HL Deb 11 February 1937 vol 104 cc105-21

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, with due diffidence, but with, I hope, not undue confidence, I bespeak from your Lordships' House a Second Reading for this Bill. The main purpose of the Bill is to extend the grounds upon which decrees of divorce may be granted in Scotland. That is the issue as I see it, short and sharp, simple in statement, though not perhaps in solution—namely, shall the grounds upon which decrees of divorce are granted in Scotland to-day be extended or shall they not? That, as I think, is the sole question with which your Lordships' House is concerned today. All other questions, if your Lordships should be pleased to accord a Second Reading to the Bill, will be appropriate to its Committee stage.

In moving the Second Reading of this Bill my first words would be these. I quite recognise that a measure such as this touches the deepest springs of human nature, and that it far transcends—nay, cuts right athwart—all the frontiers of Parties. This is not in truth a Party question; it is far wider and far deeper. That being so, I fully recognise that in the avenue of approach to it one should maintain an attitude which includes a sense of responsibility, vigilance and caution, and, above all, respect and toleration for differing views. One must be wary of emotion and also of its handmaiden, rhetoric, because I venture to think they are very unsafe guides in these regions. I hope I may, in the short time that I shall venture to detain your Lordships, conform with that self-imposed standard.

The chief difficulty which I experience at the moment is in compressing within a reasonable space of time the observations one would desire to make on a subject of so many and so wide ramifications, and to avoid trespassing unduly on your Lordships' indulgence. My task is rendered easier when I remember that one is treading very familiar ground, inasmuch as this subject has been the subject of discussion not only in your Lordships' House but also in another place in recent years. That being so, one is absolved from a good deal of detail, the rehearsal of which at this time of day would be merely otiose.

Before I pass to a few general observations on the principle of the Bill, and to consider briefly its clauses, may I be allowed to make one or two preliminary observations? The first is this. This Bill in its outline and conception follows the Bill for which the late Viscount Buckmaster—clarum et venerabile nomen—secured a Second Reading in your Lordships' House in 1920. If I may venture very respectfully to say so, the work of the noble and learned Viscount in this field constitutes a challenge and an inspiration to all future generations of men. My Lords, this Bill, differing from Viscount Buckmaster's Bill—and I desire, if I may, to stress this point strongly—applies only to Scotland. England is being dealt with in another place by another measure which does not apply to Scotland. Now when I have said that the Bill applies only to Scotland, I would respectfully ask your Lordships to remember that in history and tradition the view of marriage entertained in Scotland is profoundly different from that which obtains in certain other countries. Scotland is in the main a Protestant country, and marriage, in the Protestant view, is not a sacrament as it was declared to be in Roman Catholic times. In Scotland we Protestants recognise but two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Marriage, moreover, by the law of Scotland, is a contract. The Roman law knew it as a consensual contract. An exchange of consents between two parties constitutes a valid marriage—so much so that, as your Lordships are probably aware, the statement by a man and a woman to each other: "I take you to be my husband," "I take you to be my wife," whether made before witnesses or not, constitutes, according to the law of Scotland, as it exists to-day, very marriage. That being so, the law and tradition of Scotland are very different from those of England.

Again, Scotland has never recognised any distinction between the right of the sexes to obtain a decree of divorce. Up to 1923, as your Lordships will remember, a husband in England could obtain a decree on the ground of his wife's adultery solely, but a wife could not obtain a decree on the ground of the husband's adultery solely. In Scotland for centuries either party to the marriage has been entitled to obtain a decree of divorce on the ground of adultery or of desertion. That leads me to my next point, which is that desertion in Scotland since 1573 has been a sufficient ground of divorce at the instance of either party to the marriage. That right has not yet been conferred in England. And so in Scotland we have moved away from the position which is enshrined in the law of England to-day, that divorce may only be obtained upon one ground, and one ground only—namely, infidelity. Further, in Scotland we do not have, and never have had, a decree nisi; we do not have, and we never have had a King's Proctor. When I have mentioned those things your Lordships will appreciate that there are cardinal differences between the history and the tradition of our law and of the law of England, which I venture to think should be steadily borne in mind when one comes to deal with the problems with which this Bill is concerned.

The Bill in the main is based upon the recommendations of the Majority Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes which was appointed in 1909 and which reported in 1912. A careful statistician has computed, I believe, that as a rule it takes nineteen years before the Report of a Royal Commission. however consonant with public feeling and however cogent, is translated into legislative action. However that may be, and whatever may be said about legislation such as this, one cannot say that it is unduly hasty or precipitate. A long time has elapsed since these recommendations were made. I would venture very humbly to pay a fresh tribute to the authoritative and comprehensive character of that Report, which followed upon copious evidence, inter alia, from Scottish lawyers, Scottish ecclesiastics, Scottish laymen and Scottish alienists. Twenty-five years have now elapsed since that Commission reported, and I venture to think that, having spent years of patient toil over their important task, it is incredible, inconceivable, that their recommendations should, as Lord Buck-master phrased it in this House fifteen years ago, be thrown upon the rubbish-heap.

Again, my Lords—and this is my last preliminary observation—public opinion in this matter of divorce reform has moved steadily and rapidly in these recent times. Reform is in the air, though one would prefer to find it within the four corners of an Act of Parliament. The most reverend Primate himself publicly asserted about a year ago—I hope I do no. misquote him: "The time has come when Parliament can no longer resist the growing public demand for some ex-tension of the grounds for divorce." The truth is, my Lords, that we live in a new age, an age that is rebellious of its wrongs, an age which no longer regards divorce as a disease but as a remedy, which no longer regards it as a crime but as a release from misfortune, an age which has outgrown our laws of divorce. So marked has advance been in this sphere that the Attorney-General of the day, speaking some five years ago, said that to him it seemed as if forty rather than twenty years had passed since the Report of the Royal Commission had been issued.

May I now come to closer quarters with my subject, and say this? I conceive that I am addressing, in your Lordships' House to-day, four schools of thought. There are, first, those who regard the marriage tie as indissoluble. That is the ecclesiastical, and in particular the Ronan Catholic view. Its logical outcome would of course be the repeal of the English Act of 1857, but no one suggests, I think, that that is practical politics to-day. Also I should like to point out to those who hold this view that this Bill does not affect any conscientious objection which they may entertain, as it is purely enabling and permissive in its character. Even in Roman Catholic Austria to-day divorce is granted upon every ground which this Bill contains. The second school of thought includes those who regard marriage as dissoluble on one ground and one ground only—namely, adultery. They found themselves on what I venture to think in the dominical writings may rather be regarded as a high moral ideal than as a literalist code binding upon all times and in all circumstances. This school of thought founds itself upon what Gibbon termed the "ambiguous word which contains the precepts of Christ." The third school of thought includes those who think that there ought to be reforms on the lines of the Majority Report of the Royal Commission, while the fourth school of thought includes those who are doubtful on the subject but are willing to be convinced. Now I realise at once that, as far as the first two schools of thought are concerned, any argument I may adduce this afternoon will be quite futile and ineffective. Earnestly though I should desire harmony and unanimity on such a topic as this, I cannot blind myself to the conclusion that it is simply not obtainable. So far as the other two schools of thought which I have mentioned are concerned, I would beg them most respectfully to listen to what I have to say upon the matter.

I take my stand without fear and without misgiving upon the basic principle of the Royal Commission's Report, which I take to be that marriage should be dissoluble upon any grounds which frustrate what are universally regarded as the fundamental purposes of marriage. That there is a large block of married misery in our land to-day which is capable of alleviation does not admit of doubt or controversy. That misery is due to the frustration to which I have referred and which has littered our shores with matrimonial wreckage. To refuse to grant the relief which is being sought would be, I venture to think, to provide a direct incentive to immorality. On the other hand, to grant that relief would, it humbly seems to me, be in the interest not only of the parties, not only of the children of the marriage, but also of morality and of the State.

I now pass to consider the clauses of this measure. The first topic with which it is concerned is desertion. The Majority Report bears that "wilful desertion for four years has been since 1573 a ground for divorce in Scotland, and it has not been suggested that it is productive of any effects adverse to the general morality of the nation." That being so, I need not detain your Lordships by arguing the merits of this ground for divorce, although I cannot refrain from saying at this point that it has always seemed to me incongruous that the continued and deliberate frustration of the purposes of marriage which desertion involves should not open the door to a decree of divorce as well as a single act of infidelity, committed, it may be, at a moment of acute temptation. Moreover, experience teaches us, and it is the common knowledge of the Courts, that desertion is usually, or at any rate ultimately, associated with infidelity as well. I should perhaps add that there was no abrupt or startling increase in the number of divorces in Scotland after the passing of the Act of 1573. In point of fact I think I am right in saying that at no time in Scotland up to the present moment has the rate of divorce exceeded 2½ per cent. of the marriages effected in that country in any one year.

The Bill proposes two changes in the existing law of desertion. The first is of this character. Certain defects have been revealed in the working of the old Act of 1573, and this is one of them. The Courts have shown a tendency, in an action at the instance of a wife against her husband on the ground of desertion, to require her, as a condition of obtaining a divorce, to say upon oath, that she has all along been willing to return to him, and, in some cases, that she was endeavouring to persuade him to return to her. My Lords, to ask any woman who has been, let us say, violently and disgracefully treated by her husband to say on oath that that is her mental attitude humbly seems to me to require too much of frail human nature. It puts a premium—I have ventured to say it from the Bench—both on hypocrisy and on perjury. If that be so, it surely follows that, assuming desertion to be wilful, assuming it to be against the consent of the other party, and assuming it to be without reasonable cause—and that is the definition in this Bill—then the remedy of divorce for desertion should be open.

In the second place, on this matter of desertion, the Bill proposes to reduce the period of four years, which must elapse before a decree of divorce on the ground of desertion can be given, to three years. That is the recommendation of the Royal Commission which based its recommendation on two considerations. The first was that the question of time is vital, especially to poor persons, with whom the Commission was chiefly concerned. The second was that, after all, in these days of improved and quickened communication between all parts of the world, three years was a more suitable period than four. It must be remembered, as I say, that the period of four years was fixed three and a half centuries ago, when the means of communication were, as your Lordships well know, very different from to-day. It stands to reason that if a man has deliberately deserted his wife and stayed away from her for three years, he has fully made up his mind in the matter, just as fully as if you made the period four years. At the same time I recognise at once that the fixing of the period is an arbitrary matter and that the extent of it is essentially a Committee point.

The second ground for which the Bill provides that the remedy of divorce should be open is insanity. The period provided by the Bill during which the insanity must subsist is three years. Again, that period no doubt may require to be reconsidered in Committee. The Majority Report of the Royal Commission held that insanity (a) defeats the purpose of the marriage relationship; (b) makes marriage as a contract impossible of fulfilment; (c) lies outside the reasonable contemplation of the parties at the date of the marriage; and (d) differing from all other bodily disorders, involves the removal of the insane person and so brings to an end every phase of marriage. Surely that is a weighty pronouncement. Your Lordships must have from observation, as I have, known of most tragic cases in social life which have occurred in consequence of this supervening malady. I knew of one case, if I may be allowed to quote it, where an apparently very happy marriage took place in quite a high social status. Within six months the wife became hopelessly insane, and her husband, now thirty years after, is still living apart from her and supporting her in a lunatic asylum, his option in the meantime having been to live either in celibacy or in sin.

There are two objections which have teen taken to insanity as a ground for divorce. The first is that the insane person may recover. Well, the evidence which was led before the Commission established that after five years the cases of recovery are only 1 per cent., and after three years a very slightly higher figure. Moreover, in the rare cases of recovery it is eugenically and otherwise undesirable that the parties should resume cohabitation and should breed. Insanity may recur at any moment. Then again, it is objected, you are here introducing a new principle in the law of divorce. Lunacy, so it is said, differing from adultery and desertion, is a misfortune and not a fault. That is Perfectly true, but, after all, death is a misfortune and ends the union. But, apart from that altogether, our Courts do not exist, as I apprehend, for the purpose of balancing blame, but to grant relief. Divorce decrees are not handed out on the footing either of punishment or reward. There are in Scotland to-day 20,000 insane people confined in asylums, and many of them are married. The Board of Control has not been able to provide me with the precise figures of those who are married, but there are at any rate thousands—that cannot disputed—and accordingly the evil is widespread. It is important to recall that divorce on the ground of insanity for three years is the law in New Zealand, in Scandinavia, in Czechoslovakia, and in Portugal. The late Lord Birkenhead, who did not mince his language on this point, stigmatised the present system in your Lordships' House as "savage in conception and devastating it its consequences," and he urged the change proposed in the Bill, which I am now venturing to urge upon your Lordships, as one which is in obedience to the profoundest considerations of social policy.

I now pass to the third ground, which is cruelty. That is suggested as sufficient to warrant a decree of divorce, such cruelty, however, being of such a character as would warrant the pronouncement in Scotland to-day of a decree in an action for judicial separation. That is the definition of cruelty which the Bill contains. I venture to think that no offence so clearly frustrates the purpose of marriage as that of habitual cruelty, so much so that the interests of the children, altogether apart from the interests of their mother, surely urgently require the remedy. It has been urged that cruelty is difficult to define. The Majority Report furnished a working definition. It is in these terms: Cruelty is such conduct by one married person to the other party to the marriage as makes it unsafe, having regard to the risk of life, limb or health, bodily or mental, for the latter to continue to live with the former. But the truth is that cruelty has been defined in separation cases in Scotland for centuries, and that no difficulty whatever has been experienced in achieving and acting upon a suitable and proper definition.

The remedy of separation, moreover, is quite inadequate. As Lord Birkenhead pointed out, it often is "a hotbed of vice." "Public feeling," says one of our well known Scottish institutional writers, "is strongly against increasing the number of persons living as though single and yet not free to marry: husbands without wives and wives without husbands." Cruelty, I may add, is a ground of divorce to-day in Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Rumania, Russia, Switzerland, New South Wales and Victoria. The Majority Report recommended that the communication of venereal disease, knowingly and negligently, and compelling a wife to lead a life of prostitution—both cases which, according to the evidence led., are, alas! too frequent—should constitute cruelty, and that is surely a reasonable and a humane proposal. Cruelty, in short, involves the complete dishonouring of the most elementary obligations of marriage. The health of the victim is endangered and her life is rendered unendurable. There surely should be an adequate remedy, and I can think of no other than this. Separation, for the reasons which I have stated, is quite inadequate, although it is not irrelevant to remember that separation in England is granted to-day on the ground of desertion and on the ground of cruelty, and I think also of habitual drunkenness.

I now come to the fourth ground in the Bill which is suggested as justifying the severing of the marriage tie; that is, penal servitude following upon a sentence to that effect, or a death sentence which has been commuted to penal servitude for life. The latter of these two alternatives was recommended in terms by the Majority of the Royal Commission as a ground of divorce, and though, speaking for myself, I cannot remember in Scotland in my time any case of the kind, nevertheless it seems logical—does it not?—that where the sentence has been commuted from death to penal servitude for life, the same result—namely, the severing of the marriage tie—should follow in the one case as in the other. As regards penal servitude, I shall deal with that in a moment, when considering the next ground which the Bill contains, and which I now proceed to mention—namely, imprisonment.

The Bill provides that conviction three times of a crime since the date of the marriage, and within five years of the raising of an action of divorce, and sentence of imprisonment for not less than six months—the crime being either an offence involving dishonesty or an offence involving personal violence—should open the door to divorce. I frankly own that at this point I am urging a ground which is not included in the Majority Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce. On that point they displayed, if I may respectfully say so, more timidity than on the other grounds which they recommended. But I must strongly urge upon your Lordships that repeated conviction for serious crime should be a ground of divorce. I think nothing more tragic can be conceived than to compel a woman to cohabit at bed and board with a man who has served a long term of imprisonment. His crime may have involved a much more serious breach of his matrimonial obligations than adultery itself, though I do not underrate the seriousness and importance of the latter. Moreover, the influence of the criminal upon the children of the marriage must necessarily be of the most degrading character. When I remind your Lordships that divorce is granted on the ground of imprisonment to-day in—I shall not weary your Lordships by quoting the list, but twelve countries are enumerated, including our own Dominions, it will be seen that we lag far behind most of the civilised States in Europe, not to say our own Dominions in this matter. I suggest that it is time we abandoned our archaic prepossessions in this particular and came into line with these modern civilised States.

Then we come to habitual drunkenness, on which I desire to say a word. I apologise for detaining your Lordships so long but there is a good deal of ground to be covered. The Bill provides that habitual drunkenness should be a ground for divorce, and the Bill also provides a definition which is not difficult and which is very familiar both in England and in Scotland. Habitual drunkenness, according to the Commission's Report, destroys the whole basis of married life and puts an end to married peace and happiness. It is, moreover, the cause of other disintegrating factors and affords a strong case, I think, for the removal of the children of the marriage from the degrading society of a habitually drunken father or mother. The recent tendency of our Courts has been to hold that habitual drunkenness is constructive cruelty. It is a ground of divorce to-day in Bulgaria, Sweden, New Zealand, New South Wales, and Victoria; and it is needless to say it is the cause of the most acute misery, as acute as that due to any other grave cause. The husband, as was said in this House in 1920 by one of your Lordships, becomes in many cases, by reason of habitual drunkenness, "an unsexed beast." Will your Lordships listen for a moment to the formidable and at the same time measured indictment of the Royal Commission on this matter? Habitual drunkenness involves, say they, loss of interest in surroundings, loss of self-respect, neglect of duty, personal uncleanliness, neglect of children, violence, delusions of suspicion, a tendency to indecent behaviour, and a general state which makes companionship impossible. Divorce is surely the only remedy for and release from so tragic a state of affairs. I only touch on the next ground of divorce, which is sodomy and bestiality. On this subject there is no need for any words of mine. No one can dispute the propriety of the proposal to assimilate in this respect the law of Scotland to the law of England as it has been since 1857. In the case of such a proposal surely argument is dumb.

In all remedial measures such as this I apprehend two questions arise—first, is the mischief demonstrated? and, second, is the remedy proposed adequate? I do not shrink from applying that criterion to this matter. Here the mischief is plain, surely, for all men to see. It is undeniable, nay, it is admitted. I humbly proffer a remedy which one suggests is adequate and in doing so, if I may be pardoned a personal allusion, I have drawn upon my long experience as a counsel at the Bar, as a Judge on the Bench, and as a Minister of the Crown. The Bill is supported by the Press of Scotland, and I believe the public of Scotland is behind it. I have allowed a considerable interval to elapse between the First Reading, when the Bill was printed, and the Second Reading, and so far as I am aware there has not been a single protest from any quarter—publicly at any rate—against any one of its provisions. I want to add this, if I may, that the Bill also enjoys the powerful advocacy of my right honourable friend Lord Salvesen, who, as your Lordships are probably aware, is a Scottish Judge of unrivalled authority and experience in these matters, who gave evidence before the Royal Commission, who has advocated this measure in season and out of season with eloquence and conviction, and who is wholeheartedly behind this Bill.

We proffer this remedy. To those who oppose us I would respectfully say: "The evil being admitted, what is your remedy?" In truth there is none. Are we then in this vital matter to be met by a policy of sheer and barren negation? Are we to say, in the words of the Spanish proverb: "Let others shiver while I go warm"? Are we to play the part of the Levite and pass by on the other side? Or shall we not rather play the part of the Good Samaritan and seek to stanch the wounds of the victim? I venture to think that any other course would be—not to use a harder name—a policy of pusillanimity, if not of cowardice, which I think would be unworthy of statesmen. We are justly proud in Scotland of our jurisprudence which, in this matter of divorce, was centuries ahead of all the rest of the world and which has always been a pioneer in humane and understanding legislation. In this matter of divorce, however, to-day we lag far behind the civilised States of Europe, to say nothing of our own Dominions, while Roman Catholic countries of Europe such as Belgium, Italy, and France, have infinitely more liberal and enlightened divorce laws than we have. I plead with your Lordships to help to remove this stain from the law of Scotland and to restore her good name as a nation. If that should be done, it would he a red-letter day in the history of my native land. Your Lordships will have accorded much needed relief to many an anguished household which to-day is misdescribed by the name of home. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Alness.)


My Lords, my noble friends feel that this Bill should not pass through your Lordships' House without a word or two from these Benches. Although we have no Party view as to divorce, many of us sympathise with the point of view put forward by the noble and learned Lord with such lucidity. I do not propose to say more than a very few words in giving personal support to the Bill before you. Whatever our view may be as to marriage, all of us, I think, are deeply impressed by the increasing anxiety that there is as to the spiritual continuance of family life, and one cannot associate all that we know of the best of family life with the great mass of misery that now exists owing to the present legal conditions. Therefore for myself and for most of my colleagues we should earnestly hope that your Lordships would give a Second Reading to this Bill so that, sympathy with these people having been affirmed, detailed criticism as to items in the Bill could, on the whole, follow. I could not personally refrain from voting for any Bill of which the object was to relieve the immense amount of misery that now exists. It is not as though we were asked to leap in the dark. The Majority Report of the Royal Commission went most fully and carefully into all the issues involved, and that Report has been thought about and argued and reflected upon for many years, and further arguments, it appears to me, are not required to support this Bill. We just desire to say this much—that, whilst not committed as a Party to any view on marriage or divorce, most of us as individuals would like to give our support to the Bill which has been placed before your Lordships.


My Lords, I should like also to commend this measure to the sympathetic consideration of the House. It is put before you not only on general grounds, but also with arguments in justification of its detailed provisions, in a most persuasive manner by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness. I think the most important thing to emphasise at the outset is that this is a measure confined in its operation to Scotland. It lays no profane hand upon the law of England nor can it affront any English conscience, though in matters of commerce I am happy to think that the law of England and the law of Scotland have, to the general advantage, become increasingly assimilated. On the other hand, in matters of the domestic relations and real property law, Scotland cherishes, and cherishes very jealously, its own system of law. The difficulties which have confronted legislation in matters of divorce in England have been many, but they do not exist in Scotland. The administration of the law there—I think I may say this for our system in Scotland—has been free from many of the anomalies which have rendered the law of divorce in England so controversial a topic. We have had few questions arising on matters of collusion which are now so much discussed with regard to divorce in England, and our system has worked admirably in the past. There has been no excessive number of divorces, and one is happy to think that Scottish people are able to live, generally, happily and comfortably. There are, however, those dreadful cases which arise from time to time in which a remedy is obviously right but in which it cannot be afforded.

While I support this measure I should not like to subscribe here and now to all its provisions. Certain of them plainly would require very careful consideration in Committee. With regard to the first ground, that of desertion, that has become an indelible part of the law of Scotland, since desertion has been a ground for divorce for centuries, and the only alteration proposed in this Bill is the alteration of the period from four to three years. What is an important matter is this: that it will not be necessary to require of a woman who seeks divorce on this ground to state to the judge that she has been willing to "adhere," as we say in Scotland, throughout the period of desertion. Like my noble and learned friend I have had considerable practice on these matters in Scotland, and I have always felt distaste at a matter of this sort which has become a mere formality. These are real matters affecting human life, in which people ought not to be called upon to say to the Court that which is not true. As a matter of fact, one of the greatest indictments of the divorce law at the moment is that it is based on a number of things which are not true.

Another proposed ground of divorce is lunacy. Although this has not been hitherto a ground of divorce in Scotland it is one that has commended itself not only to the Royal Commission but also to this House, under the distinguished guidance and the imperishable advocacy of the late Viscount Buckmaster and the late Earl of Birkenhead. In most respects the Bill is really giving effect to the Report of the Royal Commission, and in addition to what my noble and learned friend has said about that Commission and the evidence received, I would remind the House that a distinguished Scottish Judge was sitting on that Commission, Lord Guthrie, who took a very active part in its deliberations and decisions. While not committing myself in advance to the details of the Bill, I venture to say that in this matter, a matter in which the people of Scotland are undoubtedly practically unanimous, where no ecclesiastical questions and no questions of conscience are involved, all that is asked is that a remedy should be given in cases where there is a grave question to set right; that we should have our domestic relations in the sense of this Bill; and that we can do so without for a moment infringing on the conscience of those on this side of the border is manifest.


My Lords, I do not think we need to say much on this Bill. I am one of those who is placed in the first category of the opponents. I belong to a religion which regards marriage as a lifelong partnership, as one undertaken "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part." Having made that point, I will not go further into the ethical side of the matter. Nor will I say very much about the terms of the Bill, except to ask your Lordships to note that they are very much more drastic than those of the English Bill now being considered in another place, and that this Bill contains none of those "sops" to the Christian position which were introduced into the English Bill. These points will no doubt receive careful consideration from your Lordships in Committee, and my reason for intervening this afternoon is to prefer a request to Lord Alness that he should not yet put the Bill down for the Committee stage, but that he should be content to wait until the English Bill has been received from another place, and until we have had an opportunity of considering the terms of that Bill in this House.

I venture to suggest to your Lordships that, although the legal position may be widely different in Scotland and in England, it is very undesirable that divorce should be obtained much more easily on one side of the border than on the other. I very much fear that should this Bill pass into law while a much more moderate measure only becomes the law in England, you will have persons going to Scotland and acquiring Scottish domicile purely with a view to obtaining easier divorce facilities. That, as your Lordships know, is what occurs in the United States of America. In certain States divorce facilities are very widely extended, and the existence of those facilities completely nullifies the restrictions which other and more conservative States place upon divorce. I would conceive it as most disastrous were that position to be reproduced in Great Britain, and I therefore beg the House to adopt a general degree of uniformity between the divorce laws which it is pleased to grant in England and in Scotland.


My Lords, I rise to put very shortly the attitude of His Majesty's Government on this Bill. In so far as this Bill proposes to extend the grounds on which divorce may at present be granted in Scotland, it is comparable to the Marriage Bill relating to England and Wales which is now under consideration in another place. It is true there are differences between the two Bills, some of which have been outlined in the very human and impressive speech which was made by the noble and learned Lord who introduced this Bill.

Broadly speaking, however, the two Bills, English and Scottish, are similar in subject and in scope, and, consistently with the attitude adopted by the Government spokesman when the Marriage Bill was read a second time in another place, I cannot at this stage express either approval or disapproval of the principles of the Bill before your Lordships. It must rest with your Lordships to decide according to your con victions. I will add however, that you may rest assured that this debate will not be without value. It should afford an indication of the general feeling of this House on the subject of divorce law reform, and great importance must of course be attached any such indication.

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