HL Deb 19 July 1937 vol 106 cc566-94

Petition for the rejection of; of Reginald de Mornay Davies; read, and ordered to lie on the Table.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. We are now rapidly approaching the stage in the passage of the measure which may properly be considered "journey's End." It is perhaps the most far-reaching and most important Bill of a domestic character which has been introduced into this House for a generation. The deep and sustained interest which the House has taken in it has shown how ready and how well qualified it is impartially and sympathetically to consider any legislation which intimately affects our home life. Supporters and opponents alike have surrendered, in the interests of the Bill, much to which they attach importance, value, and weight. On Second Reading the House devoted no less than two full days of Parliamentary time to the Bill, and the unusual procedure was adopted of holding a late night sitting in order to consider it. Numerous Amendments have received meticulous attention and, as a result, a constructive piece of legislation which is long overdue and urgently required has now emerged. All supporters of the Bill desire to tender thanks to the Government for setting aside so much Parliamentary time and assisting the passage of the Bill, a privilege which is but rarely accorded to a Private Member's Bill.

The debates, I suggest, have served a great purpose. A well-instructed public opinion has steadily developed and advanced, and as the Bill now stands amended we believe it receives the support of the large majority of thoughtful men and women throughout the country. The sanctity of family life to which we attach such great importance has not been assailed and has not been weakened. On the contrary, it has been protected and strengthened. The Bill gives expression to the widespread determination that the interests of an injured spouse and of his or her children, as the case may be, shall be adequately safeguarded and fully protected. In cases of cruelty, cases of desertion, and cases of incurable insanity or of gross depravity relief in future will be given. Surely there cannot be any who can or who will resist this Bill on humanitarian grounds. Where the companionship, the sympathy and sweetness of marriage have for ever passed away; where it is no longer a real marriage but merely a sad memory; where all that makes marriage sacred and happy has gone, this Bill attempts in the interests of the man and in the interests of the woman and of the child, and, above all, in the interests of the State, to unravel the tangled skein.

I respecfully venture to commend this Bill to the House because it will remove misery and it will relieve distress, and because it recognises the gravity of the evils arising from judicial separations, which inevitably lead, as has been ably pointed out in this House by many speakers, to illicit unions. Those of us who happen to be in charge of the Bill are only too unhappily conscious that many hard cases will still remain, but we take comfort in the hope and knowledge that the Bill deals with some of the major difficulties which afflict domestic life. It will tend to discourage ill-considered, rash marriages, and marriage of those who, under present conditions, are not reluctant or ashamed to rush into easy and early divorce. It will remove the grievous hardship imposed by the ill-assorted and unhappy marriage, extending throughout the very lifetime of an injured or aggrieved partner.

It is fortunate indeed that, although the Bill raises matters on which there are wide and deep-seated differences of opinion, it is a non-controversial measure from a Party point of view. Those of us who are piloting the Bill realise that we have been travelling along the edge of a precipice of acute religious controversy. We have used every effort to proceed, as far as may be open to us, by way of tolerance, by way of understanding, and by way of a true appreciation of the views of those who are not in agreement with us, and who oppose all forms of divorce. We recognise that government in such matters must be by mutual toleration, and we have left no stone unturned to preserve the marriage tie in its highest social sense.

Turning, if I may, to another aspect of the Bill, I desire to emphasise my firm belief that this Bill will do much to alleviate the hard lot of the poor person. It is very difficult for a spouse in the absence of adequate means to follow up the adulterer or deserter. This is particularly so in the case of a poor married woman—a case which has been alluded to in this debate in such moving and eloquent terms by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, and other speakers. While this; point may not be fully met, it is indeed greatly aided and assisted by the legislation which is now proposed. Clause 1, for example, also helps poor persons. The waiting period becomes a period for reconciliation. They can always seek separation orders from magistrates, and evidence given before a magistrate can be used subsequently when proceedings are taken for divorce. Perhaps most important of all, I am given to understand on good authority that the machinery under the Bill, and the rules and regulations which will be framed elsewhere in future under the Bill, will give very special consideration to the claims of poorer people. The Bill serves all classes of the community, but will prove of special advantage to the ill-treated or the deserted wife in poor circumstances. I venture to regard it, indeed, as a charter of hope for the poor and the distressed.

During the passage of the Bill through the House many members have received a large volume of correspondence, much of it of a distressing character, and I have not been excepted in this matter. I have not felt justified, however, in taking up much time of the House with such individual cases; but as typical of one perhaps the House will generously permit me to refer to a communication that I have received. The letter reads: I am married to a man who having made my life a hell was not satisfied, and finally threw nitric acid over my face and body, for which he received seven years penal servitude. He still threatens me from prison and intends to claim me on his release if he can find me. Under existing laws he can still do so. I have spent nine months in hospital and shall be in and out for the next twelve months for plastic surgery. And here comes a still more pathetic and even more tragic passage in the letter: I wonder if it is worth while going through with it as no doubt he will do more damage next time. I cannot remarry and so secure the protection of another man unless this Bill is passed. You will appreciate how anxious I am that this Bill should become law and give me a chance. I only wish you and your fellow members could see how terribly disfigured I am. I have been left with a baby to care for and my health and strength are gone. What am I to do? A most pathetic communication, but one, I am sorry to say, typical of a good many that I have received.

Seldom in the history of legislation has a Bill promoted by a member who has only recently joined Parliament re- ceived such close and sympathetic attention. The measure has, indeed, stirred the heart of the country. In so far as it may be permitted to me on such an occasion, in such surroundings, I venture to offer cordial and hearty congratulations to Mr. Herbert for so rightly interpreting and so happily advancing the cause of so many unfortunate and so many distressed people. I respectfully commend this Bill once again to the approval of the House in the hopeful belief that it may obtain the same generous measure of support which has already been accorded to it. I trust that ere long it may reach the Statute Book and take its place as a sound constructive measure, upholding the marriage tie, advancing domestic happiness, and strengthening the due observance of the laws and Statutes of the land. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

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


My Lords, I think I am expressing the feeling of every member of your Lordships' House when I say that, whatever our opinions may be with regard to this measure, the noble Lord who has just spoken has treated us with every consideration, not only with tolerance but very happily in every direction. I should like to say a few words to-day because I have not taken part in these debates. I did take part some years ago in a debate which was initiated by the late Lord Buckmaster, on this very question. I think that everyone in this House really wants to make the world better, and the only difference between us is which is the best way to do that. A very large number of noble Lords in this House have read the Report of the Royal Commission, but that was made a very long time ago, and since then there have been very many changes in every direction. Everybody will realise the irregularities which occur and the uncertain and disastrous state of the law which has been shown on many occasions. Everyone likewise will agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down when he says this matter is one of considerable importance. So far as the country is concerned, no one really knows what the opinion of the country is, and I am rather inclined to think that it is quite possible it might be in opposition to the result of the Division to-day, though of course it is impossible to say that definitely.

With regard to Clause 1, I realise that there are very many noble Lords who look upon this question from a different angle, and I realise that their opinion may be just as valuable as my own, but to my mind the consideration of Clause r is one of the most important matters that have come before Parliament, and I have been in Parliament nearly forty years. I consider the decision taken last week to be of supreme importance. My reason is that I believe that if normally there are no divorces during the first three years after marriage that will be a general help to the maintenance of the marriage system in this country, and we shall not then adopt the system which we see and dislike in many of the States in America. No doubt it will have its difficulties, and I agree with the statements which have been made about evidence. There is no doubt that those difficulties will have to be overcome in some way.

The noble Lord who has just sat down said that he moved on humanitarian grounds, and I do not deny that for one moment. At the same time I look at the question of divorce for insanity from a very different aspect. I would like to support what was said by the most reverend Primate and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in regard to this question. I dare say many of your Lordships have had the opportunity of knowing of cases where men have returned to sanity after ten or even fifteen years. It seems to me that we are taking a very big step in making this change. In one particular the Bill goes further than the law in those American States where they do not make insanity a ground of divorce. I do not know what the law is at this moment with regard to all the States in America, but I know that when President Theodore Roosevelt called a conference to consider the divorce laws the experts unanimously decided to exclude insanity. I think that is a very strong argument.

I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Davidson, for whom many of us had a great affection, said in this House that he would not deal with the question from an ecclesiastical point of view, and therefore as a mere layman I feel it very difficult to say anything from that point of view. Nevertheless, as a member of the Church of England I rather desire to say one or two words. We are a Christian country. Some people seem to doubt that but there is no doubt about it in reality. We date our letters from the birth of Christ, we have our Coronation services and other services and we really do acknowledge the divinity of Christ. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, and I really believe that we ought to look at this question and consider it in the light of what He would do if He were here in human form, although I can realise that those who think His view is no better than that of Confucius or Mahomet taking a totally different attitude from the one I take up. I do not want to say any more in regard to the question except that I am very sorry to have to vote against the Bill. I recognise that great efforts have been made to overcome difficulties but I feel that it is necessary for me to vote against it. I would only like in conclusion to quote the words of Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, afterwards Lord St. Aldwyn, whom many of us knew in both Houses of Parliament: I think all of us would agree that if there is to be a change in the policy of this country it ought to be made so that it should last. It ought to be made, therefore, as the result of a strong sentiment of deep, real conviction on the part of the great majority of the people in this country


My Lords, I only intervene for a few minutes because I think I ought to say that after careful reflection I see no reason to depart from the attitude which I tried to explain on the Second Reading of this Bill. I said on the Second Reading that if in its passage through Committee either it was made from my point of view worse, or if what I regarded as vital clauses were weakened or tampered with, I might find it necessary to vote against the Bill on Third Reading. The Bill has emerged after the most careful scrutiny from your Lordship's House rather better than worse. As to the much debated Clause I, if it is worth while to have a time limit before any petition for divorce can be presented, at least this Bill makes provision to guard against abuses which must have eventually arisen. I deeply regretted that your Lordships did not see fit to remove the ground of insanity from the grounds permitted for divorce, but at least that clause was in the Bill when it was first introduced and there is no change in that respect. I will only refer in passing to Clause 12 protecting the conscience of the clergy and to Clause 4, which, although I most heartily wish with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that it could have been made much stronger, certainly does strengthen the powers of the Court in dealing with open and notorious abuses of the existing law to which attention has been called over and over again. I regard that clause and some others as so valuable that I do not think it would be honest on my part, however much on other grounds I may wish to do so, to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

But it is one thing to be ready to do what is possible to improve the existing State legislation or to remove the abuses to which it gives rise; it is another thing actively to promote the extension of that State legislation. Therefore, if a Division is challenged I can only repeat what I said before, that I shall be compelled to stand aside. That decision, though it has brought much understanding support has also, not unnaturally, given rise to a good deal of criticism and misunderstanding—sitting on the fence, facing both ways, and all the rest of it. I am not perturbed, because I think that position arises from the necessities of the case, from the conflict between the law of the Church as declared in the Marriage Service and the law of the State. Ever since 1857 the Stat., has seen fit to depart from the principles of the Church in this respect. Under this Bill the position will be worsened rather than improved. But it may be, and I have always acknowledged the fact, impossible for the State to impose Christian principles by law upon a mixed community when many of its members have neither the religious faith nor the assisting grace to enable them to live up to the Christian standard. That is the reason that in my judgment makes it the more necessary for the Church more resolutely to maintain that standard for its own members and to do all it can to uphold it for the whole community. As a guardian of that standard, my Lords, how can I bring myself to vote actively in favour of a Bill which contains some provisions which seem to me inconsistent with that standard?


My Lords, the speech which was delivered by the roost reverend Primate expresses the view at which I have humbly arrived and with which I should not be justified in detailing you: Lordships for more than a very short time at this stage of the Bill. The noble Lord who moved the Third Reading just now began his observations by stressing the importance of the Bill. I entirely agree; it is a very important Bill. It is going to affect, as he justly pointed out, the domestic life of millions of our fellow-subjects in one way or another. In my view, however, it is even more important in principle than it is in its actual effect. The most reverend Primate has declared that this Bill is not in accordance with the rule of the Church of England, and he thinks that that rule was first departed from in 1857. He may be right, but I am convinced that the people of this country believe, rightly or wrongly, that the provision with regard to divorce made in 1857 was in accordance with the Christian rule of marriage. I cannot bring myself to doubt that this cannot possibly be said of the present Bill. I do not think that position has been challenged by anybody except by that—if he will allow me to say so—brilliant controversialist, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

His argument was founded exclusively on one or it may be two texts in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. With all respect to him, even assuming that his interpretation of those texts is right—and he knows very well that there is dispute on that point—and assuming that you are to judge only by those texts and by nothing else, it yet seems to me quite impossible to maintain that this Bill is in accordance with Christian rule. For it is perfectly plain that by that rule divorce is absolutely forbidden except for one cause, which is admitted by the present law; and this Bill extends that cause in several directions. Therefore, though it might be argued, and I have no doubt was argued in 1857, that the divorce law as then enacted was in accordance with what was conceived to be the teaching of the New Testament, I do not see how anybody can maintain that this Bill is of that character. Moreover, I am not going to attempt to deliver—it would be very improper for me to attempt it, and this would not be the place where I should attempt it in any case—a theological argument. I will merely say that the other passages of the New Testament which refer to marriage certainly do not support any view as to freedom of divorce or the extension of divorce. Indeed, as I read them, without any question they regard marriage as indissoluble according to the Christian doctrine.

As the most reverend Primate has just said, no one who reads the Marriage Service of the Church of England can question that it expresses, without doubt, the doctrine and position which the Church of England adopts. Twice over, as noble Lords will no doubt remember, each of the parties to the marriage, with every solemnity which words can give, promises that the marriage shall be indissoluble, shall be lifelong in all circumstances. There can be no doubt at all that this is the teaching of the Church of England. I readily admit, however, that this does not in itself dispose of the matter. A very important question remains which, although it has been alluded to in these debates, has not perhaps been treated very fully; nor am I going to attempt so to treat it now. But the great question which remains, when you have arrived at the position which I have ventured to describe, is whether it is right that the State should impose the Christian rule of marriage upon all its subjects. If you look at these texts of the New Testament, I do not think you can doubt that none of the declarations therein contained was directed to what might, or might not, be the law of the State. Indeed, you will recollect the reference to the Mosaic law, which apparently allowed a much freer system of divorce: that was admitted as an exception. No disapproval of it as an exception was expressed; it was merely said that that exception was made in the primitive view of marriage, and the primitive law of marriage, because of the weakness of human nature—or, as it is put in our Authorised Version, "hardness of heart"—of the Jewish nation. Therefore I venture to submit that in this matter the rules laid down were rules of morals, as indeed I think all the rules in the New Testament were, and not rules of law.

Therefore you come to the question how far and in what circumstances it is right that the State should try to enforce a rule of morals on its subjects. For the purpose of this part of my argument I do not weigh on the Christian side of the matter; it applies to any rule of morals. It is the teaching of experience that where the State insists, or tries to insist, on a rule of morals—particularly in matters of this kind, sexual matters—which is in advance of the morality generally accepted, of what the old jurists used to call "positive morality," the morality, that is, of the people generally, the result has usually been disastrous. I am dealing with rules of morals, mind you; I am not, of course, dealing with questions where other people's interests are affected. I do not attempt to lay down a universal principle in this very difficult matter. I feel that if it can be shown that the present rule about divorce is not supported and is not approved by the conscientious convictions, the morals, the positive morality of the day, then it is a matter of the gravest doubt whether any attempt should be made to maintain it.

If that contention is right two consequences seem to me to follow, both of which are important. One is that you must be satisfied, as far as you can be, that the proposed change has the support of public opinion, which I have tried to describe. There is nothing more difficult than to ascertain what is public opinion on any particular question. We have in our Constitution no direct machinery for enlightening us on that point with regard to any particular question, but in this case we have two facts which it seems to mc, in default of any considerable evidence to the contrary, are very weighty. First, of course, we have the findings of the Royal Commission, which have been so often referred to in these debates, not in themselves, I admit, based upon public opinion, but based upon very considerable inquiry and considerable evidence—the sober view of men who were certainly extremely well qualified to express an opinion on that subiect—and it seems certainly probable that that opinion, which has never been violently attacked since it was given, did represent the public opinion of this country.

Then we have, of course, the decisions of the other House. At some time or other we have all said, at any rate those who are engaged in active politics, that the majority of the House of Commons does not represent the opinion of the country, but I do not see how you are to justify the whole conception of representative institutions unless you do assume, broadly speaking, that that is the case. It may well he that the public opinion of the country has changed. It may be that a new Election would give a different result, but there is no particular reason that I know for supposing that if there were a dozen General Elections it would change the opinion of the House of Commons on this question. This House of Commons, remember, is a House of Commons with a very large Conservative majority, and therefore one which is, or presumably is, averse from change, and is not likely to do anything unnecessarily in the teeth of the opinion of the majority churchmen, or a majority, at any rate, of the leaders of the Church. Therefore I think that its repeated votes are strong ground for believing, and indeed, without anything on the other side, conclusive ground for believing, that the people of this country are in favour of the provisions of this Bill, and conscientiously believe that the marriage law ought to be changed in this respect.

I do not deny that personally I regret that opinion. In spite of the very hard cases, and no doubt there are very hard cases under the present law—in spite of all that I doubt very much whether the experience of the world has shown that a relaxation of the moral law on the whole tends to the advantage and happiness of the people. I am not impressed, certainly, with the condition of affairs where that process has been carried very far, and I have grave misgivings, I do not conceal, as to whether, broadly speaking, and taking everything into consideration, not fixing your mind on one particular set of hard cases, but looking at the whole results, the whole effect of this kind of legislation, on the fibre and moral well-being of the people, it will turn out ultimately be to the advantage of the people or to their happiness. For the reasons I have given, however, I do not see what else can be done. To enforce the stricter rule against the opinion of the majority of the people, or to try to do so, I cannot believe would be wise or just, or likely to be permanent in its results. For that reason I am unable to vote against this Bill.

There is one other consequence which I roust say greatly confirms the conclusion at which I have been forced to arrive. The most reverend Primate has just said that it is incumbent upon the Church to insist upon its view of what is right all the more because the State has taken a different view. That is, to my mind, one of the most important results of this Bill. You have here, as I see it, a clear division between the law of the Church and the law of the State, and that is recognised by the Bill. Clause 12 is a clear admission that that is so, and that the State cannot enforce on the Church its view of the marriage law. That seems to me a precedent of enormous value and enormous importance. You have now the proposition established that, although the Church cannot enforce its views on the State, neither ought the State in any matter of religion and morals to attempt to enforce its views on the Church. That is a great step towards one of the most desirable things, as I think it, that we can have—the freedom of the Church.

That is a question which, as your Lordships know, has been very much discussed in recent years, and has been the subject of considerable inquiries by the Church and by Commissions appointed by the authorities of the Church. It will have to be considered in the future. It will come up undoubtedly for settlement in the near future, in my humble opinion. Then it will be of great value to be able to point to this clear precedent and admission that the law of the Church and the law of the State are different; that while the Church has no right to enforce its views on the State neither, in a matter of morals or religion, has the State any right to enforce its views upon the Church.


My Lords, I feel I am entitled, without any apology, to intervene in this debate, because during all the preceding stages of the Bill I have sat upon the Cross Benches mute and dumb, while four of my noble and learned colleagues gave active and eloquent assistance to your Lordships in making up your minds as to what attitude you should adopt. I confess that I derived some mild amusement during the process, for I could never understand why it was that your Lordships should listen with such bated breath to the views on the question of divorce of lawyers. To me the question is not at all a question of law, although a question of law did here and there crop up in the course of the discussion, for instance, in the case of the Amendment moved by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to Clause 4. That certainly did involve a legal ques- tion, and it was a refreshing sight to see that for once, and for once only, my four noble and learned colleagues found themselves in the same Lobby. The question of divorce is not a legal question; in my opinion it is a social question and a religious question; and I could never understand why it was that the opinion of a Lord of Appeal should weigh in the consideration of this matter any more in the scales than the opinion of any one of your Lordships.

Having now with candour, but with great affection—I will not use the vulgarism "debunked," but shall I say justly appraised the true value of, my learned colleagues as divorce experts, let me now say a few words about the Bill. The Bill starts off by striking certainly a humorous note—it may be unconscious humour, but humour there is. For it claims as its first object the true support of marriage. Well, well, that may be a very clever paradox, but it appears to me to be a blatant untruth; for if it had been written out in full, and had been written out not only fully but truthfully, it would have run: "Whereas it is expedient for the true support of marriage to create a few more grounds for the dissolution thereof." Like all true humorists the draftsman has left something to the imagination, and he has left those essential words out of the Preamble. But there are in this Bill features which are certainly not open to objection. May I mention one?—the clause, I think it is Clause 4, which endeavours to defeat those collusive proceedings which are making a mockery of the Courts, and are rapidly reducing marriage to the condition of a partnership terminable at will. A second beneficial provision is the one which affords relief to the consciences of clergymen of the Established Church in England and the clergymen of the Church in Wales; and had a Bill been brought forward for this purpose it could, I conceive, have met with no opposition in any House at all.

But this Bill, though it incorporates those good features, goes far beyond that. It is a Bill mainly and essentially to extend the grounds for divorce, and that is the reason why I, who am fundamentally opposed to divorce in any shape or form, must vote against this Bill. The Bill as it came from another place contained Clause 1 in its original form—the five-year clause. My noble and learned friend Lord Atkin, in speaking on the Second Reading, while rejoicing at the Bill as a whole, described that as a terrible clause. How divergent are our views, for I should describe this as a terrible Bill with Clause 1 as its single redeeming feature. But there it is, and I venture to think that our treatment of Clause 1 in this House does not redound to our credit. Let us see what has happened. Of course there was no bargain—no bargain of any kind, such a thing is impossible and unthinkable. But this much I do think is clear, that Clause in its original form was put into the Bill in another place for a twofold purpose—to secure support and to allay opposition; and those purposes it achieved. The goods were delivered, and the goods reached your Lordships' House in good condition. And what did we do here? We have cut down the price to vanishing point, and your Lordships were only prevented by a narrow majority from stopping the cheque altogether. Judged by any standard of commercial integrity, that seems to me to be not a creditable performance.

This question of dissolving the marriage bond upon which people differ so profoundly is, as I have said, both a social and a religious question. Theologians may dispute as to the meaning of certain Scriptural texts, but so far as I am aware no theologian has yet advanced the view that divorce was sanctioned or authorised by Christ upon any grounds other than the ground of adultery. And this Bill goes far, very far, beyond that, for it introduces amongst its fresh grounds a ground for which no moral delinquency could be attached or imputed to anyone. It is said—and this is one of the arguments—that if divorce is once accepted, if you are to look upon divorce as an established institution of this country, then the rest must follow, and it is further said that those who object to divorce should not oppose the extension of an accepted principle. I utterly deny that proposition. If in one's judgment a thing is vile, if in one's judgment a thing is unchristian, I declare that by one's conscience one is bound to oppose any extension of the sphere of operation of that evil thing.

Those of us who adhere to the old faith are but a small minority in the country. We are only a tiny minority in either House of Parliament, while in this House only is Christianity represented as such. And it is for these reasons that we Catholics looked forward with anxiety and hope to hear what lead would be given in this House by the Lords Spiritual to the members of the Established Church who compose the great majority of the Christians in this country. I take leave to say that the disappointment has been general and has been grievous. The hungry sheep looked up and were not fed. The most reverend Primate, in his speech on the Second Reading, described the principal proposals of this Bill as being contrary to Christian principles. Yet he gives no vote against the Bill. On the contrary, he voted for the exclusion of the amended Clause 1. These things are difficult to a plain man to understand. How it can be I know not, and the only conclusion which one can draw is that the sheep of his flock are of so many breeds that no diet is found which will agree with the constitutions of all. About this matter we Catholics, at all events, have no doubt, no hesitation, and no difficulty. We believe divorce to be an evil thing. We believe it to be contrary to the teachings of Christ, and we believe that the holy bond of matrimony, once validly established, can, and should, only be dissolved by death. For these reasons I will vote against this Bill, and I urge your Lordships to adopt a similar course.


My Lords, I would like to say a few words on this issue, which is one of very supreme importance. The earnestness of the speech to which we have just listened and of those delivered by the noble Lord who moved the Third Reading and by the noble Viscount opposite, are indicative of the serious feeling felt throughout this House on this issue. But it is bound to have the effect of increasing the number of divorces. Those of your Lordships who feel (as indeed we all feel in a sense) that divorce is an evil: those who feel it is wrong, cannot but deplore anything which will produce a larger number of these divorces: those of us who feel that divorce is not the root of the evil, but that something lies at the back of it which has to be faced and somehow met, and which this Bill seeks to meet in an equitable, just, and helpful way, cannot deplore the fact that the number of divorces is increased if wrongs are thereby put right. I have no doubt that on both sides of the House, with regard to this Bill, there will be a feeling not only as to the number of divorces that take place under it or apart from it, but as to the effect which this Bill and previous legislation must have upon the feelings and beliefs of the country as a whole with regard to marriage. Those of your Lordships who oppose this Bill, and for whose opinions I have profound respect and whose arguments I am conscious have great weight, do so with a feeling that this kind of legislation is bound to weaken the sense of the obligation which marriage ought to carry with it. Those of us who are prepared to support this Bill question that.

We do not think that the ideal of marriage is upheld so long as there is any large section of the community which is suffering a sense of grievance, that the law about marriage is unjust, and there are people who feel themselves to be placed in a false position from which they cannot get free. We think that this Bill is likely to help, and not hinder, the true state which marriage ought to be. I have no doubt your Lordships were impressed by the very grave words in which the noble Viscount said that, without any question, this Bill was contrary to Christian principles, contrary to the teaching of the New Testament, and contrary to the law of the Church. I confess I disagree with him in every one of these statements. And I disagreed with him certainly when he said here was a divergence between the law of the Church and the law of the State in this matter which ultimately would only be solved by complete freedom and separation of those two bodies in respect of that legislation. The most reverend Primate will not, I am sure, think it disloyal of me if I disagree with him also. He has urged that this Bill is against the law of the Church. No doubt it depends, in part, upon your conception of what the government of the Church really is: but for several hundreds of years the law of the Church and the law of Parliament have been linked together, and you cannot get the law of the Church unless it is approved by Parliament, and all the proceedings which have taken place in the past in respect of the law of matrimony have been laws of the Church and laws of Parliament too.

I would like to remind your Lordships that the Church to which the noble Lord (Lord Russell of Killowen), who spoke so earnestly and warmly, belongs, did for centuries practically give divorces. When you had a law of nullity on such an artificial footing as that upon which the mediæval Church proceeded to give decrees of nullity, and when, along with that, you had the fact that the children of any marriage which had been declared annulled were nevertheless legitimate, I find it quite impossible to distinguish between that and the law of divorce. Surely, legitimate children are children of a legitimate union, and if the children were legitimate, then the union was legitimate, and the nullity was, in fact, a decree of divorce. In our own day, in our own Church, when Bills were before Parliament which dealt with this matter, they received episcopal support from the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. They were Bills which have all along had in support of them a measure of Church opinion. Why is it to-day that Church opinion has in certain circles hardened very much against granting any divorce? Surely it is simply because of the fact that they see this large number of divorces taking place, and there is the feeling, deeply rooted, that this increased number of divorces does indicate a weakened sense of the obligations of the marriage vow.

The noble Viscount, when he was instancing the law of the Church, said that in every marriage each party repeatedly vows a lifelong union. Certainly, and it is true to say that no marriage, no Christian marriage, could be put forward on any other footing. It is our conception of what marriage ought to be. But I will ask noble Lords to consider what happens in this case. Every Christian man baptised into the Church is baptised with a vow binding upon him at all times, and in all circumstances, that he will renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. Every Christian man, when he kneels down, confesses he has not kept that vow. The Church meets that with the law of forgiveness, and certainly, if persons who have been unfaithful to one another, will confess their sin and say they are going to try to do better, that is the one solution we should all desire and pray they will have the grace to seek and the strength to enable them to fulfil. But surely when one of the two partners has utterly repudiated his vows and obligations, when one partner has deserted the other or subjected the other to constant cruelty, you have got to meet the position in a new way. The Church has always had to face this, and I believe that Our Lord's teaching is consistent with facing it in the way in which this Bill proposes to face it. I have in my own experience come across instances in which the happiest unions have followed after release has been given, unions on which I am quite certain that God's blessing rests.

I do not believe this is a State Bill divorced from Christian feeling. I believe it represents the truest Christian feeling of this country. I think it is in accordance with Christ's spirit. I think it will tend to promote that sense of sympathy and helpfulness which people in distress look to Christ and His Church to give them, and consequently I cannot think that it will damage Christian feeling in the community. It is often said that persons ought to be prepared to submit to sacrifice and accept a hard lot, feeling that it is for the good of the community that they should do so, that it is something they must hear and be prepared to bear. God forbid that there should be any check put upon the finer examples of this Christian spirit, but you cannot get this Christian spirit if you compel somebody else to consent to what involves a great sacrifice on his part and which he regards as radically unjust and unkind. The heart must go with it, and it is because of that feeling that I think we are mistaken when we insist upon the letter of the bond, disregarding the spirit that lies behind it.

What is real, true marriage? It is not a contract, not tying a man and woman together for life, but the love and the loyalty of the parties which will lie behind that. Thank God a very large proportion of the weddings in this country do reach a great height of the Christian ideal. A good many others do not succeed in rising to a great height; nevertheless the parties to them make a good thing of it, putting up with one another's infirmities and carrying along on the lines of which we all approve. But where you have these terrible cases in which a man and woman are utterly divorced from one another, where one is neglected or treated with ruthless cruelty, I cannot feel that it is in accordance with the mind of Christ that we should say: "Never mind, you are tied up and nothing must release you." Therefore, it is that I am prepared wholeheartedly to vote for the Third Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, after what my noble friend Lord Salisbury said the other day about Scotsmen taking part in a debate of this character, I feel that perhaps I ought not to have intervened, but I am justified by the fact that I was married not far from here, in St. Margaret's, Westminster, a good many years ago, by the Lord Bishop of Durham, who is supporting this Bill. In view of that I think that perhaps I am on safer grounds than if I had spoken purely from a Scottish point of view. At this stage of the Bill we are arguing, or talking about it, from quite a different point of view from that which was present to our minds during the Second Reading, Committee stage, or Report stage of it. We are now at that vital issue: Is this Bill going to be law, or is it not? If the Division with which we are threatened to-day goes in fax: our of those who are against the Bill, then it is an absolute certainty that the Bill will be lost and that a measure which finds great support in the country will be defeated.

It seemed to me, as I listened to these debates and followed the many lights which have been thrown upon it from an expert point of view, whether by lawyers, or by doctors, or by Bishops, that there is one point which has not been sufficiently brought forward during our discussions. It seems to me that your Lordships' House has considered this question perhaps too much from the point of view of the older generations and not from the point of view of the generations who will be affected by this Bill more than others. In these days of equality of man and woman, there is little doubt that the younger generations regard these questions from quite a different point of view from that taken by those whom I will call the old and sere and yellow generation. Wherever I have gone amongst the younger generation in the country and have spoken to them about this Bill, one and all, as far as I have been able to ascertain, have shown themselves not only to be in favour of it, but most emphatically so.

I believe that if the Division which is in front of us goes against this Bill the younger generations will lose a great deal of their faith in your Lordships' House, a faith which at the present moment stands high. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that before you go into the Division Lobby on this Third Reading you consider what the view will be, not of people of our age, but of all the younger generations who are looking forward to the passage of this Bill as one that meets modern conditions and the modern point of view. Twenty-five years ago a Royal Commission recommended provisions of a similar nature to those that are contained in this Bill, and during those twenty-five years those who have believed in those provisions have grown stronger in their belief. If your Lordships find yourselves at the end of this Division as the slaughterers of this Bill, I do not dare to think what will be the views of these younger generations and even older generations who are looking forward to the relief which will be given to them by certain provisions contained in this Bill. I rose to say those few words only, because I believe that that side of the whole issue has not been taken sufficient notice of, certainly not in the speeches to which I have listened. I hope that your Lordships will think of that side of it before you register your vote in the Division Lobby.


My Lords, I had no intention when I came to the House to-day of inflicting myself upon your attention, but the direct reference to me which the noble Viscount made seems to call for a very few minutes intervention in your Lordships' debate. Since this Bill was introduced it has been discussed with so much solemnity, so much ability, so much care in your Lordships' House that public opinion has been attracted to it with increasing closeness, and the effect of that has been, I think, to make it quite clear that the serious mind of the Christian Churches in this country is in favour of the Bill. Only to-day I read "Methodists and Divorce." The Methodists are a very important community amongst the Christians of this country. What do I find? By a very large majority they welcome this Bill as an endeavour to remove the anomalies and hardships of the existing law. When, therefore, I heard the most reverend Primate and the noble Viscount speaking as if it were an assumed matter which could be stated without risk of challenge, that this Bill introduces a conflict between the law of England and the principles of Christianity generally, I will confess to your Lordships that I felt a shade of indignation which I am only able to put aside, to dissipate, by remembering how strong are their convictions and how lofty are their characters.

The noble Viscount was good enough to make a reference to me. I am always a little restive when people introduce a polite reference to me by calling me "brilliant," and when that adjective leads on to the substantive "controversialist" I suspect a definite hostility. The noble Viscount who I am glad to see has now returned to his place—some magnet seems to be attracting noble Lords who were absent to return to their seats—adopts an oracular style which tends perhaps to clothe what he says with an impressiveness somewhat in excess of the soundness of the proposition. He was good enough to say that I rested my whole case, which I ventured to put before your Lordships some time ago in the Second Reading debate, on a single understanding of a text which was in itself doubtful. I cannot flatter myself with the belief that your Lordships will still retain in your minds what I said, but if by some miracle you should do so, you will remember that I built my argument upon a very much larger foundation than that. I pointed out, in answer to the most reverend Primate, who had quoted the text of St. Mark as if that were an unchallengeable pronouncement of our Saviour, that it was in conflict with the (Ecumenical tradition and that St. Matthew's Gospel indicated that apostolic understanding of the words of Christ did admit that for an adequate cause marriage was dissoluble. I indicated that when the sense of a text in the Gospel is doubtful both in text and meaning, reference is normally made to the tradition of the Christian Church, and that, I would point out to the noble Viscount, is various.

It is quite reasonable for the noble Viscount and other noble Lords who are members of the Roman Catholic Church to identify the Western tradition with the tradition of the' whole Church Catholic. It is natural for them to take that view, but the rest of us, who regard our tradition of the understanding of Christ's word and the tradition of the Eastern Church as not less authoritative, are entitled to say that here we have a second great interpretative instrument by which the Gospels must be understood as speaking with various voices. It is not open to the noble Viscount in his oracular manner to say that it is the one and only declaration of the Christian mind. Roman Catholics may take that view, but their assumptions are not his. His argument fails in its primary premise.

I venture to ask your Lordships to vote for the Third Reading of this Bill. I dissent from the noble Viscount's interpretation of that clause which allows the clergy of the Church of England to stand out of the operation of the Bill. I dissent because it is news to me that the clergy are to be identified with the Church of England. That clause is a concession to clergymen's consciences, a very wise, a very politic and a very necessary concession, but it leaves the question of a conflict between Church and State, if there be one, entirely unaffected. I venture once again to ask your Lordships to accept this Bill not only because I am convinced that it will remove many hardships which ought to be remedied, but because I am persuaded that it will bring the marriage law of this country into closer harmony with the principles of Christ.


My Lords, I hope you will bear with me for a few minutes as I find myself in a rather peculiar position as it seems likely that I shall be the only Lord Spiritual in this House who, when a Division is taken, will find himself in the Lobby with the Not-Contents. I do not wish to go again into the question which has been debated and on which my brother the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham have expressed opinions, the question of what is or is not the Christian doctrine of marriage. I shall go into the Not-Content Lobby because I believe this Bill to be fundamentally an anti-social Bill, quite apart from the interpretation of certain texts in the New Testament. I believe it is anti-social because it is not for the true support of the institution of marriage. I have not heard in this House, nor have I been able in reading the report of the debates in another place to find, any real argument to show that it does support marriage. It has been taken for granted again and again that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Russell of Killowen, said just now, it is quite obviously a Bill for increasing divorces. If that is supporting the institution of marriage, well and good; but I cannot see it. I notice that those in charge of the Bill have seen to it that when the Bill goes back to another place, it will no longer be the Marriage Bill but the Matrimonial Causes Bill. I think that is a very good thing, and I congratulate them on having changed the name, because it seems to me that they have been getting a little unhappy about this question of supporting marriage, and they will not call attention to the fact that it is really something else.

I believe it is a bad Bill. I am sure that any legislation, in this country or anywhere else, ought to be, if it is good legislation based on sound principle. I do not believe that this Bill is based on any principle at all. We have heard any amount about hard cases and difficulties, of which we are perfectly aware, and I am the last person to ask that we should simply do nothing about these hard cases. But I submit that this is not the way to deal with hard cases, because, as I ventured to say on the Second Reading, it is going to create a great many more hard cases through weakening the defences which are set up by a sound public opinion. It is simply a further instalment of the 1857 Act. It seems to me to be the most curious bit of legislation, because it rewards the wrongdoer with exactly what he wants to get. That has been proved up to the hilt.

I know that you may say that this Bill contains safeguards against collusion. Of course, as a layman, one has to listen very carefully to noble and learned Lords who say that that is so. I hope it may be so, and that the Bill will prevent collusion. As a matter of fact, however, what happens? Here is a contract. Whatever else it may be, it is a contract, and a person who deliberately breaks it gets away with the breach and gets exactly what he wants, which is his freedom. It seems to me a most extraordinary way of rewarding what we all recognise as wrongdoing—except in the case of insanity, in which the wretched man or woman, as has already been pointed out, is not responsible at all. In all these other cases of desertion, cruelty and so on, there is wrongdoing by one of the parties, and the law now., in England, is going to reward the wrongdoer by giving exactly what he or she wants, which is freedom to leave his wife or her husband, as the case may be, and contract another marriage. That does seem to me to be the most topsy-turvy kind of legislation.

I understand that this Bill was brought forward to prevent collusion. I have discussed this matter with a great number of people and with a considerable number of lawyers. They all admit that you cannot stop collusion over matters of this kind, because, as my right reverend friend sitting on this Bench said just now, advocating the Bill, if love and loyalty have gone—those were not his exact words—why try to keep the marriage going? That is exactly the point. Who is to say when love has gone? The only parties who can possibly say when love has gone are the husband and the wife. They alone know. That is the real point to which you come in the end. And this is, as I say, only an instalment of something further. There IS no principle except to end up in exactly the thing that you want to prevent now, which is divorce by consent. That is the end to which we shall come, and if you think that is good for the nation and is going to uphold the most fundamental thing in our social structure, well and good.

Forgive me for referring again to what I said on the Second Reading. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, referred to the young people. I wish to say that I take quite another view of the young people. I believe that a few years ago a great many of the young people would have welcomed this Bill, but today the young people are beginning to see ghastly results accrue from simply playing fast and loose with the marriage tie. I have seen a great change among a considerable number of young people. This is an educational Bill, and I beg your Lordships to realise that if this Bill passes into law the great bulk of young people, and of older people, will take their direction from the law of the land. There is no nation in the world, I believe, which respects law more than we do, and I do not believe there is any country in which legislation has so great a power in forming public opinion. It goes out that your Lordships by a majority—it may be a big majority—and the House of Commons by a majority, believe that this is all right. The people have not and never will follow all the debates, but they feel that if this is the law, then it is quite right to do it. You are starting off on a campaign of educating the younger generation. In fifty years time or less I do not believe that people will look back and bless us for that work. I said that I was not going, and I do not mean, to enter into a controversy with regard to what is or is not the Christian law. My last word is this, that I am going to vote against this Bill because I believe that it is against the most fundamental law of God with regard to the procreation of the human race, its upbringing and its education in the ultimate problem of life, which is how to live together.


My Lords, I submit that if you follow the argument of the right reverend Prelate to its logical conclusion, it means that a law founded on the Christian principle should be a law of punishment of the wrongdoer. I submit that a far finer object to concentrate on under the Christian spirit would be to frame laws for alleviating the lot of those who have had wrong done to them. Before I sit down, to illustrate my argument, if I may: if again you follow the argument used by the right reverend Prelate to its logical conclusion, then anyone who is found torturing a cat should by law, in return, be tortured himself. However much any of us might believe that that would be a very good way of stopping cats from being tortured, I hope that never in this country will justice not be mixed with mercy.


My Lords, having troubled your Lordships on several occasions before in these debates, I did not this afternoon intend to speak again. I think, however, that there is one thing which still needs to be said. I will be very brief, more especially in view of the two speeches delivered by the two right reverend Prelates who have answered what fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. It would be unfortunate if it were to go out as a result of this debate, without challenge, and without challenge from a layman, that this Bill is in any way inconsistent with Christian principles. The noble Viscount said that it was perfectly plain that the Act of 1857 was consistent with Christian principle but that this Bill was not. The noble and learned Lord upon the Cross Benches, Lord Russell of Killowen, would not agree that the Act of 1857 was consistent with Christian principle, and Scottish legislation has shown that no Scotsman would hold that this Bill is inconsistent with Christian principle. It is apparent, without going into argument, that there are grave divergencies of opinion.

Speaking as a humble but entirely devoted member of the Church of England, I should only like to emphasise the point that I would not support this Bill if I believed it to be inconsistent with Christian principles, nor do I believe that any of your Lordships would support it if you had such a belief. The authority and eloquence with which the two right reverend Prelates have spoken have made it unnecessary for me to pursue that point further, but I think it important that it should be definitely announced that we who are supporting this Bill are not supporting something that we believe to be inconsistent with Christian principles. The noble and learned Lord on the Cross Benches spoke with his authority, eloquence and sarcasm about the Preamble. I would only say, with regard to that, that we recognise the deep sincerity with which he holds his view. Will he not give us credit for holding our views with equal sincerity? It may be incomprehensible to him, but we believe that this is a Bill for the true support of marriage; that it is paring away the anomalies and hardships which have cumbered the marriage law for so many years; that it is a reform which is overdue and which is greatly desired by the great majority of the people of this country; and we hope that by a decisive vote your Lordships will give it a Third Reading to-day.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 3a?

The Lordships divided:—Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 28.

De La Warr, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Durham, L. Bp. Greville, L.
St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, L. Bp. Hampton, L.
Hutchison of Montrose, L.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Jessel, L.
Ailesbury, M. Aberdare, L. Kenilworth, L.
Bath, M. Addison, L. Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)
Reading, M. Ailwyn, L. Lamington, L.
Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.) Latymer, L.
Albemarle, E. Arnold, L. Maugham, L.
Bathurst, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Melchett, L.
Bessborough, E. Bethell, L. Meston, L.
Dartmouth, E. Blythswood, L. O'Hagan, L.
Drogheda, E. Carnock, L. Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)
Haddington, E. Cautley, L. Palmer, L.
Lucan, E. Clwyd, L. Redesdale, L.
Mansfield, E. Craigmyle, L. Remnant, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Cromwell, L. Rennell, L.
Midleton, E. Denham, L. Roche, L.
Stanhope, E. Denman, L. Rowallan, L.
Strafford, E. Desborough, L. St. Levan, L.
Wicklow, E. Doverdale, L. Sandhurst, L.
Eltisley, L. [Teller.] Seaton, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Sherborne, L.
Dawson of Penn, V. Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.) Snell, L.
Devonport, V. Gage, L. (V. Gage.) Strabolgi, L.
Elibank, V. Gainford, L. Teynham, L.
Exmouth, V. Glanusk, L. Wright, L.
Mersey, V. Corell, L. [Teller.]
Samuel, V. Greenway, L.
Halifax, V. (L. President.) Poulett, E. Granard, L. (E. Granard.)
Selborne, E. Holden, L.
Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.) Howard of Glossop, L.
FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Howard of Penrith, L.
Argyll, D. Lovat, L.
St. Albans, L. Bp. Morris, L.
Salisbury, M. Rankeillour, L. [Teller.]
Arundell of Wardour, L. Rockley, L.
Denbigh, E. Berwick, L. Russell of Killowen, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Daryngton, L.[Teller.] Stafford, L.
Munster, E. Dormer, L. Strickland, L.
Nelson, E. Elton, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, accordingly.

VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME had given Notice of an Amendment to leave out subsection (3) of Clause 6. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I think perhaps I owe the House some explanation as to why, having put down this Amendment again, after having moved it on the Report stage, I do not propose to move it now. On Report I moved the Amendment on the advice of one of the leaders of the Divorce Court. I understand that my noble and learned friend Lord Drogheda has interviewed my friend who is a leader in that Court and has satisfied him. Therefore I will not detain your Lordships by moving the Amendment now.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Eltisley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to: Bill passed and returned to the Commons.