated before him by working men, and that in the whole of his experience he had never heard a working man raise this particular question, or call in question the marriage law in this particular. I say that that is evidence of the first class, and that until that evidence is refuted, until there can be brought before your Lordships the evidence of men who can be said to know at least as much of the poor as the right rev. Prelate, it must stand as for the moment accepted that the poor—at any rate, the poor amongst whom he moved—do not take the view of this question—or indeed, any view about this question—such as is suggested to us by those who are in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill.

The real question is, upon what principle are we to go? My noble and learned friend Lord James, as far as I can make out, thinks that the only principle to appeal to is the opinion which each man can form for himself. That appears to me to be absolutely contrary to all marriage law such as we know it in any country in the world. If that be true all the degrees of consanguinity must go with the degrees of affinity. If every man is to judge for himself there will be no law forbidding a man to marry his blood relation if he pleases, any more than there is in the case of affinity. It is quite evident that once the principle of affinity is admitted at all, we pass from what I may call for the want of a better word the mere physiological region of the prohibitive degrees to something much more subtle. What is the principle which lies behind the marriage law? Why should there be prohibitive degrees of affinity at all? It is evident that we have passed into what may be called the region of consicence in this matter. There must be some reason outside this material world which governs the law of marriage in the case of civilised mankind. If that be true, if there are conscientious motives apart from material motives which are to govern us in this respect, then is it not a formidable thing that your Lordships should be asked in this Bill to contradict the ancient and for many years the unvarying tradition of the Christian Church? I take it there is no doubt on that head. The whole pre-Reformation Church, the whole of the Eastern Church, as we were told by the Bishop of Salisbury this afternoon, agreed that such marriages as marriage with a deceased wife's sister ought to be within the prohibited degree, and in our own day it is not only the Church of England, but the Church of Scotland also which forbids them. If it be a question of conscience, then I say it is a most formidable thing to ask the House of Lords to flout, as they would do if they carried the Second Reading of this Bill to-night, the traditional opinion and decision of the whole Christian Church, at any rate till very recent times.

I would ask one further question of your Lordships. Is it a fact in the mind of any of your Lordships that the sister-in-law stands in the same position to a man as any other woman; because that is what is involved in this question? Can that be said? Is it true? Would any of your Lordships, in fact, say so? I will venture to take an extreme case, because extreme cases are sometimes useful in exhibiting in a pointed manner an argument which one desires to enforce. I say that a sister-in-law stands in a wholly different position from another woman not so nearly related. Take the case of a man who deserts his wife for another woman. That is a great evil, but I am sorry to say a very common one. Would any one of your Lordships say that for a man to desert his wife and make his sister-in-law his mistress would not be profoundly shocking? I will venture to say that every man of the world would agree with me in so thinking. But why should that be so if the sister-in-law is no different from every other woman not so nearly related? Why, so strongly is that view of the case felt that even in this Bill which the Government recommend to your Lordships, a distinction is drawn between the sister-in-law and another woman. Under Sub-section 2 of Clause 3 of the Bill it is made impossible for a man to marry his sister-in-law when he has divorced his wife. Why is that exception made? If the sister-in-law is like any other woman and the wife is divorced why should not a man marry her? What possible consistency is there in such provision unless the sister-in-law stands in a special position? I do not entertain a doubt that the answer that she does stand in a different position, and that you will find reflected right through the conventions which govern our society the same conviction. In all the relations of the sister-in-law to the husband's family you will find she is recognised by universal convention as standing in a wholly different position from another woman.

Then I would submit to your Lordships that it has not been proved that the feeling of the country is in favour of this Bill. There is strong evidence that the country takes very little interest in the matter. We know that no petitions, or no petitions to speak of, have been presented either to this House or to another House in favour of the Bill, and if the country generally is indifferent, we have evidence that one large section—the female portion of the country—are opposed to it. That is another and very formidable fact which the promoters of this Bill have to surmount. Who are in favour of this Bill? Where does the great strength and motive behind the Bill really lie? I cannot doubt what the answer is. Those who are really most warmly in favour of this Bill are interested people who have broken the law and who desire not to bear the consequences of their action. Is your Lordships' House to be asked to lend itself to relieve people who have broken the law from the consequences of their own act? I believe not, and, if that be so, I say the case for the Bill fails. It fails on the merit, and it fails in the argument that it is supported by the country. It fails also in another respect; it has not succeeded in commanding the support of many of those in the present and in the past whose opinion your Lordships have known how to value, and to value deeply. I am proud in this matter to follow my noble friend, Lord Shaftesbury. He bears in your Lordships' House a most honoured name, and we must all have been struck when he quoted in the speech with which he moved the rejection of this Bill the words of his most illustrious grandfather. The great Lord Shaftesbury was not a High Churchman, and he was not a strong party man, but the words which he used were as strong a condemnation of the change now proposed as any that have been used in this debate. Behind his authority and the authority of other men as great as he, we range ourselves, and we ask your Lordships not to be governed by any decision which this House or another House may have come to in the past, but to bring your minds to bear upon this issue, and upon the arguments supporting this Bill, without prejudice or partiality. We ask you to pronounce with no uncertain voice an emphatic opinion that any such change in the marriage law of England, unsupported as it has been by precedent or argument, ought not to be made.


My lords, in rising to say a very few words in what may be regarded I suppose as the conclusion of this debate, I hope I may be pardoned if I touch a personal note for one moment. I cannot forget the interest which my father always took in this question. He entered the House of Commons two years after the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act, and, during the twenty-six years in which he sat there and in the subsequent years in which he sat in your Lordships' House, he was one of the protagonists of this question, and he never failed to do his best to recommend it to the House in which he sat. We certainly cannot be accused, as a Government, of having on this occasion sprung an entirely new question upon the House. This matter has been before Parliament for a very great number of years. The whole question was often debated by pamphlet during the fifty or 100 years which preceded the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act, but, of course, it was the passing of that measure which brought the matter to a stage which was then critical and has remained critical during the long course of years which has succeeded. Part of our case is that the Act of 1835, although, of course, it possesses the sanction which belongs to an Act of Parliament, yet was passed without any real moral sanction. The most rev. Prelate seemed to dispute what I thought were the undisputed facts with regard to the passing of that Act. That Act was introduced with this simple alteration—that only for two years should these marriages be voidable, and that if they were not voided within two years they should then become good marriages. The noble and learned Lord, Lord James, has described how in its passage through this House the whole scope of the measure was changed. It was changed to the form in which it now stands on the Statute-book. But what is important to remember, and what I do not believe can be disputed, is that the House of Commons at that time only assented to this very remarkable change on the understanding that the whole question of the degrees of prohibition in marriage were to be reconsidered at the earliest possible date. That has never been done from that day to this. That is what has made the grievance about which we complain. Lord Shaftesbury seemed somewhat to complain that we had introduced this Bill from the Government Bench. I can assure the noble Earl we did not do so in the belief that a measure introduced from this bench would be thereby made more acceptable to most of your Lordships; in fact, we might have reached the contrary conclusion; but, owing to the fact that the measure had been given facilities in the other House, we thought that the proper way to show our sense of its importance was to undertake its management when it came before your Lordships. A great deal had been said of the progress of this discussion during the years which have intervened since the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act. The Commission of 1847 said in the course of its Report something on the subject which has always struck me as remarkable. They made no recommendation as to a change of the law, but they expressed as clear an opinion on the merits of the case as could be expressed without a positive recommendation. They said— The measure of 1835 has failed. We doubt if any legal prohibition would be effectual. These marriages will take place when an occurrence of circumstances gives rise to mutual attachment, and they are not dependent upon legislation. That might seem to be an observation of a rather cynical man of the world, but it was the recommendation of men like Bishop Lonsdale of Lichfield, Dr. Lushington, Mr. Stuart Wortley, and others, all men of the highest possible character, and all carrying serious weight in the different branches of public activity to which they devote themselves. What are the various objections taken both before and throughout this debate to the passing of this measure? One main objection which those who have studied the early progress of this discussion will remember has not been brought forward with any great prominence this evening, and that is what I may call the Old Testament objection founded on the chapter in Leviticus. I therefore say nothing about it, except that it seemed to me strange that so much stress was ever laid as was at one time laid upon this particular objection, because, as is well known to your Lordships, the Jews with some few exceptions have always regarded these marriages as not only not forbidden, but as in some senses a desirable kind of marriage, and I always think it might be properly assumed that the Jews might be expected to know the meaning of their own law, and also the proper translation of their own language. Then we come to the ecclesiastical objection of which we have heard a great deal more to-night. We have been told that since the fourth century, the voice of the Church has been practically unanimous in at any rate deprecating these marriages. So far as I know they deprecated a great many marriages. I think anybody who has at all studied the subject will not contradict me when I say that the prohibition of the marriage of first cousins was quite as strong and extended over as long a period of time, up to the Reformation, and over quite as large an area as the prohibition of marriage with a deceased wife's sister.


Will the noble Earl allow me to contradict that?


I naturally bow before the superior knowledge of the right rev. Prelate, but both marriages, I understand, are equally forbidden by the Eastern Church. Even if, as I am quite willing to take on the authority of the right rev. Prelate, marriage with first cousins is not regarded in exactly the same manner, it certainly was not viewed with favour by the Church up to the time of the Reformation. I think it was the right rev. Prelate the Lord Bishop of Salisbury who pointed out that Archbishop Parker's table of prohibited degrees was included in the canons of 1864, which, although not binding on the laity, were binding on the clergy. That may be so, although I am inclined to imagine there are several of those canons which are daily ignored and even disobeyed by the clergy at large. I know it is very often assumed that some special sanction attaches to the table of prohibited degrees owing to the fact that it is bound up with the Prayer-book or sometimes bound up with it. But it has no more to do with the Prayer-book than have the Hymns, Ancient and Modern, which are also at times bound up with the same volume. Surely the common-sense view of this ecclesiastical censure of these marriages is that those who think they are forbidden by the Church are perfectly right to discountenance them among all those with whom they may be brought into contact, but that it does not give in such a country as this the Church any title whatever to forbid, or to bring pressure to bear upon Parliament to forbid, people who do not recognise that sanction to contract these marriages.

The third class of objection which has been brought against this Bill are the social objections. We are told that the happy relation which exists between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law is in danger of being compromised or even altogether marred if this Bill is passed. The noble Marquess Lord Salisbury asked very pointedly: "Are you to regard a sister-in-law exactly in the same light as any other woman?" The answer to that is undoubtedly, "No;" but, on the other hand, it is equally true that no man regards his sister-in-law as a sister under certain circumstances. I say without the faintest hesitation that none of your Lordships would allow a young daughter of your own to reside in the same house, or to travel abroad with a young widower brother-in-law, not because you have any doubt of the characters of the parties, but simply because you would not allow her to place herself in that compromising situation any more than in any other compromising situation. It, therefore, always seems to me that there is a certain unreality and almost cant used in speaking of this matter, as though it was a common practice in any class of life for a young sister-in-law to live with a young brother-in-law. It has been said over and over again that this is not a rich man's question, and we have been told to-night on high authority that it is not a poor man's question. The noble Marquess Lord Salisbury asked how it is that the right reverend Bench, with all their knowledge of the life of the poor, which, of course, we freely grant they possess, have not come across more instances of a demand of this kind in the course of their parochial experience. I think one reason for that may be that approaching the matter, as they do, without a tinge of sympathy, it stands to reason that the very last people who would be approached by those who find themselves in this difficult and painful position are those who regard the man who marries his deceased wife's sister as living in sin with the woman, and I think that that is to a certain degree an explanation of the question. Then the Bishop of Hereford attempted to draw an entirely different moral, and he said that if it is true that circumstances under which the poor live make it impossible for a sister-in-law to live with a widower brother-in-law without an illicit connection being established, it shows that your housing laws are wrong. It is not a question of housing. At least it is not primarily a question of housing. If you give these people eight or ten rooms the circumstances would be just the same. The point is not that the houses are small, but that the man's means do not allow him to engage for payment some other woman to look after his children as would be done in the case of more well-to-do classes. The point is that the

Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.) Ancaster, E. Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)
Brownlow, E. Hardwicke, E.
Crewe, E. (L. President.) Camperdown, E. Jersey, E.
Carlisle, E. Kilmorey, E.
Ripon, M. (L. Privy Seal.) Carrington, E. Kimberley, E.
Cathcart, E. Lindsey, E.
Argyll, D. Cawdor, E. Londesborough, E.
Bedford, D. Clarendon, E. Morley, E.
Wellington, D. Cowley, E. Northesk, E.
Craven, E. Onslow, E.
Lansdowne, M. Fortescue, E. Russell, E.

sister-in-law goes almost as a matter of course in a number of cases to stay with the brother-in-law, with results which we all know. We have heard a great deal of conscience in this matter, and we have been asked not to lay the burden upon the conscience of people who dislike this Bill. I think we may be allowed to claim some conscience in the matter. We do not like, we most actively dislike, to leave the law in a condition which, as we believe, absolutely encourages the existence of this illicit connection in a very considerable class of the people of this country, and we therefore ask for the same credit of conscientious motives to be given to us in this matter which other noble Lords and right rev. Prelates themselves claim. The fact is, we believe that speaking generally—of course I know there are those who differ—the moral sense of the people of this country does not support the existing law, simply because they do not believe that any real moral stain attaches to those who break it. Some of the very best and wisest men in this House of Parliament and in the other House, and some of the greatest and wisest men, both in Church and in State, have taken this view. We believe that there is an ever-growing feeling that those who support the law as it stands and who dislike the notion of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, have no right to lay this burden upon their fellow-citizens who think differently, and we ask your Lordships to confirm that view by voting for the repeal of what we consider an unenlightened, an arbitrary, and an unjust law.

On Question, "That the word `now' proposed to be left out stand part of the Motion,"

their Lordships divided:—Contents, 111; Not-Contents, 79.

Sandwich, E. Cheylesmore, L. Lawrence, L.
Stanhope, E. Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.) Leigh, L.
Verulam, E. Cloncurry, L. Lucas, L.
Wharncliffe, E. Colebrooke, L. Manners, L.
Courtney of Penwith, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Althorp, V. (L. Chamberlain.) Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.) Monson, L.
Churchill, V. Denman, L. [Teller.] Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Falmouth, V. Digby, L. Muskerry, L.
Hampden, V. Dormer, L. Newton, L.
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.) Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)
Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)
Milner, V. Ellenborough, L. Ranfurly, L. (E. Ranfurly.)
Templetown, V. Elphinstone, L. Rendel, L.
Eversley, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Abinger, L. Farrer, L. Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)
Airedale, L. Fitzmaurice, L. Rothschild, L.
Allendale, L. Granard, L. (E. Granard.) Sanderson, L.
Ardilaun, L. [Teller.] Sandys, L.
Atkinson, L. Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Sherborne, L.
Balinhard, L. (E. Southesk.) Haversham, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Barnard, L. Headley, L Swaythling, L.
Barrymore, L. Hemphill, L. Templemore, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Heneage, L. Tennyson, L.
Belper, L. Herschell, L. Tweedmouth, L.
Biddulph, L. Hothfield, L. Weardale, L.
Blyth, L. James, L. Welby, L.
Boston, L. Killanin, L. Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)
Burghclere, L. Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.) Wolverton, L.
Carew, L. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.) Wynford, L.
Canterbury, L. Abp. Goschen, V. Clonbrock, L.
Halifax, V. Colchester, L.
Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.) Hill, V. Collins, L.
Newcastle, D. St. Aldwyn, V. Douglas, L. (E. Home.)
Northumberland, D. [Teller.] Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)
Somerset, D. Bangor, L. Bp. Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)
Bath and Wells, L. Bp. Forester, L.
Ailesbury, M. Birmingham, L. Bp. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Salisbury, M. Chester, L. Bp. Hatherton, L.
Hereford, L. Bp. Inchiquin, L.
Bradford, E. Lichfield, L. Bp. Kinnaird, L.
Carnwath, E. Liverpool, L. Bp. Langford, L.
Coventry, E. London, L. Bp. Ludlow, L.
Dartmouth, E. Norwich, L. Bp. Midleton, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensbury.) Oxford, L. Bp. Moncrieff, L.
Peterborough, L. Bp. Mowbray, L.
Feversham, E. St. Albans, L. Bp. North, L.
Lauderdale, E. Salisbury, L. Bp. Robertson, L.
Malmesbury, E. Southwark, L. Bp. Rosmead, L.
Morton, E. Wakefield, L. Bp. Seaton, L.
Munster, E. Winchester, L. Bp. Sinclair, L.
Nelson, E. Stanmore, L.
Powis, E. Addington, L. Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
Rosslyn, E. Armstrong, L.
Shaftesbury, E. [Teller.] Balfour, L. Teynham, L.
Waldegrave, E. Blythswood, L. Waleran, L.
Borthwick, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Cobham, V. Brodrick, L. (V. Middleton.)
Cross, V. Clinton, L.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.