HL Deb 28 June 1921 vol 45 cc808-35

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which proposes a slight alteration in the Marriage Law, which is already in force in many portions of the British Empire, in the majority of the States of America 'and in most of the countries of the European Continent What is perhaps more to the point, it is a measure which passed the House of Commons without any opposition and makes its appearance here strengthened and, to some extent, amended by Amendments put in by the representative of the Home Office in the House of Commons. The object of the Bill is simplicity itself: it is to remove the anomaly in the present law which prohibits marriage with a deceased brother's widow, and legalises it in connection with a deceased wife's sister. The first comment which, I think, any impartial person would make upon the proposal is to ask why this anomaly was not dealt with in 1907 when the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill was passed. I am not in the secrets of the promoters of that Bill. I had nothing to do with it, beyond voting for it, when it came here, and I do not know what their motives were, but I presume that they were animated by the usual view that it is desirable to overweight a Bill as little as possible, and to obtain one thing at a time.

I will further admit that in 1907 there was very little demand for the Bill, and that that may possibly have had something to do with the omission. But circumstances have now changed, and, as in many other respects, they have changed in consequence of the war. When the war took place many men, when they were called up, left their wives and families in the charge of their brothers. Some of these men were killed, and in many instances an affection developed between the brother in-law and the widow, and many marriages of this kind have taken place I believe that there are a number of cases in connection with the Ministry of Pensions Which are awaiting decision as the result of this Bill. I wish to make it plain that I am not basing the case for this Bill upon the number of people who want it. I am basing it simply and solely upon logic and common sense; and I do not propose to waste the time of the House by entering into any other argument in favour of the Bill. It seems to be perfectly unnecessary, because we heard them allad nauseamyears ago, and everything which can be said on the subject has already been said I will undertake to maintain most confidently that every argument used in favour of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill in 1907 is equally applicable to the Bill of which I am moving the Second Reading this afternoon.

As far as I am concerned— and, I expect, as far as the ordinary person is concerned— I am prepared to rely upon our experience of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act That Act was stubbornly and successfully contested for many years, mainly on the ground that it would destroy the harmony of married life. Is there anybody who will have the courage to get up now and to maintain that the objections that were raised then were well grounded? I would go so far as to say that. I do not believe that any Act of recent years has justified its passing more than the one to which I refer. I will give what is, to my mind, a convincing instance of the truth of what I say. At the present moment there is a perfect orgy of divorce going on; so much so that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has had to devote his attention to it, and octogenarian Judges have been dragged from their retirement to cope with the ever-increasing flood of these cases. I read in the paper to-day the statement that in one year alone, between 1918 and 1919, the numbers had increased by no less than 114 per cent., and they continue to increase at a still greater ratio. It is a most surprising, and I think a most convincing, fact— or ought to be so— that, so far as. I am able to understand, in not one single instance in which a man has married his deceased wife's sister has he been a party to these proceedings. You could not have any more convincing testimony to the value of the Act than this fact.

The Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill has been on the Paper for something like a fortnight, and I was under the fond impression that here, as in the House of Commons, it might be allowed to pass without opposition. But rather to my surprise, and considerably to my consternation, I found, on looking at the Notice Paper this morning, that the most rev. Primate had put down a Motion for its rejection. I deplore his action for several reasons, and I hope he will forgive me if I point out that this is a somewhat inconvenient course to pursue, because the result is that, if you put down a Motion for rejection only on the day on which a Bill is coming on, it is impossible to collect the supporters of the Bill, and, I suppose, it is equally impossible to collect the opponents.

Now, I say with all sincerity, there is no member of this House who has a greater respect for the most rev. Primate than I have. I have not only a personal respect for him, but I am under deep personal obligation to him for invaluable assistance rendered to me, not in connection with matters of this kind, but in other matters in which common justice and humanity are involved. On the present occasion, however, I must confess that he seems to be acting in a manner which is somewhat open to criticism. I rather gather from the most rev Primate that he considers that in embarking upon a measure of this kind we are moving much too quickly, and that we are committing ourselves to most important action without due consideration. The obvious answer to that is that it is now fourteen years since the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill was passed, and here we are merely asked to consider what I can only call a consequential Amendment to that Act.

Here is a Bill which has been through all its stages in the House of Commons without any opposition at all. Does not that show that there can be no real effective feeling in the country against it? There are, I have no doubt, plenty of earnest Churchmen in the House of Commons, just as there are here, and, if there was any genuine opposition to this Bill, that opposition would have shown itself in some form or other. It is not only a question of the Bill having passed through the House of Commons without opposition, but it seems to me that the whole principle has been decided once and for all, not by the House of Commons only, but by Parliament. Both Houses are committed to the principle of this Bill, and it seems to me very doubtful policy on the part of this House to set its face against a moderate proposal of this nature. This House has earned a reputation in recent years for toleration, and for a proper sense of justice, and a sense of proportion I cannot help thinking that, if we were to act in accordance with the Amendment of the most rev. Primate, we should lose some part of that well-earned reputation.

1 have little doubt, although the House is a small one, that there are present here this afternoon some accomplished dialecticians who will have no trouble in proving to themselves, at all events, that there is all the difference in the world between this Bill and the Act of 1907. I cannot speak for other people, but speaking for myself I must candidly admit that arguments of this nature will make no impression upon me whatsoever. However ingenious and eloquent a dialectician may be, even if it be the most rev. Primate himself, nothing will ever convince me— I have not sufficient imagination and, perhaps, I have not sufficient intelligence— that if it is right for a man to marry two sisters it is wrong for a woman to marry two brothers. I am content to leave the question there, and I trust that the House will take the same view of it. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2ª—(Lord Newton)

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY had given Notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move, That the Bill be read 2ªthis day six months. His Grace said: My Lords, I ask your Lordships not to give a Second Reading to this Bill to-night I should like, at the outset, to recognise gratefully the kind words used by the noble Lord in regard to myself and to say that I must take blame for not having put this Notice on the Paper at an earlier date. To be quite frank about it, until two or three days ago I thought that it was coming on next week. It was a mistake on my part, and that is all I can say. I do not think the cause that the noble Lord advocates has been damaged by the fact, inasmuch as the difficulty of obtaining members of the House who would support my proposal is obviously as great as the difficulty he would experience in obtaining members to support the Second Reading of his Bill. What I felt was that I should let those outside the House, as well as those inside, know that the proposal is one to which I must take definite exception. I hope, not at any undue length, to give your Lordships the reasons for my attitude.

After listening to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, I am still at a loss to know why the Bill has been introduced at this time. He has always the power of interesting the House; he has interested the House now, he has interested me certainly; but he has not in the least convinced me of a real need of the change that he suggests or of any change at present in our Marriage Law, or, if there be need of any change, that this is the particular change that should be singled out to be made. I suppose your Lordships will agree, and indeed any reasonable man in the country who thinks about the matter will agree, that to change the Marriage Law is a most grave thing. There is no part of our ordinary social life as to which it is so important that there should be certainty, continuity and general knowledge, as the Marriage Law. And the chopping about of the Marriage Law and the degrees of consanguinity or affinity within which marriage may be legally celebrated, is not only confusing but detrimental in the highest degree to the kind of attitude which people ought to take and to stability of judgment in a matter on which stability of judgment and simplicity of knowledge are extremely desirable Therefore, lightly to make changes in the table which at present prescribes who may or may not be marriageable is, to my mind, intolerable

A change in the law upon this exceedingly important subject can be justified only on one or more of three conditions. First, it must be made with the utmost deliberation and after the amplest consideration, ventilation and discussion. Next, it must be made with evidence forthcoming of a real wide-spread demand for it. Without such evidence we cannot take the grave step of changing the standing rules as regards those who may or may not be married Then, the change, when made, must fit in with the existing laws. I do do not mean that they must correspond exactly with the existing laws— the very fact of there being a change would be contradictory of that contention— but they must fit in reasonably with the existing laws and must not make them either chaotic or confused.

How does the Bill correspond with any of these three requirements? The noble. Lord says that fourteen years have elapsed since the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act became law and that that is ample time for consideration of the subject. It is ample time, my Lords, and during that time what has happened? Have we been made acquainted during those fourteen years with any pressure for this particular change to be made? The fact that in the course of those years no demand for this Bill has been brought forward in any public way seems to me to tell in an exactly opposite direction to that from which the noble Lord views it. Discussion is essential in this case— I mean at the moment of passing the Bill and not outside the debate in a general way— because of the very thing on which the noble Lord laid stress which, 1 think, is plausible and not real— the supposed identity of this case with the case for marriage with a deceased wife's sister.

The fact that the discussion of this matter is au important thing and may change the views of those who are interested in it, has had curious elucidation during this last month or two A. Bill similar to that of the noble Lord was introduced in the Legislature of South Africa. It was carried on Second Reading by 71 votes against 34. A long discussion took place. The matter was debated up and down the country and in Committee in the South African Parliament, with the result that in the end the Third ff Reading was carried by one vote only. Opinion had changed to that very large extent as the result of having the matter ventilated and discussed. But I have not heard from the noble Lord that there has been full deliberation as to what it is that is precisely wanted here, what we are asked to assent to, whether we should stop there, and why we should stop there. At a later stage of the Bill I should be glad to hear what may have to be said on that, and I hope then, when others who agree with the noble Lord and those who sympathise with myself may be here in larger numbers, we shall have the matter discussed.

It happens to be extremely difficult for Bishops to be present this week. All, or almost all, have to be in London during the fortnight that follows this week, and it is practically impossible for them to come up from the country in the week immediately preceding that fortnight. I do not in the least criticise the noble Lord for that and I take blame to myself for not having noticed until a few days ago that the Bill was coming on this week, but I knew it would not be practicable to have an attendance of Bishops here to-night, and that explains why the Episcopal Bench is not more filled than it is.

The noble Lord has not alluded to some of the questions that would have to be discussed in the matter, if it were thoroughly thrashed out. Several important questions need to be considered. There is an eugenic question involved in this, and also a physiological question. The question of the contrast between the condition of things under the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act and the condition of things under this Bill, if it became law, is an entirely different one, physiologically and eugenically, and it would be desirable to go into that subject at a later stage, if it was thought necessary. It has not been alluded to to-night. What I want to press is that this is a matter which needs a great deal more discussion than it has had It passed through the House of Commons, as the noble Lord said, without opposition, but, so far as I have been able to ascertain, that was due to a kind of accident. It came on late at night, unexpectedly, and not only, as the noble Lord put it, was there no opposition, but there was no discussion. The Bill was not even explained. It simply slipped through by an accident. There were discussions upon some of the points in Committee. I am not in the least prepared to say that the decision of the House would have been, in any circumstances, different from what it was, but the fact that it passed through the House of Commons without opposition must be qualified by a little examination of the circumstances under which there was no opposition.

The real point, however, is this— Is there a popular demand for this Bill? The noble Lord says: "Yes." He may be right, but he has given no evidence, except a general statement that through the pension authorities certain information can be got as to cases arising in consequence of the war. That may be so, but, speaking from such inquiries as I have been able to make, there is no demand for this Bill. We have made some inquiries into the matter through our usual sources, and we are told that there is no demand for it. Many- people say it sounds logical and reasonable, but when you press them further and ask: "Do you know cases in any number where it is wanted?" they are unable to reply that they do. The sources of information to which we have applied tell me that the position is quite different now from what it was before the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act was passed. I have never for a moment denied that there existed for that Act a strong and widespread demand, and, though I think that demand was often misunderstood and its character misrepresented, I admit that there was a demand in many quarters, and that it grew rather than diminished from year to year. I still think the arguments against that Act outweigh those in favour of it, but I am willing to accept it as the deliberate conclusion arrived at, and I do not want to be supposed to be going back upon what was clone then.

What I wish to do is to ask why the promoters of that Bill succeeded at that time. What were the arguments they used? Their arguments were perfectly distinct and definite. It was the separate individual character of the particular case of a woman dying and. desiring that her children should be in the charge of, and looked after by, her sister, which appealed to the House. That was the plea which was urged then, and it is that which prevents this proposal from corresponding in any way or in the slightest degree with the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act. The present proposal can only he said to correspond in a certain degree outwardly to the facts as they existed at the time of the passage of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act. If your Lordships are unfamiliar with the subject I would ask you to read the arguments used when this subject was debated in your Lordships' House on two great occasions, in 1896 and 1907. You will find on each occasion that the plea of those who favoured the Bill was to this effect—" What we are asking for is a wholly exceptional thing. We do not want to change the Marriage Law beyond this.

We want simply to remove a real grievance which occurs in the case of a woman who is unable to leave her children in charge of her sister That is the one thing we want to change, and that is what we are caring for."

I and others, at that time, brought forward the argument that if you once initiated the change you would certainly be asked to go a good deal further. We said, "You will be told, when you have made this change, that you must logically arrange for a marriage with a deceased husband's brother, and probably with other people also." What was the answer? I can refer to the actual speeches, if your Lordships desire it. There was the speech of Lord Dunraven in 1896, and the speech of Lord Loreburn in 1907, in which they emphatically said that the arguments used by myself and other people were pedantic. "You are," they said, "simply going in for the old-fashioned argument about the thin edge of the wedge, and this is not the thin edge of the wedge. Nobody wants to go further. We are asking you to deal with an exceptional case." I challenge contradiction when I say that those were the arguments used.

We reminded them that they would be called upon in the name of logic to go further, and they replied: "You cannot go by logic. We are meeting a crying need. It is misleading, trifling and unfair to say that the other steps that you fear must follow." That was said emphatically when the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill was being debated in Parliament, and it was said by such notable, spokesmen as those to whom I have referred, and by other noble Lords, and by members of the House of Commons. Yet to-night we are told by the noble Lord that he is bringing forward what he calls a consequential Bill. How does that correspond with the arguments that were pressed when the Deceased 'Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill was being debated? And how do we know, if we agree to the present proposal, what may not be the next step that we shall be asked to sanction under the plea that it is consequential upon what we are now doing?

The noble Lord said that the principle for which he is contending has been decided. What principle? The noble Lord said that he presses this Bill on the simple ground of logic. I do not understand in what way he regards the principle as having been conceded or decided which will allow a man to marry his deceased wife's sister or a woman to marry her deceased husband's brother, or to marry a deceased husband's nephew or a man to marry a deceased wife's niece. All these things are not proposed, but many people might say that they are perfectly logical, and are natural consequences of the passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill. The point that was brought out again and again in the former debates, and the one upon which I wish to dwell, is that the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill was agreed to because there was one person who was really to the fore in this matter, that was the person who was the natural protector, guardian and bringer-up of the little children left by her deceased sister. That is what distinguishes that Act from the present proposal.

If you agree to this Bill, what are we likely to have proposed next? Will it be simply that a person will be able to marry a niece or nephew, or are you to go further and allow a man to marry his stepmother, or his step-daughter, or his daughter-in-law? All these things are allowed in some portions of the world, and if we are to deal with this matter simply on the lines of logic we shall be asked to sanction them. Logic will not help you against those arguments. You must try something other than logic. We made an exception in regard to the deceased wife's sister, against my judgment, but I accept it absolutely and loyally. That exception, made fourteen years ago, does not, however, in the least carry with it the obligation to accept the change that is here proposed.

There are, I think, three consistent, coherent, and logical positions which you may take in this matter The first is that there should be no affinity bar at all; that the bar should be one simply of consanguinity and nothing else. Nobody at present suggests— the noble Lord has not suggested— that the stepmother or daughter-in-law should be included, and I do not suppose anyone at this moment is advocating the sweeping away of the affinity bar altogether. But if you are going to do that you must ask: Why do you draw the particular line across the degrees and say, "Beyond this you must not go"? I have in my mind what was said again and again in the debates to which I have referred. Who wants to marry her deceased husband's brother? Women do not want the right, and, therefore, it is to be granted on logical grounds and not in reply to any demand.

The second position is that consanguinity and affinity are subject to the same rules, as was the case in the Law of the Church and State down to the year 1907, when the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act was passed. The third position, which I perfectly recognise as having been accepted by the country, is that we regard consanguinity and affinity as being subject to the same rules with one definite exception, which was granted for very particular reasons. That position we consented to; there were peculiar reasons for it; and it was a position which was argued with great force. I do not deny it, though I still think it was outweighed by other considerations, and I have loyally accepted the position as one in which we must acquiesce as being the deliberate judgment of the country.

But when we are asked to pass what the noble Lord calls a consequential Bill, we have to ask him to tell us what is the real demand for it; and I challenge him to produce evidence much more ample than he has given us to-day, if we are to be convinced that there is a demand. I am the recipient of constant communications on these and kindred subjects and I do not remember having had a single appeal to me on this matter. It was entirely different in the days of the "deceased wife's sister" agitation. If the noble Lord knows that there is a strong and growing opinion in favour of this Bill he must tell us where it has found public expression, beyond a few letters to the newspapers and the common remark that if you are able to marry a deceased wife's sister you should, logically, be able to marry your deceased brother's widow. It may be a plausible thing to say, but the difference, though not upon the surface, is clear. I press the point that we are now asked to take a very strong step indeed to change the Marriage-table which has now for some Years been allowed to he at rest, and which we were told would continue to be at rest after we had passed the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act, fourteen years ago. And we are asked to make this change without any practical evidence before us, in any testable form, of a real and solid demand for it. I believe we should he doing real harm and unsettling the minds of a great many people by tampering with a table which ought to have continuity of tradition and coherence of character if we want our social life to go on smoothly. I hope your Lordships will not read this Bill a second time.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months ").—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)


My Lords, I will not detain you very long, but I should like to inform you of the attitude of the Government in relation to this Bill. The question as to whether marriage with a deceased brother's widow should be permitted or not is one which, so far as we are concerned, should be left to the unfettered judgment of Parliament. When this Bill was introduced in another place, Amendments were proposed by the Government in order that the deceased brother's widow should be in exactly the same position, so far as the law of the country is concerned, as the deceased wife's sister. Our view is that if Parliament should see fit to sanction marriage with a deceased brother's widow, it is necessary to maintain the law in regard thereto in exactly the same position as has been laid down in the Deceased Wife's Sister's. Marriage Act.


My Lords, the most rev. Primate has stated his case, as he always does, with great moderation. The one main difference between him and myself is that he appears to have had no evidence brought before him of the demand for this Bill. To me, on the other hand, people have been coming who are personally interested in the matter, and I have had evidence from a much larger region, with which I will deal later. The Government have left the matter open, and that fact implies that what is asked for in the Bill is merely a civil marriage. There is no suggestion, and the most rev. Primate did not indicate there was any desire, to compel the Church to recognise marriages of a religious character to which it objects.


I deliberately omitted that branch of the subject.


I gathered that the most rev. Primate agrees that this is a civil question and raises a question as to the Civil Law of the land. The difference is this. The most rev. Primate has said that fourteen years ago, when the question arose of the deceased wife's sister, nothing was said then about the deceased brother's widow. There was a reason for that The Bill fourteen years ago was brought forward by a class of people who had a grievance; they were mostly middle-class people. For the rest the grievance had not been formulated in the same articulate fashion; but it is a grievance which has grown up since The reason why it has become definite is this Every working man must have a wife; he cannot keep a servant, and it is rare to find a workman of twenty-two or twenty-three years of age working in his cottage who is not married. There are other classes in which it is otherwise, but the workman living in his cottage must have a wife.

At the time when the war came many married men went out to fight, and left their wives to be maintained and the home to be kept up. In the case of the miners, for instance, in order to assist in keeping up the home they very often took in a lodger, and the lodger was very often the miner's own brother, who contributed to the upkeep and formed part of the household. In many- cases the miner had to join the Army and the brother was left behind. The miner went out to fight and was killed. Then came the question whether the household should go on, and the difficulty was that the household could not go on if the miner's widow and his surviving brother were living together and unmarried. The natural thing was that they should be married. It is that which has rendered the question acute.

When the pension authorities had to deal with the question of pensions, complications arose over this at an early stage. Questions arose which have rendered this matter acute in a sense in which it could not have been acute fourteen years ago. That is how it has come about that the question has become once more a practical one. I agree with the most rev. Primate that in the old days of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill this matter was not discussed, because it had not become acute. But society is always changing, circumstances are always developing, and this has become what it was not before. When you make it a question of principle, there is of course no difference between this principle and the principles that were embodied modo et farmain the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act. It is quite true that you do not want to extend a principle abstractly because it is a general principle, but it is not an abstract extension to extend it so as to meet a particular grievance. There is a large amount of feeling about this Bill. It is felt in the Dominions, where the law is sometimes different, that it is very hard for people, lawfully married under their own law, to come over here and to be under suspicion.

As to the other argument upon which the most rev. Primate just touched, the argument from eugenics, I hold up my hands in the domain of science as well as in the domain of theology. There are a great many superstitions in the domain of science, and this is an idea which has not been brought to the test of the laboratory or of observation. I will venture to say that physiologists— I think we have a distinguished representative of that science in this House— will not say that this question has been submitted to that investigation which alone can throw any light upon the truth or, otherwise of what is suggested. Certainly there is no tenet of physiology, so far as I am aware— and I am acquainted with many physiologists— which accords the least a prioriprobability to what the most rev. Primate has said. No such principles are established. I know they have been suggested, as many odd doctrines have been suggested in theology, but it remains to be seen whether observation and experiment will prove that they are well founded. There is nothing known at present which could militate in the least against the desirability of passing this Bill; and I would say to the most rev. Primate that, in the interests of the Church and of general opinion, it would be desirable not to press an objection which seems to me to run counter to the feeling of the time, and to give rise to an acute sense of grievance, at any rate among a certain number of people.


My Lords, I rise for a very brief moment to express the hope that your Lordships will take full advantage, in the direction of forwarding this reform, of the circumstance that for once a Bill has come to us from the Lower House instead of proceeding from this House to another place. We have been bitterly disappointed that lack of leisure or other circumstances have prevented the House of Commons, so far, from proceeding either with the Bill which received so much attention in this House a year ago or with the Bill as amended which left your Lordships' House some weeks ago. Circumstances, however, provide no reason whatever why, when we receive a Bill from the House of Commons, which, in my view, for reasons which I will shortly state, contains a real, though not perhaps a very substantial, measure of reform, we should fail to take advantage of it.

The most rev Primate has carefully explained the reasons which led to the introduction upon the Paper of an Amendment so unfriendly at a stage so late The explanation of the most rev. Primate is, of course, intelligible, and will be accepted by everyone. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill will, none the less, have to ask himself— if, indeed, your. Lordships are willing to give him support— what are the conditions of success which the present period of the session imposes. I very much hope that, while making every conceivable concession in favour of members of the House whose presence here we shall all of us desire, the noble Lord will not hazard the fortunes of this Bill by too long a postponement, having regard to the admitted fact that he is in no way chargeable with any omission to observe the proper methods of Parliamentary business. on the contrary, as I understand the matter, file Motion of the noble Lord has been upon the Paper for about a fortnight, so that in the whole of that period any noble Lord, with a little attention,could have informed himself that a Bill of importance was about to be read a second time in this House, if your Lordships wished, and was about to be read at a period of the session which allows of little unnecessary delay.

Having said so much, I will make an extremely brief observation upon the general character of the arguments which were used by the most rev. Primate. I, like all other members of your Lordships' House, admire the ingenious and persuasive manner in which the most rev. Primate presents his arguments on behalf of any cause which enlists his support; and I must confess that the fact that the effort of the Primate produced so little impression upon my own mind to-day is attributed by me, not to any decline in the most rev. Primate's powers, but to the extremely unpromising nature of the material which, once again, it was his duty to dish up before your Lordships. The most rev. Primate was confronted with an initial difficulty. I forget how many years ago, but I suppose it is some fourteen or sixteen, when the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down and I, on almost the only occasion of our lives, I think, were kept walking through the lobbies of the House of Commons all night long until a summer's dawn in support of the Bill then before the House of Commons. I forget how many statements I listened to in the course of those debates from the friends, in this matter, of the most rev. Primate. The opposition to that Bill, as Lord Haldane will remember, was led by Lord Robert Cecil and several friends of his, and I suppose that they divided, in the course of those discussions, some forty or fifty times, until breakfast time on the morning of which I am speaking.

The most rev. Primate, with a degree of hardihood— if I may use that expression without disrespect of one whose office and personality I revere— has ventured to call attention to the speeches and the prophecies which were made on that occasion by the supporters of the Bill But what of the speeches and the predictions that were made by the most rev Primate and his friends? In what mischiefs was this revolutionary proposal to involve the country? How rapid was the progress down a steep slope, a progress comparable to that of the Gadarene swine, which the morals of this country were about to undergo, if this dangerous and revolutionary proposal were adopted! All night long I listened to that eloquence; no wonder it is branded in my ears, even after this long period. Then the most rev. Primate, whose post-bag was full, be it observed, for years before this debate took place, who was aware that there was that overwhelming—


Very great.


The distinction between "overwhelming" and very great "is, no doubt, important, but it does not affect the course of the argument. The most rev. Primate was aware that there was a very great demand for this change, but he and his friends felt it necessary to resist it, and attempted to give effect to that resistance by a series of the most gloomy predictions that I have ever heard, all of which, so far as I know, have been absolutely falsified by the events of the years which have passed. If that is doubted, and I gather front the attitude of the most rev. Primate that it is doubted, I can only say that the mischievous results of actions alleged to he unmoral can only be traced in this world. I lay little claim to make predictions on unfortunate consequences which do not make themselves manifest during my lifetime upon this world. I can deal only with the outward manifestations of those results which I, as an attentive observer of social developments, have observed I challenge the right rev. Primate to call attention to one single mischief which has followed from this change.

I was interested to see how the most rev Primate could meet a situation which I should have thought was illogical, and which he and his friends must have found most chilling. He meets it by saying that the advocates of the proposals of those days recommended them by stating that their proposals were the limit and end of all that was proposed— that they never proposed such an extension as is involved in the terms of the noble Lord's Motion under discussion. I do not know whether Lord Loreburn or Lord Dunraven said this — I take it from the most rev. Primate that it was said— hut I am utterly unaffected. Who made Lord Dunraven and Lord Loreburn permanent custodians of our ideas of reform? If any noble Lord takes upon himself to make an announcement of this kind purporting to assign an end to reform on the present occasion, I think he in his turn would be guilty of an equal degree of presumption. I do not know and I do not care what further changes are involved in these proposals. They must be examined on their merits. If good, they should be adopted; if bad, rejected. The Primate asks: Is marriage with a stepmother to be permitted? I might perhaps. if I admitted his own argument, suggest that the number of men ambitious of such a union will probably be limited.

When the most rev Primate dwells upon the complete absence of support for these proposals which he thinks he discerns at the present moment, I notice that he said that his letter box brought him no communications Observe the circumstances in which that intimation is communicated to your Lordships. For many years, as I understand the most rev. Primate, he was in the habit of receiving urgent communications from persons who desired that there should be a reform in the law relating to marriage with a deceased wife's sister. The more the communications were that came into the post-box of the most rev. Primate, the more he resisted the proposals. All I can say is that if I were to select the destination of any letter which I proposed to write in support of the present proposals, and if I wanted to find one home from which I thought I might pluck one convert, it is not to Lambeth Palace that I should address myself. cannot help thinking that those circumstances may have seriously diminished the amount of correspondence which the most rev. Primate received on this subject.

The truth is that it is not a question of how many people are to be influenced by this change, if once it is conceded that this change is right. I infer it to be right on the same grounds as those upon which I felt that the reform of fourteen years ago was right. I have heard no argument to-night which would assail the conclusion that if Parliament was right in sanctioning those proposals Parliament would be equally right in sanctioning these. The most rev. Primate referred to the physiological or scientific argument. I possess no claim to speak on such a subject, but I should differ from the suggestion that any delicacy of the subject would make it proper for your Lordships to pass it by lightly I am informed by those who understand these matters that the physiological objection has no foundation at all; but if there be any who take a different view, it is agreed at once that they are entitled to make the case that scientifically there is a physiological objection which did not exist in the other case, and which ought to modify the decision of Parliament in this case. Let that argument be made, and your Lordships will listen to it, and will have no difficulty in reaching a conclusion.

The point which I make is that if there is no difference of principle between these proposals, and those proposals which received the sanction of Parliament so many years ago, how can it be suggested that the numbers of the persons affected ought to be a determining element in our decision? I do not care whether they are a hundred thousand or five thousand. If we are right in our view, and Parliament was right fourteen years ago in its views, those people who are denied this relief, be they few or many, are suffering under a great personal grievance which may destroy the happiness of their whole lives, and it does not lie in the hands of those people who are not supporters of this proposal to use the argument that "You shall not have this change in the law because there are not enough of you." I can understand the argument that this is wrong, and is opposed to the law of morality or of the Church, but I cannot understand any one saying that "because there are not enough of you suffering" you shall not receive this measure of reform.

This House has set a great example in connection with the reform of our Marriage Laws, and we have gained the discriminating praise and gratitude of thousands of citizens of this country, who, although they have not seen the efforts of this House always crowned with success, have yet realised the sincerity and earnestness of the exertions which this House has made. Small as is the measure of reform contained in this Bill, I believe it to be founded upon reasonableness and common sense, and upon a true view alike of humanity and of religion. I urge your. Lordships to support the Motion and give this Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, the subject of marriage is, I imagine, not only the most difficult but in many of its aspects the most repulsive subject which can engage the debates of a great Assembly like this. I never entered into a debate with a more literally open mind than I do to-day. The question of marriage with a deceased husband's brother raises these two questions in my mind. I ask first, as I am bound to ask, Is any principle of sound (which is for me one of Christian) morality, violated? The other question, which follows when that has been satisfactorily answered in the negative, is this: Is it expedient in the interests of the national morals that this particular proposal should pass into law?

With regard to the first, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that I am not prepared to maintain that any principle of Christian or of sound morals is violated. There is no clear, no explicit teaching in the New Testament on the subject which can certainly bind any Christian man. And the canonical legislation was determined by readings of the Levitical law which can no longer be justified, or by a view of Christian marriage which has definitely been repudiated by every reformed Church. And therefore, I, for my own guidance, answer my first and crucial question in the negative. I say that no principle of Christian or sound morality is violated by this proposal.

When, however, I come to the second question, my perplexities begin. Is it expedient, in the interests of national morality, to pass this Bill? If it could be made out, as the most rev. Primate certainly holds that it can, that physiological science offers a valid objection to the unions which it is proposed to legalise by this Bill, I should recognise a valid reason for resisting the proposal. And more, I should consider that I had obtained a very valuable light on the Christian morality in respect of this particular question. This subject of the physiological or eugenic bearings of the question is a new one to most of us. It is a question of the utmost importance. The noble and learned Lord swept it aside with the observation that science also is acquainted with superstitions. But in the region of religion, where superstitions are not unknown, superstitions almost invariably are the exaggerations of some important truth. And the matter which your Lordships' House must most carefully consider is whether, behind the very general impression that there are eugenic or physiological objections to these marriages, there is some core of truth which it would be contrary to the interests of the community for us to ignore.

I think that, speaking generally, it is most important that the Marriage Law— which I assume has now fairly been brought into the melting-pot of revision— when it emerges from the present stage of revision should be clear, should be logical, and should be just. I say this because it is only when the Marriage Law has been cleansed of its existing inequalities, illogicalities, and incidental inequities that I shall he able to exert myself, and people who hold such a position as mine will be able to exert themselves, to rally to its support the conscience of the people, and to be able to create— what is now so lamentably lacking to the Marriage Law— a strong, coherent, coercive public opinion, which shall do far more than any coercive law to restrain the excesses from which we at present suffer.

Now I pass to the very weighty speech of the most rev. Primate. His Grace argued that there is no real need. Well, as far as my own knowledge goes, though it is worth very little in this connection— I do not know why people who have this need should come under my notice— I am disposed to agree with the most rev. Primate rather than with the noble and learned Lord. I believe the demand is in extent infinitesinal. But that does not settle the question, because although a particular demand may be limited in extent, it may have a widely injurious effect on the credit of the Marriage Law. And that is what I suspect may be the case.

The most rev. Primate laid it down that we must fulfil three conditions in our legislation. First, we must only touch the Marriage Law after deliberation; next, we must only do so in deference to a large demand; and, thirdly, we must so legislate as to make our changes congruous with the existing law. I ask your Lordships to apply these three canons of criticism to the proposals before us. I think the deliberation on this particular issue has been inadequate. If I had to vote here and now, I should vote with the supporters of this proposal. But, if I could have my will, I should support the Archbishop in asking for more time to consider it. Where the demand is so limited there is no great public disadvantage in taking more ample time to consider it. In this question of the physiological or eugenic effects which are alleged to follow you have a question raised of the utmost importance, not only to the morality, but to the health of the people. Therefore, again I say you have a very strong reason for taking time in considering the question before you come to a decision upon it.

The most rev. Primate pointed to the fact that these benches, which are commonly occupied by my episcopal brethren, are almost necessarily empty. I confess I should attach more importance to that if I thought my episcopal brethren were open to argument on the subject. But, inasmuch as I have every reason for thinking that their minds are made up, for reasons, however creditable to themselves, which do not come within the scope of our discussion, I think, after all, that the argument is not so very formidable.

Then his Grace asked; with reference to the principle which had been in question in the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill, what principle had been decided. I answer that this principle has been decided— that the old, simple parallelism of affinity and consanguinity can no longer be justified. We have to take every case on its merits, and this is always what I have desired to keep in my mind. These marriage questions are not to be settled easily by postulating some binding principle. Each case has to be considered upon general principles and expediency— the higher expediency. There is a higher expediency which has reference to those general principles which we find in the New Testament.

I am. afraid that my contribution to the debate has been of very little value, but I enter a very earnest plea that we should not hurry the discussion. I am really troubled over the physiological issue. I think it is really a grave one, because I see in making a new morality based upon a vast accumulation of new knowledge, which has been flowing in from many sides during the last century particularly, and in increasing measure every year— knowledge which was not accessible to those who framed the moral law in the past— I see in making this moral law which is to govern the society of the future, that these physiological and eugenic factors are going to be of the greatest importance. Therefore, I ask the House not to hurry the stages by which we come to a decision upon an important, but largely unconsidered, undiscussed, and unknown, factor.


; My Lords, I do not suppose that, outside members of the House of Commons, who, I imagine, read their Bills, there were fifty people who knew that this measure was passing through Parliament till after it had passed the Second Reading in the House of Commons, and not many after that. To say that there was any demand for it, that there had been any petitions for it, or any discussion in the papers upon it, is an entire mistake. Not having had the honour of being a member of your Lordships' House in 1907, when the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill came before your Lordships on the last occasion, I made it my business when this Bill reached us, to study the debates in the OFFICIAL REPORT in both Houses. I read certain speeches, amongst others, from the noble Lord upon the Woolsack, who was then in the other House. There were but three arguments urged in favour of the Bill and but three against it, and they went backwards and forwards.

The three arguments against the Bill were these. First of all, that the union between husband and wife was so great that the logical principle was that the relations of the wife were the relations of the husband. It is best expressed in the passage from the Scottish Catechism, quoted on the last occasion by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but which I am afraid I cannot remember at the moment. The second argument was against any change at all. The third argument was that it was wanted only by a number of people who had already broken the law. What were the three arguments for the Bill? The first one dealt with what Lord Lyndhurst had done and the way in which he had changed the law for the protection of certain noble Lords in the reign of William IV. The second was the argument that the deceased wife's sister was the natural person to come into a workman's house and, it being at that time the fashion to pour as much adulation upon the so-called working classes as possible, that argument had a very telling effect. The third argument was that it was asked for by a great number of people. To do him justice, Lord Newton has discarded that argument to-day and the noble-and learned Lord on the Woolsack has also discarded it. But my impression— I will not speak definitely — is that among the three arguments, that which Mr. F. E. Smith used in the House of Commons was the argument of the large demand. At any rate, that is not an argument which can be urged to-day.

I touch lightly upon the physiological question, because I have no knowledge. But I have a memory. I remember that when these matters were discussed in and before 1907 and one made the very obvious remark, "Well, if you are going to allow the deceased wife's sister, why not the deceased husband's brother?" one was told that there was a distinctly physiological reason for the one and against the other, or against the one and for the other. Of that I know nothing, but I know that when the advocates of the deceased wife's sister were met with the argument "Why do you not admit the deceased husband's brother?" they said that there was a distinct physiological reason against the one which there was not against the other. They may be entirely wrong; I have no knowledge on the subject.

I do know, however, that particularly in your Lordships' House they advocated their measure as a purely exceptional measure dealing with that one relation of affinity and no other. They were taunted with the fact that there was not only the deceased husband's brother, but there was, much more obviously, the deceased wife's niece, and if the deceased wife's sister could be married, why not the deceased wife's niece? It was pointed out that you would get the step-daughter married, and a noble Lord mentioned a case in which a man had professed to marry his step-daughter. Lord Heneage, speaking in the House of Lords, gave this reason why this Bill should not be extended further than to marriage with a deceased wife's sister— I should have thought the very simple reason for that was that there had been no wish for it and, therefore, at the present moment it has never been discussed before the country, and I do not believe that any one has any great desire for it. At the last stage of the measure in this House Lord Tweedmouth, who had charge of the Bill, said this— It is an exceptional case and that is the reason why we are pressing this Bill. Of all the marriages coming under the law of affinity nine-tenths belong to this category. I ask your Lordships to be consistent with the view which not only many individuals but many of your Lordships must have held when you voted in 1907—either do away with affinity altogether and have one principle of consanguinity and consanguinity only, and then take care that you do not follow the Germans in allowing uncles to marry nieces and aunts to marry nephews; or stick to the principle which carried the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill through, that it was to meet the one exceptional ease where a labouring man needed his wife's sister to look after his motherless children. No one can say that the widow of a man wants her brother in the house to help her look after the children.

I do not understand the allusion of the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, to eases of pension. Are the people in question people who have gone through the ceremony of marriage with a deceased husband's brother and are, therefore, excluded from pensions because the union has been immoral?




If that is so, and if it is brought as a case of hardship and it is really thought that they acted in ignor ance of the law—which is very difficult to suppose— or that there are extenuating circumstances, let the Ministry make provision for them accordingly. But simply because there may be a few cases of that kind it is an extraordinary thing that your Lordships should be asked, after fourteen years, to make a further change in breaking down the rules of law which have guided and governed Christendom for centuries.


My Lords, I confess that the speeches to which I have listened in this debate have left me in a state of complete bewilderment. I understood and I greatly enjoyed the speech that was made by the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, but I must admit that I have been unable to understand the foundation of some of the other speeches that have been made on the other side. The speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down is an example of what I mean. As I understand it, he objects to this Bill on the ground that it is impossible for anybody to show that there is a large, continuous, and important demand for its passage. I can very well understand that as an argument why the time of Parliament should not be occupied in the introduction of a measure, but I cannot understand it as any argument at all why, when a measure is before the House, it should be rejected.

This Bill is either right or wrong. If it is right, it can make no difference whatever how few are the people who will be benefited by its passage. If it is wrong, it cannot be made right by the largest possible volume of popular opinion. I must own it seemed to me a most extraordinary thing for people like the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, whose austere view of life we all know and appreciate, to suggest for a moment that his opinions are going to be deflected and his judgment changed by the fact that a large number of other people do not share them. Therefore, so far as this question of popular demand is concerned, I really think that it may be removed from our minds. I may add that I agree with what the most rev. Primate said. I do not think that the demand is great, or that a. large number of people are concerned. But to me that is wholly immaterial.

Now that this matter is before us for decision the question is: Ought we or ought we not to approve the Bill? The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Durham, whose speech I both understood and enjoyed, left me at the end in a state of complete fog. He desired, notwithstanding the important arguments which, as I thought, he advanced in support of the measure, to have further time for its consideration Further time to consider what? The physiological aspect of the matter, as I understand. This physiological aspect appears to be a kind of bogey question introduced into this debate for the purpose of warning people that there is sonic terrible and dangerous social catastrophe by which we may be overtaken if we permit men to do what it was their bounden duty to do throughout the whole of Jewish history —marry the widow of their deceased brother.

What is this physiological bogey? As understand, it is that all female life is capable of being affected by the male element with which it is first united, and that consequently, if a woman has married a man, it may well be that her children, even by another man, may bear the traces of the father of her firstborn. Whether that has any substance, or whether it is a mere illusion, I do not know. But that is at the back of it. And if it be, what is the danger that is anticipated? Supposing it be the fact that; if a man marries his deceased brother's widow it is likely that the children will have a stronger resemblance to his brother than they would be

likely to have if she married a stranger, is there anything very terrible in that? I cannot understand what it is. Is the suggestion that congenital weakness will be increased and multiplied in that way? I do not know why you should assume that there is congenital weakness at all. In the same manner congenital genius might be added to. At the present moment cousins are allowed to marry, and nobody, so far as I know, has ever objected.

I do not think this matter has been fairly faced. The real question is: Is this Bill contrary to any principle upon which we ought to act? The only principle that can be suggested is the one that was most certainly broken down when the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill was passed. I confess that I share with the most rev. Primate some objection to logic, which always appears to me to be a very dreary and uninteresting side. I must say, none the less, that it is impossible for anyone to put his foot on any firm foundation in resisting this Bill when you remember that, in point of fact, the other Bill is now upon the Statute Book. If this matter is going forward, as I understand it, is. I shall certainly support the noble Lord.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents,"55; Not-Contents, 17

Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor. ) Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain. ) Faringdon, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. Gainford, L.
Sutherland, D. Churchill, V. Glenarthur, L.
Wellington, D. Falkland, V. Greville, L.
Haldane, V. Harris, L.
Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.) Hutchinson, V.(E. Donoughmore.) Hylton, L.
Joicey, L.
Linlithgow, M. Knutsford, V. Kintore, L.(E. Kintore.)
Peel, V. Merthyr, L.
Ancaster, E. Methuen, L.
Craven, E. Armaghdale, L. Monekton, L. (V. Galway.)
lveagh, E. Askwith, L. Muir Mackenzie, L.
Kimberley, E. Buck master, L. [Teller.] Newton, L. [Teller.]
Lindsay, E. Cawley, L. Rotherham, L.
Lucan, E. Charnwood, L. Somerleyton, L.
Manvers, E. Clwyd, L. Southwark, L.
Northbrook, E. colebrooke, L. Stanmore, L.
Onslow, E. Dawson of Penn, L. Strachie, L.
Strafford, E. Dynevor, L. Wyfold, L.
Strange, E.(D. Altholl.) Elgin, L (E.Elgin and Kincardine.) Ystwyth, L.
Yarborough, E.
Canterbury, L. Abp. Morton, E. Balfour, L.
Selborne, E. de Mauley, L.
Argyll, D. Wharneliffe, E. Erskine, L. [Teller.]
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Oranmore and Browne, L.
Salisbury, M. Finlay, V. Parmoor, L.
Phillimore, L. [teller.]
Mar and Kellie, E. Chelmsford, L. Bp. Wigan, L. (E Crawford.)

Resolved in theaffirmativeand Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.