HL Deb 28 July 1914 vol 17 cc189-225


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill I think that I owe the House some explanation why I should be venturing to trouble you with a measure which may seem somewhat long and complicated, at a time when your Lordships' thoughts and attention are occupied by so many other grave matters. Your Lordships will remember that as the result of a Motion in this House rather more than five years ago a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the state of the law and its administration in divorce and matrimonial causes, and the subject of the publication of reports of such causes; and after a long and exhaustive inquiry by that Commission, which represented very different views and opinions, two Reports were presented which agree on the need for many reforms whilst disagreeing on two points to which I will refer in a moment. Those of us who are interested in these reforms and who believe that the law should be amended for the good of the State and of morality generally had hoped that His Majesty's Government might have been able to take some steps in the matter, if not upon the lines recommended in the Majority Report, at any rate upon the lines of the agreed recommendations. But that hope disappeared in view of an answer given by the Prime Minister in another place to the late Sir William Anson, whose loss those of us who had the privilege of working with him deeply feel. In that answer the Prime Minister said that there was no prospect at the present time of the Government dealing with the matter, and it was therefore left to private initiation. Your Lordships have in this House three persons who were associated with the work of the Royal Commission to which I have referred: the most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of York, who may, I hope, be present here to-day; the noble Earl, Lord Derby; and the noble Lord the Lord Chief Justice of England—the latter two of whom, however, were forced, owing to the pressure of their public engagements, to resign their membership of the Commission before the Commission came to its conclusion. I therefore felt that a duty devolved upon me, as having been secretary of the Royal Commission, of endeavouring to carry forward the reforms recommended by that Commission, the need for which was at first prominently brought forward by its chairman, and which he had so very much at heart.

The object of this Bill is stated in the Memorandum which is prefixed to it, and which I have amended since it was originally issued to make it as comprehensive and clear as possible. The Bill is based on recommendations common to the Majority and the Minority Reports, and its object is to state the law in a form embodying all the principal recommendations which received the assent of all the Commissioners, and I have set out those recommendations in the Memorandum. I hope that I have carried out that object faithfully. It is a difficult Bill to draft for one who is not a Parliamentary draftsman, and I am sure that any errors are due to lack of skill and not to lack of effort. I also hope that its object will not arouse serious discussion or criticism. I venture to think that it is remarkable that on such a controversial subject there should have been such a large amount of agreement since, as I have said, only two points were left outstanding on which the Commissioners did not agree. The first is the question of causes, which has always been a vexed and very difficult question, and one which—although I have my own view upon it—I have not thought it practicable to bring before your Lordships, since I hope only to put forward pro- posals upon which there is agreement and upon which there is a reasonable hope of effecting reform. The second point on which there was not agreement, though on this there was agreement on principle, was the question of the jurisdiction of the Court. With regard to that, the Minority Report expressed the view that it was of course incontestable that no one ought to be deprived of his legal rights through poverty, and concurred with the Majority Report that local Courts exercising jurisdiction of the High Court ought to be established. But I understand that this must necessarily form the subject of a Government measure, and I do not want to occupy your Lordships' time with academic discussion. I hope that I shall he able to show your Lordships that the proposals Which are contained in this Bill are fair and reasonable in themselves and would effect a very useful measure of reform.

I now come to the provisions of the Bill itself, and I do not propose to go into very great detail because if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading that can be better dealt with in Committee, but there are many details which I have tried to make clear in the Memorandum. There are four broad points dealt with in the Bill, two of which deal with the jurisdiction of the High Court, one with the jurisdiction of Courts of Summary Jurisdiction, and the last deals with the question of the publication of reports.

With regard to the question of the position of women in relation to the law of divorce, as your Lordships know, at present, whilst a man is able to obtain a divorce on the ground of adultery alone, a woman has, to obtain a divorce, to prove either incestuous adultery, bigamy with adultery, rape, or certain unnatural offences, or, what is the more usual thing, adultery coupled with cruelty or desertion. This state of the law takes its origin in private Acts, and the Act of 1857 was only introduced with a view to remedying procedure and not the law itself, as was stated by the Attorney-General, Sir Richard when that Act was under discussion. I need not point out how vastly the position of women has altered since those days, and I venture to think that the time has arrived for removing this inequality which is felt to be a very serious grievance.

The reasons for making available for a wife in a suit against her husband the same grounds for obtaining a divorce as are permitted to a husband are these. First of all you have the unanimous recommendation of all those who have studied this question, and also the practical unanimity of all those who gave evidence before the Royal Commission. Secondly, I venture to think that the distinction which at present exists is not based on any sound principle either of law, since such a distinction does not exist in a suit for judicial separation, or in ethics, and here I should like to quote the words used by Mr. Gladstone during the course of the discussion on the Bill of 1857 on this point. Mr. Gladstone said— I believe that the evil of introducing this principle of inequality between melt and women is far greater than the evil which would arise front additional cases of divorce a vinculo; and I take my stand, in the first place, on this, that, if it be assumed that the indissolubility of marriage has been the result of the operation of the Christian religion on earth, still more emphatically I believe it may be assumed that the principle of the equality of the sexes has been the consequence of that religion. You have in the very earliest times some traces of what approaches to it; but it is the special and peculiar doctrines of the Gospel respecting the personal relation in which every Christian, whether man or woman, is placed to the person of our Lord that form the firm, the broad, the indestructible basis of the equality of the sexes under the Christian law. A further point is that there is no such distinction existing in the laws of Scotland or in the laws of the many countries which permit of divorce on the ground of adultery. I do not think I need occupy your Lordships' time in detailing them, but I could if your Lordships wished.

There is one other very important consideration which I venture to press on your Lordships, and that is, that where two standards exist the lower is apt and is tending to be taken, and the existence of those two standards has undoubtedly created a very bitter feeling among women that justice, certainly in this respect, is denied to them. Those who did not take the view which I am putting forward in this Bill expressed an opinion which was considerably in advance of that taken at the time of the Act of 1857, since they would go as far as to permit a divorce on the ground of continuous adultery, which at present—surely an unjust position—would not be a ground for divorce, their objection to making adultery alone for the woman a ground for divorce being based on the possibility of obtaining a divorce for a single act. With regard to that, I venture to think that those who take that view have not given sufficient weight to the medical aspect of the question. The Royal Commission of which I had the honour to be secretary had before it several distinguished physicians, who gave very striking evidence, and that evidence has been borne out in a remarkable way by the evidence which has been given before the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases, of which my noble friend on my right (Lord Sydenham) is chairman. I do not want to go into the details of that, but; there are one or two broad points which I feel I must put forward. First of all, I think it is incontestable front the evidence given before both Commissions, that practically every married woman who suffers from these diseases suffers owing to the vice of the husband, and that it is practically certain that if the husband is infected she will be too. I do not think anything could be more striking than the evidence given on that point with regard to the effect of these diseases on the birthrate, which is not taken into consideration on this question. One distinguished witness before the Commission said that one-fourth of all possible children died before reaching their first birthday owing to these causes. When one studies that evidence and appreciates the appalling sufferings which are inflicted on innocent wives and innocent children, involving possible blindness, deafness, and insanity, I venture to think it is only right that a woman, knowing the risks which may ensue to herself and possibly to her children, should have the right to say that she is not prepared to take, those risks, a right the exercise of which could be very fairly left to her. I therefore hope that your Lordships in this will come to the conclusion to which the Commissioners came, and to which the Minority assented, that— no satisfactory solution of the problem, which is raised as to the personal relations between husband and wife, can be found except by placing them on an equal footing, and by declaring that whatever grounds are permitted to a husband for obtaining a divorce from his wife, the same grounds should be available for a wife in a suit against her husband. I pass now to the second point in regard to the jurisdiction of the High Court—the question of nullity of marriage and presumption of death. These questions are dealt with in Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill. As your Lordships know, at present a marriage requires certain conditions and formalities, such as age, consent and so on, but misrepresentations, even though fraudulent, or concealment do not, apart from duress or imbecility of mind amounting to insanity, a fleet the validity of the marriage, and the result is that however much a person may be deceived into marriage by fraudulent statements or the concealment of facts by either party, or however unfit for marriage the other party may be, unless that unfitness amounts to impotence, the marriage is binding. The Commissioners thought that in the interests of the State and of morality, and of possible children, a marriage of the kind to which I have referred should for certain causes be capable of being annulled. Those causes are set out in Clause 4 of the Bill, and I will deal with them briefly.

Clause 4 (1) (a) merely restates the existing law. Paragraph (b) deals with a case of unsoundness of mind or a state of incipient mental unsoundness—that is to say, cases where though the person is technically capable of giving such a consent as the jury or Court must hold to be a consent, he or she is really incapable or unfit to enter into the obligation of marriage. The other points are epilepsy and recurrent fits of insanity, which are clearly shown by the medical evidence to be extremely hereditary complaints, involving almost certainly the producing of insane or epileptic children or idiots. By Clause 4 (1) (c) a person is allowed to have a marriage annulled where the other party to the marriage was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form. Evidence on that point was given before the Royal Commission on Divorce Laws, and the point has again been most forcibly brought out before the Royal Commission over which my noble friend Lord Sydenham presides. Every witness who has dealt with this question is agreed that persons suffering from these diseases are quite unfit to marry, and all are agreed that something should be done, and I venture to hope that these proposals will meet with your Lordships' approval. The fourth case mentioned in these paragraphs is rare, but is a very gross case of fraud. All those provisions are carefully safeguarded in the provisos at the end.

With regard to presumption of death, which is dealt with in Clause 5, the position at present is that a person cannot be convicted of bigamy who marries in the lifetime of the absent spouse if that person has been away for seven years without news, nor if that person has been absent in circumstances which reasonably suggest the belief that he or she is dead. The absence may be so long—the Statute indicates a period of seven years—as would lead anybody to believe that the question of death had arisen, but though a Court of Probate can deal with the property of such a person, yet a marriage contracted by the other party, if the absent partner should subsequently prove to be alive, would be a bad marriage and their children illegitimate. Therefore the proposal in Clause 5 is to allow any married person who alleges that reasonable grounds exist for supposing that the other party to the marriage is dead to apply to the High Court for a decree of presumption of death, and the Court, if satisfied that such reasonable grounds exist, is empowered to make a decree nisi of presumption of death, which would enable the person to contract the second marriage which could not be attacked. That provision is safeguarded by the proposals in the other subsections of the clause, which would enable the King's Proctor to take all steps for seeing that the matter was properly looked into.

I now pass to Part II of the Bill, since the other provisions in Part I are mainly procedure Amendments, though I will refer to two of them at a later stage. Part II deals with the jurisdiction of Courts of Summary Jurisdiction, which has been, as the result of the inquiry by the Royal Commission on Divorce, found to be very unsatisfactory. There was an absolutely general consensus of opinion on that, and the evidence of many witnesses showed what evil effects are produced by separation orders. The Royal Commission pointed out that the proper principle to apply to such Courts is that their orders should only be granted where they are necessary for the reasonable immediate protection of the wife or husband, or the support of the wife and the children with her; and that orders which have, in fact, the effect of permanently separating married persons should not be made by Courts of Summary Jurisdiction but should only be made by the High Court. I am in hopes that that may be the local branch of the High Court which was contemplated by the Royal Commission, but as that does not exist I have left it in the Bill as it now stands as the High Court. I have taken pains to keep the two provisions—that is to say, of protection and of maintenance—which were previously often confused, separate, having dealt with the first, protection, in Clause 9, and with the provision of maintenance in Clause 10. There are other clauses in this part of the Bill which may appear technical. I think that the details which I have supplied in the Memorandum will enable your Lordships to follow them, but if there are any further particulars which your Lordships desire about them, I shall be pleased to give them.

I pass to the fourth point, the question of the publication of reports of divorce and matrimonial causes. Upon this question again the Royal Commission had a considerable amount of evidence, including evidence from distinguished representatives of or members engaged in the journalistic profession, and they also had the laws of foreign countries on the subject supplied to them through the courtesy of the Foreign Office. With regard to the laws in foreign countries, it is of interest to notice that where those laws do not prohibit publication altogether they restrict it to a very marked degree. Two views were put forward with regard to publication. On the one hand, that it was beneficial as being a deterrent to the commission of acts of immorality, but that view was very largely disposed of and certainly completely outweighed by the very great detriment that the existing right of publication is to the national morals. On the other hand, most striking evidence was given by a representative of the Chief Constables Association, which embraces nearly all the boroughs in England and Wales, who said that with one exception the ninety-eight Chief Constables in the Association were unanimous in stating that the existing publication had a deleterious effect especially upon young persons of both sexes of the poorer classes, and this evidence was borne out by the very experienced view of Lord Alverstone when he was Lord Chief Justice of England, who stated that the mischief done to children of tender years of both sexes amongst the poorer classes was incalculable. It also has the effect frequently of deterring witnesses who otherwise would come forward, but who are not prepared to face the terrible publicity of that Court. It is also very bad for the children of the parties themselves, though perhaps that does not affect so many.

The evils of the present publication of excessive details have been admitted by all responsible parties in the Press. Whilst desiring to retain free play for the Press to express and form a healthy public opinion, the Royal Commission were anxious to restrict the publication of excessive details and to try and steer a middle course between absolute prohibition and the present state of affairs. Their proposals are set out in Clauses 25, 26, and 27 of the Bill. By Clause 25 the Court is given power, which it very probably but not clearly possesses, of closing the Court where in the opinion of the Court that course is necessary in the interests of decency or morality; that is to say, where the details are so gross or where their publication would be prejudicial to P1orals—or humanity—the case where a child of tender years has to give evidence—or justice—where a witness, usually a woman, cannot do justice to his or her evidence on, I will not say indecent, but sexual details before a crowded Court; and under the second part of this subsection power is given to order the whole or any part of the proceedings to be heard in camera. The second subsection gives the power to Courts of Summary Jurisdiction. Clause 26 forbids the publication of reports until the conclusion of the proceedings, which would have a very important effect in decreasing the sensational interest which is aroused by day to day reports, frequently accompanied by sensational posters. The clause further prohibits the publication of pictorial representations, which is really only embodying in a definite form of law the practice at present, since the better organs have accepted the expression of opinion which was laid down in 1906, and this provision would only compel those who do not adhere to what the general Press do to follow that indication. It also prohibits the publication of such part of proceedings as is heard in camera. Subsection (2) of Clause 26 makes contravention of this provision a contempt of Court.

In Clause 27—and this is a clause to which in their recommendations the Commissioners attached considerable importance—the Court is required when making an Order to state its reasons in open Court. This provision is inserted for two reasons. Firstly, so that the public generally may be informed and there may be no doubt as to the reasons, no suggestion of favouritism or anything of that sort; and, secondly, to have a deterrent effect since people would come to regard it as a disgrace that in the opinion of the Court their case was regarded as so indecent as to be unfit for publication.

I have now dealt with the four main points, but there are a few points mainly of procedure with which I should like to deal very briefly. By Clause 6 of the Bill it is proposed that the trial should be before a Judge alone, the reasons for this being that at present juries are seldom used—I think there have been only six jury trials during this last sitting. They are not used in Scotland in this class of case, nor in the Ecclesiastical Courts. Moreover, trial by jury undoubtedly makes the trial very much longer, and, because it is longer, more expensive, which is a great hardship in this particular class of case where the husband almost inevitably has to pay the costs of both sides. And the view which is taken by my noble friend Lord Mersey and by Mr. Justice Bargrave Deane, both of whom have great experience, is that better justice is ensured in the trial of this particular class of case by a Judge alone.

In Clause 8 there are certain detailed and technical provisions with regard to domicile. Subsection (1) is to remedy what is at present a great hardship on a British subject domiciled in this country who is resident in one of the Dominions abroad. At present a decree of the Courts there would not be recognised here because he is domiciled here, and very frequently be cannot possibly afford the expense of returning to this country. It is proposed in this class of case that, where he obtains in the Courts of his residence a decree on the ground of adultery, he shall be able to register that decree here as a decree nisi, which would allow the King's Proctor to intervene, and that that decree should then be treated as a valid decree here. Clause 8, subsection (2), deals with the case of a wife deserted by her husband and allows her to proceed as though he were still in this country; and subsection (3) does the same in the case of a woman whose husband has been deported under the Aliens Act. Subsection (4) deals with a case, an illustration of which was afforded by a decision of the French Courts, where the Courts of a foreign country within their jurisdiction declare a marriage between a foreign subject and a subject of this country to be at an end, but our Courts have no power to release that person, who remains married here but not married by the laws of her husband's country. This sub section would remedy that.

In Part III powers are given to Courts to deal with deeds or agreements of separation, which at present they do not possess. This would be extremely useful, particularly to poor persons, to enable them to enforce their payments under these deeds quickly. There are various provisions in Part V which, subject to anything your Lordships may wish me to point out, are, I think, sufficiently indicated by the marginal notes of those clauses. I hope I have not occupied your Lordships' time too long. I have endeavoured to deal as clearly and dispassionately as I could with the case for this Bill, and I hope that I have shown your Lordships that, if you would give it a Second Reading, you would advance one step a pleasure of useful and moderate reform.

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

*LORD BRAYE had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move "That the Bill be read 2ª this day six months." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to say at once that I have nothing to do with the details of the Bill which is before us. I do not address myself to any of the details. Therefore very few words will explain the position which I have ventured to assume in moving the rejection of this Bill. The principle of the Bill is the one to which I address myself. The principle of the Bill is the facilitating of the means of obtaining divorce. That is the bare principle of all the Acts that deal with this very important topic, notably the Act of 1857, which, if your Lordships will allow me to say so, was the most important measure ever passed in that way, dealing as it does with the very constitution of human society.

Now a matter of this kind is one which can be pre-eminently looked at, and is looked at, from different points of view by different people and by different races of the world. It is a very vast topic, and one of stupendous importance. There are, broadly speaking, two views. One is—the one upon which all these Bills are really based—that the civil contract is made and sanctioned by the State, and is, therefore, dissoluble; that is to say, easily set aside by any authority which the State thinks fit to authorise. That is the view which first obtained in Europe at the unhappy period of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. I need go no further in illustrating that statement than by recalling the doctrine of Luther, who distinctly allowed polygamy. His language is not language that I could repeat in this House; but that is the substance of his distinct doctrine. The doctrine of the dissolubility of marriage—that is to say, the power the civil authority has to dissolve the marriage tie—was the essence, the foundation, the corner-stone of the Reformation; and the great Revolution in France which shattered all the previous ideas which obtained in Europe developed that idea, and the principles of the great Revolution are fast entering into this country. They have already possessed the Governments of many European countries. France, we know, is distinctly anti-Christian in its government. Portugal is, I may almost say, more anti-Christian still. With the exception, therefore, of Austria and Spain, and partly of Germany, the civil Government is constituted the arbiter of marriage, and marriage must be contracted according to the rules and the laws of the Government of those countries. And as those countries openly reject all ideas of a Divine Providence, it follows that marriage is merely a social contract and is only to last during the time the parties who contracted it are agreeable thereto.

I come to our own state of affairs in this country. The great shock which was given to the ancient idea of the marriage tie was brought about by the Act of 1857, empowering Courts of Law to decide on these questions of separation and divorce. It is always well, when yon talk of divorce, to bear in mind that the term may be and is sometimes used by theologians and canonists as applying to separation; but divorce in the meaning of these Acts, as applied to the subject before us, means re-marrying—that is to say, the power of contracting another marriage while one of the parties is alive. That is the whole substance of the modern theory of divorce. That is the view in few words, in broad outline, taken by those who do not adhere in Europe to the Roman Catholic Church. I have said nothing of Russia, because that is on a different footing. That country still regards the sanctity of marriage; but with that country and its laws we have nothing to do at this present moment.

The law of the Catholic Church, which is not a despicable power inasmuch as it numbers 300,000,000 of mankind—but even to discount that figure I think we may well say that it numbers 250,000,000—is absolutely opposed to the views to which I have alluded. It is summed up in the one word, "indissolubility"; and the Divine Founder of that Church declared, "Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." There is no power on earth recognised by the Catholic Church as allowing of divorce that is to say, remarrying divorce. If a marriage has been contracted between baptised persons and consummated, no power in the world under the shadow of Rome and the Apostolic creed can allow the re-marriage of those persons. When you come to the marriage of baptised persons with unbaptised persons, then you enter into the question of what is called Diriment Impediments, which renders the contract null and void ab initio. In this country great confusion prevails between two different and distinct things—re-marriage by divorce, and declaration of the nullity of marriage. Courts in Rome can pronounce, and do pronounce very often, on the nullity of marriage—that is to say, that owing to the diriment impediment which existed at the time, no contract was ever made. But that is quite distinct from the doctrine of re-marrying divorce.

I think I have made it clear why it is quite useless for me to enter into any of the details of the Bill before us, because when you differ in toto on the very fundamental question it is a mere waste of time to enter into all sorts of particulars which may be and are founded on the opposite and contradictory idea. But then, of course, it will be objected that this country has long renounced the Roman Catholic religion; that for 350 years it has protested against it; and therefore why should I or any one else of my Faith enter into the laws of the country and give an opinion, or even express a wish that those laws should not be extended in the matter of divorce? That would be so, I think, in a country like France or Portugal or even Italy, where the Government is avowedly anti-Christian and atheistic. But in this country there is no doubt whatever that fragmentary Christianity lingers to this day, and the opinions of the many in this country are almost, or altogether in some cases, identical with the opinions to which I have alluded. Therefore it seems to me that we have something in common with those sections of the community, and they and ourselves may in a matter of this kind unite and stand shoulder to shoulder in order to stem the tide of what to us is one of the greatest inciting causes to immorality—namely, facility of divorce. So far from divorce being a protection against immorality, in our view it is one of the greatest and worst incitements thereto. In order to be free from those whom we dislike, or do not agree with, or cannot put up with, we fly to the civil Courts; and a reason has to be produced, and that reason may precisely lead to the commission of a crime and to the breaking of the injunctions of the Decalogue in order that freedom may be obtained by the party, or by both parties, in question.

I think, therefore, that I am not out of place or presuming too far in appealing to those who adopt our views throughout the country—and, of course, I am alluding to a very large and influential section of the Anglican Establishment,—to assist us to check, even if it only be for some years, the appalling flood of infidelity and European—I may call it French Revolutionary—idea which is fast coming into this country front the Continent. Of all points in the Revolutionary programme the most important, perhaps, is the attack on the sanctity and indissolubility of the marriage tie. Christians, of course, may advance arguments, and do advance arguments, which have no sort of value in the eyes of those who adopt the principles of the Revolution. They say that in the New Testament the law is distinct and clear, "What God has joined together let no man put asunder." They may also point to the words of the Divine Founder of Christianity, "Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." And if it be thrown in their teeth that in one passage there is a word which seemingly qualifies that injunction, they reply, and reply rightly, that those words in no way contravene the Divine Law but are only to be taken and interpreted as permission of judicial separation.

When contemplating a question of such stupendous importance, not only in this country but in regard to the whole of mankind, it is very difficult indeed to descend, so to speak, into the investigation of particular Statutes or particular provisions of the law which are founded on the totally contradictory idea. To us, with our law of monogamy, the Mahomedan religion is the great opponent of the law of monogamy. But in Europe, if the Revolution gets its own way, as it is getting its own way, and if Christianity is overwhelmed and sent back once more to the Catacombs, the state of things would be far worse than in Mahomedan countries. Mahomedan races number about the same population in the world as Catholics, about 250,000,000; but their polygamy is fenced round with certain safeguards, so to speak, and laws which are rigorously adhered to. But in Europe, if these divorce laws are put into practice—and I say they are beginning to be put into practice in several countries—then things will be much worse, because polygamy will become absolutely general, and not only polygamy but polyandry. Because in these days women have to have the same rights as men, and if you admit the premises you cannot prevent the conclusion that if a man is to have his rights in these matters the woman should have her rights too. Therefore there will be universal polygamy and universal polyandry. The symptoms of that state of things are already arising. Only a few weeks ago we read in the newspapers of a man whose funeral was conducted in New York. The mourners at the funeral were seven women, and those seven women were his seven wives—at different periods, I presume. Then the other day we read in the newspapers of a wedding in Switzerland—and I may say, in passing, that Switzerland is the country of all others where divorce is most frequent—where the bride and bridegroom sat down at the wedding breakfast accompanied by four bridesmaids, and the four bridesmaids were the former wives of the bridegroom. These sorts of anecdotes that you read of in the newspapers are indications of what is going on; and when you once admit that marriage is dissoluble—that is to say, that it is under the control of the civil power—all these results follow logically; and nobody can find fault with the conclusion when such premises are admitted. Briefly, the whole of our law is absolutely opposed to the modern laws of re-marrying divorce; and in our view there is only one Court in the world where re-marrying divorce can be sanctioned and where a ground for re-marriage can be given and in that Court there sits a judge against whom and beyond whom there is no appeal—and the name of that judge is Death.

Therefore, my Lords, I beg you to pardon the intrusion which I have thought fit to make in this controversy, because to us the importance is very great. You may hardly think that I am serious when I say that a Bill of this kind in our view—and I speak, after all, in the name of 250,000,000 of mankind—is more important and more far-reaching as affecting human society and the basis of human civilization than the Bill which has engaged us—the Home Rule Bill—in this country for so long. Therefore on the ground of its importance, and on the ground of the hope that others in this country who think and sympathise with us may act with us in doing their best to prevent, or at least to retard, the influx of these new revolutionary ideas which are essentially opposed to the basis of Christian society—on these grounds I have ventured to address your Lordships and to move the rejection of this Bill.

Amendment moved— To leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months").—(Lord Braye.)


My Lords, I do not propose to occupy your Lordships' time for more than a brief space, but I think it is right that the attitude of the Government on this question should be somewhat defined. The noble Lord who has moved the Amendment has spoken, with the most obvious sincerity and conviction, of opinions which he holds very strongly, but no one who has listened to the speech of the noble Lord can but feel that his argument goes far beyond any question which is before the House on the occasion of this Bill. It is more than half a century ago since this country determined that, at any rate so far as England was concerned, the Divorce Act should contain principles which were to regulate the validity of matrimonial contracts. That is gone and over, and it has been the law of this country for over fifty years. To go back on it now is impossible; and to raise the question in this debate is really to raise the question of the repeal of these Acts. Therefore I cannot anticipate that the great mass of those people who are interested in carrying on the affairs of this country could desire to raise a question which is really no longer an open one.

That brings me to the Bill which is before the House. I think that on one thing we shall be all agreed, and that is that we owe a great deal to the noble Lord who introduced the Bill for the care and thoroughness with which he has done the work of preparation. We know that he had special opportunities of studying the subject and mastering it, and he has rendered a valuable service in getting within the four corners of the Bill which he has proposed to the House to-day the fruits of his researches and the results of his study on a very complicated topic. I do not myself propose to examine this question from the point of view of principle; because, after all, what does this Bill represent? It represents the agreement of two sections of a Royal Commission of great authority and of great weight. Divided on other questions of principle almost intensely, yet the two sections agreed to the propositions which are contained in this Bill, and their agreement was not an agreement which trenched on any new principle. Accepting the law as it now stands and the principles which regulate divorce, accepting them for practical purposes, they proceeded to deal with certain anomalies and injustices which affect that principle as it is embodied in the Statute to-day. There is not a proposition in this Bill which seems to me to raise any real question of principle. Perhaps the nearest approach to it is the proposal that a wife should be able to divorce her husband upon the same grounds as a husband can divorce his wife; but that surely cannot affect any of those deeper controversies with which the noble Lord who moved the Amendment is concerned. Here we are dealing with a question which must be considered on the grounds of general justice, and quite apart from any fresh application of the principle which is embodied in it.

The attitude of the Government towards this Bill is, shortly, this. We are glad that those who engaged in the arduous task of investigating this subject on the. Royal Commission should have an opportunity given to the public of the views on which they have agreed being accepted. We think that there is much in the divorce law as it stands to-day which calls for improvement and reform, quite apart from these broad questions of principle which have already been alluded to. We think that the propositions on which both sections of the Royal Commission agreed are propositions which are highly deserving of consideration, and we look with favour upon the general principle of this Bill. It is, of course, impossible in this session that it can pass into law; it is too complicated and too controversial.

Moreover, then are one or two points on which, speaking for myself, I should like to reserve opinion for careful consideration. I think it is true, as the noble Lord who moved the Bill said, that in the vast majority of cases a Judge is a much better tribunal than a Judge and jury, but there are some cases in which a jury may be necessary, and it may be well to nave regard to these cases. Again, take publication. It is no doubt true that few things are more objectionable than the publication of details of divorce cases. On the other hand, it is another evil which you must avoid that divorce cases may be smuggled through without knowledge on the part of the public, which only the newspapers can give. That was a question which came before this House in its legal aspect in the great case of Scott v. Scott, which was decided a year ago, and on which this House, in its legal capacity, came to the conclusion that a principle of English jurisprudence was publicity, and that it was only when justice would be defeated that publicity ought to be avoided. The Legislature has already made exceptions to that. It has done so in relation to the Incest Act, and there is no reason why it should not do so again; and I ant in favour of a great deal which the noble Lord has put in the Bill in the way of restraining the kind of publication which is objectionable. At the same time a clause of this kind wants careful consideration, and on that ground alone I should like to take some little time to consider it in detail. But there Can be no doubt, from the point of view upon which I am speaking, of the value of the greater part of this Bill, of the value of such improvements in principle as underly the propositions put before us, and I earnestly hope that your Lordships will think fit to give it a Second Reading for the purpose of expressing your approval of what is really a very moderate and substantially non-controversial measure of reform.


My Lords, I feel in duty bound to say something about this Bill, for two reasons. The first is that I am the only member of this House who from the beginning to the end of its labours was a member of the Royal Commission to which allusion has been made. We had the advantage of the presence of the noble Earl, Lord Derby, for part of the time, and also of Lord Reading, but I think I am the only one who attended the Commission from beginning to end. The second reason is that I felt obliged to sign a Report differing with the greatest strength and force from the main conclusions of the majority of my colleagues. Therefore I feel bound to say that the Bill which Lord Gorell has introduced is entirely loyal to those points upon which both the majority and the minority of the Commission were agreed. I have looked carefully into the matter, and I cannot see that he has imported anything which would not have commanded the assent of both sections of the Commission.

It is fitting that this Bill should have been introduced by the noble Lord. He was the efficient and able secretary of the Commission, and his introduction of the Bill to-day is an act of filial duty which I feel sure the House will appreciate. I should like to take this opportunity of testifying to this fact, that, profoundly as I felt obliged to differ from the main conclusions to which the late Lord Gorell sought to direct the Commission, I yield to nobody upon that Commission in my admiration for the intellectual power, the industry, and the courtesy with which Lord Gore11 discharged his duties. His experience in this matter was quite unique; that experience is embodied in many provisions of this present Bill, which have no connection whatever with matters upon which there was a sharp division of principle. I think it would be a real misfortune to the country that the results of that quite unique experience and very exceptional power should be lost, merely because on certain other matters there was this profound diversion of principle between the two sections of the Commission.

But though I feel, therefore, in duty bound to support the Second Reading of this Bill, I do so, for obvious reasons, with the greatest possible reluctance. I cannot go further without making my own position in the matter perfectly clear. Like the noble Lord who has moved the rejection of the Bill, I regard marriage, certainly Christian marriage, as dissoluble only by death, and any divorce which carries with it the right of re-marriage is inconsistent alike with the teaching of Christ and with the principles of the Church. I should be prepared, I think, if this were the time or the place, to argue that the legislation to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has alluded had done more harm to the social and moral life of this country than good. But, as he has pointed out, the law is there; it has existed for more than fifty years; and as a citizen I consider that I am bound to do what I can to see that the operation of that law is so far as possible not antagonistic to the morals of the country, and that where it has revealed abuses those abuses ought to be remedied.

I think there is an analogy which noble Lords opposite will understand. They have felt themselves able to support a n Amending Bill to a Home Rule Bill, even although they declared explicitly that they objected to that Bill entirely. I object in toto to divorce, but I do not feel myself, therefore, precluded from an attempt to mitigate the mischief which it can do. And there is an immense mass of proposals affecting closely the social life of the people contained in this Bill which have no connection whatever with these matters of principle about which I have spoken. I am very sorry, indeed, upon this matter even to appear to be in difference from the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill, but I think he has scarcely recognised that, with tie exception of the first clause, there is nothing in this Bill that even touches the profound questions about which he has spoken. I hope that for myself, at any rate, I should be with him and those for whom he speaks in making every effort, as he says, to resist the extension of a matter which I believe has done and is doing more than anything else at the present time to weaken the strength and stability of the family, on which the welfare of every State must depend. Therefore I feel bound to make it clear that, while I cannot regard divorce as permissible for any Christian man or woman, I feel myself as a citizen entirely justified in doing what I can to make the operation of our existing marriage laws as favourable to, and as little unfavourable to, the moral life of the people as I can.

Let me turn to what is really the only controversial element in this Bill. It is the first clause, which, by the use of the term "any married person," proposes that whatever grounds are admitted to the husband for obtaining a divorce from his wife shall be open to the wife for obtaining a divorce against her husband. The present principle of inequality of standard between the sexes represented in our existing law, which I think is one of its most conspicuous mischiefs, has no warrant in the principles of the Church. In the ancient days of ecclesiastical jurisdiction when a petition was made for divorce a mensâ et thoro, the only divorce permissible by the Church, there was no such distinction made between the husband and the wife as the existing law gives. The existing law came not from the practice or principle of the ecclesiastical Courts, but from the practice and absence of principle introduced by the old private Bill system. There when Bills were brought into Parliament it was recognised by custom that a man could obtain a divorce for adultery only, but the woman only when the adultery of the man was combined with circumstances of grave enormity. It was this laxity of principle which was carried on into the Act of 1857. That inequality of standard was strongly resisted by many members of both Houses whose names still command our respect. I do not know whether the noble Lord—I was not present at the time he made that part of his speech—alluded to the opposition with which in this House this principle was strongly met by one who will not be associated with mere sentiment—I mean Lord Lyndhurst. And in the House of Commons the attitude which I would wish myself to adopt about it was most forcibly expressed by one to whom in this matter I should pay the utmost deference and whose views I would commend to your Lordships' House—I mean Mr. Gladstone. I do not know whether the noble Lord who introduced the Bill called your Lordships' attention to the remarkable words which Mr. Gladstone used.




Those words express both Mr. Gladstone's opposition to divorce and his view that a small increase of divorces, bad as that would be, was a less evil for the country than the maintenance upon our Statute law of a principle asserting an unequal moral standard between men and women. It is impossible now, especially after what was said by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, to go into any detail upon this matter, but I should like to say that I recognise fully the grave difficulties which it arouses Any one who knows human nature knows that there is in this matter a difference between men and women; but I do not feel, after hearing an immense amount of evidence upon the matter, that those differences can justify so complete a difference as the assertion in our Statute law of a different moral standard. It is said, of course, that in the case of the woman her lapse may involve a confusion of the family; but it appears to be forgotten that the lapse of the man may in many cases introduce confusion into another man's family. Moreover, there is an aspect of the question which was not, so far as I know, even alluded to in the debates of 1857, but which has been brought before us at the present time with an accumulation of forcible evidence which it is impossible to resist, and that is, that these lapses on the part of the husband may be the means of introducing to his wife, to his family, to succeeding generations, diseases whose consequences are so terrible that I would rather even not allude to them in this House. Anything which can act as a deterrent to prevent the chance of husbands bringing to their wives and families dangers so appalling as these is something which ought to command the sympathy of those who care for the moral and physical welfare of the nation.

There is another reason which lies behind all this, and it is the notion that in this matter you practically must give a different moral judgment to men and to women. But I would venture to say that it is just these accidental lapses—to use the language which has been often used—which are the most dangerous for the reason of which I have just spoken; and I feel that it is a matter of real concern that we should assert upon our Statute law a recognition that the adultery of a man can be, and ought to be, condoned by his wife, whereas a similar act on the part of the wife ought to be treated with the utmost possible severity. It is this inequality of standard which, I believe, rankles as a sense of injustice—so the evidence before us showed—amongst hundreds of the most thoughtful of our women; and its existence upon our Statute law cannot but perpetuate in the minds of the people a conception of the moral duty of men which is, I think, very dangerous to public morals.

I know it will be said—and this is a point which I feel, if I may say so, very keenly—that this proposal may involve some increase in the number of divorces. I do not think that the evidence that we had showed that that would necessarily be the effect. In Scotland there is no such inequality, and we had the evidence of Scottish Judges to show that, although there was no assertion of this unequal standard in the Scottish law, yet the number of times when wives brought suits against their husbands based upon a single lapse were very few, and that the law was much more a deterrent to men to prevent them from giving way to their passions than it was an inducement to wives to be less forgiving than I believe they ought to be, and to bring these cases against their husbands. Even if it could be proved that here and there this change in the law led to a few increased divorces, bad as I think that is, I think it is less bad than the maintenance in our Statute law of such a distinction of moral standard as that which is at present recorded there.

Let me turn for a moment to a matter upon which there is, happily, no such divergence of principle as there might be upon this first clause. I refer to the provisions of this Bill with regard to the extension of the grounds of nullity. As the noble Lord who opposed the Bill has so clearly pointed out, there is all the difference in the world, and it has been always so recognised by the Church, between decrees which nullify a marriage and decrees which purport to be able to dissolve it. Those of us who signed the Minority Report were always on our guard against yielding to the plea of the hardships of individual cases. We took the line throughout that you have to consider in these matters, not only the hardships of individual cases, but how far your amiable desire to alleviate these hardships may bring greater evils to the whole life of society. But for that very reason we were anxious to do what we could to make the hardships of men and women less where no principle was involved, and where these hardships made a special appeal to our sympathy. I think it is plain that where a marriage has been entered into with a fundamental mistake which, if it had been known, would have prevented the marriage ever taking place, it is desirable as far as possible, consistently with principle, to declare such a marriage null. We therefore propose to include in the grounds of nullity insanity-which was incipient at the time of marriage but only became definite after the marriage took place; also in the case of the painful possibility of venereal disease, and in the case of the pregnancy of the wife by some other person before marriage, it should be possible for the marriage to be declared null. We believe that the dangers that are involved are sufficiently safeguarded in the provisions of the Bill. I therefore feel that here, and in the matter which affects the presumption of death, there is an opportunity without any sacrifice of principle of doing something to give relief from marriages which must inevitably bring with them a train of misery and disappointment.

I would particularly ask your Lordships not to forget the important clause—Clause 9—which deals with separation orders. I would go so far as to say that even if the noble Lord is obliged to jettison his first clause and many other clauses, it is to the public advantage that this clause should, without undue delay, be carried into law. You may remember that some years ago we used to hear a great deal about the awful thought of the 7,000 separation orders which were issued every year—of the 7,000 persons who were in a condition in which they might, if they had sufficient facilities given to them, obtain divorce; and I think it was the noble Earl who preceded the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack who used to give eloquent expression in this House and elsewhere to the appalling thought, of this great mass of people practically separated for causes for which they might have obtained a divorce but were unable to get relief. If the evidence before the Royal Commission has done nothing else it has done this public service, that it has dissipated, I hope finally dissolved, that nightmare. It has been proved beyond question that it does not exist. The large number of separation orders was mainly due, as I think the noble Lord pointed out, to the magistrates giving separation orders where maintenance orders were all that was required. The picture left out of account altogether the fret that in an enormous number of cases these separation orders which were taken out were never used. I believe that in Leeds alone there are something like 4,000 of these orders which have never been used. Moreover, it was proved beyond doubt that, putting it mildly, in 50 per cent. of the cases separation orders which were granted were rendered ineffective, in a short time by the parties being reconciled and living together again.

What is needed, therefore, is not any sweeping change in increasing the facilities of divorce, but rather seeming a proper administration of this power of granting separation orders which is very necessary to the peace of a large number of our people. Therefore it is of great advantage that this Bill should propose, as it does, that separation orders that are granted by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction should be available only for two years, and that if they are to be converted into judicial separations it should only be done by order of the High Court. There are many other provisions made in this clause with regard to the payment of maintenance, etc., which any one who knows anything of the lives of the poor knows to be of the greatest possible value; and I hope that, in spite of the speech made by the noble Lord who opposed this Bill, it will not be forgotten that there is much of great value to the lives of our poor people in the clause which deals with separation and maintenance orders.

Lastly, may I say a word about the provision with regard to the reporting of cases in the Courts? That is a matter which was specially referred to the Commission. It is a matter most urgent and most difficult; it is most urgent because the evidence was overwhelming, especially from our Chief Constables, that the effect upon public morals of the perpetual bringing before the minds of the readers of the newspapers, and especially the younger readers, nauseous sexual details was unquestionable. On the other hand, as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack pointed out, we must safeguard as far as possible the liberty of the Press, and we must secure that when the dissolution of marriages comes, rightly or wrongly, before the Court it should not be hurried through. There is already a great deal too much secrecy and collusion about these matters, and it is not desirable that it should be increased by preventing any kind of reporting. I think the provisions which have been inserted in the Bill, while not interfering unduly with the liberty of the Press or removing the great doctrine of publicity, secure at least that there shall be some diminution in that poisonous flood of unsavoury matter which is so often poured off by certain of the journals of this country.

And, therefore, my Lords, I feel able to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I disagree, as I have said, entirely with principles which would have been incorporated in it if it had attempted to carry out the recommendations of the Majority Report, but I feel that the Bill removes an assertion of an immoral principle from our Statute law. I believe that it gives relief, without sacrifice of principle, to many cases of real hardship. I believe that it brings in a most necessary reform in the system of separation and maintenance orders; and I believe that it substantially solves the difficult question of the publication of these undesirable cases. But, when I have said that, I recognise to the full, especially in regard to the first clause, that there is legitimate ground for difference, there is great possibility of controversy and misunderstanding. It is obvious from what the noble and learned Viscount has said that the Bill cannot this year be carried into law. It is for the noble Lord to decide how far he wishes, in these circumstances, to proceed with this Bill at the present time; but he will have served a good purpose if he reminds your Lordships that, quite apart, from matters where there was a strong and definite divergence of principle, there are in the recommendations of the Royal Commission many provisions which I think will make for the good of our common life.


My Lords, I should very much like to support the concluding words of the most rev. Prelate, and, if it were not too late, to beg Lord Gorell not to proceed with this Bill on the present occasion. I think Lord Gorell did his best to persuade your Lordships that the Bill cannot be represented as a small matter. It really touches vital and fundamental principles. It is not too much to say that it is a Bill that may affect every man, woman, and child in this country; and I would ask Lord Gorell what advantage there can be in endeavouring to push this Bill at the present time. I perfectly understand, in his respect and regard for the late Lord Gorell, his wishing to avoid anything like failure with regard to what we may suppose were Lord Gorell's wishes. Lord Gorell was universally respected in this House, and I would on that ground alone ask the noble Lord whether a matter of this great importance ought not to be discussed at a time when we can all give our best attention to it, and not at the end of a session and at a moment when in regard to our domestic affairs and the state of Europe we are in a position of crisis which absorbs all our thoughts. Lord Gorell cannot hope to do much for his Bill this year, and what would be lose by postponing this matter until such time as it could be properly gone into and threshed out? I ask your Lordships to look round the House and count the number of those present. Are those the number that ought to be here to discuss a matter of this importance?

I do not wish to enter into any great detail as to this Bill, but after what has been said there are one or two remarks which I think it is my duty to make. The Bill really does two things. It provides for certain cases of nullity, as the most rev. Prelate has observed. But what is the substance of the Bill? The real substance of the Bill is to put women on an equality with men in regard to reasons for divorce. Now this cannot be denied, that whatever else the Bill does it must very largely increase the number of divorces. Nobody, I believe, denies that for one moment. Even the most rev. Prelate, in speaking of it, admitted that it would increase the number of divorces. Now in proportion as you increase the facilities for divorce, exactly in that degree do you degrade in public estimation the sanctity and the obligations of Christian marriage. And when you degrade the sanctity and obligations of Christian marriage you have taken a very serious step to imperil the security and the safety of the family; and since the family is the foundation of the State, anything that touches the security and the safety of the family ultimately affects the security of the State. On that ground—although there are many other grounds why I oppose this Bill—on that ground I most strenuously oppose any addition to the facilities of divorce.

And I would ask your Lordships whether, looking round at the state of society in our country at the present time or looking at the state of society abroad, this is the time or the moment when we can afford to play any tricks or to run any risks in regard to matters that really touch the foundation of the family and the security of the State. You cannot open the newspapers any morning without having the most detestable cases of divorce brought before you. What did I read only this morning in The Times newspaper? The case of a man who had been a corespondent in a case some time back and who had been condemned to pay damages to the extent of £1,000 for having broken up the happiness of a presumably happy and innocent family. He applied to the Court to have that judgment, reversed on the ground that the Judge had misdirected the jury and that the facts had not been properly stated. What were the facts that came out in regard to that case? It was that, far from that family having been an innocent and happy family, the wife had before been concerned in a divorce case; that before this particular case another man, a to-respondent, had been found guilty of adultery with the wife, and that he also had been condemned to £1,000 damages; and when it was found in that case that he could not pay, the husband accepted £16 as damages and the receipt for the money was signed both by the husband and the wife. That was a case in which, if these facts had not come out on the second occasion, a man would have been fined £1,000 for having destroyed the innocence and security of a presumably innocent family.

Every one knows that the Divorce Court is honeycombed with perjury and collusion. I cannot imagine any one who knows anything about these matters not knowing that the putting of a wife on the same footing as a husband in regard to this matter of adultery will most certainly increase the chances of collusion to say nothing of other most dangerous consequences. Let me tell your Lordships of a case which I have on the authority of the late Lord St. Hellier, who was himself the President of the Divorce Court. The case was this. A decree nisi was granted for divorce, and it was eventually made absolute. After it had been made absolute, this is what turned up. The husband and wife had discussed how they were to obtain a divorce. The husband said that as far as he was concerned to break the Seventh Commandment would not be any great difficulty, but what he could not make up his mind to do was to be cruel to his wife. The wife remarked that there was nothing she would not do to get rid of her husband, but she could not quite make up her mind to break the Seventh Commandment. A divorce was eventually given on evidence being shown that a man had come to the wife's house and spent the night in the house, and the man who came to give that excuse for divorce was the husband himself. These cases are not by any means exceptional.

In America at the present time I see it stated that divorces in New York county have increased 50 per cent. in 1913 over the preceding year. And if any of your Lordships have read that very striking novel by Mrs. Wharton called "The Custom of the Country," in which the whole of that question is thoroughly gone into, you will see that, owing to the American law, in some of the States women marry openly saying that if it does not answer they can get rid of their husbands and make a better arrangement. Nor does that only occur where the law is in that state. Let me give you an instance. In France there is a well known French gentleman—he may be known to some noble Lords in this House—who married not so long ago a great American heiress. The lady was warned of his character and she was told that the marriage would not answer. She said that did not very much matter, because if he behaved ill to her she could divorce him. She did marry him, and what had been predicted happened. She divorced her husband to marry his cousin, leaving him married to her by the ecclesiastical law in France. Only the other day he obtained an ecclesiastical divorce from her on the ground that as she, before her marriage to him, had openly announced her intention of divorcing him, it did not constitute a complete consent, and the marriage was declared null and void. I am not discussing the merits of the law. I only wish to show how such things are absolutely immoral and destructive of all true sense of right, and wrong.

Now I wish, if the most rev. Prelate will allow me, to say something in regard to some of the remarks he made. I do so with the most profound respect, and the Archbishop of York knows very well the devotion which every one in his diocese has for him. The most rev. Prelate has told us, as he was bound to do, that he considers Christian marriages indissoluble, and that he will have nothing to do with divorce. My Lords, it seems to me that if you object to divorce in toto for Christians you should not, give a Second Reading to a Bill which increases divorce. And I am sure the most rev. Prelate will forgive me also for saying that I see no kind of similarity between the present case and the Amending Bill in regard to the Home Rule Bill, for at all events this Bill increases facilities for divorce while as far as I know the Amending Bill is not a Bill to increase the provisions of the Home Rule Bill, but, if anything, to limit them.

I gather that the most rev. Prelate, disliking and repudiating divorce as he was sure to do, founds his support of this Bill on the fact that having a divorce law it is unjust to women not to put them on the same footing as men. Again with the most profound respect I am obliged to differ in toto from the most rev. Prelate. I do not admit the equality of men and women in regard to this matter. If your Lordships will forgive me for one moment, I will say why. Sin in the abstract is no doubt the same for every one, but sin in the concrete will differ and vary with almost every case. In one case it may be as gross and as bad as you like. In another case there may be so many excuses that it is impossible to put it exactly on the came level with the former case. Your Lordships, I am quite sure, will not think that I am advocating a lax morality. I think there is nothing more tragic in the world than to see men and women sacrificing their whole future in disobeying the laws of God and man with regard to these matters. But I ask Your Lordships, Can any one of you think that if a young man, exposed to all the seductions to whish he is exposed, falls into serious trouble, it is so serious a matter as if a girl, your own daughter, falls into very serious trouble of the like nature. I do not think any one will say that he feels that. The whole sense of mankind rejects it. Why does it reject it? I cannot enter into all the reasons why. I think those reasons are obvious. At all events there is one fact which may be mentioned. The sin of a woman may do a grosser injustice to a family and divert the inheritance to those who have no right to it, and that, at all events, cannot be said of the sin of a man. We are told, on the highest of all authorities, that for the hardness of men's hearts and their ignorance in times past God winked at things which are forbidden by the Christian law. But I have never yet heard, nor have I seen, that a woman was allowed to have more than one husband, although we know that great saints of the Old Testament had more than one wife. Those are facts which we have to remember and not to put on one side with the lightness which is too often the case. I say without any hesitation that such an increase of facilities of divorce is unjust in itself, and I think that the higher opinion you have of women, the greater respect and honour you pay them, the more you desire to see them in the full enjoyment of their legitimate rights, the more you will shrink from offering to them facilities to do that which cannot be for their advantage and which it is a great misfortune are afforded to men. The remedy is not to give this power to women, but to take it away from men.

There is one remark I should like to make in conclusion. The most rev. Prelate said something about the way in which sins on the part of men were condoned while the greatest severity and unforgiveness was thought right in regard to women. That is very far from my meaning. I think one of the worst things about the Divorce Court is that it absolutely prevents, that it puts an impossible bar against, complete forgiveness. When we reflect upon what we all are, do we not think that when we come to the Judgment Day we should every one of us be thankful to think, if we had had an erring wife and she had repented, that there was nothing to prevent her being brought back and restored to her home? The whole law of divorce and all extensions of it are to me profoundly un-Christian, and it is, I must say, a matter of most deep regret and sorrow to me that those who I know desire to maintain the law of the Church in these matters should, because there is a divorce law, consent to anything that is an extension of that law, a law which I believe is ruining the country; and such little efforts as I can make shall be put forward to prevent that law being extended.


My Lords, I should like to join with the most rev. Prelate in expressing to the noble Lord who introduced this Bill our sense of obligation to him for the manner in which he discharged his duty. I do not think any of your Lordships can have remem- bered a Bill of this complexity dealing with a most difficult subject being introduced with such moderation and so lucidly, and I think it will be agreed in all parts of the House that the noble Lord was thoroughly justified, from the position which he held and which he discharged so well on the Commission, in formulating the conclusions which both Reports support, and which he has put into the form of this admirablydrawn—I am afraid I cannot call it admirable in every respect—Bill.

I need not tell your Lordships that we on this side view this matter with great anxiety. The subject-matter of the Bill touches so closely the very centre of our social system and treads upon the convictions deeply held by religious men of different persuasions, that we must feel that that alone dictates a caution and hesitation in approaching the question which belongs to hardly any other subject which calls for legislation at your Lordships' hands. I think the debate this evening must have shown that. "We listened with the greatest attention to the speech of the most rev. Prelate, and we can all understand that, though he felt compelled to support the Bill as embodying the recommendations for which he was responsible on the Royal Commission, he viewed any advance whatever in the direction of divorce with the profoundest dismay; and we have just listened to a most earnest speech from the noble Viscount behind me, who represents a very large body of deeply-held opinion in the Church of England—that part of the Church of England which is the most active and the most energetic, and which, perhaps, holds its convictions as deeply as, or more deeply than, any other. In these circumstances legislation at this period of the session and in this condition of the House does appear to be an anomaly which it would be very difficult to defend.

I have not, of course, dealt, as I might have done, with the subject-matter of the Bill itself. I have not suggested to your Lordships how any extension of divorce, even if we could approve of it, would lead to all sorts of collusive arrangements and act as a means of separating persons who have really no right to be separated. And I have not dwelt upon a thing which has impressed us all—I think it was mentioned by the most rev. Prelate, and it certainly appears in the Minority Report—how profoundly disappointing the results in America have been of the divorce laws there. The looseness with which the marriage tie is held in America is appalling. Those things seem to us of the greatest importance. But I do not want to dwell upon them at this moment, nor to go into anything like detail regarding the Bill. I should like, however, to say, by way of guarding myself, that even if I felt that we could approve the principle of the Bill—and on that I do not wish to express any opinion at this moment—there are large elements in the Bill which seem to me to require the most careful consideration before they could be passed into law, both with respect to the defences against a decree of divorce and also the nullity provisions.

For all these reasons I cannot help hoping that the noble Lord will be satisfied with the discussion which he has raised. I think it would carry no moral force if your Lordships were to pass the Second Reading of this Bill this evening. Every one would feel that it had not been really dealt with as such a subject ought to be dealt with. I cannot help hoping, if that is the view of the House—and I trust it may be—that the noble Lord who moved the Amendment will facilitate the withdrawal of the Bill by himself withdrawing his Amendment. I have no right, of course, to pose as the Leader of the Opposition, but I do make that humble suggestion to those noble Lords if they would be good enough to take it. I think then we might feel that we had contributed to the elucidation of the subject by an interesting discussion, and that we had not really prejudiced the future of the question, because, as the noble Lord knows as well as I do, the Bill has no chance of passing into law this year.


My Lords, I should like to join, having been a very old friend of the late Lord Gorell, in the tribute that has been paid by the most rev. Prelate to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill. I think no one can have studied the Report, or the Bill founded upon it, without feeling what infinite pains and thought the late Lord Gorell and the whole Commission bestowed upon this subject. I should like also to join in what was said in appreciation of the way in which the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill stated his conclusions. He did so with much clearness and much temperance of thought.

I share entirely the anxiety and concern with which the noble Marquess who has just sat down has said that he approaches this subject. That anxiety and concern have long been felt in this country by those who understood the gravity of this question, and I do not think any one can have watched the course of legislation upon the subject in recent years in many parts of the world without feeling that anxiety and concern increase. But I rather draw an opposite conclusion from that which has been drawn by the noble Marquess. He appears to think that because we feel so anxious we ought not to take any step forward at all. It appears to me that the moral of what has been passing in other countries is that, if there are certain changes which are obviously necessary and reasonable and which we know will have to be introduced, the sooner we introduce those changes the better.

I agree with all that has been said about the excesses to which legislation for facilitating divorce has been carried in many parts of the Continent of Europe and most notably in the United States of America. No one can live in America without feeling what a great evil, spreading in so many directions, is the facility of divorce which unfortunately is allowed by the laws of many aiming those States; and noble Lords may be, perhaps, glad to hear that there is a very strong counter movement there at present—a deep appreciation of the evils which the present laxity of the law causes, and a great desire to bring about, not only a greater uniformity, but a much more cautious system of legislation and a much greater exactitude and care in the administration of the law, because the administration of the law has in America been responsible for even more evils than the laxity of the law itself.

In considering this subject we must hear in mind that the Royal Commission was appointed because there was a very general and widespread feeling of dissatisfaction with the existing state of the law in this country. We cannot imagine a Commission taking more pains than that Commission took. It included many able men, representing many different lines of opinion, and they agreed upon certain definite recommendations. This Bill strictly follows those recommendations. No one can suppose that, when the subject comes to be dealt with, anything less than the points on which the Majority and Minority Reports agreed can be passed into law. What we will have to do will be to resist demands to go much further, and I submit that if we desire to see legislation proceed in a cautious way and restricted to those things which are necessary, restricted to those points on which there exists general agreement between all who have considered the subject, then the sooner that moderate legislation is passed the better. The sooner it is passed the less danger will there be that demands will arise for going very much further, and for following Continental countries and the United States in the direction of extreme laxity into which they have drifted. The best remedy that we could have against that result would be to pass now safe and moderate legislation confined to those points on which the best opinion of the country is practically agreed. That general agreement is expressed by the concurrence between the Majority and the Minority Reports of the Royal Commission, and I cannot understand how any one can suppose that even in the Church of England, where we know so much anxiety is felt on this subject, there would be any large body of opinion which would desire to do less than what the most rev. Prelate has declared that he is willing to see passed.

It is in order to secure that legislation should be moderate and that we should not go too far that I should like to see the stamp of the approval of this Rouse given now to the proposals in this Bill, and particularly to two of them. First, to the proposal which desires to limit and guard the publication of reports of proceedings in the Courts. I may observe, in addition to the testimonies that were cited by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading, that I remember having had long ago a conversation on the subject with the late Lord Hannen, than whom there was no man more competent to express an opinion by his experience as a Judge of the Divorce Court and by the wise judgment which he possessed in an exceptional degree, and he was strongly in favour of such a limitation as this Bill proposes. The late Lord Chief Justice Coleridge agreed with Lord Hannen on the subject, as I happened to know, at the time. That is one point. The other point is the importance of establishing equality between men and women, as this Bill proposes to do. We are all aware that one of the reasons alleged for introducing a new element into the Parliamentary suffrage is the belief, widely held, that just and equal laws will not be passed for women by a Parliament which is elected entirely by men. I say nothing at all about the validity of that argument, but it is an argument that we see used; and surely it is desirable, since the House of Commons is elected by men only, that Parliament should show that it is sensitive to any inequality between men and women and sincerely anxious to remove any complaint that can be made on that score and disprove any allegation that Parliament acts unjustly as between men and women. It is, of course, for the noble Lord to say whether or not he will press his Bill to a Division, but I should like to express the hope that, if he does not press it to a Division now, it will be brought forward early next session, and that the proposals it contains will then receive the approval of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Salisbury has made a proposal that the mover of the Amendment should withdraw his Amendment and that the mover of the Bill should then withdraw the Bill. May I add my appeal to my noble friend who introduced the Bill to take this course? I was for some time a member of this Commission, and although I did not remain long enough on it to be one of those who signed the Report, I was quite long enough there to learn the real genuine demand that there is for some reform of our present divorce law. The Bill now before the House, which was lucidly explained by the noble Lord, is the non-controversial part of the Minority and Majority Reports. It embodies the views of both, and can be supported as strongly by members who signed the Minority Report, like the most rev. Prelate, as by those who, like I certainly should have done myself, signed the Majority Report. But it seems to me that no good can be done by attempting to carry this Bill any further now. It is late in the session, and it would be impossible for it to go any further. It therefore appears that nix noble friend has served Ins purpose by explaining the Bill to your Lordships' House and to the country at large, and I sincerely hope that he will see iris way now to withdraw the Bill, at the same time promising that either he, or preferably, perhaps, the Government, will bring forward the Bill next year, when I can assure him that so far as I am concerned I personally should give him my hearty support.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Marquess and the noble Earl who has just sat down, and as I feel that this discussion has served a very useful purpose and that there is no possible prospect in the present session of the matter being able to be carried further, and in view of the fact that the noble Lord who has moved the rejection of the Bill is prepared to withdraw the Amendment, I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion for the Second Reading.


My Lords, I ant quite prepared to withdraw the Amendment on the understanding that the noble Lord withdraws his Bill. But I cannot join in the hope that this Bill or any Bill of the came nature will be introduced in future.

Amendment (by leave) withdrawn: Then the original Motion and Bill (by leave) withdrawn.