§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Buckmaster.)
§ LORD BRAYE had given notice, on the Motion for the Third Reading, to move that the Bill be read 3a this day six months. The noble Lord (who was indistinctly heard) slid: My Lords, since 1914, when this question was brought before the House, I have endeavoured from time to time to advance reasons for the rejection of the Bill when it has come up for the consideration of your Lordships. On the Second Reading, as we are all aware, there was a very large majority for this Bill—rather an unexpected majority. Since that time I have felt that, as I hail opposed the Bill off and on for six years, I should like to say a word simply of protest and to express my disappointment at its success. I did not think in any way of urging the House to divide on this occasion, because I thought it would be useless. I have no ambition of standing in a vacuum Lobby and waving my wand on vacancy. But still I thought I might well say a word of protest. But since that time there has been a remarkable reaction in the opinion outside this House, which has found its expression in the newspapers and elsewhere, and even in pulpits; and there is some hope that the decision of this House, which was so emphatic on the Second Reading, might possibly be reconsidered before further progress is made towards turning 694 this measure into law. Therefore I hope that this Third Reading may take its chance of a Division.
During this period of reaction we have heard a great deal about what the Churches say and do not say on this stupendous question, and people have very freely given their opinions and set up as masters of Christian law, as members of the Church, and they seem to have no hesitation whatever of rushing in where angels fear to tread, and laying down the law in such an all-important matter as this for their fellow Christians. To people who think as I do the very word "churches" is a paradox, because you cannot speak of it in the plural. Theology has no plural, mid the Church has no partner; it is one and indivisible. I know that I speak in this House in a very considerable minority. I need hardly remind your Lordships that it is a strange thing, an unprecedented thing, that any Catholic should get up in this House, or indeed in the other House of Parliament, and speak on a question which most intimately and wholly concerns Catholicism. There are people actually now living in whose lifetime no Catholic was allowed to enter this House or the House of Commons, and if you go a little, further back you will find penal laws were enacted in order to stamp out our very existence, and those Peerages which had been conferred by Catholic Sovereigns, in Catholic days, gave no right to sit in this House. It was actually not till 1829 that any Catholic Peers approached the Table of this House and subscribed the Roll.
Since that time, of course, they have felt very acutely their position, and the penal laws are by no means dead. I need hardly remind your Lordships that, supposing the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack embraced the Catholic faith, he then and there would lose his position. I need hardly remind you, again, that no member of the Royal Family whatsoever is allowed to marry any Catholic even of Royal blood, and that if he does he thereby ipso facto forfeits his right to the Crown. He may become anything else; he may become a Presbyterian in Scotland if he chooses; he may become anything, but not that.
It is therefore with great diffidence that I approach this subject, and I can only emphasise the fact that we do not believe in churches at all, and that the people who 695 gave those opinions have no authority whatever for us. We only believe in one Church; we believe that the Roman Empire was put by Providence to be the Lord of the whole world, the greatest Empire that ever was, or ever can be, and with it was a spiritual empire, which claims dominion over the whole world in spiritual matters. And if there is one spiritual matter above all others which affects the welfare of the human race it is the question of marriage, which we regard as a sacrament. But, as I am speaking to those who do not hold these views, I come to the point, that we are told that the people of this country require reform of the marriage laws now. Their cry is "Reform; we must have reform." Reform, of course, means something better. They want something better than the idea of marriage which has been before Europe for 2,000 years. They call that old-fashioned, and want something more. They want to shake off altogether that yoke, as they call it; in fact, they really want something which differs very little from polygamy.
In this connection I recollect in the riots of 1868, when the throng surged up and down Park Lane and pulled down the railings of Hyde Park, their cry was "Reform"—political reform, of course. And one of the ringleaders was commissioned to stop a lady proceeding down Park Lane in a brougham. This gentleman rushed up to the open window, and cried out again, "We want reform," and the lady, with wonderful presence of mind and admirable tranquillity, looked him straight in the face and said, "Indeed you do." It is the people who hold this view about marriage reform who form their own views as to the sanctity of marriage, as to its obligations, and the general benefit it confers on the whole of mankind. It is said that we have nothing to do with Roman Catholic views, but we must remember that there are a great number of these people in the British Empire—12,000,000 or 13,000,000. Therefore it is not without reason that their opinions should be sometimes heard within the walls of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, on the Second Reading, plunged into Scriptural quotations and said he agreed with St. Matthew. The passage from St. Matthew has been taken for 2,000 years to apply to separation and not to divorce. When you speak of divorce in these debates you must always recollect that it means re-marrying divorce and not mere separation. If the 696 noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would extent his Biblical studies a little further he would perceive that the whole of the New Testament condemns the idea of re-marrying divorce emphatically, absolutely, positively, without the least shadow of hesitation. There is no doubt about that. There are many who put Christianity on the one side and the ideas of the French Revolution on the other and try to combine them. There are some who twist and turn texts from Scripture to their own advantage. That trade of text-twisting has been reduced to a fine art; but it really will not go down with anyone who looks calmly and dispassionately at the pages of the New Testament.
A remarkable element in this agitation is that it has not apparently been desired by the country at large. It has been represented in this House over and over again that the people of England—the whole Empire, if you like—were panting for re-marrying divorce; wanting to get rid of their husbands or their wives; that there was a general feeling in support of it. I doubt very much whether that is the case. I think it is proved not to be the case by the fact that at Parliamentary elections the question, as far as I am aware, has never been asked of would-be Members of Parliament, Are you going to support a Divorce Bill? Are you going to extend the facilities for obtaining divorce? To put it on another ground, I am sure that the people in the provinces, who are not at all hostile to the marriage law, would be very sorry to see at all events one result of this extension of the Divorce Courts in the 89 towns and cities of England—that is, the putrid literature which world be made public in the newspaper reports of these cases, which reports are now mainly confined to London newspapers. Under this Bill you would not prevent these reports being printed in every town, great and small, throughout the whole country. Nothing is more corrupting, more horrible, more loathsome than reports of Divorce Court cases.
The ground upon which I wish to vote against this Bill is the ground that I have often laid before your Lordships on former occasions, notably on July 28, 1914, a few hours before the great war broke out. Then there was naturally a lull in the proceedings and the question did not come before us for some years, but it has now come before us again. My grounds 697 for opposition are the broad and impregnable grounds of the law of marriage which has been preserved by Catholics in England ever since the Reformation. To a certain extent the noble and learned Lord, when he spoke on the Second Reading, emphasised the point that this was a question 350 years old. There I agree with him. It is a comfort to agree with one's adversary in anything. It is cold comfort, but better than no comfort at all. I am comforted to think that the noble and learned Lord sees the matter in its true and logical light. With his pungent Oxford logic he went to the root of the matter and saw that this was a question which was started at the Reformation and which has been slowly waiting for its development until this hour. We all know that Luther—who was responsible by his doctrines for the great war which has just ended—among other of his vagaries, allowed polygamy. We also know that the English people have looked upon marriage as a very holy and sacred thing, almost indissoluble, though not altogether as the Church views it. The power of divorce was vested entirely in Parliament, and an Act of Parliament is a very difficult thing to obtain.
I need hardly remind your Lordships that in 1857 the first Divorce Court was instituted. Although the eloquence of Mr. Gladstone thundered against the measure, he did not succeed in preventing its passing. But now we are cold that the present Divorce Court is quite inadequate, and that there should be, I think, eighty-nine Divorce Courts up and down the country. But they ask, What is the use of wasting time in argument against divorce when we have the legislation of 1857 as an established fact, which is not going to be overthrown? I answer that the 1857 Act certainly was a step further than the customary Parliamentary legislation on divorce. It was a step, but this measure is a stride. It is far more than the step which was taken then. If you pass the Bill, and if it becomes well-known in the provinces, and people consequently avail themselves of it, you will agree with me, I think, that you do a most important and a most far-reaching thing.
There is nothing trivial about this measure. It cuts deeply into the foundations of Christian society, and it loosens those stones upon which the mighty fabric of European civilisation has been founded. 698 It is a thing which you should not do in a hurry, without the deepest consideration. From my point of view, it would be wrong to pass it at all. You ought to have rejected it in toto by a priori argument, because in itself it is wrong, in itself it is immoral, and in itself it is against the law of God. God made marriage man did not make marriage. That is really part of the whole gospel of the Christian religion which has been proclaimed in the world. You will consider it at least as a stupendous measure, and one which, if it becomes an Act, will do more to alter the relations of family life in England than any other Act of Parliament which has been passed since the memorable year 1559, when, with indecent haste, the whole Catholic religion was uprooted. Act after Act was then passed by the House of Lords and sent to the House of Commons, so that in one year the whole religion of this country was changed, it may be, for ever.
This measure is one which contains the, seeds and elements of family discord and family destruction in every part of England. I may refer to one provision, which strikes me as peculiarly dangerous. A person is to be allowed to divorce a husband or wife on account of insanity. What is insanity? The science of mental disease has made very little progress, and nobody really can define what insanity is, where it begins, or where it ends; and if insanity is to be a ground for divorce it will really cause confusion in the law of the country. We know perfectly well, whatever the theoretical ideas may be concerning the existence of insanity, that we have a concrete and classical instance in this country of the difficulties surrounding it. We can recall that George III was insane periodically, and that there was a very great discussion in Parliament at that time—a very bitter controversy—as to whether or not he would come back to his senses.
The Tory Ministry, supported by the Tory doctors, said that he would, whereas the Whig Ministers, supported by the Whig doctors and the whole company of Brookes's Club, declared that he would certainly remain insane until the end of his days and that the Regency should be immediately undertaken by his eldest son. As a matter of fact, he did come back to his senses, and, although in his last nine years, he was again insane, you have there a classical instance of the 699 difficulty of foretelling the incurability of insanity. Many experts think that insanity, however violent, may be in all cases cured. I allude to that matter only to give an instance of the difficulty which this measure will create, if it is passed into law. I beg your Lordships to consider the measure on the broad ground of rectitude and morality. It seems to me that if you pass this Bill into law you will be merely encouraging in a practical manner the very worst forms of family insecurity and domestic unhappiness. Therefore, I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months").—(Lord Braye.)
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, I came here this afternoon thinking that I was to move the rejection of this Bill, but what I have to say on the subject can be said just as well in support of Lord Braye as on my own account. I want very earnestly to ask you to reconsider the vote that was given on the Second Reading of the Bill. The matter is of supreme importance to the interest not merely of England but of the whole English-speaking race. It affects indirectly every individual of our nation. I cannot but think that your Lordships were largely influenced on the occasion of the Second Reading by the very able speech of the Lord Chancellor—a speech which, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for saying, did, I think, somewhat confuse the argument upon which the issue of this Bill ought to depend.
I accept the Lord Chancellor's diagnosis of the situation. I think the struggle is between those who believe in the indissolubility of marriage and those who think, with whatever reservations they may favour, that it is not much more than a contract made between two persons. It is quite easy to show that all the reasons for the extensions of divorce made in this Bill lead, quite as naturally as water runs down hill, to the bottom of the slippery slope which is divorce by mutual consent. We can almost hear now what will be said on that subject—that incompatibility of temper is inconsistent with the true spiritual union of souls, and as such ought to provide grounds for divorce. It will be asked, if such incompatibility is proved in one year, why wait for three years? and as to the 700 fact of such incompatibility, surely the persons concerned are the best judges. Indeed, in his speech the Lord Chancellor told us that the reasons for divorce to be derived from moral and spiritual considerations are far more important that any reasons which can be alleged in consequence of the breach of the Seventh Commandment.
Let me say one word upon the aspect of the matter which is paramount to me and to many others. It is quite impossible for any one who recognises the authority and teaching of our Lord not to deplore the position that divorce has obtained on the Statute Book, and it is equally impossible for them to agree to any extension of divorce. From a Christian point of view—I ask your Lordships' attention, for this matter is of vital importance—the oft-cited text of St. Matthew, which is one of the most disputed texts in the whole of the Bible Manuscript, which has no place in the parallel passages of St. Mark and St. Luke, which is inconsistent with the rest of Our Lord's teaching on the subject and cannot be reconciled with St. Paul's Epistles, cannot possibly justify a point blank denial of the mysterious union of marriage, its sacramental character, and its indissolubility which is the result of the provisions of this Bill. In my judgment I do not think it possible for a Christian citizen to bisect himself and condemn divorce as a Christian and sanction it as a citizen. The law which comes to us, as we believe, with Divine authority on a Christian foundation stands on a much higher sanction than any law which is merely the result of votes or the issue of some election. No nation, no Parliament, can turn wrong into right. The legal my become illegal, but if divorce is wrong no law can make it right; still less can any extension of divorce be less wrong if it springs from such a source.
I have not been able to be present in the House during the debates on this Bill, but I have no doubt that these considerations have been placed before your Lordships. As far as I am able to judge from the Lord Chancellor's speech, which I have read carefully several times, these considerations, and others even more weighty, have not led the noble and learned Lord to pause and think as to what really should be done in regard to this matter. He appeared—I hope I do not do him an injustice—to say that if Christian teaching comes into opposition with what a number 701 of human beings desire, it is Christian teaching which has to be remodelled. What is that but saying, "The Christian law is not for us." I am unwilling to believe that the members of this House, or the Lord Chancellor, would endorse that proposition. I do not for one moment deny that unhappy marriages produce hard cases. I do not deny that they produce bitter suffering. But I should like to ask your Lordships whether there are no other obligations in life, no other circumstances in which men find themselves, which produce bitter suffering but which no one proposes to get rid of because they involve suffering.
May I be allowed to ask your Lordships a question on this matter? What are we brought into this world for? Is it to obtain the gratification of all our wishes? Is it to be happy, as we count happiness? Or is life an education, a training, a something beyond, of which the incidents are often painful and in which the present has to be sacrificed for the future? In a word, Why is the Cross the symbol of Christendom, the compelling power of Christian life? That question has only to be asked to be answered, and I ask you whether it does not at once destroy the whole of the assumptions which underlie every line of this Bill and every syllable of the Lord Chancellor's speech. Are your Lordships prepared to deal with all other obligations in which men find themselves in the same way as this Bill deals with the obligation of holy matrimony. "For better or worse, for richer or poorer, till death do us part." Do these words mean nothing? "Whom God bath joined together let no man put asunder." Is that an empty formula? My Lords, even if it were possible to put all Christian consideration on one side, I ask you to consider what is the result of this Bill from a merely secular point of view.
I must bring to an end what I have to say, because I have not been very well and I am not very well now. There are three points which I wish to bring to your attention. First of all, there is what I have attempted to say—namely, that this Bill really leads to divorce by mutual consent; in the second place, the remedies that are proposed are no real remedies for the evils which they try to meet, but rather are likely to aggravate them; and, in the third place, it is contrary to 702 the teaching of our Lord, inconsistent with all the hitherto received principles of Christian marriage, and fatal to the Christian faith. Lastly, I say to your Lordships, Have we learned nothing at all from the last six years? Germany, for her own ambition and in the pursuit of her own immediate advantage, trampled all moral considerations under foot and pursued a course which has led to her ruin. Do your Lordships think that it is possible for a country, or for an individual, to disregard God's law with impunity? The experience of mankind and the history of the world teaches us the opposite. If the result of this war is still further to weaken moral obligations, to weaken the sanction of a Christian family, and to weaken the restraints which govern the lives of men and women, what can we expect but disaster?
Can we look round without apprehension as to the future? As we consider the social and industrial difficulties with which we are confronted, can we doubt that it is not less Christianity but more Christianity that we want? If, in spite of the past six years, we still further weaken all the sanctions upon which society reposes, what can but be the result? Can we hope to see a better or a happier world than the one which is passing away before our eyes? On the Second Reading of this Bill the Lord Chancellor told your Lordships that if you would be the pioneers in this great reform your names would be read with gratitude by thousands, and that you would be acclaimed by generations to come for the wisdom of your decision. I cannot but think that the noble Lord on the Woolsack has mistaken the verdict which posterity will give; but, whatever the verdict of posterity may be, I can have no sort of doubt that the great majority of the best friends of your Lordships' House will gravely misunderstand your action if you support this Bill, and will say, and say with justice, that if the House of Lords is to disregard all the traditions which have been associated with Christian marriage the sooner that House is done away with the better.
It grieves me that I have forgotten and cannot say many other things which I wished to say to you to-night. The responsibility upon each of us is heavy and cannot be evaded. I should not have been here to-day had it not been for my sense of the extreme importance of the 703 issues involved in this Bill. I shall probably never address your Lordships again. The sands of my life are very nearly run out. I grieve that I have not been able to say more, and to say it better; but what I have said has come from my heart, and I do ask your Lordships with all the earnestness of which I am capable to consider this matter not in the light of mere politics, but in the light—which as Christians we are bound to do—of what will best conform to the happiness—the real happiness, not the temporary happiness—of the English-speaking race. There was an occasion many hundred years ago when the Peers of England were asked by very high authority to agree to a relaxation of the marriage law. The answer they returned was, Nolumus antiquas leges Angliœ mutari. "We are unwilling that the ancient laws of England should be changed." I beseech you, my Lords, to give that answer to-night.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP of CANTERBURY
My Lords, I waited for a moment, because I imagined that someone would be likely to rise who differs from the line that I am bound to take on this grave occasion. I am quite sure that I express the feelings of all your Lordships when I say that the pathos and courage combined of the speech to which we have just listened, in the face of great difficulties, is itself an eloquent plea for the cause that the noble Lord desires to advocate. None of us but must feel for him, none but must admire his courage and determination in the face of difficulties that were obvious.
It is, I imagine, clearly right that there should be one speech—it is going, I believe, to be one speech only—from the Episcopal Benches upon this occasion. In a letter to the Press a few days ago my noble and learned friend Lord Muir Mackenzie, whom I have always regarded as the very paragon of reasonableness, describing the debates and divisions in this House on this Bill, swept on one side the Bishops' voice and vote as something which was to be discounted if you are trying, for the sake of open-minded argument, to estimate the trend of public opinion. His words were that the new proposals have been maintained by majorities which (excluding Bishops and Roman Catholics) were almost overwhelming. That is, the Episcopal voice and vote may be left out of account when we are weighing the strength of English opinion upon a matter like this, and on a subject which affects to a degree 704 that hardly any other does the life of the whole country.
This is not a political, a financial, an industrial question; it is a social one, concerning the everyday life of the English people. No one is more conscious than I of the inadequacy and the limitations, intellectual, oratorical, and other, of those who sit on these Benches in contrast with those on whose behalf the noble and learned Lord speaks. I have no wish to claim a rivalry in those fields, but I challenge denial when I say that if my noble and learned friend wants to find in this House the men who have the closest personal knowledge of the home life, in joy and sorrow, of the humbler English homes—middle class, artisan, labourer, or what you will—it must be to these Benches that he must turn. Most of their occupants have spent the best years of long and active lives in ceaseless touch by day and night, in sickness and in health, with those homes, on terms of closest friendship and most intimate knowledge and counsel in the face of difficulty. If those who sit on these Benches differ from the line taken up by my noble and learned friend their opinion is at least not an ignorant, not an uninformed, one. It is not an opinion based on superficial outside knowledge. It is not limited in its intimacy to one section of society. Its basis is a knowledge of the beauties, sometimes of the uglinesses and the weaknesses, oftener of the strength and of the profound difficulties and complexities, of English home-life, in homes small as well as large, and that in a degree to which very few of your Lordships have had an opportunity of attaining, however much you may have sought it. That will be my answer to the view that the opinions of the Bishops do not matter in an affair of this kind and ought to be swept away. My own belief is that it will turn out in the end, when these questions come for decision, as they must surely come, to the whole people of England, that it is we and those who vote with us who have rightly expressed and rightly interpreted what the men and women of England, speaking largely, think and feel and desire in this matter.
It is sometimes said—it has often been said during these weeks—that this is a case of a bigoted Church, of Churchmen, of High Churchmen, on the one side; and the rest of the people throughout the land, it is implied, are mainly or almost exclu- 705 sively on the other side. In regard to that I would say that I have a good many communications of different kinds. I had one to-day. This is a Resolution passed by the Welsh Baptist Association in the Rhondda District—That we earnestly desire to place on record our approval of the protest made by the Archbishop against the Divorce Bill which recently passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords, and that we also confidently hope that he will ultimately succeed in preventing that Bill from becoming the law of the land.It is not out of place to quote that, because it may seem as though this were a Church or Episcopal question. I am anxious to show, as I most firmly believe is the case, that it is based on a far wider public opinion than anything that even these Benches can claim to represent, and that it does not rest—which was the underlying meaning in my noble and learned friend's argument—upon the Bishops, but has behind it a strength of opinion and an influence which is much wider and greater than was suggested by the noble and learned Lord.
Lord Buckmaster, in introducing this Bill, discounted the value of some votes given against it by the contention that in some cases, as he believed, the real opinion of those who gave these votes would go further—much further. I think that is so. I quite believe it. I am perhaps one of those to whom the noble and learned Lord specially referred. I believe there are such persons. But that argument is a double-edged one, for in the same speech Lord Buckmaster told us, with wholly admirable frankness and fairness, that his own vote belongs to the same category that is, if he had his way lie would like to go (I quote his words) "very much further." That is perfectly fair reasoning, only if that is to influence the value of a voice or vote on one side, surely the argument that is applicable to the one side is applicable also to the other.
Your Lordships may remember, when we talk of bias and prejudice, the story, which used to be current in my days in Oxford, of how the then Master of Balliol, as Professor of Greek, had to adjudicate upon the Gainsford prize for Greek verse, and how the friend of a very clever man who was unsuccessful had come to him and said, "I cannot help thinking you were prejudiced and biassed in that vote you gave about that decision." And he 706 answered, "I think I was." "Really, why?" "Well," he said, "there were two things. I have a good knowledge of Greek, and I had read that poem with great care. That prejudiced me a good deal in the decision I gave." We maintain a wide knowledge of the facts upon which these arguments rest our one side and the other, and we have studied this Bill with great care.
This is not the occasion for going over the items of the controversy which has occupied us for a good many nights already. The wrongs or the misfortunes which the Bill makes for the first time operative as grounds for divorce—desertion, drunkenness, mental illness, and the rest—we have had our say about those things. We have discussed, too (and I do not wish to repeat it now, though I should be quite ready to do so) the question of the ministry of the Church in regard to persons who desire re-marriage, and who have obtained re-marriage under the new conditions. I hope we have made it perfectly clear—I certainly have endeavoured to do so—that we claim no right and we express no desire to press upon the English people as a whole particular provisions or restrictions, simply because those are our Church rules. That would be grossly unfair. Where we deprecate wholesale or novel extensions or relaxations we do it because we believe in their detrimental effects on the morals of the English people and on the tone of English married life. The obligations and the duty of the clergy belong to a particular and very important department of the subject, but I have no wish to discuss that further now. The noble and learned Lord with great courtesy has gone some way, with marked considerateness too, to meet us in what notwithstanding what he has tried to do, remains, I admit, an anxious matter.
It has sometimes been said or implied in these debates that we are showing some strange, novel, unnatural narrowness or bigotry when we remind the House of Lords, and remind the country, of the Church's rules in this matter. I would ask any of your Lordships who hold that view to take the opportunity afforded you now, as perhaps it has never been afforded before, of consulting those who belong to our Church and hold office in it and who come to us from across the seas. About 150 Bishops from the Empire overseas and America will be in England a few weeks from 707 now. Ask any of them, where you will—South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand—what the Church rule is, and how far that Church's rule has to be followed as regards the ordinary dealing with these matrimonial questions. You will find, I think, that the opinions which you have supposed to be a kind of fad of ours are less unreasonable, and less anomalous, and less strange than you would perhaps imagine.
And if any one urges (and there have been indications more than once to that effect) that the arrangement which we call Establishment makes all the difference as to the Church's laws, I should like to say a word upon that. There is no one in this House who feels more strongly than I do the gain to the whole people of England of the maintenance of an Established Church. But it is surely impossible to contend that any change whatever made, against the Church's warning and certainly without its support, by Parliament in the marriage laws must of itself suffice to abrogate for Church laity and Church clergy laws or principles which we believe to have a higher than any merely human sanction. I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, or the Lord Chancellor, or Lord Crewe, who referred to this matter the other day, or any one, would make that contention, any more than I do, or that they would respect us who sit upon this Bench if we were to express that view or take that position. I believe you would feel that we were utterly and entirely wrong.
I do not go further into those things to-night; this is not the stage for it, but I want to be quite clear before we part from this Bill in this House as to what our position is. We are not blind opponents of any change in the matrimonial law of the land. Such changes as have been conclusively or plausibly justified by the whole Royal Commission we—or I, at all events—fully assent to. They are in this Bill; they form part of it, and to that part of it we agree. We desire that there shall be no distinction between the rich and the poor as regards facility of access to the Courts of Law which exist. We desire that there should be no difference between men and women as regards the grounds on which divorce can be legally obtained. We desire the suggested extension of grounds on which a decree of nullity can be applied for. And when, in the same letter that I have 708 referred to already, Lord Muir Mackenzie said that if you want those things which everybody agrees on you must pass this Bill, I challenge the conclusion altogether. You are not obliged to pass this Bill to get those things. Lord Gorell has told us that he is perfectly prepared, if this Bill is rejected, to introduce a Bill which will give us these things. For that Bill we should vote; that Bill we should accept.
Let it not be said, therefore, that upon points like that, on which there is general agreement, we are standing across the path and barring progress in a direction which, whether we desire it or not, we are not prepared to oppose and are prepared to agree to. My own belief is that, if you enacted those things and passed the Bill suggested by Lord Gorell—and which lie actually introduced a few years ago—you would find how slender is the demand remaining for the other things. Some demands, some claims, some piteous appeals there will always be, do what you will. You cannot, and certainly this Bill will not, get rid of hard cases. I apologise for having to reiterate afresh that we on this side in this matter are as conscious as you can be on that side of those hard cases, and the poignant suffering which they bring. We are no more callous about them than you are. I never disregard them, I never treat them slightingly. But I note this. I read carefully and go into the appeals which are thus made, and the hard cases which come before me, and the first thing I find is that many of them would not be remedied in the least if this Bill became law to-morrow.
A few days ago I received a letter profoundly pathetic—just one of those letters to which Lord Buckmaster referred—containing a pathetic appeal from a lady, who desired me to realise how grave her case was, and asking whether something could not be done to mend things. I took the usual course; I took pains in the matter, and had a long interview with that lady, going into it all, and when she left me she saw perfectly clearly that, if this Bill became law to-morrow, there would not be the slightest change (it is a complicated story) in the difficulties under which she labours, or the position in which she stands. And yet this is just the kind of letter that would have been used to add to the number of those pathetic appeals which have been produced in support of this Bill. Very many of those hard cases and piteous appeals would be met, if what 709 I have, for the sake of brevity, called Lord Gorell's Bill—a Bill embodying the unanimous conclusions of the Commission—were to become law.
Although the number of hard cases, in a great population like ours, and among all the complexities and wickedness with which we are confronted, is (speaking in a positive sense) large, what proportion does it bear to English married lives as a whole? Do your Lordships, who a little while ago if not now read the Report of the Royal Commission, recollect what was the analysis made in the Minority Report of the letters which had been sent in? They were all read and studied by some of the members who signed the Minority Report. Out of the millions—11,000,000 married couples, I think, in England—after weeks, during which the requests had been practically made to get the hard eases brought out and to have them pressed upon the authorities in order that they might be amended, they reduced them down to something like 200. I do not mean for a moment that those are all the hard cases to be found in the land. Of course not. I repeat that I admit their hardship and difficulty and poignant suffering as keenly as anyone, but I am bound to say that, as I look back over the years and refer again to the letters I have received, I am struck by the further fact that they come again and again from the same people; they tell the same stories; we have the same things over and over again. Although I do not want to be supposed to say that I regard as insignificant the existence of these hard cases and the severity of their pressure upon the life of England, they are capable of being enormously exaggerated when we are looking at the lives of England as a whole and the homes of England up and down the country.
When all is said and done, there remains a broad line of divergence between those who support this Bill and those who do not—a broad and marked line of cleavage. We on our side believe unhesitatingly in the great principle of the Christian marriage law, the bond unbreakable—some say absolutely unbreakable; I, with others, would say unbreakable save for unfaithfulness, or, as it is called in St. Matthew, fornication, which is given there as our Lord's own exception. A great deal of attention has been called during the last few days to a sermon preached by one of 710 the most learned men in England in Westminster Abbey last Sunday. Is it to be supposed that Canon Charles has said that the provisions suggested in this Bill would be legitimate under what he would regard as the true religious law? If someone thinks that—certainly some of the newspapers have thought it—if he will look at the sermon afresh and see what was said he will find that, whatever was said about some of the questions, large and difficult, affected in this matter, the preacher was perfectly clear upon this. I will quote his words—Thus Christ, by accepting the Jewish laws relating to the adulterous wife and confining His own enactments to less grievous offenders, allowed the right of divorce on the ground of adultery, as well as subsequent re-marriage on the part of the guiltless person concerned, but forbade divorce on any lesser ground.Let not that great speaker be quoted as someone in favour of the provisions of this Bill, or whose remarks ought to lead us to give attention to it. We are convinced that, regarded largely, the principle which I have laid down is sound—I mean the principle of its being only in the case of unfaithfulness, or fornication, that relief from the marriage bond is allowed by the teaching of our Lord. We believe that this principle is sound and conduces to the well-being of the people. It is the principle laid down by our Master in the Sermon on the Mount. The noble Lord who has just spoken, and whose words will certainly be remembered by us all, has called attention to the gravity, the importance, and the solemnity of that. They are the principles laid down by our Lord himself in the Sermon on the Mount. We have for long centuries made those principles our own, and by them we stand. That is our side.
On the other side comes the noble and learned Lord with a forensic skill which is unrivalled in power, and a clear and courteous exposition to which I could lay no claim. He comes to break that down. He introduces other reasons for divorce than cannot possibly be brought within Christ's word or within the Church's definite teaching. He does that at a time of extreme unrest and disquiet in our whole life, above all in regard to marriage; at a time when things are unsettled by the quite abnormal and, I hope, never-to-be-found-again condition of the absence of husbands from home and all that has followed from it. That is the moment when we are asked to make a 711 change gigantic in importance and irrevocable in its character. The very earnestness and determination with which the noble and learned Lord has pleaded shows how far-reaching are the hopes of the results from what he is trying to do. That is a very responsible line of action for a man to take, and no one is better qualified than the noble awl learned Lord to undertake a high responsibility of that sort. But I venture to say that the man who undertakes that responsibility can justify his case only by one or both of two lines that must be followed, of two bases that he must lay. He must either show a mass of popular demand making itself persistently heard, as in the case of a hundred reforms we have seen in our own lifetime, or something which is pressing upon the public life of England in such a way that we are bound to listen to it as something which is obviously becoming the voice of the people. Where is the evidence of anything of that kind?
At gatherings, political, industrial, educational, here and there something is said about it; but, as I have already pointed out, if you test the mass of them you will find that they are for facilities to be given to the poor which now exist only for the rich. It is not for getting the grounds for divorce changed. Where is the evidence of that? I have tried to give examples of the difficulty of showing it, and I have had no answers showing where is the great pressure for which we ought to look. That pressure should be strong, popular, persistent, if we are to listen to it. Is it any one of those? If that be impossible, or, in addition to that, if it were possible, one who makes these far-reaching proposals for a great change ought to be able to show us a country, thickly populated like our own, which has made the change and which is able gratefully to point to its success after some years. Has the noble and learned Lord given as any such country? Will he show as anything of the kind? We shall hear, of course, the old story of the Scottish law upon the one point of desertion having differed from the English law for a long period; but this Bill goes far beyond that. Show us where a country has changed its divorce law and where it can now come to us after the change and say it is glad that it did it. It is not enough to say that the country did it and has not changed back. You will always say that, because it cannot change back. If ever there were a portion of public life and polity where the words 712 vestigia nulla retrorsum were true, it is here when we see the confusion caused because it has been found absolutely impossible to retrace you steps. Start on that slope and you will find it not only slippery but to climb back absolutely impossible. It has been called a great experiment. It is an experiment, made for ever; an experiment from which you cannot go back. If it is wrong you can never change.
Those wile advocate this Bill like, apparently, to pass over somewhat lightly the experience of the United States. That is the experience which matters most because the conditions, though not the same as our own, are probably nearest to our own of any country we can find. In the United States at this moment—there can be no doubt about it—State after State which made divorce easy with a light hand would give anything now to retrace its steps. It cannot. What it can do, and what it does do, is to deplore the irrevocable step that was taken years ago. Will the noble Lord show us a single State in the United States which has refrained from taking that advance and which now desires to take it? I mean a sweeping advance. And will he show us a single State which, having taken these steps, is not now held up as an example of what not to do and what not to follow?
We know that one of the foremost of the High Court Judges in the United States has resigned his post rather than continue administering a law which he felt to be intolerable and irrevocable. Public man after public man has borne witness, and it is the solid lay opinion of the best men and women in the United States, that confusion and even misery results from the position that has been created. He cannot say that this is not an immensely important factor in the way we should look upon these things now. We are bound to look at them fairly and see what has really been their fount. Looking upon all that, we stand firm to-day on behalf of English home life as we have known it, and we believe the best men and women of England are behind us in so standing.
You ask us at this stirring hour in our country's story—this uneasy and exciting hour—to make a great experiment, and one from whose outcome there is no return. I ask you, as the noble Viscount did a little while ago, to east your eyes forward a little into the future. I ask you to picture what may be, or will be probably, 713 happening here, say, twenty years hence. We old men will have passed away, but there are many in this House to-night who will have their places in the Legislature then, whatever the exact form or composition of the Legislature may be. If you bring about the change you are proposing now, you will have its fruits to deal with then, and I venture to prophesy that, just in proportion as you prize the purity and simplicity of the average English home, you will then rue bitterly the initial vote which, if it so be, you gave to-night. You will be powerless to go back then. I ask you to pause while you still can. We who oppose this Bill at all events are resolved that our voice and vote shall be recorded in favour of maintaining in its essence unimpaired the old law, the Christian law, the law which lies helped to make and to keep England strong.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I do not rise with the intention of attempting any general contribution to this debate, or, indeed, making what would be called a speech upon it. The matter has been argued and re-argued. It was exhaustively considered at the Second Reading stage. In Committee it was re-examined with a degree of conscientious attention which would have been worthy of the Second Reading stage of any Bill in this House; anti now, on Third Reading, the same meticulous completeness of argument is attempted.
Upon the general merits of this question, with the kind indulgence of this House, I have said all that I can hope to say. I have only to observe that, having given my closest attention to all the arguments which have been used at all the stages upon the other side of the question, I am wholly unconverted upon any fundamental point. It is only out of respect to the most rev. Primate that I make this short observation upon the speech which he has just delivered, and that which the noble Viscount delivered before him. I profoundly regret td at some temporary indisposition disabled the noble Viscount, whose earnestness and eloquence are a great asset to this House, from giving to-night an illustration of his full powers upon this great question. He was listened to, as everyone will testify, with the deepest interest and sympathy.
While I listened to the speech of the most rev. Primate I confess—I say it 714 quite frankly—that the whole argumentative force of that speech lost its weight in my mind when I remembered that while the most rev. Primate spoke of the teachings of St. Matthew, standing, as many of his followers have pointed out, alone among the Evangelists on this doctrine, the most rev. Primate did not tell us whether or not he shares the view held by, I believe, the overwhelming majority of those who follow him in this matter—that if there be that adultery of which St. Matthew spoke as an exceptional case, and if the innocent party re-marries after the adultery of the guilty spouse, he or she commits adultery. I do not know what the view of the most rev. Primate is—he will tell me whether I am wrong or not—but I suspect that he shares that view.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am glad indeed to hear that that is not the view of the most rev. Primate, but he cannot be unaware that the most eloquent, the most articulate, and the most argumentative of those who share his views upon tire general question do take that view, and I should be very much surprised to hear that either the noble Lord who moved the rejection or the noble Viscount who seconded the rejection did not entertain it also.
I suggest to your Lordships that the fundamental issue here, after this subject has been exhausted and re-exhausted in debate, is to-day what the fundamental issue was on tine Second Reading. It is between those who believe that marriage is a sacrament which ought to be indissoluble on any ground, and those who take the other view that, in obedience to profound social reasons, marriage ought to be dissoluble, and that those who have so dissolved their marriages in obedience to the law of society, and with tine sanction of society, ought to be subjected to no penalty, either civil or ecclesiastical. That, and that alone, is the fundamental issue.
I do not believe that those of your Lordships who have appreciated so clearly what the conflict is, how far-reaching it is, how penetrating it is, will be influenced by the last exhortations which have been addressed to the House to-day. The most rev. Primate asks, Where does the demand come? It comes from every house in 715 this country in which the incidence of cruel and obsolete and mediaeval laws makes itself felt to-day; and let me assure the most rev. Primate that there are those who are members of this House who, if delicacy did not exclude them from a share in this debate, would give an eloquent answer to the question which he has addressed to the House. It is one of the ironical circumstances of the discussion that it is just those who have suffered most cruelly and most irrevocably who feel their tongues tied and themselves excluded from an appeal to their fellow members in this House. The argument can only in existing conditions be put forward sympathetically by those who are themselves happy in their own married lives. I am sure that those who at each successive stage of this Bill have given it their sympathy and support will not at the eleventh hour be diverted from their purpose.
It may be asked what are likely to be the fortunes of the measure in another place should it receive a Third Reading in this House. The pressure of public business of the gravest kind is, as every one knows, almost unprecedented at this moment, and I am not in a position to make what can be considered a final statement upon this point. But I most earnestly hope and believe, not without some warrant, that a certain view will be adopted by those who are in authority in the face of a clear indication of opinion in your Lordships' House. It will necessarily be realised that a very remarkable step has been taken. A Government no longer in office appointed a very authoritative Commission, and the overwhelming majority of that Commission made a certain Report which has received at every stage of this Bill the support of your Lordships' House. Even the Minority concurred in proposals which involve immense changes in our matrimonial law. Your Lordships—I exclude any reference to the more controversial clauses—will have carried through all its stages, at the price of much Parliamentary time and great Parliamentary labour, a Bill which contains very far-reaching measures of reform which have recommended themselves to almost every speaker in this House. I cannot, and I do not, believe that any Government, however difficult it may be, would find itself unable to give an opportunity in the House of Commons for placing— I will deal later with the controversial clauses—those agreed portions of this great reform 716 on the Statute Book, and I am glad to be able to state that should it be found possible, as I believe it will, for this Bill to be discussed in the House of Commons the Attorney-General, who is a warm supporter and believer in the Bill, will be very willing to undertake its conduct in that House.
I come now to the controversial clauses. These have been dealt with in a manner very familiar to those who have followed the debates in this House. Every Minister and every private member of this House has formed his view and given expression in the Division Lobby to that view without pressure or influence from any "whip." I anticipate, if the prospect I have spoken of is realised, that the same course will be adopted in the House of Commons, and that it will be open to any Minister or any private member of that House to give his views and vote with the same freedom and lack of official control as has been the case of individual members of your Lordships' House. I thought it right to acquaint your Lordships with the probable history of this measure after it leaves this House, because I should be unwilling indeed to think that all the energy, all the reforming zeal, and all the enthusiasm contributed to this question by members of this House were going to Le thrown away.
In the past your Lordships have initiated many great reforms which have been opposed and derided and at every stage resisted, both inside this House and sometimes in another place. But the Statute Book to-day is full of reforms of which your Lordships were the authors, and if any question is asked about them now it is as to who were the men who ever opposed them. As this House has ranged itself by the side of the great and experienced men who composed the majority of the Commission, I believe that the generations yet to come, at a moment when the most rev. Primate in a gloomy presage sees disaster and decay in our national morality, will witness happier homes and a saner conception of social and domestic justice.
§ THE EARL OE SELBORNE
My Lords, I cannot, of course, follow the Lord Chancellor in making any kind of prophecy as to what the fate of this Bill, if it passes your Lordships' House, will be in another place. Obviously he is in possession of sources of information not at my command. But I think I detected an effort on his part to persuade some of your 717 Lordships to vote for the Third Reading of the Bill on the ground, that, although the whole of the Bill might possibly not pass the House of Commons, the agreed portions of the Bill might pass that House. I would warn your Lordships very respectfully against any such suggestion. I think it would be wholly immoral, if I may say so, for anybody who believes that this Bill is wholly wrong to vote for its Third Reading in the hope that a small part of it might pass through the House of Commons.
The Lord Chancellor has said that the demand for the Bill comes from every home in the country where the marriage is unhappy. I deny that statement absolutely. There are very many homes in this land where the marriage, unfortunately, is unhappy bat where this Bill is not called for awl where it is believed to be most detrimental to the national interest. The Lord Chancellor apparently forgot that these homes are fortunately a very small minority in this country. In the millions of homes to which this law must apply in its final influence not one word has yet been said on this subject. What Member of Parliament, or candidate belonging to any Party, was asked a question on this subject at the last Election? Can anybody suggest that it was a burning issue? Yet you are asked to pass this Bill which, whether good or bad, will affect every home in England although the women of England, who have been given the vote, have not whispered one word in favour of time change. The Lord Chancellor said that the fundamental issue was whether we believed marriage to be dissoluble or indissoluble. Yes, that is a fundamental issue; but there is another fundamental issue, and the Lord Chancellor tried to evade it. It is this, whether by any possible argument or gloss or subtlety you can pretend that the new causes of divorce in this Bill are compatible with the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, as man on earth, whom we believe to be God in Heaven. Whatever view you take of that teaching, or of the disputed chapters in St. Matthew, nobody can say that the causes of divorce to be enacted in this Bill are compatible with that teaching; and that, I say to the Lord Chancellor, is a fundamental issue too.
Against that position, which is the Christian position, the Lord Chancellor, 718 in his speech on the Second Reading, said "The Royal Commission indicated the principle; I accept it; I recommend it. They thought that marriage ought to be dissoluble on any ground which frustrated what, by universal admission, are the fundamental purposes of marriage." In fact, the issue stated by the Lord Chancellor really is this: the authority of the Report of the Royal Commission versus the authority of the New Testament; and I ask your Lordships to note this rather curious fact—I do not think it has been noted before—that of the nine signatories to the Majority Report of the Royal Commission, on whose authority so much is based, three were Scots, and neither the Report nor the Bill refers to Scotland or will be accepted for one moment in Scotland.
My Lords, I want again to remind you very briefly of what the most rev. Primate said—namely, that this Bill purports (indirectly, no doubt, but still it purports) to lay down in certain respects what shall be the doctrine of marriage for the Church of England, and this is a position which we will never accept, no matter what the cost will be. But the Report of the Royal Commission never proposed anything of the kind, and yet that is the effect of the Bill, and I ventured to warn your Lordships during the Committee stage that that may raise tremendous issues in the future between Church and State.
I ask your Lordships, in the very few words which I am still going to say, to remind yourselves what the Report of the Royal Commission really did. It was to reject some grounds of divorce and to recommend others, and that is exactly what these two great lawyers, the Lord Chancellor and the late Lord Chancellor, do, although they do not agree, as I understand it, what would be the exact schedule of causes of divorce in a perfect Bill. But whether it be the opinion of the Royal Commission, or of the Lord Chancellor, or the late Lord Chancellor, each ground is nothing whatever but a matter of opinion, and I want to re-state and emphasise with all the force at my command what I believe to be an absolute fact—namely, that there is no logical stopping point until you come to dissolution by mutual consent, and many witnesses before the Royal Commission admitted that; but it has been pointed out during the debates which 719 we have had on the various stages of this Bill, and it is quite evident, that many of your Lordships support this Bill, not on those grounds, but on what I may call the ground of the hard cases.
This matter is so important that I must ask your Lordships' indulgence if I draw your attention to what Lord Buckmaster said on the Report stage. Bearing in mind the great support which this Bill has received on the ground of the hard cases, what was it in fact that Lord Buckmaster said? He told us that, in his opinion there really was no innocent party and no guilty party—that you could not discriminate between the parties and say one was guilty and the other innocent—and I understood hint to say to me that the sooner those who Were unsuited to cach other separated and found more suitable partners the better.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Let me look at the OFFICIAL BEFORT, at column 497. There, alluding to Lord Phillimore's view, Lord Buckmaster said—Lord Phillimore objects to that because Le says that the woman might think he was adding sin to sin. That no doubt, is the view of the noble and learned Lord. It is not my view. I say that in such circumstances. if the man has committed a wrong by leaving his wife and going with another woman. his first duty, if he obtains liberty, is to marry that woman,
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I think what I said was a fair description—if the marriage is unsuitable the sooner the parties find suitable mates the better. That certainly is the interpretation which will be put upon it by the public outside; that certainly is the view in some of the American States; and I ask your Lordships to give this idea of divorce by consent, which is the logical and certain outcome of this Bill, its right name and call it the revocation of the contract of companionship. Do not call it marriage, because it is not marriage in any sense in which Christianity has yet understood marriage. The two great lawyers, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Buckmaster, are 720 both of them most sincerely desirous of promoting human happiness. I have no doubt about that. But then the question must be asked, Which knows most about human happiness: these two great lawyers or their Creator?
To answer that question I am not going to appeal to a matter of faith, but to experience, and I appeal to the experience of those countries which have departed most widely from the Christian position about marriage. I take the United States as typical, and I would ask your Lordships who are in favour of this Bill this question: Is married life on the whole happier in the United States than in England? Can anybody even suggest that? The Royal Commission has already been quoted. You will find in the Report of the Royal Commission that President Roosevelt was so impressed with the terrible state of affairs which was growing up in many States with regard to divorce that be called a Divorce Conference. But the Report of the Commission is some years old, and I ask your Lordships to listen to recent testimony taken from The Times, which throughout has been a great supporter of this Bill. I find in The Times of March 6, 1920—NEW YORK, April 2.— 'The marriage laws re fast becoming meaningless, because the more divorces a woman has to her credit, or rather discredit, the more men she is able to get.' This was the opinion expressed yesterday by Judge Joseph B. David, of the Superior Court of Illinois, in a request to be transferred to another Court because he was tired of hearing divorce cases. 'Something must be done,' he said, 'to prevent rich couples from slipping from one State to another in search of an easy and expeditious way of untieing the marriage knot.' 'I have reached the decision to apply for transfer,' Judge David, 'because I am convinced that marriage does not mean anything mom I have reached this conclusion after sitting here day by day for many years. Perhaps my ideas are old-fashioned, but if they are I believe in them, and I am glad to be getting out of this Court.'Again on April 26 I found this—NEW YORK, April 23.—Arguing in favour of a Federal law to regulate divorce, Mr. Francis M. Moody, Executive Secretary of the International Committee on Marriage and Divorce, yesterday informed the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington that more than 50 per cent. of the divorces granted in the United States were based on trumped-up charges resulting from the fascination of the husband or wife for someone else. The witness expressed the conviction that the divorce evil was a worse plague than the public-house ever was, and said the divorce rate in this country in 1916 was 136 per hundred thousand of the population, exceeding that of Japan.That is the testimony, up to the last moment, from America. And why is this? 721 Experience shows that the Creator knew more about human nature than these two great lawyers, because the fact is that this Bill, and Bills like it, if passed into law become a manufactory of unhappy marriages, for they fatally encourage reckless marriage. For every hard case that they cure they create two. Only yesterday or the day before the Lord Chancellor himself was on the eve of appointing inure Judges because of the immense pressure of work in the Divorce Courts. The words lie used—I do not know whether they are accurate as accorded in The Times—were, "We are suffering from the reactions of those marriages" [the marriages due to the war], "and the stupendous number of divorce actions which to-day are clogging and embarrassing the Divorce Division is explicable for that reason."
If you think of it, you cannot get rid of hard cases. If this Bill be passed into law a few weeks hence, there will still be exactly the same number of hard cases on the verge of the law. You will not have provided for the wife whose husband has been sent to penal servitude. There will still be the case of the woman who has gone mad, who has been mad four years, has then recovered, and gone mad again. Every time you make a fresh cause for divorce you only create a fresh class of hard case, you only make a fresh occasion for reckless marriage, because you increase and multiply the chances of a man or woman remedying the results of their reckless marriage.
And even when volt get to the end of that slippery slope on which some of your Lordships have placed yourselves, and you get to divorce by consent, you still have not got rid of the hard cases. Divorce by consent means the consent of two parties, and if one party will not consent it is a hard case for the other. If you go still further and say that divorce may be at the will of one party only, then you have the hard case of the party who has been divorced against his or her will. You cannot get away from the hard cases. What this country really wants is some law to discourage reckless marriages, not a law to give encouragement to them. That is exactly what this Bill does, and that is why I entreat your Lordships to throw it out on Third Reading.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, on March 10 of this year I invited your Lord- 722 ships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and from that time until now practically all the free days provided by your Lordships' business have been occupied by the consideration of this measure. And yet there is only one clause in the Bill which creates any acute controversy—one clause and its consequences. It is the clause that provides new grounds for divorce. The most rev. primate himself stated that with the united recommendations of the Royal Commission he was in agreement, and would be prepared to pass a Bill incorporating them without protest. This clause adding the new reasons for divorce, with its consequential provisions, is in fact all that has been added to those recommendations.
I did not say, as I think the most rev. primate thought, that this was a small matter. It is a very great and a very grave matter. From March until now the prolonged debates which have been witnessed by your Lordships' House have almost all turned round the consideration of that one question, and both in its general principles on the Second Reading and in detail when each clause was considered one by one in the presence of arguments similar to those to which you have just listened, your Lordships have recorded with unhesitating regularity your opinion that—in the words of the great Commission Whose Report this Bill incorporates—"this Bill is required in the interests of justice and of morality." You are now at the Third Reading asked to waver and patter and to halt, and to undo to-day the result of your deliberations—solemn and careful deliberations—that have extended in time over three months.
This House has frequently, by its action, brought itself into violent collision with popular opinion at home, and from time to time has made itself an object of dislike, but it has never done what it would do if it rejected this Bill to-day—made itself an object of jest and ridicule to every Legislative Assembly in the world. I am not suggesting that the Third Reading may not be a convenient opportunity for bringing into consideration new circumstances that have arisen and new facts that have been discovered, or even for the purpose of being swayed and influenced by new arguments that have been advanced. But, though I have listened with attention to the most earnest and most eloquent speeches that have been made to you this afternoon, even the noble Lord and the most rev. Primate himself, who made 723 them, would not suggest for a moment that they brought before you any new argument whatever. They are nothing but a repetition of the arguments which have been heard on the Second Reading and on the Committee stage of this Bill.
I do not certainly propose, therefore, to trouble you at length with a repetition of reasons why I ask for your support to-day. But there are one or two things that have been said which certainly do require and demand attention. The most rev. Primate implored your Lordships not to pass this Bill because of the risk that would be run by numbers of happy, innocent, lovable English homes. Are those the homes that this Bill is going to affect? The homes that this Bill is going to affect are the homes whose conditions were examined, with the result incorporated in this most remarkable document, the Report of the Commission which your Lordships' House appointed for the purpose of examining at leisure and in detail all these things. And this is what they said with regard to one instance alone, drunkenness—It seems probable from the evidence given before us that habitual drunkenness produces as much, if not more, misery for the sober partner and the children of the marriage as any other cause in the list of grave causes. Such inebriety carries with it loss of interest in surroundings, loss of self-respect, neglect of duty, personal uncleanliness, neglect of children, violence, delusions of suspicion, a tendency to indecent behaviour, and a general state which makes companionship impossible. This applies to both-sexes, but in the case of a drunken husband the physical pain of brute force is often added to the mental and moral injury he inflicts upon his wife; moreover, by neglected business and wanton expenditure, he has power to reduce himself and those dependent upon him to penury.Those are the homes which this Bill really affects. Those are the places where the people are now suffering under conditions which we believe we can relieve; and I must say I feel amazed when I hear noble Lords saying, "We admit the grievance, we know the suffering, but you cannot relieve it all, therefore do not try to relieve any part of it." I know quite well that, when this Bill is passed, there will be cases—not new cases created, but old cases—that we have not been able to reach, and which, in the interests of the State, it may be not desirable to reach, but to say that we shall never relieve the misery and the suffering which are referred to in this Report is to say something which I find myself utterly unable to accept.
724 Then it is said by the noble Viscount who has just sat down that none the less we ought not to pass the Bill because it will encourage recklessness in marriage. I beg of you to consider for a moment what that means. The new causes introduced for divorce are drunkenness, insanity, cruelty, and desertion. Do I understand that a man and woman are going lightly to contract the great obligations of marriage, thinking that drunkenness will dissolve it, or that insanity will dissolve it, or that cruelty will dissolve it, or that they may desert each other? Of those causes there is not one that can, by any possibility whatever, be in the contemplation of any one of the parties, unless possibly, in the minds of some unscrupulous men, desertion. But it is in his mind to-day, and he deserts his wife, and leaves her to the cold charity of a world that will not enable her to get free and marry another man, but condemns her to a life which this Report tells you is full of misery and danger for her day by day.
We are told—and the most rev. Primate must forgive me if I say that the metaphor is a little musty—that this Bill places us on a slippery slope, that the people stand on a slippery slope to-day. There are women to-day who are standing on a slippery slope, which leads down to the abyss of prostitution, and this Bill will bring them relief. It will relieve them from the temptation by which they are harassed day by day, from men who, it may be in the same house, it may be in the same street, are in constant contact with them, from whose companionship they perhaps may not even wish to escape, who would marry them if only they could get free, but they are bound by a man who has gone, they know not where, and they cannot follow him, and they have to continue with this peril constantly before their face.
I wonder whether noble Lords who oppose this Bill understand all the bitterness of heart which must have inspired a woman who wrote to me explaining how she had been deserted, and all the sad conditions of her life, pointing out how she was assailed by temptation by a man who would marry her if she were free, and begged her to live with him, and then ending up by saying, "Why is it that these good people make it so hard for us to get to the altar and so easy to get to the streets"? There is the condition. I say it can be remedied. I beg of your Lordships that it should be reme- 725 died. And when noble Lords attempt to frighten us with the things that happen in other countries, I begged any noble Lord at an earlier stage of this debate who was going to bring the comparison of America in challenge with this Bill to tell us the State, and to tell us the law, in order that we might see if it was comparable. And even now we find a person as acute and as fair-minded as the noble Viscount referring generally to the United States of America, and the laws of the United States of America, which has as many different forms of law as there are different colours in a Paisley shawl. You cannot discuss it in that way. The only possible way in which it could be discussed would be by considering each cause one by one.
Of all the causes for divorce, now added in this Bill, the one which is most open to reasonable contest and controversy is desertion. We have the example at our door, and directly we refer to it we are told that it is not applicable, because the Scots are a different race from the English, it is not fair to say that something that has worked admittedly without any difficulty whatever, and without any harm or danger to the sanctity of Scottish homes, is a very dangerous thing to bring across the Border. That is the comparable case. There is no other case that is comparable that has been quoted before your Lordships to-day, or, indeed, at any time during the whole of the stages of this Bill.
It is suggested that this Bill is intended to enable divorce to be made easier, and that it will ruin married lives. This Bill is only intended to effect the cure for the disease of hopelessly broken married lives. It will create no unhappiness; why should it? Are people going to be cruel to their wives, or become insane, or become habitual drunkards, or run away, because their wives can desert them if this Bill is passed? Adultery, grave and ugly as it is, is apparently at last admitted as a proper cause for divorce, and those other causes are objected to on grounds which while they are based upon religious principles I can understand and respect, but when they are based upon secular considerations I submit wholly fail.
The truth is that the real objection to this Bill—and I recognise that it is a strong one—is not the objection based on secular grounds at all. It is the objection that is based upon religious grounds, and I realise 726 that thoroughly, and I did when the Bill was first introduced. I would gladly myself pass by, without saying a word upon the matter—it is not a subject upon which I have any qualification whatever to speak—but the point has been insistently urged with great consideration and reticence by occupants of the Bench opposite me, and less temperately by some who on this matter had less authority to speak. But it has been urged so constantly that I do not think I should be doing my duty if I let this Bill pass without expressing my own strong individual protest against the view that the introduction of this Bill is contrary to the teachings of Christianity. The noble Lord who moved that this Bill be read upon this day six months stands in an impregnable position. He represents the Roman Catholic faith, which, from the earliest days, has declared that marriage can never be dissolved by the act of man. To him, therefore, I make no answer, for no answer can be made. But I certainly do not intend it disrespectfully if I say to him that the great religious body to which he belongs forms a very small minority of the people of this country, and that there are many people who would suffer much before they saw restored here the old supreme ascendency of his ancient faith.
To the noble Viscount who supported his Motion I wish to say but little. It has been to me a matter of regret that he has been unable to be present during the discussions on this Bill. I had sincerely hoped to have seen him. I felt that a Bill dealing with this subject would be incomplete unless your Lordships could hear, even under the difficult conditions in which he spoke this evening, some utterances from the noble Viscount who expresses the views in which he has been a life-long believer. But, again, what does he say? He speaks, of course, on behalf of the Church of England, and he says that according to their law marriage is indissoluble, and that the conflict to-day is between the indissolubility of marriage and this Bill. I think he is right. But the indissolubility of marriage has been abandoned this afternoon by the most rev. Primate who has admitted that for adultery marriage can be dissolved; and no one can doubt that the Church of England is bitterly divided upon this question. Some hold the views held by the noble Viscount and by Lord Phillimore, who is not here to-day. There are others who 727 hold different opinions. I have had among my correspondence letters from eminent clergymen—eminent in scholarship and in their pastoral work—protesting against the doctrines which have been enunciated from those Benches as the doctrines of the Church of England. I am not saying that by way of reproach. I am sorry that there should be divisions at all. I am simply saying it for the purpose of enforcing my argument that it is impossible for any one to speak with the undivided authority of the members of the Church of England behind him in this matter, because they are not united and they are not agreed.
There remain only the final statements made in very forcible language by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. He proclaims again that this Bill is contrary to Christianity. When a man takes up ground as broad as that he sheds all the weapons of attack that are due to bodies of men who hold special and particular doctrines about the Christian faith—the Church of England, the Church of Rome; their support becomes useless to him because the case is put on the broad ground of general Christianity which, after all, he would readily agree embraces within its wide and generous scope large numbers of bodies that do not hold those views at all.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I did not quote the authority of any Church. I said that in my opinion it was impossible, by any interpretation whatever of our Lord's word, to get within His definition of the marriage law the causes for divorce contained in this Bill.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
If the noble Earl did not mean that this was contrary to Christianity I am sorry I should have thought that he did. The truth is—here, again the noble Earl must know it because he has read this Report—that there were divines one after the other who came before the Commission and pointed out that was not the ease, and that their view of this disputed passage in St. Matthew was that it was given by way of illustration and was never intended as a binding law to bind people for all time. I cannot compound these strifes. I can only say there is the expression of opinion repeated again and again; and it was with that before them that the Commission made the Report they did.
728 When you pass away from the authority of Churches the area is broad and the path is not clearly defined. Each man must pick his way for himself as best he can, if he finds himself unable to accept the authority of those who would gladly, if they had the power, guide and help his steps. I can only say that I myself find it utterly impossible to believe that the passage of this Bill is contrary to the doctrines of Christianity, as I understand them. I do not believe that the people who avail themselves of the provisions of this Bill will cease to be the objects of Divine compassion. Nor do I think that they will forfeit their share to claim the privilege of that infinite mercy upon which alone, and not upon obedience to rite, formula, ceremony, or ritual, in the last solemn moment of our life any one of us will have the least right to rely.
§ VISCOUNT FINLAY
My Lords, I intend to say a very few words. I did not come to the House in any way prepared to speak, but some things have been said which I think require a word of notice. The constant struggle of the supporters of this Bill has been to say that the contest is between the Bill and what they have called "antiquated mediævalism." I do not think that is the ease at all. Certainly I do not hold those views which are stigmatised as antiquated and mediæval. I do not believe that in Scripture we can find a code of law as to marriage and divorce. What I believe we can find there are certain principles; and it should be our aim as far as possible to ensure that those principles are carried out in our legislation, and that nothing shall be done to interfere with the character of marriage as a permanent contract of partnership for life.
Constant reference has been made to Scotland. My noble and learned friend who has just spoken had the courage to refer to Scotland as an argument in favour of this Bill. I do not believe that Scotland would look at this Bill. Scotland has for 300 years allowed divorce on the ground of desertion as well as on the ground of adultery; and if this Bill had been confined to incorporating the law of Scotland into that of England I, for one, should have been a supporter of it. But surely, in altering a matter which affects vitally the home life of England, we ought to proceed with some caution. What do we find in this Bill? Not that its promoters have 729 proceeded upon the lines with reference to which we have before our eyes the experiment of Scotland for the last 300 years, but they have made this Bill the occasion for introducing a number of other grounds into the category of reasons which will justify divorce.
I am not going to wade through those grounds again, but I wish to say one word with regard to the ground of cruelty. The definition of cruelty is very skilfully drawn. It is calculated to strike the mind of anyone who merely glances at the Bill and to convey the impression that it is intended to apply, and will apply, only in very grave cases. In practice, I believe, it will be found that that definition is capable of letting in a vast number of eases where irritation has been caused, where one party to the contract of marriage gets, as they say, "on the nerves" of the other, and where experts would be found to testify that the parties could not continue to live together without risk to the health of the client. I regard that as a very great danger. It will be found by those who will look carefully into it that the definition is extremely elastic.
I think that this Bill goes a great deal too far, and that its supporters have brushed aside far too lightly the impressive caution which was uttered, when the Bill first came on here, by Lord Core11 as to his father's views upon this subject. What was then
§ said deserves much more attention than it has yet received. I believe that that warning should be borne in mind by your Lordships now that we have come to the stage of the Third Reading. Your Lordships were asked to vote for the Third Reading of the Bill because you voted for the Second Reading, and you were told by my noble and learned friend opposite that, on that ground, you would make yourselves ridiculous if you did not do so.
§ But we live and learn, and I think a great many of us understand a good deal more about the Bill now than we did in the earlier stages. I ask your Lordships whether there is not the gravest reason, apart from religious objections altogether, to think that the passage of this Bill, with the vast number of additional grounds for divorce which is introduced, would do an infinity of mischief to the home life of this country. I am perfectly certain that it is not in the interests of the women of this country that this Bill should pass. The sanctity of the marriage tie has been the great protection for women, and I do not believe that the sense of the people of England generally is in favour of any such measure as this.
§ On Question, whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?—
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 154; Not-Contents 107.731
|Birkenhead, L (L. Chancellor.)||Malmesbury, E.||Peel, V.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|Leeds, D.||Onslow, E.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Pembroke and Montgomery, E.||Alington, L.|
|Rutland, D.||Rosslyn, E.||Ampthill, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Russell, E.||Askwith, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Sandwich, E.||Atkinson, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Avebury, L.|
|Cambridge, M.||Spencer, E.||Avebury, L.|
|Camden, M.||Stanhope, E.||Barrymore, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Stafford, E.||Bledisloe, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Verulam, E.||Blythswood, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M. (Lord Great Chamberlain.)||Boston, L.|
|Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Buckmaster, L. [Teller.]|
|Linlithgow, M.||Allendale, V.||Carew, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Castlemaine, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Burnham, V.||Cawley, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Chaplin, V.||Clwyd, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Churchill, V.||Cochrane of Cults, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Cowdray, V.||Colebrooke, L.|
|Craven, E.||Devonport, V.||Coleridge, L.|
|Drogheda, E.||Haldane, V.||D'Abernon, L.|
|Durham, E.||Hampden, V.||Dawson of Penn, L.|
|Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)||Hardinge, V.||Denman, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Desborough, L.|
|Lanesborough, E.||Dewar, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Knollys, V.||Ebury, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Knutsford, V.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Milner, V.||Emmott, L.|
|Ernle, L.||Leverhulme, L.||Rotherham, L.|
|Faber, L.||Ludlow, L.||Rothschild, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Monekton, L. (V. Galway.)||Sackville, L.|
|Farrer, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Gainford, L.||Monkswell, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Monson, L.||Shaw, L.|
|Glenconner, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Glenarthur, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)||Somerleyton, L.|
|Greville, L.||Moulton, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L. [Teller.]||Southwark, L.|
|Harris, L.||Muskerry, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Hemphill, L.||Newton, L.|
|Heneage, L.||Nunburnholme, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Hothfield, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)||Sudeley, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)||Sumner, L.|
|Inchcape, L.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)||Swaythling, L.|
|Islington, L.||Penrhyn, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)||Pentland, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)||Walsingham, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Queenborough, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)||Ranksborough, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Knaresborough, L.||Rathereedan, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Lambourne, L.||Redesdale, L.||Wittenham, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Revelstoke, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Leith of Fyvie, L.||Ribblesdale, L.||Wyfold, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Finlay, V.||Channing of Wellingborough, L.|
|York, L. Abp.||Goschen, V.||Charnwood, L.|
|Halifax, V.||de Mauley, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Hambleden, V.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)|
|Newcastle, D.||Hood, V.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow)|
|Northumberland, D. [Teller.]||Fingall, L. (E. Fingall.)|
|Somerset, D.||Bath and Wells, L. Bp.||Forester, L.|
|Birmingham, L. Bp.||Gormanston, L. (V. Gormanston.)|
|Bute, M.||Bristol, L. Bp.||Grenfell, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Chechester, L. Bp.||Harlech, L.|
|Normandy, M.||Coventry, L. Bp.||Hastings, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Coventry, L. Bp.||Hastings, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Ely, L. Bp.||Hatherton, L.|
|Gloucester, L. Bp.||Hawke, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Lichfield, L. Bp.||Joicey, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||London, L. Bp.||Killanin, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Norwich, L. Bp.||Lamington. L.|
|Oxford, L. Bp.||Lovat, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Peterborough, L. Bp.||MacDonnell, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Rochester, L. Bp.||Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)|
|Grey, E.||St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, L. Bp.||Middleton, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Morris, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Salisbury, L. BP.||Mowbray, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Sheffield, L. Bp.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Southwell, L. Bp.||Parmoor, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Wakefield, L. BP.||Ravensworth, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Winchester, L. Bp.||Roundway, L.|
|Morton, E.||Rowallan, L.|
|Mount Edgeumbe, E.||Addington, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Aldenham, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Powis, E.||Annesley, L. (Valentia.)||Shandon, L.|
|Sellborne, E.||Armaghdale, L.||Stafford, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Armstrong, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Waldegrave, E.||Ashbourn, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Yarborough, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Templemore, L.|
|Braye, L. [Teller.]||Thurlow, L.|
|Cave, V.||Burgh, L.||Treowen, L.|
|Chilston, V.||Byron, L.||Wenlock, L.|
|Falkand, V.||Chalmers, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
|Resolved in the affirmative; Amendment disagreed to accordingly, and Bill read 3a.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Clause 15:
§ Further provisions as to orders under preceding sections.
15.—(1) Where the court has made an order under any of the three last preceding sections or section thirteen sub-section (2) the court may subsequently, on due cause being shown from time to time, revoke, suspend, or vary the order on the application of any person affected by the order.
(2) Any such order may require payments to be made notwithstanding any restraint on anticipation of income.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "thirteen" and insert "nine.
Page 9, line 32, leave out ("thirteen") and insert ("nine").—(Lord Muir Mackenzie.)
§ Clause 27:
27.—(1) Subject to and in accordance with Rules of Court, an appeal shall lie—
Provided that from any derision of the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division on appeal from a court of summary jurisdiction or from the High Court sitting locally an appeal shall lie to the Court of Appeal on a point of law only, and that no appeal shall lie from an order of a court of summary jurisdiction for the transfer of proceedings to the High Court.
(2) No appeal from an order absolute under this Act shall lie in favour of any person who having had time and opportunity to appeal from the decree nisi on which the order was founded has not appealed therefrom.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE move, in subsection (1) (a), to leave out "or of the High Court sitting locally."
Page 16, line 20, leave out ("or of the High Court sitting locally").—(Lord Muir Mackenzie.)
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE moved, in subsection (1) (b), after "Division," to insert "or of any Commissioner."
Page 16, line 24, after ("Division") insert ("or of any Commissioner").—(Lord Muir Mackenzie.)
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE moved, in the proviso to subsection (1), to leave out ("or from the High Court sitting locally").
Page 16, line 27, leave out ("or from the High Court sitting locally").—(Lord Muir Mackenzie.)
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill passed and sent to the Commons.