HL Deb 28 April 1921 vol 45 cc77-102

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Lord Buckmaster.)

LORD STUART OF WORTLEY 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 said: My Lords, I rise to move the Amendment of which I have given notice, which. is practically a negative to the Third Reading of the Bill. I am not going to make the mistake in advocacy of rehearsing or capitulating once more the arguments for or against desertion being added to the causes or grounds for divorce. I conceive that everything has been said on both sides: everything that could suggest itself to prudence, to deference to authority, or to disinclination to take risks; while, on the other hand, everything has been advanced which could be advanced by the eloquence, or the fervour, or the reforming zeal of the advocates of this proposal.

We who occupy the entrenched position in this controversy know full well what kind of artillery it is to which we are exposed. We know full well how soon the range is found, and how often direct hits seem to be made; nevertheless we, who were the minority on the last occasion, find ourselves at the end of the operations with little more than admiration for the excellence of the practice of those who are subjecting us to this process. Not only need I not recapitulate all these things, but it is not necessary for me either to claim or to contend that anything like a bargain has been either made or broken with regard to the unanimous vote on the Second Reading of this Bill. Nor do I say that my Amendment to-day is justified by any express reservations then made, or by any course foreshadowed in advance.

For us, the minority, our rights remain intact, and our duties are as much binding now as they were before. We have the power to withhold from this Bill the character of an agreed measure, and I say it is not only our right but also, and even more, our duty to exercise that power. It results that I, a Parliamentarian not without experience, hold that there never was a case in which a Division on the Third Reading was more fully justified than that Division which I shall ask your Lordships to take this afternoon.

At the Second Reading stage this Bill was in a form in which general agreement upon its provisions was possible. It granted to poor persons a relief, under the present law now denied to them; it provided equal justice between the sexes; it effected other reforms which were recommended by high authority and which enlisted a large measure of general sympathy, and it was, as your Lordships know, read a second time without a Division. The prospect was held out, and was largely entertained, that if passed as it stood the Bill might effect a settlement that would last for a very long time. In those circumstances it is not surprising that what may be called the forces of unsettlement and change saw need to bestir themselves and to mobilise. I do not impute any motives or even infer any design; I can only notice the natural effect of what was done. But the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, did not in fact resist the temptation to harness to his own proposal, the making of desertion one of the grounds of divorce the great and useful motive power generated by the urgency of the reforms which this Bill, as introduced, seeks to secure. The noble and learned Lord saw that he had his majority, and he could not, and did not, deny himself the opportunity of using it. The result is that the Bill, as we have it before us, is different from what it was when it was unanimously read a second time, arid is different in respect of a matter of the greatest importance.


It was not unanimous when it was read a second time.


There was a small minority, I think, but very small.


I will make that correction, my Lords; I was certainly informed it was read a second time without a Division. The minority is still unmoved, and is still profoundly convinced, and I say, as one of that minority, that on the lowest ground alone, apart from Scriptural injunction or Divine teaching, the desertion clause of the Bill is, in my belief and I think in the belief of other noble Lords, incapable of being safeguarded against collusion such as may easily make divorce for desertion only less easy than divorce from mere incompatibility or by consent. I do not know whether any noble Lord will say that if this Amendment is carried to-day the labour which was given to this Bill in its previous stages and in bringing it to the stage we have reached to-day will be lost. In case that argument should be advanced I hasten to say that the labour is already wasted and made of no effect. In its present form the Bill has no chance in another place of any facilities which might be forthcoming in favour of non-controversial reliefs and reforms which are so generally desired.

I do not doubt that either the dropping of the desertion clause, or the pressing of the desertion clause, in another place would give rise to a full and acrimonious debate at possibly more than one stage of the Bill, so that time would be needed. The time would have to be Government time; facilities for finding the time would have to be given by the Government, and could only be given at the expense of other claimants, and by refusing facilities to those who might think they had the greater right. We all know from experience that in those circumstances facilities are not likely to be, and are not in the result found to be, forthcoming. That, alone, deprives this Bill of the character of an agreed Bill, and of that which it bore at the previous stage and when it was introduced. The outward and visible sign of that was the renunciation of the control of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, who brought it in, and who, with admirable candour, frankly told your Lordships that though he was an advocate of desertion for divorce, he felt, after the change that had been made in Committee, that he could no longer be responsible for the conduct of the Bill.

What happened upon Second Reading and in Committee in this House gives to the decision of to-day alike the abstract importance of a choice of principle and the operative effect of the completed consideration of details. It is a stage at which your Lordships have the opportunity and the necessity of defining your position, to whichever side you belong. We, of the minority, have the opportunity (and I ask that advantage will. be taken of it) of guarding against injurious misconstruction of motives, which you certainly do not deserve, and I invite you to-day to earn for yourselves nothing worse nor less than the credit of having acted with public spirit, and with a desire for safe reform.

Amendment moved— Leave out (" now ") and add at end of the;Motion (" this day six months).—(Lord Stuart of Wortley.)


My Lords, for one brief moment I desire to call attention to the dates of the various Divorce Bills which have been presented for your Lordships' consideration from time to time. No Bill that I can recollect, no measure of any kind, has attracted so much attention and such long and earnest consideration in your Lordships' House as these Divorce Bills, except, possibly, the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill which used to come up year after year with'monotonous iteration. The substance of all these Divorce Bills is very much the same. Details may vary, but the main substance is to facilitate measures for divorce and to place it within the reach of those who are debarred, either by poverty or by distance of habitation, from entering the London Courts.

A most important Bill was presented by the late Lord Gorell only a very few days before war broke out, and it fell to my lot to move its rejection. It was not rejected; it died a natural death; at any rate it was not prosecuted to its end. But, leaving that ancient history on one side, I come to the Bill which was introduced and divided upon on March 24, 1920. The Division on the Second Reading of that Bill was a remarkable one. The Bill was lost by nearly two to one. Then, in the same year, on the Third Heading, the same Bill was lost by 154 to 107. Last March the Second Beading of this Bill was proposed, and why those who wish to oppose divorce in general did not foregather in large numbers on that occasion I do not know, but there was a very unequal Division. Only thirteen voted against the Bill, while forty-seven were for it. I may remark, in passing, that out of these thirteen Peers only three were non-Catholics. Ten Catholics, therefore, voted against the Bill. That proves that it is one of those Bills in which Catholics, as Catholics, have a very great interest and in regard to which there is a great obligation upon them to express their opinions. In that discussion the most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of York said that he thought I was tilting at windmills. All I can say is that if, in challenging those who support the principle of divorce in this country, I am tilting at windmills, I am tilting at a windmill which no longer grinds corn and whose sails are blown about with every wind of vain doctrine.

The debates upon the Bills to which I have referred were very long, and indicated a vast number of conflicting opinions. All those Bills were absolutely in support of the general principle of divorce, and discussion took place as to whether desertion for seven years should be made a condition of divorce. Coining to details, I said on that occasion that there was no particular magic or virtue in seven years, because, if we once allow desertion to be a reason for divorce, any number of years might serve just as well; indeed, any number of months, or, to take the matter really to its logical conclusion, any number of days. Therefore, the ultimate result of all these Bills, if they be pushed to their logical conclusion, will be absolute polygamy. The marriage bond will be disrupted and put on one side. Persons will only consort together in what may, very illogically, be called the marriage bond, for, it is really no bond. They will only consort together for a limited time, with the distinct. understand- ing that they can part company when they wish to do so.

In those discussions in this House I did not enter into details, but pressed my objections on principle. I thought it right and convenient to put before the House the outlines of the Catholic law on marriage. That law is a very important one covering, as it does, a great number of countries in the world. I did that in order that I might justify my opposition to the Bill in toto. I certainly do not mean to go over that ground again. I alluded briefly to the extreme complexity and difficulties and obligations of our laws with regard to the nullity of marriage, and I pointed out, as I think it ought to be pointed out, that in the popular mind there is a great confusion between what is called a declaration of nullity of the law of marriage and the proposed laws for remarrying divorced persons. Further, I pointed out that in these discussions divorce should always connote re-marriage, because there is such a thing in Catholic law as divorce a mensa et thoro, which can be granted by the Church on condition, and only on the distinct understanding, that there is no re-marriage afterwards by either party. Therefore, divorce in all these debates should always be understood to connote and to mean the power and the liberty and the permission by the State for either party to re-marry.

I may just add a note, so to speak, to what was stated on the last occasion—namely, that no time limit appears in any of these Bills. I am not aware that any time limit was allowed in the important Bill of 1857. The consequence is that a person in this country may, in theory, get a divorce as often as the Court will grant it. That means, if you force it to its logical and impossible conclusion, that a man may marry every month, and may have twelve or more divorced wives going about the country bearing his name at the end of a year. If I am not mistaken, in the case of a Peer of the Realm getting a divorce, the lady who is divorced may enjoy the title and privileges of the Peerage. It is a very curious thing—and I do not think it has been considered very much in the country—that if divorce becomes very frequent in the case I have mentioned this multiplicity of wives will be, to say the least, very embarrassing in the social order.

There is another short observation that I wish to make. I do not think attention has been called to the fact, during all the years that we have been discussing these matters, that a very great object put forward by the promoters of these measures was that the poor, or persons who could not afford either time or money to come to London, should have at their doors a Court to which they could go and get their divorce. That was put forward as a very important argument in favour of these Bills, and it was said that there would be—I think I am not mistaken in saying this—eighty-nine different centres up and down England and Wales where petitioners for divorce could urge their suits. In other words, that divorce should be made general and easy all over the country.

I was surprised the other day to find that an Act is to come into operation to make this possible. It is not a Divorce Act. The Short Title of it is, "The Administration of Justice," and it received the Royal Assent on December 23. Section I of that Act enables people to get a divorce at Assizes, so that really a great deal of the ground over which the supporters of divorce have been carrying their standard for so many years seems to have been ceded by this Act, to which probably not many of your Lordships paid any attention. The Title indicates nothing at all in reference to marriage or divorce, but it empowers a Judge at Assizes to transform his Court into a Divorce Court for the time being, and in him is vested, with or without a jury, the power to pronounce what is called "a decree nisi." Those are the supplementary observations I thought it well to make at this stage of the Bill. I can only express the earnest hope that this Bill will be thrown out to-day, and that the question of multiplying facilities for divorce will be settled, or at all events postponed sine die.

I speak only as one of the minority, a minority in the country and in this House, but your Lordships know how deeply we feel on this subject and how vital it is to us. It is not a question of politics; it is a question of the well-being of society and civilisation, and, on higher grounds, we regard marriage as a Sacrament, founded by Divine Ordinance and made indissoluble for ever. When I say that it has no bearing on politics I cannot help thinking that it may have some political bearing on the great question which agitates the country at the present time. By a singular coincidence these Divorce Bills have always been before us at a time when the question of the future of Ireland has been before the country too. They have synchronised, quite accidentally no doubt, but there may be perhaps a curious analogy between the two.

If England throws over, as these Bills would enable her to do, the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage, she will go still farther, if posssible, from the governing idea of the Irish people. In Ireland no Divorce Court could ever be set up in any circumstances, and even the enemies of Ireland are bound to confess that the purity of the Irish race is one of the lights of the world. If England follows the example of France (riot, by the way, of Italy which has no Divorce Law) and absolutely throws over the whole idea of the sanctity and indissolubility of the marriage tie, it will certainly drive a still greater wedge between the two countries. No Catholic has anything to do with divorce. If he has he becomes ipso facto an apostate from his Church. There are many Catholics in the British Empire, and their position is surely worthy of some consideration. It seems to me that over the doors of the Divorce Court should be inscribed, in large letters, the verses which history tells us were written in very big characters over the gates of Bandon:— Jew, Turk or Atheist may enter here But not a Papist.


My Lords, I desire to offer a few observations at this stage, because I am anxious to make it clear that, whilst most of my colleagues on the Bench of Bishops will feel it their duty to vote against the Third Reading of this Bill, we have no wish to invoke a general discussion of particular Amendments which have changed the character of the measure. The Third Reading is not, I think, the occasion for developing the question in its controversial aspect. Nothing could have been simpler or more clear than the statement of Lord Stuart of Wortley as to the position in which we stand who are now forced to oppose the Bill.

My own position, and that of my colleagues, is simple. If we are to be consistent it is an inevitable one. I was unfortunately ill on the occasion of the Second Reading, but had I been here I, should have spoken and voted in favour of the Bill as it then was. On the. Motion to go into Committee I explained that the cordial support which we were giving to Lord Gorell's Bill was based on the character and the limitations of the measure. That character has now been changed. The Bill, as introduced, was a measure to give effect to what, we hoped, were non-controversial proposals which most of us had always advocated. Although it made changes, for good as we thought, in the law, yet it deliberately lift adultery as the sole ground on which divorce could be obtained. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck-master, with perfect fairness and justification from his own point of view, although with results which I cannot help feeling are very unfortunate, altered the character of the Bill by the Amendment which he carried. It. was altered in the direction which we have throughout opposed on principle, and our only course consistently and I ant sure the noble and learned Lord will admit that we are consistent in this, whatever he thinks of our wisdom—is to vote against the Third Reading.

I am not going to attempt to argue against the change on its merits. The Committee stage was the occasion for such discussion as was necessary on an already well-worn subject. Now, I think, is not the time. I would only say that every year's consideration which one gives to the evidence a pima ring in the elaborate census returns of the United States as to the social confusion which is there rife, and which is in large measure attributed by many of the best American authorities to the Divorce Laws as they stand, and every month's consideration of what is now passing in our own land with the already half-opened floodgates of some new pressure for divorce, convinces me that we are right in the course we have tried to take. I ant sure the noble and learned Lord will admit that I have never been one of those who belittle the existence of hard cases.


Hear, hear.


He has rested the argument for the insertion of this clause making desertion a ground for divorce mainly upon the hard cases with which we are all familiar. I admit them as much as anybody, although I think that they are sometimes a great deal misunderstood. The hardest cases probably arise from instances of desertion, but their hardness occurs mainly at the outset, and not after years have passed and the desertion has gone on for a long time. The difficulty, at all events for the poorer people, arises in the earlier years, and hence there is a constant tendency, once you have got divorce allowed for desertion we have seen it in State after State of America—to diminish the period for which desertion is necessary. Here it is Proposed to make it three years. There are parts of the world in which it is one year. As you diminish the period which must elapse before divorce can be granted, so you further promote the opportunities and facilities for collusion.

Your Lordships are all familiar with the evidence which was given before the Divorce Commission front America as to the existence of collusion. One of the most famous lawyers said— The existence of some form or some degree of mutual arrangement in the majority of cases for divorce in the United States may be taken for granted, and the plea of desertion renders that. collusion comparatively simple. I think it would be quite unwarranted to develop the argument with regard to the merits or demerits of the particular proposal, and the principle of allowing desertion as a cause for divorce. I only very greatly regret what must now, I am afraid, be the loss of an opportunity, which might, I think, have been successfully taken, to remove certain grievances which we, admitted, which we admit to-day, and which we have striven to remove, without raising the controversy which this measure, carried out in its present form, must inevitably provoke. That being so, and the choice having been made, I have no alternative, lint must in simple consistency go into the Lobby against this Bill upon its Third Reading.


My Lords, it has been pointed out by Lord Stuart of Wortley that our debate on this Bill is likely to lead to no practical result. Nevertheless, I venture to think that the debates in this House will not be labour wasted. They ought to have a considerable educative effect on the public opinion of the country, and when legislation is seriously attempted again, that legislation will be undertaken with a better chance of being sound and wise. Before the Bill leaves this House I think it important that a voice from these benches should repudiate explicitly and decisively the notion that the Bill represents any desire of weakening the marriage union, or of making concessions to the deplorable tendency to sexual irregularity which is now present and powerful in society. The issue between those who advocate and those who oppose this Bill, is certainly not justly represented as one between the champions and opponents of a high, and even severe, doctrine of the marriage contract. Those who support the Bill, amongst whom I must count myself, will be led to do so by the conviction that nothing so weakens the Marriage Law at this moment as its association, apparently unquestionable, with unreason and injustice. This Bill, in making the law jester and more reasonable, will draw to the support of the institution of marriage the deliberate reason and the exercised conscience of the community at large.

In spite of the almost complete unanimity of the Episcopal Bench in opposition to this Bill, it is a fact that opinion in the Church of England, and even amongst the clergy, is deeply divided. There is, indeed, an impressive unanimity of belief as to the cardinal importance of maintaining a sternly rigorous view of the marriage bond. There is universal distress and alarm at the sexual licence which has disclosed itself recently in an appalling apocalypse of degradation and scandal. There is in all quarters a desire that something effectual should be clone to stay the plague of social corruption. But when we pass from generalities of this kind to the practical question, there is a deep and growing cleavage of opinion.

A small but highly significant indication of the actual state of opinion among the English clergy may be found in the evidence of the theologians who were invited to give their testimony before the Royal Commission. I would ask your Lordships to glance at that opinion. I limit myself to the clergy of the Church of England. These were eleven in number. Two were Bishops, and they differed. They were not unanimous on the grounds of their opposition, although they came together in resisting any extension of the grounds of divorce. Of the six academic authorities, five held that the words of Christ, recorded in the Gospels, must not be held to preclude divorce for other reasons than adultery, and one, apparently, took the stricter view. Of the three parish priests, two took the Liberal and one the Conserva- tive position. You may he very sure that what the Universities say to-day the parish priest will say to-morrow, and most rev. and right rev. Prelates will be pronouncing with solemn emphasis and an impressive air of spontaneity on the day after that.

It may be said, What does it matter whether there be differences of theory so long as men arrive at the same practical conclusion? I answer that it may matter greatly, and for this reason: So long as the practical question is discussed as an issue of obedience to, or rebellion against, a Divine law, there can be no genuine discussion, only conflict. Once let it be agreed that the practical question must be determined on grounds of expediency, and men will debate without temper and can differ with patience. There need be no passion aroused or immitigable resentment provoked. It is certain that the theological and ecclesiastical reasons which determine the opposition of many members of the Episcopal Bench do not influence others, and I think it important, in view of the debate which will be transferred through this House to the country at large, that it should be realised that there is a great divergence of opinion among the religious leaders of this country. In the Church of England, as I conceive, opinion is steadily tending to fall into two opposite camps—those who hold with the Roman Catholic Church that marriage is absolutely indissoluble by a Divine Ordinance, and those who hold that marriage is dissoluble on the ground of expediency. The middle position of 1857 is steadily losing support, and is on the way altogether to lack representation.

Now the opposition to this Bill has been limited to that section of Clause 3 which provides that— Any married person may apply to the High Court to dissolve his or her marriage on the ground that since the celebration thereof the other party thereto has deserted the applicant for a period of at least three years. It was the acceptance of this provision, on the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, that led the most rev. Primate to retract his acceptance of the Bill, and to vote against it. The issue is thus greatly simplified. There is but one ground on which the most rev. Primate will act. That ground, however, is so important that it leaves him no choice but to reject the Bill.

The provision of the Bill which permits divorce for desertion (to quote the language of the most rev. Primate) "impinges upon fundamental principles," and must., therefore, at all hazards he resisted. If we enquire what is this "fundamental" to which the most rev. Primate says the Bishops are so plainly committed t hat, their "only course" is to vote against the Bill, we are referred to a Resolution of the Lambeth Conference, which the most rev. Primate read to the House, adding some rather strong assertions as to the measure of the authority which the decisions of the Lambeth Conference should properly exercise over the action of the Spiritual Peers of England in this House.

What, then, is this "fundamental principle" It is, as has been abundantly demonstrated in these debates, a doubtful interpretation of a doubtful text. It reads a sense, which scholars are very generally repudiating, into a passage of Scripture which scholars are very generally deciding is not Dominical. It is a principle nowhere accepted in the Christian Church except the Roman Catholic Church. "It. must be remembered," said the most rev. Primate," that on this subject we Bishops at any rate are practically pledged." If I had been present in the House—it had been my intention, but it was defeated by the coal stoppage—I should, with the utmost, respect to the most rev. Primate, have interposed a protest against that statement. For, indeed, if it, be the case that the Spiritual Peers of England are to sit in this House as the echoes of the Lambeth Conference, I doubt whether their presence here can be defended on any adequate grounds of public advantage.

I would observe that the Lambeth Conference is not precisely qualified to merit, and does not wholly merit, the extreme deference which the most rev. Primate suggested for it. It is a purely advisory body. Its debates are in private. The public is therefore quite unable to check the votes of the Bishops by their speeches, or to judge how far the decisions reflect the debates. Lastly, it does not (except. under extraordinary conditions) publish the divisions. Thus the character and circumstances of that Conference operate to the great disadvantage of minorities.

I note that the most rev. Primate quoted the words of the Resolution of 1908. The Resolutions of 1920 are shorter and less precise, and I ask your Lordships to observe how the salient, Resolution was framed last year. It indicates the movement towards the Roman Catholic position to which I have already alluded. It runs thus— The Conference affirms as our Lord's principle and standard of marriage a life-long and indissoluble union, for better for worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others, on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to this standard. I moved, as an Amendment, that the words "and indissoluble" should be deleted, and, although I was defeated, I certainly was not alone in thinking that the words were superfluous and misleading. Nor was this all. I moved another Amendment affirming the liberty of Christians conveyed in St. Matthew's version of Christ's words, and I was defeated again. On the Resolutions being put to the House I abstained from voting.

It seems to me hard, and indeed intolerable, that I should be told by this most rev. Primate that as a Bishop I am "practically pledged" to opinions from which, at the time of their formulation, I did everything in my power to express dissent. Certainly I would never have accepted his Grace's invitation to take part in the Lambeth Conference if I had understood that my personal liberty was to be thus destroyed; and I was justified in assuming the contrary from the reiterated public assurances, alike from the most rev. Primate himself and from his distinguished predecessors in the chair of St. Augustine, that the Lambeth Conference claimed nothing but advisory value for its pronouncements.

We Bishops are sometimes described as the leaders of the Church, and I suppose in some sense the leaders we must be. It is well to inquire in what sense we are leaders, for there are two conceptions of leadership generally current among us at this time. The one aims at educating those who are led, and the other is content to echo their opinions. I have sometimes thought that democracy favours the latter, rather then the former, conception of leadership. None the less, it does not commend itself to me as either dignified or valuable.

Let me illustrate my contention by a suitable simile. In the days before the motor car robbed our streets of most of their interest and much of their safety, it was not uncommon to see the carriages of the wealthy preceded and accompanied by picturesque Dalmatian hounds, which were vulgarly called "plum pudding dogs." The vain beasts, bounding in front of the horses, doubtless supposed that they directed the carriage which they preceded, and all the time they were themselves strictly held to their route by the driver on the box. That carriage-dog theory of leadership seems to me very popular at the present time. It may suit democratic politicians, but it is, in my judgment, incongruous with the character, and inconsistent with the influence, of an English Bishop. Therefore, I do not concede that any reflection on a Bishop's true leadership is involved in the circumstance that he happens to find himself for the time being in a minority.

We live in a time of revolutionary change. Change is nowhere more dramatic, nowhere more far-reaching in its completeness, than in the region of sexual morality. The Marriage Law cannot escape being brought under drastic criticism, and probably under very large revision. Even the Bill as accepted by the most rev. Primate differs widely from traditional assumptions and attitudes, and I observe with sonic interest that his Grace's approval of the Bill, as Lord Gorell introduced it, has provoked against himself much angry denunciation in Church papers. The old ideal divinely uttered by the lips of Christ persists by its own right, by its supreme competence, to command the allegiance of the human conscience; the old law is seen to Serve that ideal less and less efficiently, and, in the interests of that ideal, to require revision.

I will not traverse again those subjects which have been debated, I had almost said ad nauseam, in your Lordships' House; I will only allow myself this observation: It is far more certain that Christ's law is violated by injustice and the allowance of removable hardships than that it is by allowing wilful desertion as a ground of divorce. The spirit which seeks to cleanse the Marriage Law of every taint of oppression and inequality is far more congruous with the Gospel than that which disregards "hard cases," however hard and however numerous, in the interests of a rigorous simplicity.

The Master of us all said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath "—a far-reaching utterance, the full application of which we are far indeed vet from perceiving. But I suggest to your Lordships that it is no wresting of the sacred text if we apply that great principle of our Master to the law of marriage as well as to that other law, the law of the Sabbath, which in that time and place had perhaps an even greater sanctity in the judgment of religious men. And so for all these reasons, and many others which I will not inflict on your Lordships' House, I desire to associate myself with this Bill and to express my hope that it will pass.


My Lords, I do not propose to stand for any length of time between your Lordships and the Division, but I should not like the Bishop of Durham's speech to pass wholly unanswered by those lay Peers who hold a very different view from him. On the great question involved I am afraid there is no room for compromise between the views I hold and the views of Lord Buckmaster and the Bishop of Durham. Your Lordships have shown very distinctly by your previous vote that you agree, in the main, with the view of Lord Buckmaster. But that does not absolve us from the duty of registering our protest whenever the occasion arises, and of putting on record, however briefly, the reasons which move us to such strong convictions in this matter.

I must draw particular attention to two arguments of the right rev. Prelate. He tried in the first place to impress upon your Lordships that the theologians who gave evidence before the Royal Commission were largely divided in the views they expressed. That is quite true, but the inference which I think lie wished you to draw is not, in my judgment, true. Not one of those divines stated that our Lord ever said a single word which would lead us to suppose that He agreed with the Bishop of Durham in thinking that desertion might be a cause for divorce. Not one of those theologians ever alleged that He said one single word which could possible be construed into an opinion that any other ground than adultery was permissible for divorce.


The opinion was freely expressed by those divines that a fair interpretation of our Saviour's words does not preclude divorce for other reasons.


I will come to that point presently, but the fact is exactly as I have stated. What the right rev. Prelate has said is that his interpretation of our Lord's meaning is different from that which most plain people put upon it. His second point was an attempt to diminish the importance of the evidence of the opinion of the Anglican Church which can be derived from the Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference. Now, I was present when the most rev. Primate dealt with this matter, and he was very careful, as lie always is, to say that the Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference, of course, were not in any sense binding on this House; that he did not quote them as in any way meaning to derogate from the freedom of judgment of your Lordships, but that he did think it his duty, as Primate of England, to tell your Lordships what was the judgment on this most important subject of time Bishops assembled from every part of the British Dominions, and from the United States of America., and other parts of the earth on this subject.

And all that the Bishop of Durham has told you to-day is not to throw doubt or discredit on the weight of testimony of the most rev. Primate, but to tell us that he was the one dissentient from the general judgment of the Lambeth Conference. He will forgive me if I say that to my mind the opinion of many hundred Anglican Bishops, coming from the ends of the earth, and including American as well as British Bishops, weighs with me more than the opinion of the Bishop of Durham.

Then the right rev. Prelate suggested that because our Lord again and again had abridged the severity of the Fourth Commandment, as practised by the Jews, therefore it was possible He would wish to abridge the severity of the Commandment against adultery. The argument is entirely the other way. If you search the New Testament through and through you will find that our Lord never said one single word about the abridgment of any of the existing Commandments, except the Fourth. I have always thought that the Fourth Commandment might be adapted to the different circumstances of a different age, but that the other Commandments hold true to-day.

The right rev. Prelate began with an apology. On behalf of himself and Lord Buckmaster, and those who support them, he disclaimed any design to weaken the marriage union in their policy or in the provisions of the Bill to which we object. I have never for one moment allowed the shadow of such an unjust suspicion to cross my mind. I do not for one moment believe that Lord Buckmaster has any design of weakening the marriage union, but it is because we believe from the bottom of our hearts that the effect of his policy will be fatally to weaken the marriage union that we are, and always shall be, his resolute opponents in this matter. Our belief is that every time you add to the grounds of divorce you add to the number of reckless, and so to the number of unhappy, marriages. That is the first argument that weighs with us.

The second is that we are absolutely convinced that there is no halting-place in desertion or in any other of the causes named, for the Bishop of Durham or Lord Buckmaster. If once you begin with desertion and go on with drunkenness and other causes, you are on the slippery slope to which the only end is that social and moral Slough of Despond which has been reached in some unhappy regions of the earth, where a man and woman can say to each other: "Well, we will try it, and if we find we do not suit each other we will separate." In the third place, we cannot get behind what seem to us the perfectly plain words of Our Saviour, Christ. We do not follow the Bishop of Durham and those who agree with him in explaining that Our Lord probably meant something quite different front that which He said, and as plain men we prefer the guidance of the one human being, Who, after all, knew far more about humanity than the Bishop of Durham, to the guidance of the Bishop of Durham.


My Lords, there is no room for further words in this debate. Time industry of the noble Lord who moved that the Third Reading should be postponed, and the zeal and devotion of the noble Lords who support him, have been quite unable to produce the evolution of a single new idea or to vary the construction of a single novel phrase. All you can say is said, and it remains with your Lordships, for the last time, to act. I should be content without further words to leave the matter in your hands, but for the fact that one or two things have been said to which, I think, some slight reply would not be out of place. The noble Lord whose Amendment we are considering was kind enough to say that he did not impute some sinister motive to me in the course that I have taken. The statement, I admit, aroused my curiosity. What is the motive which he is so kind as to say he does not impute? What is this sinister purpose from which he is so kind as to acquit me? I am wholly unable to understand what was in the mind of the noble Lord, or why it was that he seemed to suggest that by some adroit manœuvre I had been able once more to work my will upon this measure.

When this Bill was before your Lordships on the Second Reading I made no concealment of my purpose. I warned the House that if this Bill was passed I should take steps at the earliest moment to introduce the Amendment which your Lordships subsequently adopted. It was open to your Lordships then, if you thought right, to reject the Bill upon the ground that you feared what might be the consequences if you read it a second time. And it may be that was one of the reasons that induced the minority to resist the passage of the measure. At any rate, so far as I am concerned, let me assure the noble Lord that he need not acquit me of sinister motives or strange and obscure purposes, for I have never possessed them, and, front the very earliest moment, I have done my best to deal with the utmost frankness with those whom I, to my deep regret, find to be my opponents upon this matter.

Let me add one thing further as to what he said. He said that no practical result would follow from the passage of this Bill. How can he possibly say that? I have the greatest hopes that the most practical result of all will follow, and that if this Bill passes your Lordships' House to-day it will stand a far better opportunity of being considered, and. I trust favourably considered, in another place than the Bill which, owing to its prolonged course through your Lordships' House, was unable to reach the House of Commons in time last year. I agree thoroughly also with what was said by the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of Durham. Even if it should fail of its purpose in another House, nothing but good can conic of the public discussion of this great, grave question—nothing but the settlement of opinion, the determination of sober and earnest-minded men as to the path their steps should take, and (what, after all, is of the utmost importance) the general education of the public upon the matter.

I have only one or two further observations to make. The most rev. Primate, whose sympathy for the hard cases I have so often quoted I have never doubted, suggests that the real hardship lies in the first few months or years of desertion. It really is not so. If you look at the Report of the Royal Commission you will find that there are men and women to-day living in common adultery, living in what the Church calls open sin, who, if it were possible for them to obtain release owing to divorce granted on the ground of desertion, would willingly do their best to regularise their relations and make the women or the men with whom they are living into honest citizens. Men have spoken to me about this; not men in great positions of life but humble, worthy servants of the State, who have entreated me to pursue this measure because they were living with women by whom they had had children. And one particularly said to me: "Before T die I want to make that woman into an honest woman before the law." It is not so. The hardship does not go. It is like a passing cloud. It darkens and deepens as each year goes on, and the misery, instead of being alleviated—though, as in all other suffering, acquiescence may come to the burden becomes more and more grievous as time passes away.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred once more to the metaphor which I think, even last year, without any intention at discourtesy, I said was becoming a little musty—the metaphor of the slippery slope. He says that if this Bill is passed we have taken our first step forward upon a declining plain that must inevitably land us in total and moral obliquity. I wonder I whether the noble Earl has ever cast his eves to Scotland There, for three hundred years, they have been standing on this slippery slope. Is there anyone in your Lordships' House who will venture to suggest that they have slid one single inch nearer to perdition than this country? Are the revelations of our Divorce Court at the present moment more reputable than theirs? Can anyone suggest that the social and moral duties, to which the most rev. Prelate the Bishop of Durham so eloquently referred, are better here than in Scotland If we can trust the reports and our ears, I should have said that the exact opposite was the truth, and that we find that there is a far greater stability of domestic love and affection in Scotland than the unhappy records of our Courts disclose here to-day. I cannot myself attach much value to this old timeworn metaphor with which we are faced whenever we attempt to move one step further in any direct ion.

I do not desire to enter into discussions that attach to sacred matters, upon which I always feel my utter unworthiness to speak, but I must own that I was surprised to find that the noble Earl once more clung resolutely to what he regarded as the direct teachings of the Gospel upon this matter, and yet was unable to answer the challenge that I put forward when I moved this Amendment. What is the authority that you find in the New Testament that enables a woman to divorce her husband for any cause at all? There is none, and the truth is that in the passage of this Bill without the clause added for desertion, if you are going to bind yourselves by the strict letter of the, words of the permissions granted in the record of St. Matthew, you are proceeding outside the limit of the law already, and it is no use invoking the sanctity of that law as a reason why this Bill, in its present form, should not pass.

But all that can be said has been said upon this Bill. The forces of reason, of persuasion, of logic and of argument have been marshalled again and again in this House under different leaders, lint always with great force, against this proposal, and they have—and I regret it—been assisted outside this House by the more irregular legionaries of misrepresentation and abuse. I must confess that I had hoped that there would have been some statement expressing disfavour of the document that I read to your Lordships when this Amendment received sanction in the Committee stage. I feel certain that if the most rev. Prelate the Bishop of Norwich had known of that document and those statements when he made his speech, he would have added to those quotations in which he pleasantly referred to the days of my youth one not less familiar, one which time and use have not been able to rob of its force. That quotation is, Non tali auxilio, nee defensoribus istis.

For evil or for good the work is done; for evil, as my opponents in this House most sincerely agree; for good, as I most confidently hope—for the good that comes of light brought to people who sit in darkness and the shadow of despair; for the good that will come of cleansed places and purified lives; for the good that flows from wrongs redressed, and from some of the dark and rough places of the world being made smooth. I firmly believe and hold the faith that that good will result from this Bill, and for that reason I beg your Lordships to reject this Amendment, and to grant the Third Reading of the measure.


My Lords, I am not going to intervene in this debate. The noble and learned Lord has referred to a circular, and he has said that lie thinks some reference ought to be made to it by those who are in some measure responsible for producing it. As I am the President of the Marriage Defence Council, in whose name the circular to which he refers was issued, I think I ought, in a few words, to make some statement. There have been two circulars against which complaints have been made in your Lordships' House. One was issued on behalf of the Marriage Defence Council about four weeks ago, at the time when Lord Gorell introduced this Bill; or, at least, at the time of the Second Reading of the Bill. It was a mass of inaccuracies, I admit, and was accordingly immediately repudiated by Lord Charnwood, who informed Lord Gorell that it was not authorised by the Defence Council and authorised him to say so in the House. Lord Gorell expressed his thanks to Lord Charnwood, and I was, therefore, a little surprised when, on the Committee stage, Lord Gorell said that, although the circular had been disowned, he had seen no repudiation of it. I should think that if those responsible for the policy of the Marriage Defence Council disown the circular, and say that they had not authorised it, but on the contrary that it was against their express desires, that is the most effective repudiation you can possibly have.

There is another circular which was issued a whole year ago, and which has never been referred to until now. I fully admit that the noble and learned Lord has considerable grounds of complaint, but I am sure he does not infer that I draw up these circulars, and use them of course, will express my regret for any expressions which are not proper, or which are of an unfair character. One thing to which the noble and learned Lord objects—and I admit it is most objectionable—is the following passage— This Bill would appear to be drawn up with such legal cunning that the public, whom it vitally affects, are only just becoming aware that it would so act, and alter the conception of and abolish Christian marriage, legalise adultery— And so on. I admit that "legal cunning" is a most improper expression to use. To apply it in reference to the noble and learned Lord would be not only unfair and unjust, but absolutely preposterous, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing deep regret that any circular issued by an institution over which I have the honour to preside should contain such a very improper suggestion.

There are other points which the noble and learned Lord has made about the circular, and in regard to these I am not quite sure that I can admit the justice of the noble Lord's complaint. He says that it has misrepresented the Bill which he introduced last year in regard to granting divorce for desertion, because it says, as he states, that desertion can be obtained without any reason at all. That is not quite what the circular says, although I admit the wording is misleading. It says— The Bill provides that any man or woman who cares to leave his or her spouse can, whether there be reason for the desertion or no, obtain a. divorce at the end of three years. I admit that is misleading and incorrect, but, if the noble and learned Lord will observe the context, he will find that the circular points out that any man can obtain a divorce whenever he wishes by simply deserting his wife for three years, forcing her to apply for a separation order, and then applying for the separation order to be made into a divorce.

I do not want to enter into any controversy on this point, but I do not think that is incorrect. The whole point is that a woman can obtain separation from a man on account of his cruelty. He may go away and leave her, and live with another woman. She applies for a maintenance order and the guilty party, the man, can apply to have the separation order turned into divorce. I think that is correct, and that is all that this circular says.

with regard to the concluding words about the abolition of Christian marriage and the institution of polygamy, they are, of course, a strong expression of opinion, but I do not know that any definite standard as to what is legitimate or illegitimate propaganda has been laid down. It is going too far to say that they are untruthful; the people who drew up the circular think they are true.

There is, however, a rival society which issues a counter-propaganda of an extreme, and in some cases violent, nature. None of those who are opposed to the reform of the Marriage Law have thought it worth while to complain of the expressions which this society has used. I am sorry the circular should have hurt the noble Lord's feelings, but if he asks me to admit that these opinions are illegitimate propaganda I must ask him—I believe he is a member of the rival association—


Oh dear no! I am a member of no association.


I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon. There are, however, a number of your Lordships who are members of the rival association, and I should have to ask them to admit that the whole of their propaganda was illegitimate.


Your Lordships will permit me to express my gratitude to the noble Duke for his kind expressions towards me, and to say that it was not for the purpose of getting any expression from the noble Duke with regard to my personal position that I brought the matter forward. I still think that the publication of the circular went beyond the limit of fair comment.

On Question, whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?—

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 87; Not-Contents, 48

Birkenhead, L (L. Chancellor.) Chesterfield, E. Russell, E.
Chichester, E. Strafford, E.
Richmond and Gordon, D Clarendon, E.
Wellington, D. Coventry, E. Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)
Camden, M. Craven, E. Bertie of Thame, V.
Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.) Cromer, E. Burnham, V.
Kimberley, E. Chaplin, V.
Lanesborough, E. Churchill, V.
Bathurst, E. Lucan, E. Devonport, V.
Bradford, E. Lytton, E. Haldane, V.
Knollya, V. Donington, L. Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)
Knutsford, V. Ebury, L. Monkswell, L.
Peel, V. Emmott, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Durham, L. Bp. Fairfax of Cameron L. Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)
Faringdon, L. Muir Mackenzie, L. [Teller]
Ashton of Hyde, L. Glenarthtir, L. Newton, L.
Askwith, L. Greville, L. Petitland, L.
Atkinson, L. Grey de Ruthyn, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Barrymore, L. Harris, L. Redesdale, L.
Buckmaster, L. [Teller.] Hemphill, L. Revelstoke, L.
Cliplmsford, L. Hothfield, L. Rotheiham, L.
Cheylesmore, L. Hylton, L. Rothschild, L.
Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanmwilliam.) Islington, L. Sackville, L.
Clwyd, L. Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount Earl.) Sandys, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Southwark, L.
Colebrooke, L. Kilmarnock, L. (E Erroll.) Strabolgi, L.
Coleridge, L. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.) Sudeley, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Knaresborough, L. Terrington, L.
Decies, L. Lambourne, L. Vemon, L.
Denman, L. Leith of Fyvie, L. Wavertree, L.
Desart, L. (E. Desart.) Merthyr, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Canterbury, L. Abp. Hambleden, V. de Mauley L.
Hood, V. Dynevor, L.
Newcastle, D. Dormer, L.
Northumberland, D. [Teller.] Chichester, L. Bp. Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)
Ely, L. Bp. MacDonnell, L.
Salisbury, M. Exeter, L. Bp. Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)
Gloucester, L. Bp. Morris, L.
Eldon, E. Lichfield, L. Bp. Mowbray, L.
Grey, E. London, L. Bp. Parmoor, L.
Jersey, E. Norwich, L. Bp. Phillimore, L.
Midleton, E. Rochester, L. Bp. Ravensworth, L.
Morton, E. Southwell, L. Bp. Rowallan, L.
Selborne, E. Saye and Sele, L.
Waldegrave, E. Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.) Shandon, L.
Wharncliffe, E. Armaghdale, L. Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)
Yarboruugh, E. Braye, L. Stuart of Wortley, L. [Teller.]
Byron, L. Treowen, L.
Falkland, V. Chalmers, L. Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly. Bill read 3ª.


Copies of three Amendments have been handed to me. As your Lordships' practice is very severe with reference to Amendments at this stage, I think I ought to state that I have satisfied myself that all these Amendments are consequential and none of them substantial.


May I say one word about them, and at the same time express my gratitude to the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of Norwich, on whose suggestion they are brought forward? The Amendment of Clause 3 is simply to provide that the constitution of an absolute defence to any divorce shall be so arranged that it may apply properly to desertion as well as to divorce, and the same thing is provided for later on page 3, line 2.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree to these Amendments, but, of course, it is not right that we should derogate from our practice of not agreeing at this stage, except in very grave and exceptional circumstances, to Amendments without Notice, unless they are purely drafting and consequential Amendments.


That is so in this case.


All the Amendments deal with the same subject, and I hope your Lordships will agree to Ii y putting them together.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.