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Conjugal Rights (Scotland) Act Amendment Bill—Bill 45

Volume 218: debated on Wednesday 22 April 1874

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( Sir. Anderson, Sir Edward Colebrooke, Mr. Orr Hiring, Mr. James (Mean, Mr. Leith, Mr. Yeaman.)

Second Reading

Order for Second Reading read.

, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: Sir, the House, I am sure, will not be sorry to learn that five minutes will be more than enough to enable me to explain the scope and objects of the Bill. Some explanation is necessary, because its unfortunate title in no way tells its story. It ought to be the Deserted Wife's Earnings Bill," or the Married Woman's Property Bill," for it deals with no other subject. The reason it is necessary is, that in 1861 an Act was passed, dealing with divorce and other conjugal rights, in which a few clauses were introduced dealing with the earnings and property of married women deserted by their husbands; but the jurisdiction was confined to the Court of Session, which, being our highest Court, and sitting in Edinburgh, has alone hitherto dealt with such cases. The consequence has been that the Act has, so far as they are concerned, been pretty much a dead letter; and the reason is, that women who are deserted by their husbands belong mostly to the lower classes, and that they are a great deal too poor to be able to go to Edinburgh and apply to the Court of Session for redress. The existence of the Act has accordingly been little else than a tantalizing mockery. Few persons can have lived in Scotland, especially if they have occupied any magisterial capacity, without having brought under their notice many cases of great hardship, in which poor married women, deserted by their husbands, had succeeded in collecting a little property, and were rearing their families respectably—it may be they had succeeded in getting a shop—and who were liable at any time to a visit from a worthless husband, who might come in and sweep away all the profits. These poor women have good causes of complaint, and I propose to provide them with a means of redress by extending the jurisdiction of the Act to the Sheriff Courts, and enabling them to deal with such cases. With these few observations, I beg to move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the second time."—( Mr. Anderson.)

I certainly think the principle of this measure is principle. The Act, as originally carried, was tentative, and left it to the Supreme Courts to decide on those cases; but I am quite sensible of this, that the Sheriff Courts will be the proper tribunal before which questions which interest so much the labouring classes ought to be tried, and therefore I give my assent to the principle of the Bill. Indeed, I intended if I got an opportunity—as I hope I still will—of introducing a Bill for the reform of the Sheriff Courts, to incorporate something of the kind which is now proposed; but the principle of the Bill I think is right, and therefore I hope the Mouse will agree to the second reading. There is one clause which I think my hon. Friend should alter. It is Clause 16, which has reference to the fortunes of married women, and power is given to the Court to consider whether the creditors of the husband are not entitled to come in and swoop it away. The question here involved is one of great difficulty and delicacy, and one which in England is peculiarly the province of the Court of Chancery. It is not likely to be raised in eases brought by the poorer classes, and therefore I would suggest that when the Bill gets into Committee the clause in question should be so amended as to exclude such cases from the jurisdiction of the Sheriff Courts.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and commuted for Tuesday, 12th May.

Allotments Extension Bill

Un Motion of Sir CHARLES DILKE, Bill to provide for the letting to Cottagers of lands held for the benefit of the Poor, in extension of the Act second William the Fourth, chapter

forty-two, ordered to be brought in by Sir CHARLES DILKE, Mr. EDWARD JENKINS. and Mr. BURT.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 79.]

House adjourned at Four o'clock.