§ Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the Bill to which I ask you to give a Second Reading this afternoon is an exact reproduction of the measure which, after prolonged and stubborn controversy, passed your Lordships' House by a majority of 47 votes no less than four years ago. Since that date the atten- 637 tion of your Lordships has been directed again to the question of the reform of our matrimonial laws by two measures to which I will briefly refer. In 1921 the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, introduced a Bill which took the Minority Report of the Royal Commission as its basis and, except for two provisions, incorporated most of the uncontroversial matters in my measure. On the Second Reading of that Bill, I pointed out to your Lordships that, as it failed to provide for any extended grounds of divorce, I felt it my duty that one of such grounds at least should be introduced into the measure in order that the Commons might not consider that your Lordships' judgment excluded such matters from its consideration. I was successful in that effort, and the Bill, being then abandoned by Lord Gorell, fell into my charge, and yet once again, on the Third Reading, that Bill was passed by a substantial majority of your Lordships' House.
Last year a small measure which in no way extended the grounds of divorce, but provided only that they should be the same for women as for men, passed your Lordships' House with very little opposition. To-day, the position, with that slight modification, stands exactly as it did when I introduced this measure four years ago, but I think, before I ask you again to go through all the details of this Bill, it is only right that I should indicate to you what is the course that I intend to follow. I do not think it would be right to ask your Lordships once more to plough the sands and to proceed with a difficult and controversial discussion on every point of this measure unless I could see that there was some reasonable prospect of this Bill being considered in another place. If, therefore, you grant a Second Reading this afternoon, I propose to inquire of the Prime Minister whether he will grant facilities for the introduction of such a Bill as this in the House of Commons, and if he will, I shall then deem it my duty to ask your Lordships once more to embark upon that difficult and painful journey that we travelled together four years ago. I have great hopes, from what I have been told and what I have heard, that the justice of the position will appeal to the Prime Minister.
When a Bill such as this—designed for no other purpose than to carry into effect 638 recommendations of the majority of a Royal Commission appointed with the express object of saying what change, if any, should be made in our matrimonial law—has passed this House, with every single one of its controverted principles made the subject of a Division in which my opponents were not successful, it seems strange that facilities should be denied for the passing of the measure in another place. I have never asked for anything but that. Noble Lords have often come down and, with an authority that I have never ventured to arrogate to myself, speaking on behalf of vast groups of their fellow countrymen, have solemnly assured your Lordships that the whole civilised opinion of honest men and women was behind them, and yet the place where that representative opinion should be given effect to is the one place where the challenge is never given. If the House of Commons dealt with this Bill and sent it back to your Lordships with this essential provision excised, I have said before, and I repeat, that I would not prolong the controversy, but would, at any rate for the moment, accept the position, but until that is done it seems to me it is my plain duty to proceed with this measure ; for if a thing is worth advocating one should not be prepared to abandon it at the first rebuff.
This measure, as I have said, represents the provisions in the former Bill, and, therefore, I think, having regard to what I said, that your Lordships would not desire that I should pursue the ordinary course in regard to such a measure and go once more in detail through its actual terms. The greater portion is really beyond controversy on the part of all but very few members of your Lordships' House. I will, therefore, concentrate upon the two main principles of the measure, and ask you once again to consider them. Those are the principles which provide stable grounds for a declaration of nullity of marriage, and extended grounds for divorce. It is necessary, in order that I may make you acquainted with the reasons why I urge this matter once again, to bring to your notice what the law is at the present moment, in order that you may be able, if you can, to reconcile it with your conscience to leave that law unchanged.
I ask by this Bill that nullity of marriage should be granted, in the first place, if a man marries a woman whom he 639 finds at the time of his marriage to be pregnant by another man. Is there one of you who denies the justice of such a claim ? I feel certain that in this matter the Roman Catholic Church is more pitiful than we are, and that it would grant a decree of nullity which our Courts refuse. It may be said that such a case is rare. That it does occur is certain, for it has been made the subject of solemn judicial decisions. Only a week ago I received a letter from a man whose word I have no reason to doubt, in which he stated that six months after his marriage with a woman she was delivered of a fully developed child, and she confessed that some other man was the father of it. Of course, it is not impossible that a man may exercise a rare and beautiful quality of Christian charity and forgive a woman by whom he has been so bitterly deceived, but it is not likely that he would do so, and it does seem to me an astonishing thing that our law should declare that, although dissolution of marriage is now part of the law of this land—I think, reluctantly and withregret, it is in part accepted by the Churches of this land—none the less, for such a wrong as that, there should be no legal remedy.
Let me take the next case. I ask that there should be a decree of nullity granted where either party to the marriage has refused to allow that marriage to be consummated. At the present moment the law is this. Nullity of marriage is only granted where there are physical defects on the one side or the other, and as the law, quite rightly, refuses to compel any person in the case of refusal to submit to medical examination, you can only establish this case by inference. I say that no man who has ever had the misfortune to sit in the Divorce Court and hear the cases in which women ask for a decree of nullity on the ground of impotence could fail to be struck by the shame and the disgrace of the whole proceedings. Why should you compel a wretched woman, in the presence of an idle, gaping, lecherous crowd, who gather there, not because they are interested in the administration of law, but because they want to hear unclean things fall from the lips of a woman, to go through all this miserable story, and not allow her to say merely : "There has been no consummation of this 640 marriage. My husband either refused or is unable to consummate it, and I ask for liberty." That is what my Bill provides. So far as nullity is concerned, there is nothing to which I think your attention need be directed.
There are further grounds, covered by the one of desertion, in which this question of refusal to submit to marital intercourse becomes once more important, but so far as nullity is concerned those are the main questions. There are, indeed, added to these, a few of which, I believe, there would be no question, as, for instance where a woman marries a man who at the time of marriage is infected with venereal disease from whom, I understand, she has no means of escape. She is compelled to stay there until the man professes to be cured, and then submit herself to him with such consequences to herself and her offspring as the evidence of doctors and hospitals frequently discloses.
Let me pass from that and come to the question of extended grounds for divorce. Divorce stands on a different footing from nullity. Nullity declares that no marriage has ever taken place ; divorce accepts the marriage and dissolves the bond. I ask that marriage shall be dissolved, not only on the ground of adultery but for desertion, for cruelty, for drunkenness, for insanity, and finally—and this is the only new thing I have introduced into the Bill—on the ground that one party or the other is suffering imprisonment under a commuted death sentence or is confined in a criminal lunatic asylum at His Majesty's pleasure.
Let me deal first with the existing ground of adultery. That is extended by this Bill in one important respect. As the law stands to-day unnatural vice as well as adultery is ground for divorce. Unnatural vice is a thing astonishingly difficult to prove, and no doubt it is due to this fact that prosecutions are not more frequent than they are—a matter which I think is greatly to be regretted. But there is evidence, which is easily capable of being proved, and of which there are only too often examples in our police courts. It is the evidence of gross acts of indecency with male persons. I ask that that shall be regarded as adultery, and I cannot think that you will refuse to allow it to be included in the definition. Surely this is one of the darkest of all the shadows that blackens the face of man.
641 I now turn to insanity. Insanity was argued in this House at a length and in a detail that was worthy of a Second Reading debate, and in the end, by a large majority indeed, your Lordships decided that insanity as defined in this Bill—that is, insanity declared to be incurable, where the person has been in confinement for live years or more—should be a ground for divorce. There has only been so far as I could see, apart from the general religious objection to this measure, one ground upon which any real objection has been based to this proposal, and that is the ground put forward by the Duke of Northumberland, that there was no reason why you should distinguish insanity from other diseases. If insanity, why not phthisis, and a variety of other ills by which mankind is afflicted? The reason is perfectly plain. Insanity is the most awful scourge by which mankind is afflicted. Its existence is a menace to the properly civilised development of society. It does not injure the body ; it overthrows the whole seat of reason, and leaves the person who was once a husband or a wife something that is nothing but the shadow of a former self.
It is no use speaking about the opportunities for care and attention and companionship which may win a person like that back to health ; all these are wasted on a person who is incurably mad. He cannot recognise his best friends. There is only one remedy you can suggest. You must either permit divorce, or allow the woman or the man to continue without the slightest prospect of any of those social amenities and enjoyments which are supposed to form the basis and foundation of married life. I ask your Lordships without giving illustrations and details—illustrations and details are present to the mind of every one of you—to allow that ground also to be included.
The next one is the question of imprisonment for life. I omitted this from my former Bill and I greatly regret the fact. The Bill had been the subject of very wearisome controversy and I was anxious, so far as I possibly could, to limit the area of attack. Objection was made to it and I said : "Well, it can affect but few people; let it go." I was wrong, and I was wrong for this reason, that if the measure itself 642 be just it is nothing but weakness to abandon it because there are only a few people who are suffering from the injustice. Justice ought not to be proclaimed by shouting or bought by votes. Justice ought to appeal to both Houses of Parliament in this country on its own merits, and if it be right that such relief should be granted it ought not to be denied because the people who will enjoy its benefits are few. Can anyone doubt that it should be granted ? Just see what the position is. You take a man away from his fellow-creatures and shut him up, within a living tomb, and compel his wife, who has been guilty of no wrong, to pass the rest of her days within the shadow of the sepulchre.
Instances have been before us in recent times, and one was before your Lordships' House not long ago, argued at the Bar, in which a woman whose husband was so confined came and struggled for relief It was impossible to grant it. She made a charge that her husband had committed adultery with a woman. The charge was disproved, and she has to spend the rest of her clays a woman who is neither married nor a widow, and whose husband is in an asylum from which he will never be released. I ask you to say that there is no principle of our social life more grievously violated than that which you violate when, in the interests of society, you break a marriage in effect, shut up the man and then leave the woman bound.
Let me turn to the two remaining causes—desertion and cruelty. Cruelty has often been said to be something that it is not easy to define. A definition has been given in this Bill and it has been approved by eminent men who have charge of these affairs. It is cruelty that places in hazard the health, or the life or the safety of a woman, and that is the cruelty which we say should entitle the woman to be free of the marriage tie. In addition, we provide in express terms that the wilful or negligent communication of venereal disease, or the compelling of a woman to submit to prostitution, shall be regarded as cruelty. I wonder if your Lordships will allow me to read one of the paragraphs from the Report of the Royal Commission upon this matter, and when you have heard it I will ask you whether your feeling is not a feeling of shame that these things should continue in this country without a remedy.
643 The Report says:—The definition should also include the following acts, and proof of cither of them should be sufficient proof of cruelty as defined :—
- " (1) That the respondent has knowingly, or negligently, infected the applicant with venereal disease.
- " (2) That a respondent husband has compelled his wife to submit herself to prostitution.The risk mentioned in the definition aforesaid should, we think, be inferred in these two classes of case from proof of the act. At present, it is more than doubtful whether such cases are covered by the words ' persistent cruelty ' ; the first case is sadly common, and the second is a horrible form of criminal offence which, according to some of the evidence, takes place more frequently than is generally known.''I ask your Lordships how you can willingly permit the continuance of such things as that without the only effective relief that you can grant.
Finally, there is the question of desertion, which has, I think, probably been the subject of more discussion than any other part of the Bill, though I have never been able to understand why. Desertion must be wilful, and it must be for three years. Your Lordships know-that desertion has nothing to do with the condition of life in which you live. It relates almost exclusively to the condition of life among the poor. This relief is not relief for the rich ; it is relief for the poor, and how they are circumstanced right rev. Prelates on the Bench opposite know well and have not infrequently told us. That this desertion is common cannot be denied. It would be ridiculous, of course, to say that it is common to the extent of constituting a large majority of cases of people who are married, but that it happens frequently must be obvious to any one who has been the recipient of such correspondence as I have received. Again and again I hear the same story. Sometimes the woman has gone, and no one knows where ; more often it is the man who has gone and left the woman, sometimes with children and sometimes without.
I had a letter a fortnight ago telling me that two sisters had married two men on the same day and had both been deserted within a fortnight. There they were, left alone; and what is the future 644 before them ? Their position is one which the law recognises as that of married women. The obligation which the law-casts on every man to support his wife is utterly denied and can never be enforced. These women are compelled to pass the rest of their lives either in a state of immorality or in a state of embittered loneliness, and to wait until death shall relieve them of the bond from which the law is at present unable to grant release. It is a pitiful thing to contemplate women like these, waiting day by day, while all the time the wine of life is oozing drop by drop, the leaves of life are falling one by one.
Noble Lords tell me: "These, of course, are grievous cases to which you refer, but we have a remedy. You say there is none, but the Church in its thoughtfulness has provided you for over 200 years with a remedy. There is judicial separation." Judicial separation for a woman deserted by a man that she cannot find ! What is the use of that? She is already deserted beyond all possible chance of recall. This decree of judicial separation has been sanctified, as we were told in one of these debates, by 200 years' usage in the Church. What is its foundation? I think I have been able to find out, and, like many other things of great value, it is to be found in the Report of the Royal Commission.
The Report states that Bishop Cozens in the seventeenth century made this observation about judicial separation—The distinction betwixt bed and board and the bond, is new, never mentioned in the Scripture, and unknown to the ancient Church; devised only by the canonists and schoolmen in the Latin Church (for the Creek Church knows it not), to serve the Pope's turn the better, till he got it established in the Council of Trent;—and then there follows a statement which shows the enormous advantage that mediæval ecclesiastical controversialists possessed over those of the present day, for the passage concludes—at which time, and never before, he laid his anathema upon all them that were of another mind; forbidding all men to marry, and not to make any use of Christ's concession.I must say that I am amazed that people who regard—as my opponents undoubtedly do regard—the maintenance of moral conditions of life between men and 645 women as of the first importance in the State, can seriously argue that a judicial separation effects that purpose. I ask the right rev. Prelates opposite, who know human nature, will they tell me that, if you break the bonds between a man and a woman who are young, force them apart under a decree of judicial separation and compel them from the early days of their lives until death to live so separated—will they tell me that this conduces to morality, that it really makes a firm and sound foundation upon which you can build Christian family life in this country ?
Let me once more refer to a passage which puts into language more adequate than I am able to use the view of this matter held by one of the most eminent writers on the law of husband and wife. After referring to a description of this decree by an English writer as "a sort of insult, rather than satisfaction, to any man of ordinary feelings and understanding," he goes on to say that it is—while destitute of justice, one of the most corrupting devices ever imposed by serious natures on blindness and credulity. It was tolerated only because men believed, as a part of their religion, that dissolution would be an offence against God ; whence the slope was easy toward any compromise with good sense; and as the fruit of compromise we have this ill-begotten monster of divorce a mensa et thoro, made up of pious doctrine and worldly stupidity.That view was thought to be of sufficient value to be incorporated in the body of the Report of the Royal Commission, who reported without qualification or compromise that this proceeding should be done away with.
I do most earnestly ask those who seek shelter behind its provisions, who tell me that a woman need not submit to cruelty because she can be judicially separated, that she has a remedy against desertion because at some expense and trouble she can be judicially separated, if they believe that the evils of the marriage system are met and palliated by the existence of a decree, stigmatised in language like that, which, in its essential principles and its ultimate consequences, I do not believe a single member of your Lordships' House can justify. I know quite well there are people who will say : "Oh ! but you should have no divorce at all." I understand that, and indeed I recognise and accept at once their logic and their sincerity. When a 646 person tells me he will accept judicial separation and will accept the putting away of a woman, the very thing that in unequivocal language Christ condemned, and then says that, that is an answer to a demand for divorce, I accept his good faith, but I am sorry to say I do it at the expense of my respect for his reasons
These are the essential principles of the measure which I ask you to read a second time this afternoon. It will meet with the usual opposition, gathered in the usual way. It begins by a circular which was sent round only a few days back, purporting to come from highly-organised bodies, saying that if marriage is made dissoluble it is nothing but licensed prostitution. Marriage is, to-day, dissoluble, and my most reverend opponent and his colleagues voted only a little time back for a measure which enabled it to be dissoluble at the instance of a woman as at the instance of a man. Will they support this statement? Will they say that marriage is licensed prostitution ? If marriage, to-day, is licensed prostitution, I shall be glad to know what is the adequate language to describe a union in which a woman is compelled to live for ever with a man insane, unfaithful, unclean, whose very touch makes her shudder and whose very sight she hates. What is the language with which to describe a condition like that? I hesitate to use such limited resources as are in my power to express my feelings about it. There, then, is what may be described as opposition brought to this Bill by people who, I say with all respect, have never really read the Report at all or considered the position.
There are, however, two other forms of objection more formidable, far more rational, and far more difficult to deal with. There is, first of all, the objections brought forward by the representatives of the Roman Catholic faith. I have said before, and I say again, that with them I have no quarrel. I have never been able to find shelter within the shadow of their Church, although I say sincerely that I often wish I could ; but I know quite well that against their armour reason, argument, logic, persuasion, all fall back blunted. They, and they only, are the people who enjoy the unrivalled privilege of being able to speak with authority and to bind their supporters to accept what they say. What is the use of talking to them about 647 the pain and misery and unhappiness of this life ? They are nothing but the fleeting shadows of a vain and troubled world. We are not fighting the same issue—we are not on the same battleground—but I shall not hear from their representatives the language used by the people whose language I have just quoted. They, recognising the position, will not take more part in the Division than recording their vote.
I turn to what is a more formidable thing. I turn to the opposition which I know I must encounter at the hands of those who speak on behalf of the Church of England. I wish, more than I can say, that the whole of this question might be ruled out of controversy. It renders discussion painful and difficult, but it must be so, and I would like to ask them one or two questions. I would like to ask them this : Why is it that two texts in St. Matthew and St. Mark are to be singled out as the only two texts which lay down an irrefutable and invariable law ? Texts, as we all know, must necessarily be interpreted in the light of the circumstances in which they were spoken, and the people to whom they were said. No one has suggested that many of the texts can, without such qualification, be applied to all the varying and differing conditions of private and national life. Would it have been possible for right rev Prelates opposite to have preached all through the war on the text "Love your enemies," and have told their congregations that it was an absolute command which admitted of no qualification whatever ? Of course it would not, because the text should not be so regarded.
I want to ask what it is that has enabled people to take out a particular text and to say that, whatever may be said about others, this text at least declares the law which knows no change. Indeed, one noble Lord said that it enunciated the law as it began in the Book of Genesis. That struck me as a dangerous statement, seeing that pages of the Old Testament are full of orders and directions as to marriage which are in flat contradiction of the text. Well, that was the view, and I ask people who take that view : Why was it that you voted for a Bill which enabled women to divorce their husbands for adultery ? Where do you find authority for that ? I ask again and I have never yet been 648 answered : How can you reconcile divorce by a woman at all, or a judicial separation, with a clean, unequivocal interpretation of this text which is used again and again as an answer to this Bill ?
This Bill is designed for one purpose and one purpose alone. It is designed, so far as we can secure it, to relieve human misery, and I would earnestly commend to those noble Lords who think that such a recommendation is contrary to the teachings of the Gospel, to bear in mind the words of Lord Gorell, one of the wisest Judges that ever presided over the trial of matrimonial causes and a man who for three years was Chairman of that Commission. This is what he said :When one realises what human nature is, of what horrible conduct human beings are capable under the influence of lust, anger, greed, and drink, …. and the frightful sufferings they can inflict on each other and upon children, and when Christians have in mind the intense pity and superhuman sympathy with which Christ regarded the suffering, the poor, the needy, and His tender regard for little children, it seems impossible to credit that in teaching the doctrine of faithfulness in marriage, He was condemning those who suffer from the breach of it to lifelong misery and moral deterioration if not ruin.It is true there have been revealed to the world great principles, obedience to which will ensure happiness. They are the principles that are gathered together under the august names of justice, morality, humanity, and truth, and it was in those names that the Royal Commission reported that this Bill should be made the law, and I beg your Lordships to give heed to that appeal.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Buckmaster.)
§ LORD DARYNGTON had given Notice to move as an Amendment to the Motion, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Lord said : My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, who is a past master of language, has moved the second Beading of the Bill in a characteristic and eloquent speech, and I would like, in the first place, to say that I occupy this position to-day, not from any desire of my own, but because I have been asked to take up the challenge. I think, perhaps, the reason may be that I am not allied with any great Church party, but am what is called a broad Churchman. 649 When you look around the world to-day and see the difficulties and dangers that surround us and all nations of the world, I believe that to keep as near as possible to Christianity is our best course, and it is for that reason that I am here to move the rejection of this Bill.
The clause of the Bill to which I wish particularly to address myself is Clause 4. It was to that clause that Lord Buck-master chiefly referred. I am very sorry that the noble and learned Lord behind me, Lord Carson, who was the Chairman of the Committee in the House of Commons which opposed the Divorce Facilities Bill, is not discharging the task which I am attempting to discharge to-day. Clause 4 states that—
Any married person may apply for a divorce on any one or more of the following grounds, that is to say, that the defendant—
§ And then there are references also to habitual drunkenness, incurable insanity, and imprisonment.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I inadvertently repeat arguments which may have often been placed before the House before. I am conscious of my own inexperience, and also of the fact that I am a newcomer here. The most rev. Primate, on March 24, 1920, said in debate—
Let me make my own position clear, because it is vital to the true understanding of our position in this controversy. I am approaching the question to-day not on ecclesiastical grounds or, in the narrower sense of the words, on distinctively religious grounds, though I should have a good deal to say on these points on an appropriate occasion, and in an assembly more appropriate and more welcoming of those words than this Assembly would naturally and properly be.
And the most rev. Prelate, the Archbishop of York, on the same date, said—
I stated my own belief, but I also stated that I did not consider that this was the occasion or place to argue that belief, or the grounds of it. I accepted that there was a divorce law, but the point was whether it was desirable to increase it at the present time.
Therefore you will realise with what trepidation I come here to-day to say a few words on this Bill.
§ The point which I wish to make is that we ought to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to pass a Bill which is clearly contrary to the teaching of Christ. Whatever our feelings may be to-day, I am perfectly certain that there will be the dawn of a day in every one's life when the faith of a little child is worth all the wisdom and wealth in the world. And I pay very little attention to the arguments which are put forward by any one who does not believe in the Incarnation, or who advocates increased facilities for divorce and has not been faithful in his own private life. Belief is no easy matter, and there must be many noble Lords whom I now address who have had difficulties in regard to this question. But it has been said that the chief opponents of this Bill, and of Bills of a similar character, have been members of the Roman communion, and the Bishops. I think, however, that there is a fundamentally strong feeling of opposition to this measure in the minds of many Churchmen who are not in either category. I know that there are many men who, though they do not speak perhaps in regard to their belief, as it is always very difficult to do so, feel very strongly.
The other day I came across a quotation from the late Lord Salisbury in regard to his belief. Writing in response to a request for his view in reference to his faith in Christianity, he said—
To me the central point is the resurrection of Christ, which I believe, firstly because it is testified to by men who had every opportunity of seeing and knowing, and whose veracity was tested by the most tremendous trials, both of energy and endurance during long lives ; secondly, because of the marvellous effect it had on the world. As a moral phenomenon the spread and mastery of Christianity is without a parallel. I can no more believe that colossal moral effects, lasting for two thousand years, can be without cause than I can believe that various motions of the magnet are without cause, though I cannot wholly explain them. To anybody who believes in the resurrection of Christ the rest presents little difficulty. No one who has that belief will doubt that those who were commissioned by Him to speak—Peter, Paul, Mark, John—carried a divine message. St. Matthew falls into the same category.
This was written to the Egyptian Gazette on September 17, 1903. And we acknowledge Christianity in this House. We have prayers in this House as a corporate body ; we go to the coronation of our
King or Queen ; we date our letters from the birthday of Christ; we have national services, sometimes in sorrow and sometimes in joy. But this Bill deprives the Christian marriage service in every place of worship in this land of its reality.
§ It is easy to argue hard cases. I sympathise with every one of those which has been enunciated by the noble and learned Lord to-day, but, if he believed, as I do, in regard to this question of Christ's teaching on this matter, be would see that we are not simply passing by, we are not saying : "This is nothing to us,'' but our contention is that to remedy this by making a person commit adultery can be no help. There are numbers of laws based on the teaching of Christianity; why not the marriage law? A noble Lord, the other day, spoke of certain words of our Saviour as an abandoned superstition of the middle ages. That is not the feeling of the majority of the members of your Lordships' House.
No, I did not refer to what the noble and learned Lord said at all. The noble and learned Lord would never make such a statement. He referred just now to the question of the Sermon on the Mount and said that we were trying to carry out one particular command of our Saviour while we left others alone. I have heard this argument used before. It is, no doubt, very difficult in this world of ours to carry out all those commands. In that Sermon on the Mount there is this command:—If thy right hand offend thee cut it off and cast it from thee.But, in speaking about this subject, men are rather inclined to look at the words of Christ in the same way as they would look at the words of Confucius, or Buddha, or Mahomet, and if your Lordships' House will forgive me I would like to read the words of Christ :—For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife : and they twain shall be one flesh;652Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.…. Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and who so marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.That is from St. Matthew. St. Mark says—Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.Some people say: "Is there not a mistranslation in regard to this ? "I think, in considering the Sermon on the Mount, the way in which it has been interpreted and the effect it has upon mankind, it is only natural for us to consider first the rules and practices of the primitive Church.
Since I have been asked to occupy this position to-day, I have taken the trouble to try to find out what those practices were. They are very interesting. If we look at the Church of Borne, of Syria, of Egypt, and of Spain and throughout all the Greek Church, we find exactly the same position ; we find practical uniformity in regard to carrying out the words of our Saviour. Are we more enlightened than they ? Did not they live nearer to the time of Christ ? Were there not drunkenness and cruelty at the time of Christ as there are now ? We want to make this world better, but we do not believe that this Bill is likely to accomplish it. Clearly it allows the breaking of the Divine law and will help to disguise from our people the fact that, according to that law, they will be living in sin.
But my noble and learned friend, if I may call him so, and others would naturally say, It is all very well to say this, but what about the Scottish law? What about the Royal Commission which sat for three years? What about the evidence from other countries ? Do the people want this? "The only reply I have to the question as to the Royal Commission is that it is impossible for me, believing as I do, to carry out any alterations which I believe are contrary to the law of Christ.
The noble and learned Lord referred to some of the philanthropic societies 653 which have sent documents to him, and I should like to refer to one of them—the Central Council and Executive Committee of the Mothers' Union, the largest women's organisation in the Empire, which has a membership running up to 400,000. They write desiring to protest most earnestly against any further facilities for divorce, being convinced that any such loosening of the marriage tie must inevitably undermine the home life upon which the future of the nation depends. That is signed by Mrs. Hubert Berkeley, the Central President of the Mothers' Union. I can speak personally as one who has long been connected with the Church Army, of which I happen to be at the moment the president. We have at least a thousand captains and sisters who are working day by day in various towns in this country, many of them in slum areas. I do not believe there is one who desires such a Bill as this to pass, and they are really acquainted with the conditions of the people among whom they work. Most of the philanthropic societies of this country take the same view.
In one particular this Bill goes further than the laws of most of the American States—in making insanity a ground of divorce. Noble Lords will remember, I dare say, that the late President Roosevelt called a Congress to consider uniform divorce laws for America, and that the experts unanimously decided to exclude insanity as a ground for divorce. But the most specious and, I think, insidious argument which has been used in regard to this great question was that of the Bishop of Durham when he stated that our Saviour had said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and from that he attempted to show that this command really did not mean anything so far as we are concerned. I have much respect and admiration for his great talents, but I believe that the right rev. Prelate will find that there is practically no one in the Church of which he is an ornament who agrees with him. This is an acutely religious problem. I am not arguing to-day in reference to the National Church Assembly, though that Assembly is practically unanimous in regard to this question.
I agree with much of the procedure mentioned in this Bill in reference to reform. But when we see, as we do to-day, 654 crowds of persons flocking to the Divorce Court, ought we not to hesitate before we try to grant greater facilities ? Ought we not to realise that what is required is the recognition of the lifelong obligation of marriage ? These are the days of increased recklessness. Some men say : "We cannot consider the American position." But I think it is hardly unfair to consider that this Bill will probably cause the same calamitous state of affairs that we see in America where there is a real undermining of the basis of marriage itself, and where we see the Christian Church and many of the ablest lawyers and the leaders of philanthropy testifying their abhorrence of the condition into which many of these States have fallen. The other day I heard of a case where a woman was married and there were no fewer than seven of her previous husbands attending the ceremony. That is the natural consequence of laxity of ideas as to the marriage bond. We see in America to-day perjury, lying, collusion and infidelity. The late President Roosevelt once said that one of the most unpleasant and dangerous features of American life was the position in regard to marriage.
Before I resume my seat I should like to give you one quotation from one of the greatest men who has lived in our times, Mr. Gladstone. This is the advice which he gave to America. He said that marriage is essentially a contract for life, and only expires when life itself expires; that Christian marriage involves a vow before God ; that no authority has been given to the Christian Church to cancel such a vow ; that it lies beyond the province of the civil legislature which, from the necessity of things, has a veto within the limits of reason upon the making of it, but has no competency to annul it when once made; that according to the laws of just interpretation, re-marriage is forbidden by the text of Holy Scripture. If the spirit of Mr. Gladstone came down from the sphere he now inhabits to this sublunary sphere, and he could see the, position in which the United States is placed to-day, is it not possible that he would feel that the advice which he gave was sound ? I stand by the immutable Divine law of Christ, and I ask this House not to pass this Bill. I realise the humanitarian ideas of the noble and learned Lord who has introduced it, and of many of those who follow him who think this Bill 655 leads along the pathway of happiness. I, however, do not think that. I believe this Bill will be a stumbling block instead of a stepping stone.
Leave out the word (" now ") and insert at the end of the Motion "this day six months."—(Lord Daryngton.)
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I feel that I almost owe an apology to your Lordships for rising year by year, as it so happens, on this Bill or some Bill analogous to it, but I desire to add my voice again tonight to that of those who would ask you not to read this Bill a second time. I think that were I to be silent it might be supposed that I had departed from the attitude that I have tried to follow on former occasions. We have listened to-night to the persuasive eloquence of one who has the power when he speaks of making us all wish to agree with him. No one who has listened to his speech tonight but must have been touched by its eloquence, and impressed by the way in which he handled the great subjects with which he dealt. He has put before us once more the hard cases on which, as I venture to think, he relies too much when he is dealing with this subject, as he has dealt with it time after time.
My noble and learned friend regards us who oppose him as speaking largely from a narrow ecclesiastical standpoint, or as basing our arguments on Gospel texts which he would interpret differently from us, or as to which he attaches a different kind of weight. I am not going-over that ground to-night in its detail, because I do not think it is really conducive to the argument which will tell with your Lordships. On the large principle I bate no jot of the adherence I have often expressed from this place to the Gospel teaching, taken as a whole, upon the permanence of the marriage bond. That teaching, as I, at least, comprehend it, stands as the basis or background of the whole handling of this matter by Christian people as such. The phrase to which the noble Lord who has just spoken referred as having been used in a former debate—those references to the Church's statements on the subject as being the whisperings of the abandoned superstitions of the middle ages—is not a view which I believe your Lordships will regard as a sound one. I am quite sure 656 that such a phrase would never be used by the noble and learned Lord whose Motion we are discussing to-night. But I am not going over that religious ground afresh. I believe that my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster appreciates our position in the matter, though he differs from it. I want to deal with the question on somewhat different lines to-night.
If I understood Lord Buckmaster aright, he told us that he was resting his proposal on two distinct lines—one, the increase of the grounds upon which a marriage could be declared to have been annulled ab initio, and, secondly, the increase of the causes for which divorce could be sought. I think it is only fair to remind the House that those whom I may be in any way regarded as representing voted a few years ago for the first of these in its entirety—that is to say, the proposals which were contained in the Bill introduced by Lord Gorell, and supported by us, dealt with the questions of grounds for nullity in the very way in which this Bill deals with them. That we supported, and that we were prepared to carry. And what prevented us? The noble and learned Lord said: "I will not take your Bill with that as its essence ; I must add something else." And, adding something else, he rendered the support which up to that time had been promised to the Bill impossible, because he brought in additional grounds for divorce. Therefore I wash my hands altogether of the need of replying to any accusation with regard to the question of nullity, because that we have already said we were prepared to adopt when it was introduced as a Bill. So far as I know, we are prepared to do the same still.
I therefore come directly to the second part of Lord Buckmaster's argument in regard to the increase of grounds upon which a claim for divorce may be made. It is not a rare thing in the domestic polity of a people that we should have to dwell with stern persistence on some large and far-reaching rule, although the observance of it necessarily creates cases which would be difficult to defend on their merits were it not because of the larger rule. That is surely common experience in a great deal of the public life of almost every civilised country. Let me give an example or two of what I mean Take the principle of the sacredness of human 657 life. I suppose there is no principle upon which we could obtain a more unanimous agreement than the obligation which rests upon all of us, and all we can influence, to observe the absolute sacredness of human life, and the wrongness of taking it away, except in the one way and for the one cause and by the State itself, as capital punishment. Nothing else must impair the absolute observance of that rule.
What about the deliberate action which we take, and support others in taking, as regards keeping alive a person whom all of us have seen and known and watched in sickness and distress, who is longing to be released from the bonds of the earth which is no longer to him or her a place of joy but of torture, a person we desire to see set free from that torture and whom others desire to set free from it ? Yet we support those who, with medical skill and surgical science, adopt every means in their power to prevent the end coming. In such cases we feel that if we could take that case by itself, and isolate it from the larger and more general law, we should desire to see attained the end which we and the sufferer desire. But we do not. We deliberately and studiously keep someone alive who desires to die, one whom we should not be sorry to see passing away. We do that because to interfere with hard cases such as this would be to traverse the larger and general law. the fundamental law. which must govern us as a whole as to the sacredness of human life and the absolute duty of preserving it. The pathos of such a case is increased when we pass from the ordinary sick room to the sick room of an asylum, where people who are out of their minds are suffering. We long to see such a life brought to an end, but we allow the rule to hold there still. Notwithstanding such hard cases as these, which we are obliged to watch and tend, we decline to regard them as sufficient to override the fundamental rule.
Take another instance. Many of your Lordships know far better than I do the difficulties which attended the absolutely and necessarily strict discipline of an Army in the recent war. Your Lordships have had to deal as officers in command with many cases of young men who were condemned to death for something which, taken by itself, was not really a moral or penal offence. Perhaps the man lost his 658 nerve and ran away, or in some other manner offended against, and acted contrary to, the discipline of the Army. The penalty was certain. But is there one of your Lordships who did not feel his heart drawn to any young man who came to his death in that way? Was there any of your Lordships who did not feel that the hardness of the case was such as to make, if almost intolerable to exact the penalty ? Hard cases make bad law, but if any of the discipline as laid down had been relaxed, we should have been in an unworkable position in the conduct of the great campaign.
Take the ordinary discipline which is exercised in our common life on those who belong to my own profession. It has been my sad and grave responsibility for many years—twenty-one years—to be the central authority before whom comes the question as to how to deal with those clergy, comparatively few in number, who have offended against the moral law. They are offences which, though they would not be excused in the case of a layman, are not penal offences. But in the case of a man who is an ordained minister of Christ, who is trusted by the people and admitted to their homes, it is impossible to condone and treat them lightly. Time after time my heart has been rent by appeals which have come to me from the wife or children of the man whom we have been obliged to condemn to give up his profession, not because he has done anything for which any ordinary layman would have suffered any penal consequences but because he has broken the trust which we have to lay upon the clergy. If a man breaks that trust any relaxation of the law would be an incomparable mischief to the usefulness of the Christian Church. We look on such cases with compassion and pity, but we adhere to the larger principle which lies behind. It is on that account, and for that reason, that we who believe in the sacredness and permanency of the marriage bond regard the hard cases to which Lord Buckmaster has referred not lightly, not contemptuously, not as something which we are content to pass on one side, but as something which is inevitable and which we should do our utmost to avoid without relaxing any principle which we feel is really essential to the permanence of the marriage bond as such.
659 But apart from the hard case argument, there is another argument which I know is very cogent to many people who desire to face this matter fairly. I mean the argument that unless you allow divorce for desertion, insanity, and life imprisonment, you will greatly increase immorality on the part of those who are deprived of the protection of the husband or the companionship of the wife. That argument, sound so far as it goes, is, nevertheless, when we press it to the extent it is commonly pressed, based upon what I must call a doctrinaire view of what is likely, rather than a practical experience of what is actually happening. I profoundly distrust large generalisations. I know that case after case was brought before the Royal Commission. I have read the evidence with care. But these are the hard cases brought out of the midst of ordinary life, and I distrust the large generalisations which find expression in speaking of these things as common and familiar experiences of our ordinary life. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, spoke on a former occasion of thousands, I think he said tens of thousands, of such cases in our land, for which the Legislature would be responsible if they did not pass such a Bill as this relieving people from such temptations to immorality.
May I remind you of what happened in the war, and this is a matter in which I was concerned ? In the early days of the war, we heard a great deal of what were called "war babies," and certain men and women got up an agitation as to the number of babies that were likely to be born in the unhappy circumstance of the absence of their fathers. It was said that the number was so great that it would be absolutely necessary to enlarge the wards of our Poor Law institutions in order to admit them. I have the actual document here. I brought this subject before your Lordships, and I said that I had taken pains to inquire of the various places mentioned in order to ascertain the plain facts of the case. Had it not been so serious a matter it would have been almost ludicrous to find the contrast between what was said was going to take place and what, indeed, actually happened. The estimates of the number of babies that were to be born in three different places was 700, 600 and 800. I 660 asked what had been the actual numbers, and in those three cases they came out respectively as eleven, eight and three. That is a warning of the danger of talking in large terms of these matters, and saying that something is going to produce tremendous consequences, without testing it. When you test it you may find that a strange light is thrown on the subject.
Your Lordships will remember similar instances with regard to the deserted wives about whom we heard a great deal during the war. Of course, there were deserted wives—nobody doubts that for a moment—but we were told they were to be found everywhere in hundreds. Again I ventured to apply the calm test of a detailed statistical inquiry. I got into touch—I ask your Lordships' pardon for reminding you in case you do not remember—with the various organisations in and about London which had to deal with women, and particularly young women and children, who were in trouble, and I found that the number of deserted wives among these women had rather decreased than increased during the war, though, of course, there were plenty of them, as there always must be. In 1913, before the war, there were 144 deserted wives out of some 890 young women who were being looked after in these regions ; in 1918, that is to say, when the war was nearly over, there were 117, a decrease on the figure before the war ; and in 1919, after the war was over, the number had again gone up somewhat to 157. The whole, story of this vast increase of deserted women and the terrible results which were following from all that occurred was, I venture to say, blown to bits by a little inquiry into the detailed facts, and this seems to be an example of the rashness of generalisations on these subjects.
The noble Lord to-night, with most characteristic care and patience, did give us figures in this matter, but I think that any argument based on numbers, which should have very great weight when applied to the suggested increase of immorality which results from the absence of the provisions which he desires to introduce, requires to be tested, and, when tested, may be found, I think, to carry a little less weight than it is supposed to carry. Apart from numbers. I hope your Lordships will be a little careful regarding the nature of the danger that you 661 anticipate. You are told that, human nature being what it is, you cannot expect young men or women to be left in the circumstances which I have described without the certainty that immorality must speedily follow. When will that be likely to occur ? When is the temptation going to become most acute ? In the case of insanity you must wait five years before you can get the relief which this Bill would give; in the case of desertion you must wait three years; and in the case of drunkenness you must wait three years. But the danger would arise during the very time for which the Bill does not provide protection. If it be the case that you are afraid of the growth of that immorality, you do not provide, and I do not see how you can provide, for the very years in which the temptation would be greatest. Once those years are passed the temptation would be far less, and probably the mischief would be infinitely smaller. I believe that experience of facts will very often qualify conclusions which the theory of what is likely may suggest.
A few days ago—I apologise to your Lordships for even referring to it again—I ventured to speak of the great experience which by necessity, through no merit of their own but from their daily work, the clergy gain with regard to these matters. I am an old man and an old clergyman. It is fifty years ago this month that I was ordained to Holy Orders, and thirty-three of those years I have spent as a Bishop in advising men who were dealing daily with the problems of our domestic life. Within the compass of those long years reminiscences of one's experiences come up. I see before me now a woman in the prime of life who had become addicted to a deplorable degree to strong drink, and her home was thereby completely darkened. With the consent and aid of her husband, I consulted an eminent medical man who said distinctly and definitely that he was afraid that he could hold out practically no hope of cure in a woman of that age who had developed the habit, and that it was not likely that the trouble would pass away, or that she would once more be as she had been. That is a case of what is called incurable drunkenness.
Many years afterwards I knew that home, and for ten years at least it was one of the happiest homes I have ever 662 known. The man and wife were living together in perfect happiness and there was not a sign of the cloud which had darkened it in former days. That is the kind of incident that recurs to one's mind. We are told that we must have release from the marriage tie on the ground of what is called incurable drunkenness. Suppose an application had been made in this case and a petition granted, what would have happened to the husband of this woman and to the woman herself, as contrasted with the actual development of their lives?
And what is incurable insanity ? I apologise again for returning to personal reminiscences, but they are really practical, because they are concerned with practical cases which one has known personally. There comes before me the figure of an admirable parish priest, with an admirable wife, who went out of his mind. I had to deal with that case and to make careful inquiry into the question of whether he was likely to recover, and what would be the proper process of relieving him of his ministerial responsibility, the best way whereby he might resign his parish. No fewer than three doctors said that they could hold out no hope of that man again being fit, either for ministerial work or for the ordinary intercourse of society. I am bound to say that for years afterwards the matter rather passed from my mind.
Not very long ago I met that man in perfect health. He reminded me of what had happened long before, and told me how he had returned to his home—generous aid had been given to him for the purpose—and how he and his wife were perfectly happy together. Suppose that man, on leaving the asylum to which he was sent in a perfectly legitimate way, had come out again, healed and in his right mind, to find that he had not merely lost the home and office which he had held before, but that his wife had been married to somebody else. If we are dealing with hard cases, surely the noble and learned Lord would be able to picture the hardness of such a case as that, and it should be compared with some of those to which he has referred your Lordships to-night. I do not want to weary your Lordships with reminiscences, but such cases arise naturally and frequently in one's mind.
663 There are also cases, of which I know several, in which that forgiveness, of which it almost surprised me to hear the noble and learned Lord speak to-night almost slightingly, on the part of the husband of an erring wife, has not merely proved not wholly in vain but has ultimately resulted in the happiest homes. I can name a case at this moment in which the husband and wife have both died after years of happiness together. Yet they came to me years ago with the problem whether or not there ought to have been a divorce, which would have been naturally given, with a result which would have been utterly different from that which I have seen and rejoice to have known. I ask pardon for this reminiscence, but I think practical experience of what is happening in our homes tends to make us exceeding cautious in accepting wide generalisations as to the mischief which must result if you do not give the relief which this Bill asks.
One final word. I have asked, and I ask again, where do you see a definite demand for this Bill in England to-day? You may refer me to the petition which has been referred to more than once, and which was produced here some years ago, with 10,000 signatures attached to it, asking for a change in the Divorce Laws. What did it ask for? Cheaper divorce. But you have got it. It has been brought about already, and there is no longer a demand for it. The other thing asked for was equal treatment of the two sexes. You have it. This Bill does not go any further in that direction. The noble Lord taunted us on these Benches with having voted for equal treatment of the sexes, and my vote was given for that Bill on the ground that, whatever we had done before, it was at least fair that the husband and wife should stand on a par in these matters. These things we now possess, they are already law, and this Bill makes no difference in regard to them.
I wait to see what evidence there is that in England, to-day, the mass of the people of the country are wanting a further change in the laws relating to marriage. I do not believe that there is any such demand. I see no evidence whatever that such demand, if it exist, is a widespread one. If it were, it would certainly find expression, of which I see no sign. Of course, there are people who 664 do want this Bill, and a great deal more. We all remember one of the witnesses before the Royal Commission, a lady whom I happen to know, who said distinctly that divorce should be granted wherever it was desired by either of the parties to live apart from the other. I suppose there are people who hold that view now, but that is not the view of the noble and learned Lord. Is there in this country a genuine demand for the sort of change which we are asked to make? If there is, will the noble and learned Lord give us the evidence of it, and tell us whether it is on a wide and considerable scale, and where it finds expression ? We know that very strong protests are being made against the change, but I fail to find those who, on any large scale, or in any way that we can reckon or calculate, are actually demanding this change. Therefore, beware, my Lords, of opening a door which you can never again shut. That is certain. Note the warning which comes to us with no uncertain voice from across the Atlantic, as to what has happened in not a few States there from this opening of the door too widely. Do you think the people of England want this change? I believe myself that they want nothing of the sort. If they do, let them tell us so. With all my heart I ask your Lordships not to go ahead of that expression of opinion by giving a Second Reading to this Bill to-night.
§ VISCOUNT FITZALAN OF DERWENT
My Lords, the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, in his remarks this evening, made kind and generous allusion to the religious community to which it is my privilege to belong, and I thank him sincerely for those remarks. I know, however, that he will not mind, and will not think my gratitude the less sincere, if I venture to say a very few words in opposition to his Bill. On religious grounds, and as a Catholic, I am opposed to this Bill. It is directly contrary to the teaching, practice, and law of our Church, but I recognise that as regards this particular Bill, and at this particular moment, the religious side of the question is not of such supreme importance to my case. As the noble and learned Lord has told your Lordships, I and my co-religionists can feel that whatever the result of this Bill, whether it passes into law or whether, as I hope, it 665 is defeated here and now, it does not affect my co-religionists. We remain under the law of our own Church, and the indissolubility of the marriage tie remains as it ever has been since the beginning of the Christian era, when Our Lord Himself raised the dignity of women from what it had been under the old dispensation.
But if we are safely entrenched in an impregnable position as regards this Bill, at any rate we have a right, and we feel a duty, and a concern in the effect which it may have on the welfare of our country. I make bold to say that had the law of the land remained faithful to the law of the Church a vast amount of misery connected with divorce in this country would have been spared to many individuals, men, women and children, and it is because we feel the danger of additional facilities that we have a dread of this Bill and earnestly hope it may never become law in this country. I recognise, of course, as everybody must recognise who has the privilege of the acquaintance, and I hope I may say friendship, of the noble and learned Lord, the sincerity of his motive. I recognise that his heart is wrung with the tragedy of the hard cases of which we know. Words cannot be found adequately to describe them. That point has been, if I may venture to say so, well dealt with by the most rev. Primate, and it is not for me to take up the time of the House by repeating, what has been said much better than I can say it, that if we are to abandon the principles for the sake of hard cases then we do not see any logical stopping place where we can rest.
Allusion has been made to America. I do not pretend to have made a study of the laws of the different States of America on this question but I certainly believe that they are far worse than the provisions contained in this Bill. I would ask your Lordships, however, to allow me to make a quotation from President Roosevelt. It is probably well known to most of your Lordships, but, none the less, I think it so appropriate that I ask leave to quote it. These are his words—Easy divorce is a bane to any nation. It is a curse to society and a menace to the home, an incitement to married un-happiness, and an evil thing for men. but a still more hideous evil for women.Those are the words of a great statesman, a man of affairs, and a great sportsman, 666 and I think we should do well to give serious consideration to the opinions which he expressed as to the effect of divorce in his country.
The noble and learned Lord, in his opening remarks, told us that he did not intend to proceed with this Bill unless he was satisfied that the Prime Minister would give facilities for it in another place. It is always dangerous to prophesy, but I venture to think that if my noble and learned friend thinks he will get those facilities he will be disappointed, not only because in all probability the exigencies of Parliamentary time will not permit it, but also for what I think is a more important reason. I do not for a moment believe that among the great mass of the supporters of the Labour Party in this country there is that favour for this Bill which many people think exists. On the contrary, quite apart from what their religious convictions may or may not be, I believe that among the great mass of the working classes and the poorer people in this country there is, deep down, a tremendous reverence for the marriage tie, which they do not want weakened. And I believe that feeling is shared by many members of the present Government, and, even if the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack employs his most persuasive powers with his colleagues in another place in the interests of this Bill, I think he will probably find that he will do so in vain. I sincerely hope that the Bill will be defeated, because I honestly believe that, if it were to become law, it would mean the weakening of the moral fibre and of the character of the English people.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANB)
My Lords, in the case of a Bill of high importance such as this it is right that the Government should give an indication of opinion. Whenever a change is proposed in the law of society of great magnitude it is natural and necessary that the Government of the day should take some part. But the question before your Lordships' House is one of unusual difficulty. A change so great as this could only be made if there were a large and settled public opinion behind the movement for the Bill. After all, it is public opinion which ultimately governs in these 667 things, governs Parliaments, governs Churches, governs all our institutions ; and you have to satisfy yourselves that that public opinion is present before you can embark on a course of legislation which may lead to a great organic change.
When one looks at the state of things to-day it is impossible to say that there is conclusive evidence of how public opinion is divided. Unquestionably there is a considerable volume of opinion against this Bill ; equally unquestionably there is a very large volume of opinion in favour of the Bill. Opinion is divided. I listened to the speech of the most rev. Primate, following that of my noble and learned friend (Lord Buckmaster), and the division between them represents very much the division among people in general. Even in the case of the Government we are not agreed about this matter. If my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, who feels very strongly about this Bill, were present, he would undoubtedly vote with the most rev. Primate in the Division which is impending. Speaking for myself as an individual, and as an individual only, I am in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill, as I have been on previous occasions. But, in this position of things, it is impossible for the Government to do more than leave it to Parliament to decide the question. We shall then arrive at something like an indication of how public opinion is divided, and where the majority lies. At present I find it impossible to say. Therefore the Government must leave the matter entirely to Parliament. It does not inter-meddle. I cannot in the name of the Government promise facilities for the Bill. It must take its chance, and must be dealt with according to the development of events.
But, while that is so, it does not preclude members of the Government—who are, after all, individual members of this House—from expressing their own opinion and from discharging the obligation which they are under as members of Parliament to have a view upon a matter so important. Speaking for myself, I listened to the eloquent speech of my noble and learned friend (Lord Buckmaster) with great sympathy for his motive. It was one of the most eloquent speeches I have listened to in this House. It represented perfect conviction. The criticism in my mind was not so much upon the tone of the speech—that was admirable—but upon the limitation of the 668 point of view which seemed to me to underlie it. My noble and learned friend spoke as if the only question was that of the unhappy husband and wife, the parents. But there are the children, and there is also the State.
I am not precluding myself from qualifying what I am going to say, but I have always felt that any relaxation of the marriage tie is a perilous adventure, not to be entered upon without great circumspection. People marry and they remain together, largely because it is the right thing to do, and because society enjoins it, and because in some cases there are strong religious sanctions which actuate them, and because in other cases they are thinking of the children which they have brought into the world. Therefore, any real relaxation of the marriage tie becomes something which is looked on with aversion by the great majority of men and women. I think that is right when you remember that the children, after all, are persons to be considered quite as much as the husband and the wife. Easy divorce permits of very great unsettlement in the position of the children, particularly in reference to their prospects. Easy divorce is also somewhat disastrous for the State which is interested in the maintenance of the family relation. That is true, and it makes me hesitate very much when I approach any question of the extension of divorce.
I listened very carefully to the speech of the most rev. Primate, who did not put his reasoning mainly on religious grounds but rather put it on that of the interest of society. There is a great deal in that, and there is a great deal in taking up the line of principle which he took up. But, unfortunately, that is not the condition of society in this country. In the year 1857 we introduced the Matrimonial Causes Act, and since that time divorce has been an institution among us, no doubt looked after carefully, but, still, an institution. Therefore, when I come to consider the question as to whether I shall vote for my noble and learned friend's Bill, I am face to face with a situation in which there is no such principle as there ought to have been if the most rev. Primate is right. As my noble and learned friend pointed out, the most rev. Primate spoke in favour of an 669 increase in the facilities for divorce by giving the wife the same right as is given to the husband. No principle is of universal application when it is qualified in its application by the necessities of the State. There is no principle left in the matter. You cannot contend for the maintenance of the principle even on religious grounds, because the Divorce Act has been accepted by the great majority of the people. I know that the noble Viscount who spoke for his Church a few minutes ago says, and truly, that the members of his Church do not recognise the application of the principle and do not take advantage of proceedings under the Divorce Act. That is quite true. But the Divorce Act was passed with some measure of acquiescence of the Established Church of the land itself.
Taking this Bill upon its merits. I think that there are truly cases which the law ought to be extended to cover. For that reason, speaking for myself, I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill; but in Committee I shall look closely at some of its provisions. For instance, you must not make this relaxation too easy ; on the other hand, you must not make your Bill inoperative in view of the hard cases which undoubtedly exist. I hope that I have now put before your Lordships the reasons why the Government finds itself in a position in which it can give no lead to the House. We propose, as I said, to leave the matter to Parliament, and everybody will vote according to his own views and his own conscience.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, I venture to differ from some of the remarks that have fallen from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. He did not carry me with him, if he carried the rest of the House with him, when he said that there was no principle left in the matter. I believe there is a principle, and a very clear principle.
I do not speak as a rigid or frigid ecclesiastic ; far from it. The words of the noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill went to my heart, as I have no doubt they went to the hearts of many in this House. The picture he drew of the miseries of married life when all love is gone, and the picture that he drew of the deserted wife with a husband who could not even be heard of were, indeed, very telling, and I, for one, 670 would most eagerly catch at any opportunity of relieving such suffering did I not in my heart of hearts believe that no alleviation can be found for these cases that will not, by a side wind, bring in something worse.
The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has rightly reminded your Lordships of the fact that there are three parties to a marriage. We often speak as if there were only the bride and the bridegroom, but there is the State, and the State has to see to the wellbeing of all those who are its members.
We cannot vote on an issue of this kind in any petty way. There may be some here who think that it would be an easy way of getting rid of some sad case which they know of in their own experience. There may be others who, in a more general way, are tempted to follow the noble and learned Lord who introduced this Bill in the path that he has put before us. But it is clear that what we have to consider is the general good, and the direction in which these things tend. I, for one, cannot see how the noble and learned Lord, having taken a particular line, is satisfied to say that so many years must pass before desertion is effective. Why should the poor woman whom he described to us endure those hard things for a year, or for six months ? I certainly cannot see any close following of principle in that instance.
In regard to the other question of principle I think it is clear. And I would very sincerely ask that it may not be thought, because I am speaking from this Bench, that I am putting forward one set of arguments when really and truly my mind is made up by another set of arguments. I hope, and I know, that the noble and learned Lord will give me credit for full sincerity in what I am saying. We learned in our youth the propositions of Euclid. There are several propositions of Euclid that admit of two demonstrations equally good and equally satisfactory ; but no one need say because one advances one particular proof that the other proof is a weaker one. I may have other grounds for forming some conviction on this subject, but I am perfectly clear in my own mind when I say that I believe that the principle at stake is this. We have a law of divorce, and upon what that law is founded your Lordships perfectly well know. That law recognises that the 671 line is drawn where the question comes of the misuse of physical union. I believe that line is perfectly clearly drawn, and that it is a line of principle. I am not saying—for I do not think it is true—that an act of adultery necessarily causes so much distress and misery in married life as some other things do. I entirely agree with the picture that the noble and learned Lord drew of those who have to sit facing one another day after day and coming to hate one another's company. I can believe that is a far more difficult situation, and one of much greater misery, than, may be, the other which I have indicated. But I say emphatically that there is a principle that this physical act is only permitted in married life, and, therefore, it is the one thing that creates a unique ground for divorce.
We have had these debates very often, and there is no need to say again what has often been said, and aid better than I can say it, but I remember that in the debate three or four years ago one noble Lord used the expression that some trivial act of adultery could not be considered so serious a thing as many other things which had been alluded to in the debate. I deeply deplore such an utterance, for I think that the general good taste, and the general sense of right and wrong, in this House could never regard adultery as a trivial act against married life and against married love. I ask your Lordships very anxiously not to say that the Church has accepted one ground, and therefore must be prepared to accept many others. I ask you to draw a distinction—and a distinction that the State would recognise—between an act of adultery and other things that go to make the misery of married life.
I do not think we need go over the ground that was touched upon by the noble and learned Lord as to the inconsistencies of the Church in this matter through the ages. We all listened very carefully to what he told us about the statement made by one who once worked in the house where I now live. All that seems to me something which we may let pass to-day. What we have to do is to remember that the homes of the people depend upon the maintenace of married life. I sincerely hope that the cases mentioned by the noble and learned Lord are fewer than he may suppose. He would say, in his persuasive and 672 passionate manner : "I do not care whether the cases are few or many, I want to relieve those who are suffering." But I appeal to him when I say that I believe the alleviation of this smaller number of cases—for it must be a smaller number of cases—would lead to distress on a bigger scale. "This man and this woman." One marriage. I believe we are discussing the principle of monogamy, and I believe that monogamy ought to be not only an ideal to be aimed at in happy marriages, but a regular rule to be accepted in ordinary life, with the one exception which I have mentioned and which, I believe, stands upon a wholly different footing.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships more than a couple of minutes from proceeding to the Division which we are about to take. This is not a case in which any side of this House, or any considerable section of this House, is likely to vote collectively in one direction or the other. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has told us that the Government itself is not united upon the matter, and has appealed to noble Lords to vote according to their opinions and consciences. He has indicated, not obscurely, that, whatever we do here, facilities for this Bill are hardly likely to be forthcoming in another place. Of course, there are certain sections of this House as to whose vote we are certain. The most rev. Primate speaks for the whole of the Episcopal Bench behind him. The noble Viscount Lord FitzAlan, who spoke so powerfully earlier in the afternoon, speaks for the whole of those members of your Lordships' House who belong to the Church of which he is a distinguished member. But what about the attitude of the rest of your Lordships ?
I have never before taken part in these debates about divorce, and I would not presume on this occasion, and at this late hour, to enter into any discussion of the broad principles to which the right rev. Prelate who has just spoken has called attention. I look at the matter rather from the point of view of the procedure and the practice of Parliament in cases such as this. This Bill which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, introduced—and here let me associate myself with what fell from the Lord Chancellor—in a speech, one of the most 673 moving and one of the most powerful I have ever heard in your Lordships' House, is no new Bill. It is not the first time it has been placed before your Lordships. This is not the first time we have heard the rival arguments from the two sides. Not only is it not the first time that it has been introduced, but your Lordships should remember that this Bill has been passed by this House. Four years ago—in the year 1920—this Bill was introduced. I think by the noble and learned Lord himself. It met with strong support from some members of the Government of which I was a member. I think one of its most vehement advocates was Lord Birkenhead, then Lord Chancellor. Your Lordships not only gave it a Second Reading ; you took it through Committee, you passed it, and it was only because of the state of business in another place that it got no further.
If those are the facts of the case, it would seem to me to be an unusual act—I think myself an unwise act and an unfair act—to deny the Bill of the noble
§ and learned Lord at least the chance of a Second Reading this afternoon. I say so for another reason. When we get into Committee then, and then alone, can we ascertain whether the opinion of the House in this year 1924 is the same as it was in the year 1920. Then, and then alone, can we discuss one after the other the separate grounds for divorce. I agree with the noble and learned Lord in some of these things ; I do not agree with him in all. I should like to hear the matter discussed in Committee, whatever be its fate at a later stage. I merely make these remarks not because I have any right to speak for the great body of Peers who sit behind me, but because I should like to explain the vote which I am about to give, and because I think that the considerations which will actuate me in giving that vote are such as may justify the appeal to other noble Lords in other parts of the House.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now "shall stand part of the Motion?—
§ Their Lordships divided :—Contents. 88 : Not-Contents, 51.675
|Haldane, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Bertie of Thame, V.||Marchamley, L.|
|Burnham, V.||Methuen, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Chelmsford, V.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Marlborough, D.||Churchill, V.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Rutland, D.||Grey of Fallodon, V.||Newton, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Knutsford, V.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Milner, V.||Olivier, L.|
|Cuezon of Kedleston, M.||Younger of Leckie, V.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chambertain.)||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Aberconway, L.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Arnold, L.||Pentland, L.|
|Cromer, E. (L. Chamberlain.)||Askwith, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bess-borough.)|
|Albemarle, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Biddulph, L.||Rathereedan, L. [Teller.]|
|Buxton, E.||Blythswood, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Boston, L.||Riddell, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Buckmaster, L. [Teller.]||Ritehie of Dundee, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Clwyd, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Faringdon, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Howe, E.||Harris, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Hemphill, L.||Shuttleworth, L.|
|Lanesborough, E.||Hindlip, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Hothfield, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Illingworth, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Malmesburv, E.||Jessel, L.||Sumner, L.|
|Northbrook, E.||Kilmarnoek, L. (E. Erroll.)||Swaythling, L.|
|Russell, E.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)||Thomson, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Lambourne, L.||Wargrave, L.|
|Scarborough, E.||Lawrence, T.||Wavertree, L.|
|Stanhope, E..||Lilford, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Northumberland, D. [Teller.]||Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)|
|Argyll, D.||Bath, M.||Eldon, E.|
|Halsbury, E.||London, L. Bp.||Morris, L.|
|Lichfield, E.||Norwich, L. Bp.||Mowbray, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Rochester, L. Bp.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Morton, E.||Southwark, L. Bp.||Phillimore, L.|
|Munster, E.||Ravensworth, L.|
|Nelson. E.||Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.)||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||St. Audrios, L.|
|Cross, V.||Carson, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Finlay, V.||Chalmers, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Charnwood, L.||Shandon, L.|
|Hood, V.||Daryngton, L. [Teller.]||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|de Mauley, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Bradford, L. Bp.||Erskine, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Chelmsford, L. Bp.||Granard, L. (E. Granard.)||Treowen, L.|
|Chester, L. Bp.||Kylsant, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Chichester, L. Bp.||MacDonnell, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.