HL Deb 31 July 1928 vol 71 cc1525-34

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment to the Motion for the House to resolve itself into Committee—namely, That the House do resolve itself into Committee this day six months.


My Lords, this stage of this Bill was debated yesterday at not very considerable length, but it occupied a short time. I have, I believe, a right of reply, and I am going to make use of that right this evening to make an earnest appeal to the House not to proceed further with this measure without giving the House fuller time for its consideration. The noble Earl on the Front Bench opposite (Lord Russell) was pleased to lecture me yesterday upon a matter of order. Well, I will not yield to him on points of order although I am perfectly prepared to yield to him as an authority on the question of the marriage law. My Amendment, which was put down in perfect sincerity, was simply designed for the purpose of enabling your Lordships' House to give somewhat more consideration to this Bill than it had hitherto received. The Bill only appeared upon the Order Paper last week. On the Second Reading we had a brief debate. I do not think there were more than ten speeches, three of which were made by the mover of the Bill himself. We have not had any reasonable time to get into touch with those in the country who are interested in this matter, and I do suggest that it is most undesirable that far-reaching legislation of this character, which touches the marriage law in England, should be dealt with in this—I will not say hole-and-corner fashion, but I will say in this helter-skelter manner, rushed at the end of the Session.

In the Division which took place yesterday it appeared that one-half the House was not anxious to proceed rapidly with this Bill, and desired more time for its consideration. I noticed that yesterday the noble Marquess who leads the House moved the Second Reading of a Bill dealing with the question of the registration of births, deaths and marriages, a Private Member's Bill which had come up from the other House, and he very reasonably and properly, in my judgment, said that if there was any objection to proceeding with it he would not proceed with it. Well, this Bill is very much on the same lines. This Bill is the Bill of a private member, which fortuitously passed through its stages without any discussion this Session, and has come up to your Lordships' House. From the Division which took place yesterday it appears that one-half of your Lordships' House is indisposed to proceed immediately with the Bill. In those circumstances I suggest, and I do not think it is at all an unreasonable demand to make, that we should be given a little more time to consider this matter.

It has never really been before the country. I venture to think that there are hardly any of your Lordships who, until the Bill appeared last week on the Notice Paper, knew that there was any contemplated alteration of the marriage law. The marriage law was altered in 1907. It was altered again in 1925. Now we are asked in 1928 to make a further alteration. Supposing your Lordships were to pass this Bill I do not know when the next alteration would be proposed. It seems to me to be very undesirable from the general point of view of the convenience of the public that these constant changes of the marriage law should be made. I will not enter into the merits of this question at all. That would not be relevant at the present time, except to say that I think it is extremely undesirable—I will not put it higher than that though I think I might—to ask your Lordships to pass legislation of this far-reaching character after a consideration of what?—four or five days, certainly not a week. I think it is less than a week since this topic was broached. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will think that in moving yesterday that the consideration of this Bill should be postponed—which would mean a postponement of, we will say, four, five or six months—I was not asking anything unreasonable.


My Lords, I propose to put myself in order by moving the adjournment of the House.


I am afraid the noble Earl has already spoken.


But if I move the adjournment of the House I think I shall have the right to speak.


On a point of order, my Lords, I must make it quite clear that a noble Lord who has spoken to the Question cannot move the adjournment. He could speak to the adjournment if somebody else moved it but he could not move it himself.


My Lords, I beg to move the adjournment of the House. I had not intended to intervene in this debate but I feel that the other side of the picture should be put. The circumstances, as I understand them, are these. This is really not a new Bill. The very argument which was used by the Lord Chancellor yesterday in regard to the Companies Bill applies to this Bill. This same Bill was discussed at length in another place as recently as last December. It was introduced again in another place quite early in this Session and it has been through its various stages there. Owing to the Racecourse Betting Bill it could not come to your Lordships' House at an earlier date. Due notice was given, plenty of notice, of the Second Reading. What did the noble Viscount say yesterday? He said that there was not much time on the Second Reading; the debate did not last long. But the opportunity was there. Every member of your Lordships' House could have taken part had he wanted to do so. All was perfectly in order; and a very considerable interval elapsed between the Second Reading and the Committee stage. What happened? For the Committee stage there was an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the noble Viscount—an Amendment! No previous intimation so far as I know of any sort or kind was given to your Lordships that this Motion for adjourning the Committee stage for six months was going to be moved. I say that it will make the business of your Lordships' House extraordinarily difficult if, without any previous intimation and at a late hour, a Motion of that kind is sprung upon the House.

What does it mean? We shall get into the position that Bills will be rejected or there will be a debate upon them on Third Reading, which is much the more appropriate occasion, without notice being given. I feel very strongly on the matter. I believe in point of fact that no such Amendment as the noble Viscount moved has been made in your Lordships' House for twenty years. It may be technically in order but I think it makes conditions here almost impossible. The matter has been debated. The noble Viscount says that it is only putting the Bill off for a few months. How does he know that? This is a Private Member's Bill. What guarantee is there that next Session in another place some private member will be successful in the ballot who will take up this particular Bill? The hon. member who brought this Bill into another place may not be successful next year. There is not the slightest guarantee at all that this Bill will come before your Lordships' House in six months' time. In my view the Bill is largely overdue. It has been discussed at some length and there is a Committee stage and there will be a Third Reading stage. In all these circumstances I really think that the Amendment of the noble Viscount ought not to be acceded to and, as I have said, I beg to move the adjournment.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(Lord Arnold.)


My Lords, I really think I never heard a speech so full of inaccuracies as the reply of the noble Viscount on this matter. He began by referring to the Notice which he had put on the Paper. Our chief complaint in this matter is that he did not put any Notice on the Paper with respect to the Motion to go into Committee. The Notice he put on the Paper was a Notice to move an Amendment in Committee. That is a perfectly legitimate, normal and natural thing to do.


I never said "Notice on the Paper."


Perhaps the noble Viscount will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. As I say it was a perfectly legitimate, normal and natural thing to do. But what he did when the Motion was made to go into Committee was to put before your Lordships an Amendment to adjourn Committee for six months; that is to say, a Motion of rejection which ought properly to have been moved either upon Second Reading or Third Reading, and it ought also to be moved after Notice, according to the usual practice of your Lordships' House. But it was sprung on this House at a quarter to eight last night when noble Lords did not know there was going to be opposition or discussion, still less a Division. That was the position in which we found ourselves. I agree with my noble friend behind me who has just spoken that the business of your Lordships in such circumstances would become impossible. We should never know where we were.

One takes it for granted when the Second Reading of a Bill is agreed to without a Division that there is no further serious opposition to it, or at any rate if there is opposition that Notice will be put on the Paper for the Third Reading. I cannot imagine any course less convenient than that which the noble Viscount has thought fit to take on this occasion. I hope your Lordships will not support him. I am bound to say that my feeling about this is such that if I disliked this Bill intensely, if I had the strongest possible objection to it, I should, none the less, vote against the Amendment which was proposed. I consider that it is creating a very bad precedent and one which it is undesirable to encourage. When the noble Viscount talked about there not having been much discussion of the Bill, I think it has been up in another place for three years, and it was certainly discussed before then. It passed through its stages in another place without discussion because it had already been so fully discussed. Your Lordships had all the Notice you generally get of Bills at this period of the Session. We are all agreed that that Notice is not sufficient; but that applies to every Bill coming up from another place at the latter end of July. I trust that your Lordships will not create the very bad precedent of accepting this Amendment.


My Lords, I said last night that I had no wish to take any part in discussing the merits of this Bill; but I should like to remind your Lordships that the Motion submitted by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, perhaps inadvertently, is a very inconvenient Motion. He has moved the adjournment of the House. The Government, although we take no part as a Government in deciding the fate of the Bill, cannot agree to the adjournment of the House because there is other business yet to be transacted. Therefore, it is impossible. I hope the noble Lord will understand I am speaking in all courtesy to the noble Earl and the noble Lord—that in voting against the adjournment of the House, as we must do, we do it in the interests of Government business. I hope that will be quite understood. I do not think we could possibly agree with the Motion. As to the speech of the noble Earl and his reflections on the propriety of the course taken by the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches, I said something last night and I shall not repeat myself. But there is no question that his Amendment is perfectly in order. He has taken a course he is entitled to take, and no one has a right to attack it from that point of view. So far as the adjournment of the House is concerned I am afraid I must ask the House not to agree to the adjournment, because it puts an end to the rest of the business.


My Lords, in deference to the statement of the noble Marquess, at this late period of the Session I do not wish to create inconvenience, and, if he takes that view, I am willing to withdraw the Motion for adjournment.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment negatived, and Motion to go into Committee agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:


Clause 1:

Marriage with certain persons not to be void as a civil contract except in certain cases.

1.—(1) Section one of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act, 1907 (hereinafter referred to as "the principal Act"), shall have effect as if there were inserted therein after the words "or between a man and his deceased brother's widow" the words "or between a man and any of the following persons; that is to say:—

  1. (1) his deceased wife's brother's daughter;
  2. (2) his deceased wife's sister's daughter;
  3. (3) his father's deceased brother's widow;
  4. (4) his mother's deceased brother's widow;
  5. (5) his deceased wife's father's sister;
  6. (6) his deceased wife's mother's sister;
  7. (7) his brother's deceased son's widow;
  8. (8) his sister's deceased son's widow."

VISCOUNT ULLSWATER moved to add to subsection 1: and the words 'or between a woman and any of the following persons, that is to say:—

  1. (1) her deceased husband's brother's son:
  2. (2) her deceased husband's sister's son;
  3. (3) her father's deceased sister's husband;
  4. (4) her mother's deceased sister's husband;
  5. (5) her deceased husband's father's brother;
  6. (6) her deceased husband's mother's brother;
  7. (7) her brother's deceased daughter's husband;
  8. (8) her sister's deceased daughter's husband.'"

The noble Viscount said: I put this Amendment down without having had time to consult with those who are better informed than I am with regard to this matter, but, as I said the other day, it seems to me to be rather hard lines that the widow is not entitled to marry her uncle and her nephew and all the other persons that this Bill brings in if the widower is allowed to marry his aunts and nieces. I do not think that it is very much use contesting the view of the House. The House has obviously made up its mind to pass this legislation blindfold. However, I will formally move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 20, at end insert the said words.—(Viscount Ullswater.)


With regard to this Amendment I can assure the noble Viscount that the eight cases which he has put down are really all actually included in the Bill. For instance, the first case of "her deceased husband's brother's son" is the same as No. 3 in the Bill if the noble Viscount will turn it round. He will find that that is so with all the cases. A year ago, when a Bill of this kind was produced in another place, it was not quite as water-tight, if I may use the expression, as this one, and at the suggestion of the Home Office the Parliamentary draftsman was called in and the result is the present Bill. I can assure my noble friend that all his cases are included.


We often complain of the obscurity of legislation. We are often taken to task in the Law Courts for the very obscure legislation which goes through, but of all the obscure legislation I think this is really the obscurest. I am told that No. 1 is the same as No. 3—a deceased husband's brother's son is the same as a father's deceased sister's husband if I will only turn them round. I do not propose to turn them round. I do not know that I should be any wiser if I did, but I would seriously ask, how is the ordinary man in the street to read a Bill of this sort and how is he going to know that No. 1 and No. 3 are the same if he will only turn them round? It is not a fair thing to impose upon the public of this country legislation of this kind and ask them to carry it out or to understand it. I think the whole thing is an absolute farce, and I must decline to take any further part in any discussion upon it.


I support the Amendment of the noble Viscount, not because I desire to see a great increase in the number of possible marriages which at present are not legal, but because I think it goes a slight degree in the direction of further lucidity. It may be true that the careful investigator who will give time to the subject will be able to find out that the Amendment of the noble Viscount does not go further than the words at present in the Bill; at all events it may enable some of us to understand the position better. What I do complain of is that we are being asked to pass in the House, which has not adequately considered it, a matter so far-reaching in its consequences as to cover past history down to the very beginning of the marriage laws and to abolish practically the whole table of kindred and affinity. And this is being done now in a way which no one can regard as the really thoughtful deliberation of Parliament upon the subject.

Look around these Benches and reflect that what we are doing is going to tell to a degree very few of your Lordships estimate in homes all up and down the country. People do not know anything about it at the present time. I venture to say that in neither House of Parliament at this moment is there more than a handful of people who are aware of what is really happening on this subject. There is no demand which is at all appreciable in dimensions for bringing about a change of this kind. I am putting forward what may seem strange as an argument in favour of this Amendment, but my support of it is simply that I think it helps a little to elucidate what is exceedingly obscure. If we are going to sin we had better sin bravely, do the whole thing bravely, and make it more clear. I think we are sinning. I am prepared to take up that line in this particular case and to say that if you are to parade before the country this double list of the changes we desire to make in the marriage law of Christendom—for it is nothing less than that—do it lucidly and not obscurely. I shall vote for the Amendment though I intensely disbelieve in the whole course we are taking in passing this measure.


The most rev. Primate in his speech has provided your Lordships with a magnificent example of the bulldog British courage of the Episcopal Bench. His speech, I am sure, will be received with sympathy by your Lordships. He is fortunately quite unable to be misrepresented. Otherwise, I am bound to say I think his position is rather a peculiar one on this matter. He has first opposed this Bill. He says now that it does not include certain cases and, having opposed the Bill, he is supporting an Amendment for the purpose of inserting further cases in it. Your Lordships have been told by the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill, and who is much more fit to state an opinion than I am, that these cases are, in fact, included. Next the most rev. Primate complains of want of lucidity in legislation. That is an old complaint, and we suffer from it in legislation that applies not only to a comparatively small number of people but in tax legislation and other Statutes which apply to every one of us. These Acts are always explained when they come into existence.

Of course the objection to the Amendment is obvious. At this period of the Session yon cannot send a Private Member's Bill down unless the Government undertake that it shall be considered. What would happen if the Amendment were passed would be that the Bill would be lost. The object of the Amendment is really not to improve the Bill but simply to cause it to be lost. Of course there is no parliamentary complaint to be made of the Amendment, or of the conduct of the noble Viscount in the matter—this is totally different from the Amendment we have just disposed of—but your Lordships will understand that it is in effect a wrecking Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.