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Commons Chamber

Volume 485: debated on Friday 9 March 1951

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House Of Commons

Friday, 9th March, 1951

The House met at Eleven o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Humber Conservancy Bill

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.

Statement By Mr Speaker

Before I call the Orders of the Day, I should like to make an apology to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who I am sorry is not at present here; perhaps my remarks will be conveyed to him. Last night—or, rather, this morning at about four o'clock—he asked me a question and I said that I thought it was impertinent. I regret exceedingly that I used those words. I should not have done so, and I should like hon. Members to convey my apologies to the hon. Member. We were all rather heated and I dare say my temper was getting a bit short, but perhaps at four o'clock in the morning I may be excused.

May I add that I should not like to start today with this on my conscience, seeing that it is today that I enter into my ninth year as Speaker?

Orders Of The Day

Matrimonial Causes Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, I feel that I cannot do better than follow the example set on a previous occasion by my distinguished Parliamentary predecessor, Sir Alan Herbert, and by the then hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère), who so generously sponsored his Bill, by declaring that I have no direct interest in it. I am myself most happily married and I may, indeed, count myself among the blessed. I was not married in a church but I could with all sincerity subscribe to that part of the Church service which runs:
"to have and to hold … for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part."
I recognise that those words express the ideal of marriage between man and woman and that the nearer one approaches to that ideal in practice, the better the prospects of happiness for individuals and the better the outlook for society and for the rising generation. In particular for children, this state of marriage alone provides a settled and harmonious life on which so much of their future happiness depends.

It is with full recognition, therefore, of the social, spiritual and emotional values of marriage and of home life that I introduce a Bill which would allow the dissolution of marriages which have broken down and in which none of the purposes is being served for which, so we are told, marriage is ordained. If husband and wife are living permanently apart and are truly irreconcilable, then clearly there is no procreation of children. Far from being a remedy against sin, such a state of affairs is a positive encouragement to sin, and neither partner in these circumstances enjoys
"the mutual … help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other."
Nor, be it noted, in these circumstances, do the children of the marriage enjoy the companionship of both parents any more than they would if the marriage had been legally dissolved. In other words, a marriage in these circumstances such as I have described has ceased to fulfil the ends for which it was, or ought to have been, undertaken, and those of us who support the Bill ask that the law should recognise this fact.

The Bill is as short and as straightforward as I was able to make it. My regard for the ability of the legal profession, which, I need hardly say, was already exceedingly high, has been further enhanced by their assistance in trying to draft even this short Bill. Matters are not always as simple as to the layman they might seem. But I make a very special plea to any hon. and learned Gentlemen who may be in the House that we should try today as far as possible to discuss the major issues which are involved. As hon. Members well know, it is not difficult to turn a debate of this kind into what one may call a "lawyers' field day"—in other words, to spend a great deal of time on issues which are, no doubt, very important but which are, perhaps, legalistic in the narrower sense. I know that there are many details which might be improved, added or subtracted, and I assure any Members of the legal profession who may be here that at a later stage I might be most happy to accept their advice, criticisms or help.

I do contend that we should clear our own minds and those of the public on the principal issues involved in these complicated affairs of human life. These issues, as I see them, are primarily threefold—social, moral and what I might call constitutional, that is, concerning the relationship between the churches and the State. There is also the question of changing the legal basis for divorce in this country, which is tied up with all three aspects, though perhaps more with the moral one than with the others.

The social purpose of this Bill is to meet the situation in which many thousands of men and women are living apart in a state which is not marriage, in any full sense of that word, but in which they are unable legally to form another union or to establish a normal home life. The estimates of the number of those separated vary from 100,000 to a much higher figure, and I myself would not be prepared to press the higher figure, but it is quite clear that we have here an impor- tant social problem, especially when one takes into account the third parties often involved and the number of illegitimate children. Even the Government Actuary, reporting on National Insurance, comments on the fact that some thousands of pensions are not being claimed:
"due to legally married couples not living together, and couples living together who are not man and wife."
The mere fact that we have no complete figure, even of the orders made in courts of summary jurisdiction, indicates, to my mind, that people have been so mesmerised by statistics of divorce that they have very largely disregarded this other extremely serious social problem of the marriages which are just as much broken but in which the legal tie remains.

May I emphasise that I am primarily concerned with those who wish to establish a second legal marriage, and, in particular, those who wish to have children? Those people who are only interested in promiscuous relations are not going to worry very much about this Bill. The people who will be concerned in this Bill are those who are most anxious, if it is possible, to undertake a second legal union. But there are those in their thousands who, finding that the existing law offers no relief, are taking the law into their own hands, and are bringing up children in conditions in which neither mother nor child has adequate social or financial protection; and this matter is surely one of very serious concern to all of us.

I want to face frankly the implications of the second marriage, because I recognise very fully that not everybody can afford the luxury of two families. Nor are two families by any means always involved, because it not infrequently happens that there are no children of the first union which in itself is very often one of the reasons for the break; but where there are children, emphatically I have no wish to encourage irresponsible behaviour. I recognise that these children have the right to the protection of their parents, and that the parents have obligations towards the children.

Recently, the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords indicated that he was turning over in his mind some possible change in the procedure of divorce petitions where children are concerned so as to bring home to the parents a sense of the responsibilities which they have undertaken. In general terms, I might not be unsympathetic to some such proposal, but I should have to know exactly what it was before committing myself. Clearly, supposing that it was agreed that such a change might be desirable in some way, whatever should be considered proper, such a change would have to apply to all petitioners for divorce and could not be confined to the much narrower class of case with which I am concerned in this relatively small Bill. In any case, if the Lord Chancellor wishes to make any change in the law, he is in a far more favourable position to do so than I am.

On previous occasions, it has been suggested—and no doubt it will be suggested again—that by bringing forward such a Bill, one is encouraging parents to sacrifice their children to their own selfish aims and indulgences, but I would point out that one of the parents in the kind of case with which we are dealing has already absented himself or herself for seven years from the companionship of the children. To my mind, the children would be no worse off if the marriage were then legally dissolved, because one parent has already been shown to be lacking in parental affection. He or she has already deserted and become dissociated from parental responsibilities, in which case the children would be no worse off by the legal dissolution of the marriage.

Now, I want to say a word or two about the financial aspect. The Bill is so drafted that, under Clause 1 (2), the husband, being legally responsible for the maintenance of his wife and children, may not even claim to have his petition heard unless he can satisfy the court that he has fulfilled his financial obligations towards his family. We cannot, after all, legislate for affection. Should a decree be given, he would be just as much bound by the maintenance order issued by the court, subject, of course, to the discretion of the court to decide what in all the circumstances seems to be just. In other words, a woman separated from her husband and children separated from their fathers would be no worse off financially under this Bill, but might be better off, so far as maintenance is concerned. In fairness, Clause 2 also provides that if a decree should be granted, the means of the woman also should be put into the pool and placed at the disposal of the court.

This is not the time to discuss the whole question of maintenance payments, which enter very much into the cases which we have under review today. In some respects the law should be more rigorously applied, especially where a wife is left to bring up children or where an older woman is deserted by her husband, who may have been living with her for 20 or 30 years, but then leaves her in favour of some younger woman. I have very great sympathy for people in such a position. But it would be grossly unjust if we were to try to enforce maintenance payments without undertaking reform of the existing divorce law. There is so much that is unmoral, and even immoral, in the existing law that it is necessary to take the steps which I am attempting to do in this Bill before taking any more drastic steps to enforce maintenance payments.

I have in mind the case of a man whose earnings have never been more than £5 or £6 per week, but who, over a period of years, has paid more than £2,000 in maintenance to a woman whom he has not seen for 20 years and is never likely to see again. He committed no moral offence, beyond making a mistake in his choice of partner. The result is that she collects a pension for life, while keeping him legally tied. He has absolutely no redress, unless he chooses, perhaps, to join the 3,350, I think it was, husbands who went to prison last year because they refused to make these maintenance payments. Some of them, I know, went, not because they had been careless or irresponsible, but because they felt it unjust to be required to make these payments without any possibility of redress or without any possibility of appeal to an independent tribunal.

In discussing this question of the financial implications of separation and divorce, I should like to make another point. I have been struck by the large number of letters I have received, and by the large number of cases that have come to my attention, of the number of women who have grounds for divorce, who are not bringing forward any religious plea and who do not appear to be vengeful or spiteful in the matter, but who frankly say, "I am not prepared to divorce my husband. I do not particularly want to have him tied or to make him unhappy, but, if I divorce him, I relinquish my rights to the old age pension or the widow's pension to which I am entitled by virtue of his contributions. "In fact, I have seen so many of these cases that I have come to the point of asking myself," Is this woman really married to a man or to an old age pension?" I am not blaming the woman, but I suggest to the House that it is surely wrong that the higher spiritual, emotional and social values of marriage should be decided on an issue which is no doubt important, but which is, after all, on rather a lower plane, and which is something this House could really settle if it put its mind to it.

It is not only the issue of a pension. For instance, there are considerations under the Family Inheritance Act. The woman who takes divorce action under the existing law disinherits herself because she loses the status of a married woman in the same way as she gives up her widow's or old age pension rights to which she may be entitled. What I wish to emphasise is that these difficulties already exist. If this Bill becomes law, it will merely bring them into sharper focus.

There are other difficulties with which I do not wish to weary the House as to property, tenancy, goods and chattels, and so on. All I would suggest here is that we have a great complex group of circumstances, primarily economic; mat moral and spiritual issues are being decided on grounds which seem to me to be subsidiary; that we ought to settle in our own minds the principle on which marriage and divorce should be settled, and that then we should face any economic consequences in a larger and more intelligent way.

I turn now from the economic and social aspects of this Bill to what I might call the moral aspects. Many people including, I imagine, the hon. Members who have placed a reasoned Amendment on the Order Paper opposing this Bill, sincerely believe that this Measure is somehow less moral than the existing law. May I, therefore, tackle what seem to me to be some of the moral defects of the existing law? First. it is based on the assumption that a marriage should be legally terminated only if one partner has com- mitted a legally proven offence against the other. Under this procedure, there are many traps for the unwary which have nothing to do with morality. Nor is the court required to decide which partner was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage relations. The legal verdict which declares one party innocent and the other guilty is confined to a particular legal offence which has to be proved, and which may sometimes be, and in fact often is, a narrow issue in the relationship of marriage as a whole. On this point, Lord Justice Denning, a very experienced judge, said in a recent judgment on appeal:
"There is no hiding the fact that the form of the decree of divorce is often no real guide to the conduct of the parties."
It is quite wrong, as anybody with experience knows, to perpetuate this distinction between black on the one side and white on the other, in all cases.

That, I assure you, Mr. Speaker, was a most unintentional pun.

There are, indeed, cases in which one can say that one partner has definitely been guilty of the most reprehensible offence against the other, and it is right that in such cases there should be means of redress. They are provided under the existing law, and nothing in the Bill we are now discussing takes away from any injured party the right to seek redress in the courts. But where, on the other hand, the fault is fifty-fifty, as it so often is, this Bill provides a decent solution, without branding one party and exonerating the other.

I may, perhaps, mention that the Archbishop of Canterbury lately remarked that there is now little validity in the distinction between guilty and innocent parties. Therefore, I suggest that to insist that the whole of our divorce procedure should nevertheless be based upon this distinction between the guilty and the innocent parties is wrong. Both an experienced judge and the head of the Established Church have admitted that this distinction is often at variance with the established facts of the case.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is not the head of the Established Church.

No, but I suppose he would be considered to be its spiritual head. As a Nonconformist, I find the distinction at times a little difficult.

I have mentioned what seems to me to be a fundamentally and morally unsound principle of the law, but I suggest that there are other moral objections to the existing law. As things are, the chances of a partner in an unhappy marriage obtaining his or her freedom bear no direct relationship to his or her good or bad conduct. A complete scoundrel, whose behaviour becomes intolerable, has often a better chance of freedom than a man or woman who tries, within the context of an unhappy marriage, to behave decently, but whose partner insists upon retaining the legal bonds. That seems an unmoral basis, at any rate, for the existing law.

The so-called guilty partner, so far as I know, has only one protection in law, which is that if a decree nisi is obtained and the petitioner fails to apply for it to be made absolute, then the guilty partner has the right to apply to the court for that decree to be made absolute. This, therefore, has ended one of the more despicable forms of cat-and-mouse torture. It is still possible for the so-called innocent partner to indicate that he or she proposes, to take divorce action, and then to fail |o do so. I know of a man whose wife raised his hopes in this respect on three occasions. She went to solicitors and prepared evidence, but each time he failed to provide a sufficiently adequate sum to satisfy her, and she did not take proceedings. That again seems to me an utterly immoral state of affairs.

I have every sympathy with the man or woman who is genuinely wronged and who is left to face the world with a family without a partner to whose help he or she is entitled. But I have no sympathy whatsoever for the harpies who try to make the most they can out of a broken marriage relationship. If anything has made me wish to bring this Bill before the House it is some of the letters I have received from the intolerably self-righteous. I can think of one in particular, from a woman I am afraid, who wrote an intolerant letter which she concluded by saying that she had led a pure sweet life. It may have been pure, but it certainly could not have been sweet.

The Royal Commission, as far back as 1912, a very long time ago, was shocked at the power of one partner to hold the other in thrall for life. At a time when opinion in this matter was much more rigid, perhaps, than it is today, they recommended that where application was made to the court for separation when grounds existed for divorce, the so-called guilty partner should have the right to ask that, instead of a separation, a decree of divorce should be granted; in other words, that the marriage should be finally dissolved and that one should not have this legal tie for life. The Royal Commission pointed out that permanent separation is a much heavier punishment than divorce and that it should not be left to the caprice—I use their word—of one party to decide whether or not this punishment should be inflicted upon the other.

Even within the narrow limits they proposed, that recommendation has never been adopted. There is no right of independent judgment and appeal. There is not even remission for good conduct from this life sentence. Even a murderer may hope to get out in 20 years, but not a man or woman tied to a vengeful or perhaps indifferent spouse. Selfishness, incompetence, extravagance and ill-temper, which break up marriage more often than adultery, though adultery may occur later, are legally tolerated provided one does not carry them so far as to endanger the health of one partner. Then they may come within the realm of legal cruelty. Even then it is not a moral issue. It depends on the physical strength of one's partner. If one chooses a partner with a robust constitution, one can venture pretty far. I had a letter from a woman who said," I was too strong to have a nervous breakdown, so my cruelty case failed." Furthermore the degree of proof of an offence which is admitted as a ground for divorce is rightly exacting. Poor people who cannot afford to engage a private detective—and legal aid will not pay for that—are not in a position to prove an offence of adultery even when they suspect an offence has been committed.

For these reasons, and for others which I have no time to go into now, I cannot support the view that the law as it stands, if applied in all cases, and as the sole basis of divorce, is a just law. My contention and that of hon. Members on both sides of the House who support this Bill, is that with the best will in the world one cannot achieve justice, and, I submit, morality either, if one keeps to the narrow view, based, after all, on historical accident as much as anything else, that a marriage can only be legally dissolved on the ground of an offence committed by one partner against the other. We therefore ask the House to support us in our request that the law should be adapted to meet the true needs of justice and of a morality which common people and not merely lawyers can accept as sound.

I turn now to the constitutional aspect, that is to say, the implications of this Bill in connection with the relationship between Churches and State. I say Churches advisedly because, after all, there is more than one. I do not want to enter into any discussion of the religious basis on which the views on marriage and divorce of the various Churches may be founded. It would be improper for me to do so. We are not discussing whether there should be divorce. Divorce is part of the law of the land. What we are discussing is how the divorce law should best be applied. One of the arguments which no doubt will be used by opponents of this Bill is that one should not force divorce upon persons who have conscientious scruples in the matter. I have some sympathy for that point of view, but may I ask why it is that those who put forward that point of view seem to have no objection to one partner forcing his or her religious views on the other? That seems to me a fundamental offence against the freedom of the human spirit.

The Churches consider it their duty to lay down their own rules and laws for the conduct of their own members. I entirely agree with the Catholic Church and the Church of England in refusing a second Church marriage to a person whose partner is still living. But it is not our duty as Members of Parliament to impose religious views on anybody. We have no religious test for citizenship in this country. It is surely our business as legislators to make the laws sufficiently comprehensive to meet the needs of all good citizens so that within the framework of civil law the various Churches, including Jewish and other non-Christian communities, may lay down their own religious views according to their own particular doctrines with which the State, as such, is not concerned.

I emphasise also the point that practical difficulty normally arises only in marriages in which the two parties do not share the same religious views, that is, in what are often termed mixed marriages. It seems to me in any case a poor foundation for married happiness when there is divergence from the start on such an important and fundamental matter. If this Bill should have the effect of diminishing the number of mixed marriages, I confess I should not be altogether sorry. I should be loth to offend religious feelings in this matter. I have done my best to study the matter conscientiously and I have given long thought to it, but I must confess that I must stick to the principle and views I have enunciated. I find, for instance, that even within the bounds of one single Church there is not always complete accord of view.

I read the report of a committee set up by the 1938 Lambeth Conference to study the attitude of the Church towards marriage and divorce. It is clear from that report that Members of that committee, drawn from the Anglican communion throughout the world, were not altogether at one, because side by side with a plea to those who are unhappily married nevertheless to remain married is a significant reference to those who do not remain tied but who have sought a second chance and remarried.

The report says:
"The domestic tragedy that has culminated in divorce and remarriage is frequently the occasion of a spiritual awakening."
Is it not clear that this spiritual awakening is, at least in part, due to the birth of fresh hope? I put this question to the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood). I would suggest that he, like myself, in this respect at least, has led a sheltered life. He has grown up in an harmonious Christian family. He is not the product of a broken or unhappy home from which he might at too early an age have thought of escape by a marriage which proved to be utterly unsuitable. I would ask him, with the greatest respect, whether he is so sure that he is right in seeking to deny a second chance and fresh hope to people who have been less fortunate than himself.

I have tried to put my case frankly and fairly. I have tried to argue on principles and not on hard luck stories. I am profoundly convinced that the present law is unjust and detrimental to the public interest, and that while a number of complex issues are involved, nevertheless the law itself must be changed. Hon. Members who do not like my particular method of trying to change it can, of course, suggest other methods. I have not quoted, although there has been a great temptation to do so, from the many hundreds of letters which I have received on this subject, to all of which until last week I have sent an individual reply.

I would, however, end by quoting a few sentences from four letters of a different kind. They are from people who have not themselves a direct interest in this matter in the sense that their own personal lives are involved. The first is from an Anglican clergyman in the Midlands who says that his own experience as a clergyman in both town and country for nearly 30 years convinces him that such a Bill is urgently needed, and he sets out a most shrewd and balanced argument for this Bill. The second letter is from a London registrar who has seen thousands of men and women for a period of some 20 years at a time of great crisis in life—birth, marriage and death. Supporting my Bill, he says:
"I have been a registrar too long to feel any sympathy with man-made injustices."
Thirdly, if I may turn to my own sex, I quote from a woman solicitor in a Northern Manufacturing town who wrote to me early this week as follows:
"My experience of almost 30 years in the legal profession leads me to the following conclusions:
First, a very high percentage of parties to divorce proceedings ('innocent' and 'guilty' alike) remarry and most of such second marriages are reasonably happy.
Secondly, there are numbers of couples living happily together who would marry if they were free to do so. I have many times been consulted about the position of children of such unions, who often do not know that they are illegitimate until they are about to marry themselves, and for that or some other reason start making inquiries. This often causes distress both to the parents and the children.
Thirdly, every year I prepare and complete a number of deeds changing the surnames of women to those of men with whom they are living and I hear of very many cases where the name has been changed informally. Such a Measure as your Bill is in my view urgently required. The general misery which is caused by broken marriages can be mitigated in individual cases, and surely that is desirable."
Finally, I have a letter from one of the best-loved social workers in London, a Salvation Army woman, who has spent all her life among the needy and suffering, who has seen human nature too closely to be sentimental about it, who has known the depths of human misery and hopelessness. From her I have had today a message of Godspeed.

I am proud to stand with such supporters. We cannot close our eyes to these problems. We cannot pass by on the other side. In bringing this Bill to the House, I am convinced that I am advocating a just cause.

11.45 a.m.

I beg to second the Motion.

I should like first to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) on having brought forward this Bill, which I am very proud to second. And if she will not think me impertinent, I should like to congratulate her also on the most admirable way in which she has moved it. I should like to say first that I, like the hon. Lady, have had the good fortune to be happily married for many years; I do not therefore seek relief from this Bill or from any other. Nevertheless, I have the deepest possible sympathy for all those unfortunate people who are not so happily placed as I happen to be myself.

Those who oppose this Bill say that its effect will be to make it easier for marriages to break up. I believe that this is a very superficial view to take, because this Bill will not have the slightest effect whatever upon marriages which are still alive. On the contrary, its purpose is to deal with those marriages which are already dead. Let us take the worst possible situation of a married couple. Let us suppose that a married couple, although nominally at the moment living together, are very unhappy and are seriously considering parting company. Does anybody really believe that either party to this somewhat precarious marriage might, if this Bill goes through, then say "Now, after waiting at least seven years, because this Bill has become law, and provided that maintenance is kept up, we shall be able to obtain a divorce, and therefore we can go ahead and separate now"?

Of course, it is absolute nonsense to say that the effect of this Bill will be to encourage the break-up of marriages. Where marriage is still a going concern, with the two parties still living together on account of their love and respect and mutual tolerance, they are not going to be affected at all by this Bill. It is only the other kind of marriage—one which is a marriage only in name and where the parties have been long and irreconcilably parted—which will be affected by this Bill, and which I believe will be purified by dissolution. I should have thought that seven years is a very long time indeed, and I should have thought that there would have been plenty of opportunity for reconciliation in that time if reconciliation be possible.

But when we consider this period of seven years, it is very important to appreciate that a tremendous number of these separated married couples, of which the hon. Lady estimated there are between 100,000 and 200,000 in the country, have been separated for very much longer than seven years. From the letters which I have been reading—and they certainly make the most heartrending reading—a separation of 15 to 20 years is not at all uncommon, and I have a constituency case of a separation which has been for over 23 years.

I would beg hon. Members who either have not made up their minds what attitude to adopt to this Bill, or who perhaps feel hostile to it, to ask themselves this question: Is it in the true interests of any of the parties that these marriages, which are only marriages in name and which are pure shams, should be kept inviolate? Let us first of all take the case of the husband or wife who, seven, 10 or 20 years ago, walked out of the marriage because it had proved intolerable. Of course, many of these unfortunate people have now set up new homes, and I know that none of us who is happily married would dream of crticising them for having done so. Many of these people have taken new partners for their lives and. quite naturally wish to regularise that union. Can it be said that it is not in their interest that they should be allowed to regularise the union?

In many cases, of course, there are children of the new union, and I know that no one would suggest that it is in the interests of the children of these illicit unions that the marriages which have been broken for so many years should still be kept in existence. It is far better that the children should be relieved of the cruel and anomalous position in which, through no fault of their own, they find themselves. It would be far better that they should be relieved of that position by making possible the marriage of their parents. In other cases, the couple long desperately for children, but do not bring children into the world because they would be illegitimate. The unfortunate couple are denied in consequence of what I believe is the greatest blessing that can ever come to man or woman—the blessing of parenthood. I cannot believe that to deny them such a blessing is in the interests either of these men and women or of the nation.

I can think of only one party who stands to lose something if this Bill is passed—the so-called innocent party to the marriage which will be dissolved under the Bill. Like the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East, when I say "innocent" I mean innocent only in law. If we look at the question actuarially and assume that one or other of the parties is principally responsible when the break-up of a marriage occurs, then in about half the cases the so-called innocent person in law was either more responsible for the marriage having broken up or took the least trouble to prevent this happening.

I am bound to say that I have no sympathy at all for the man or woman who refuses to divorce his or her matrimonial partner, at any rate when he or she steadfastly wants to remarry. This attitude can, of course, be defended upon religious grounds, but in my opinion it can be defended on those grounds only if one takes a very narrow view of Christianity. I believe that the refusal to divorce is more often due to malice, to vindictiveness and to spite. Where there is this conflict of interests, I would certainly be prepared to support the party who seeks freedom to regularise a new union based at least on honesty and to start life again with, one hopes, the chance of having children.

I doubt whether more than perhaps one in 10 of the refusals to start a divorce action are due to genuine religious grounds, and probably in half those cases the so-called innocent party is perhaps not so innocent of having been the cause of the break-up of the marriage. Nevertheless, I believe there should be no stigma attached to the legally innocent party as a result of a divorce being granted under this Bill. Those persons should be protected. I personally had no share in drafting the Bill, and I hope that on the Committee stage it will be amended so that the words "a decree of divorce" will be replaced by the words" the marriage be dissolved." There is less stigma attached to the fact that a marriage has been dissolved than there is to the fact that a person has been divorced.

If this Measure is passed into law, it will undoubtedly remove much misery and distress from many homes. Perhaps I may quote three lines from one of the many moving letters which I, like hon. Members of all parties, have received on this subject. A constituent writes:
"For myself, I am one of the thousands of sufferers in this country who are awaiting the outcome of this Bill—and not without misgiving, as our future lives depend so much on the result."
If it passes into law this Bill will bring to scores of thousands of people the happiness which is at present denied them. Happiness is a very elusive quality. I am inclined to think that it becomes more elusive as the complications of the modern world increase. In present circumstances, with the threat of a third world war, which of us can say with any conviction that we know what prospects of happiness lie ahead? I venture to suggest that we Members of Parliament must be very sure indeed that our judgment is correct before we decide to deny this prospect of happiness to so very many people who are praying for the relief which only Parliament can give them.

11.58 a.m.

I beg to move, to leave out from "that" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will further weaken the marriage contract and invokes a new principle whereby grounds for divorce may be established where no marital offence has been committed."
I think we all heard with sympathy and respect the case for the Bill put forward by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay). I think it was the hon. Lady who commented that we cannot see this controversy entirely as black and white, and I agree with her. Nearly all of us appreciate that there is a good deal to be said on both sides.

I should like to begin by adding my support—reservedly, of course,—to the case which both the hon. Lady the Membor for Flint, East and the hon. Member for Solihull have put forward. They have given some examples of cases which exist, and I have been disturbed in the past few days to receive further examples. Indeed, in the last few months I have been hearing about marriages which are irretrievably broken and which, humanly speaking, no one can expect will be re-made. There is untold un-happiness; as both hon. Members have said, there is degradation; and, indeed, there is great danger both for the wife and the children when these marriages are permitted to continue.

The hon. Lady has outlined the various difficulties which exist in the present state of the law and, however much we may oppose this Measure and the proposals in it, none of us can regard the present state of affairs as anything but most unsatisfactory when one or other of the partners, or both, can make the matrimonial existence virtually impossible and when, despite that, there is no relief. But I think the main difference between those who support the Bill, and those who oppose it is that those who oppose it do not see any easy remedy merely by changing the law in this respect. We heard today—and most of us have had evidence of them ourselves—of a number of hard cases in which men and women are suffering very greatly under the present state of the law, but when we begin considering hard cases I think we must ask ourselves where, in fact, are we to draw the line? Where do we draw the line so as to take in as many hard cases as possible and relieve as much unhappiness as we possibly can?

I think we should also ask the question, Should the law relating to divorce be founded on any definitely recognised principle or should it be founded on something else—a kind of expediency? As I see it, if in these proposals we have not got the thing quite right, then perhaps we shall be asked in a few months' time to embrace a number of more hard cases; because quite patently, even these proposals have not overcome all the unhappiness that we all know is being suffered at the present time.

Why, one must ask, is this figure of seven years chosen? Admittedly, I believe there are a few precedents for it in other respects. I think there is precedent for it in the presumption of death in the Act of 1937. But the fact does remain that the period is only three years at the other end of the world, in New Zealand; and I believe there has been also a proposal of two years by a certain organisation in this country; and, as I see it, if we agreed to the principle of the seven years' separation being a ground for divorce, then we should open ourselves to the very greatest pressure from all kinds of organisations and from all kinds of unhapy partners in broken marriages to reduce this time to two years, or even less.

As I see it, this continual tinkering with the state of the law, and asking ourselves, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, said in another place three or four months ago, whether the existing state of the law is right—I believe this will get us into the greatest difficulties when we remember that it is not only the Churches, as has been mentioned by the hon. Lady, but also the civil authorities who recognise some degree, a greater or a lesser degree, of permanence and indissolubility in the union of marriage. If the House will forgive me, I should like to read an extract from the Registrar-General's Circular No. 8 of 1947, which shows quite clearly that the civil authorities have fairly strong views on this subject. It runs like this:
"The Registrar-General desires that clear and unmistakable emphasis should be laid upon the solemn and binding character of the marriage vow. Superintendent Registrars are accordingly asked to address the following words to the parties immediately before the declaratory words are spoken: 'Before you are joined in matrimony it is my duty to remind you of the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make. Marriage, according to the law of this country, is the union of one man with one woman voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others.'"
I think we must consider what we are trying to do when we either oppose or support this Bill. We are either, as I see it, trying to relieve unhappiness, or, alternatively, we are trying to strengthen the marriage contract. I do not believe we can do both. That, admittedly, is arguable, but it is my conviction that if we attempt to relieve unhappiness, we may relieve unhappiness but we shall certainly not strengthen the contract of marriage. By our thus relieving unhappiness, I believe this contract, as I shall try to show in a moment, will be weakened. Therefore, however much unhappiness we can relieve at the moment, we shall be laying up for ourselves more unhappiness in the future, and we shall be laying up also for ourselves in the future greater pressure for still easier divorce. But if, on the other hand, we could find some method, by which we could strengthen the marriage contract, then there would be in the future fewer marriages coming to disaster.

I entirely admit that that second problem—the problem of the strengthening of the marriage contract—is one that really cannot be done by law. It is very much more fundamental than that. What I am suggesting is that this Bill, which proposes to relieve unhappiness, will have the opposite effect and will weaken the contract of marriage, and therefore produce more unhappiness in the future.

We face at the present time, I believe, the danger of a vicious circle. The cause of this debate today is, first of all, broken marriages; and secondly, the unhappiness which is caused by them; but I feel that what we decide today will very greatly influence the happiness or otherwise of marriages in the future. We find today that broken marriages are the cause of this debate, and I think we should be careful lest more broken marriages be caused by the result of our deliberations. I read with some interest in yesterday's "Daily Herald" the following extract from an article by Mr. Dudley Barker, in which he said:
"Divorce is only the symptom. The disease is the broken marriage itself, for which usually both the husband and the wife are in some degree to blame."
I think that probably all of us would admit that there is a great deal of truth in that, but I do not in any way believe that it is the whole truth, because I definitely feel that divorce is not only a symptom of broken marriages but that it can also be—and this is why we are frightened of these proposals—the germ of the disease itself.

At the present time, when a man and woman decide to get married, they recognise that it is a lifelong union breakable upon two conditions. One of the conditions is that one of the partners commits an offence under the present law, and the other condition which must be fulfilled is that the other partner, the so-called innocent partner, is willing to divorce him or her. Under the proposal, as I see it, of this Bill we shall in effect be told, "Do not worry too much when you get married. Whatever happens, despite the worst that can possibly happen, you can be free in seven years."

I cannot help feeling that that will very seriously weaken the contract, and will very seriously encourage people possibly to enter on marriage lightly and inadvisedly. If one is unhappy under the present law, then one is encouraged by the present law at least to make the best of it for three years, because no one can obtain a divorce before three years have elapsed from the marriage. If this present proposal becomes law and one is unhappy in, say, the first six months of marriage one would be encouraged to say: "Do not let us try and patch it up. The quicker the separation begins the better. If we wait three years we shall have been married 10 years by the time we get separated." That seems to me a great difficulty, because as I see it, the essential incentive, at least for the first three years under the present law, will be removed if these proposals are adopted.

Anyone who is optimistic about the effect of these proposals on the strengthening of the marriage contract would do very well indeed to study the prophecy which was made by the Modern Churchmen's Union, and which was quoted in the debate on the 1937 Act. In 1936 the Modern Churchmen's Union said:
"If these proposals"—
that is, the proposals of the 1937 Act—
"become law, the moral condition of this country would be greatly improved. The marriage tie would be strengthened, reckless marriages would be discouraged and many present abuses would disappear."
We can no doubt argue whether or not that is justified, but I cannot help feeling that reckless marriage has not been discouraged by those proposals, and I am certainly very wary indeed of what I believe to be more far-reaching proposals under this Bill.

I read an interview, again in the "Daily Herald" that various Members who support this Bill had given a few days ago to Mr. Alan Dick, and I saw that the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East, used the precise words:
"It will not make divorce easier."
Well, I find that difficult to understand, because I thought that was the express object of the Bill. I saw also that the hon. Lady the Member for Battersea, South (Mrs. Ganley) said:
"It is not a new method of breaking marriages but an easement for people whose marriages are already broken."
There, as I see it, is the rub, because I am quite certain—and I have the very greatest respect for both the mover and the seconder of the Motion—that it is the intention of this Bill to provide an easement for marriages already broken.

But also no doubt the mover and the seconder would recognise our fears are that, although it might be an easement for marriages already broken, it would also in the future possibly, and in my view quite likely, provide a new method of breaking marriages. The hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) said in that interview:

"I would like people to take far more care before they enter into marriage."
No doubt we all would, but the question that we who oppose this Bill ask is: Will these proposals really promote that end?

In the Explanatory Memorandum, which I personally found very helpful, the promoters of the Bill admit that a new principle is invoked,
"in that it looks to the breakdown of the marriage as the ground for divorce."
At the moment, as we have already been told this morning, divorce is possible only if one partner in certain respects violates the marriage contract. Indeed, divorce is possible only as a remedy for a proved wrong. At the moment we condemn—and I gather from what the hon. Lady said that she also condemns—what we recognise as the abuse of collusive divorce. I think we all abominate the whole idea of the put-up job, and I gather from the hon. Lady that she entirely agrees. We are opposed—certainly those of us who oppose the Bill are—to any suggestion of divorce by consent.

Now this Bill, as the Explanatory Memorandum suggests, introduces a principle of divorce, not by consent, but, as I see it, by something much worse, and that is by unilateral compulsion. I seriously ask the supporters of the Bill to consider the morality of the unilateral denunciation of a contract. Consider, for a moment, a treaty that this country might make with a foreign Power. Would the supporters of this Bill really support the unilateral denunciation of such a treaty by this country before the treaty expired, merely because it became convenient to denounce it, even if seven years' notice were given? I believe that that principle is an entirely new one, and a very dangerous one if admitted in this respect.

International treaties are all subject to the implied provision that the circumstances remain the same. The whole point of this Bill is that the circumstances are entirely changed.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is very much more instructed about these matters than I am, but I only know—and I dare say he was very worried about it in the years before the war—that Hitler used unilaterally to denounce treaties if he felt that keeping those treaties was not the way to go about what he wanted.

I believe that if we allow the unilateral breaking of the marriage contract we should logically permit the unilateral making of it. No doubt that would have certain charms. It would remove that rather awkward and difficult delay between a proposal of marriage and the consent of the intended. No doubt that would be attractive in many cases, but I cannot seriously believe that many of us think it would be a good thing if marriages could be unilaterally made. The absurdity of trying to force an unwilling partner into marriage should at least make us question very carefully indeed the morality of forcing the unwilling partner out of it. That is the difficulty as I see it.

Perhaps I might quote yet another interview which the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East, gave, this time to "Picture Post." I saw that she asked the question—and it is a very important question indeed—
"Do you think it right that in marriage, which is a partnership, either the man or the woman has the right to impose his or her view on a person who does not share it?"
She asked much the same question this morning. Under that argument, and under the implied answer that she gives in the question, it is apparently wrong for one partner of the marriage contract to impose his or her view on the other partner if that view is "stay married", but it is right if the view is "get divorced." That is the difficulty involved in the question she asked.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there is already unilateral action in divorce on the part of one party? A person may obtain a divorce where the other party is insane. There is no consent there on the part of the other side. Surely that is unilateral denunciation already existing in our law.

It is quite true to say that when a person is divorced for any offence or for insanity, there is unilateral compulsion; but insanity seems to be in a class by itself, because there is no possibility of the other partner consenting or agreeing, and in the divorce court the offence seems again to be different because there the very partner who has been guilty of the offence is giving very practical effect to his desire to escape the marriage contract. That seems to be the state of the existing law.

I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I think that perhaps he can see some difference between a contract that is proposed to be broken unilaterally when in fact the thing which it symbolises does not exist and a contract which really does exist.

I appreciate the hon. Lady's interruption, but perhaps she would allow me to go on a little further, and I should then be able to show her one of the difficulties which may arise by this ability of one partner unilaterally to break the contract, possibly against the wishes, or almost certainly against the wishes, of the other.

This Bill, which it has been stated seeks to remedy a number of hard cases which certainly exist, will create a great many more. This morning we have been mostly considering the refusal of one partner to divorce the other. We have been considering it upon the presumption that in most cases that partner is either spiteful or vindictive; but it is certainly possible—and here I think that we come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet)—to imagine the case, which certainly exists, where a partner who refuses divorce is neither spiteful nor vindictive, but honestly anxious for reconciliation. It is, therefore, possible for, let us say, a woman who holds strong convictions against divorce and who is honestly trying to make her marriage a success to have been. first, the victim of a husband who commits adultery, then the victim of that same husband who is cruel to her and beats her up, and, thirdly, to be his victim when he goes off and deserts her, and leaves her to bring up the children alone. Is it really our intention and wish that the woman should be the victim a fourth time of being divorced against her will?

I find it very difficult—and no doubt a great many other hon. Members will find it difficult, too—to separate one's religious conviction that a marriage is indissoluble and permanent from the existing state of the civil law in which we all know, there are recognised grounds for ending it. As I see it, in this country we do enjoy, or suffer, whichever way we look at it, a very precarious balance between the Church and the State. Within that balance, I believe that the Church should recognise the right of the State to legislate for all its members, and the Church should not seek to impose its views upon people who do not accept its discipline; but I am equally certain that, on the other side, the State, in this relationship, should be very careful indeed before it passes a law the effect of which, in my view, will be to weaken the doctrine of the permanent and indissoluble union, and create more of that very unhappiness which it is the avowed aim of the Bill to alleviate.

12.26 p.m.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I should like, if I may be permitted to do so, to add my tribute to that expressed by previous Members to the sponsor of the Bill for the manner in which she introduced it to the House this morning. In fact, I am inclined to say that she made the very best that could possibly be made of a very bad case. I think that the spirit in which the Bill was introduced is in every way helpful to the discussion of this very important question taking place under the most favourable possible conditions.

Those of us who oppose the Bill realise that there are admittedly cases of hardship which it is the purpose of the Bill to overcome, but we oppose it, notwithstanding that fact, because our conviction is that the evil which the Bill would do if it became law would be very much greater than the evil it is designed to cure. We feel, therefore, that the case against the Bill is, on balance, a very strong one indeed.

I feel that the sponsor of the Bill did very much less than justice to the law of the land on the subject of marriage and divorce when she described the existing state of the law as being the result of an historical accident. I do not think that it is at all fair to suggest that the law of this land on the subject of marriage and divorce is the result of an historical accident. I believe that it follows certain sound and well-understood principles, based on ecclesiastical law, and that, by and large, it has been found down the years to be beneficial to the maintenance of a healthy society. Of course, those of us who oppose the Bill recognise that there are anomalies under the existing law; it would be foolish to deny that those anomalies exist. But what we believe is that anomalies will still exist if this Bill passes into law, and the last state, in our judgment, will be worse than the first.

I want to refer to one or two particular objections to the Bill which occur to me. First, the point has already been made that the Bill enables a guilty party to obtain a divorce against the will of an innocent party. That is a new principle, a far-reaching principle, and a principle which I believe a great many of us would be very unwilling indeed to accept. How many cases are there in this country in which there is perhaps a separation which exists over a period of years?

A man has perhaps left his wife without any due cause—and these things do happen without there being any just cause to account for them. The wife is perhaps hoping and praying down the years that a reconciliation will take place, and that the separation may come to an end. She may be compelled to bring her husband into a magistrates' court in order to secure maintenance for herself and her children. Is it really reasonable, and is it in the public interest, that after a mere lapse of time the husband, in such circumstances as these, should be in a position to impose his will in regard to a divorce upon that of his innocent wife who has no desire whatever that the marriage should thus be brought to an end?

There are two conditions associated with this Bill to which I want briefly to refer. First there is the condition that no reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists. I think one is entitled to ask who is to decide whether a reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists. We may ask whether there is any one competent to be able to decide an issue of that kind, even——

May I interrupt the hon. Member to point out that there is a close similarity in this case with presumption of death? A court presumes death, but how can anyone know? We have to take it on the available evidence. I should have thought this case stood very clearly on the same ground, and that when there was no hope of reconciliation the court could be allowed to presume death—in this case the death of the marriage.

I agree there may be some analogy between the two cases, but the analogy does not seem to go very far. I think the duty a court has in cases where presumption of death is being sought, is a duty which it would be very much easier for the court to discharge than what seems to me to be the infinitely more difficult problem of deciding the prospects of reconciliation.

May I assist the hon. Member by suggesting that in many cases there will be concrete evidence of the irreparable nature of the breakdown of the marriage, because in all probability one of the parties will be living with someone else and will have established a family?

I am not quite certain that that intervention does assist me. I would point out that there are many cases in which there has been a separation for a very much longer period than seven years, and in which, humanly speaking, all the evidence may have led to the presumption that no reasonable prospect of reconciliation existed, but in which, in fact, reconciliation has taken place—cases where, in the words of so many of the stories, the parties have lived happily ever afterwards. I suggest it is imposing an almost impossible task upon any individual or tribunal to ask them to decide whether in any particular case a reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists.

I come now to the second condition to which I wish to refer the condition that there must have been maintenance by the husband during the period of separation. Does not this condition come perilously near to establishing one law for the rich and another for the poor? Does not it bring us very near to saying that for a wealthy man, who may be in a position to maintain the wife from whom he is separated without an undue financial burden being imposed upon him the prospects of obtaining relief from his marriage under this Bill will be greater and much easier than in the case of a husband with very small and limited means?

Will the hon. Member read the words of the provision, "as the court consider reasonable"? Is he not aware that there is well established procedure upon which the court judges what is reasonable maintenance to be paid by a man of whatever means? I presume that this would would apply here.

I do not think that the point is so easily disposed of as the hon. Member suggests. I am perfectly aware of the existing state of the law in this matter. But that does not in any way alter my view that this particular condition is a condition which could be far more easily fulfilled in the case of a husband of ample means than in the case of a husband with very much smaller means.

In case I do not speak in the debate, I should like that point developed by the hon. Member. If a man is getting a wage of £6 or £7 a week, would he be able to get a divorce under this Bill if he had already a wife and children he was maintaining?

I think that perhaps I am having imposed upon me a task a little beyond my capacity if I am being asked to make a speech which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) would have made, had he been fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I will, however, develop this matter further in a sentence or two. For a man who has a wife, and perhaps two or three children, from whom he is separated, and who enjoys a weekly wage of only £5 or £6 a week, the difficulty of fulfilling the conditions of the Bill—which he is required to fulfil as a condition of his marriage being brought to an end after a seven-year separation—is obviously very much greater than in the case of a husband of ample means. I do not wish to labour the point unduly, but I suggest that here there is a danger of the possibility of one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Regarding the seven-year period of separation for which the Bill provides, the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) said that seven years was a very long time indeed. That statement is not without a certain significance. I ask myself why the sponsors of the Bill provided for a period of seven years, and I suspect that this particularly long period was chosen in order to reduce and minimise the opposition to the Bill; with a view to getting the public used to the idea of mere separation being a ground for divorce, and to establish the very important new principle which would be established if this Bill became law. I regard this particular proposal as being very much a case of the thin end of the wedge.

May I disabuse the hon. Member's mind of that thought straight away? I can assure him that there has been no consultation between the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and myself on this idea at all, and that I for one would not be a party to any reduction in the seven-year rule.

Of course, I accept the assurance of my hon. Friend, but obviously he is only in a position to make it for himself. It is not an assurance which would bind all the other supporters of the Bill in the House and the country. I seriously suggest that this is very much a case of the thin end of the wedge, and that if the principle were established we should be faced at a very early date with a public clamour, which could no doubt be engineered, that the period of seven years was far too long and should be reduced to five years, three years or two years. What is important in this matter is the principle at stake and not the period of separation provided in the Bill.

May I point out that the principle of so many years elapsing before a suit for divorce can be begun, has already been made part of the law?

That does not alter my view that a new principle would be established by the Bill, and that if that principle became established it would only be a relatively short time before we should be faced with a public demand for the period to be reduced to something very much shorter. It may be that many hon. Members who favour the Bill would not feel that a shorter period was inappropriate, but it is relevant for those who hold the view that I do, that this is a dangerous proposal, to point out that there is nothing sacrosanct about the seven-year period, and that if once the principle were adopted efforts would be made to shorten the period.

Having made one or two criticisms of particular proposals in the Bill, I would now refer to what seem to me to be the general principles involved and the general objections which may be made on grounds of public policy against the Bill. I believe that the general objections are overwhelming, and that the only real argument for the Bill is that it may promote a certain amount of happiness in a certain number of hard cases which exist under the present law. I would make one or two submissions on the question of hard cases. The first is that hard cases make bad law. Secondly, I would suggest that the Bill is a typical example of a good deal of legislation which has come before this House in recent years, designed to abate or cure particular evils of a restricted character, but which in the process of so doing has created a very much greater general body of evil. The Bill comes clearly within that category of legislation.

There will always be hard cases under the divorce laws unless we go the whole length and establish the principle that divorce should be easy and quick. There will always be cases where one feels that on individual grounds some alleviation should be made available because the cases cannot be brought within the frame-Work of the law. To make divorce easy and quick is the only ultimate remedy for hard cases, but that would create a general body of evil very much greater than any happiness promoted in cases which obtained alleviation under the legislation.

I believe, furthermore, that the Bill represents the wrong way to deal with the problem. If there is a widespread view in the House and in the country that the time has come for reconsideration of the law regarding marriage and divorce, the matter should not be dealt with by means of a little Bill like this, which has only been available to hon. Members and to the public for about 10 days. In that very short period it has been impossible for many bodies and organisations that have views on the matter to make them known to us and to the public. If the time has come for reconsideration of this matter, before legislation is undertaken, there should be an inquiry conducted by a body of the standing of a Royal Commission, which would look at the whole problem, consider all the evils, weigh up the benefits and advantages of particular remedies that might be suggested and take evidence.

I am sure the hon. Member is aware that more than 200 hon. Members have, on a fairly recent occasion, asked for a Royal Commission to be set up into this question, and that there was a debate some three or four months ago on this subject in another place. The matter is in the hands of Private Members, and we have to do the best we can.

I appreciate the strength of the hon. Lady's intervention, as far as it goes, but it does not alter my view in the slightest that this is the wrong way to deal with a matter of this magnitude and importance. If an inquiry were conducted by a Royal Commission or some body of a similar kind, I should hope that the terms of reference would be sufficiently wide to enable consideration to be given not merely as to whether divorce should be made easy and the doors opened further, but also to the steps that might be taken to increase respect for the Christian institution of marriage and to reduce the appalling toll of divorces under the existing law.

An effort has been made to deny what we who oppose the Bill suggest, that the Bill makes divorce easier. I cannot seriously believe that hon. Members can be in doubt that divorce would be made easier if the Bill became an Act and that a larger number of cases of divorce would occur. The hon. Lady who introduced the Bill stated that, according to the best estimate she could give, there were between 100,000 and 200,000 cases of marriages which could not be dissolved under the law at the moment, but which might be capable of dissolution if the Bill passed to the Statute Book. If we accept that as the best estimate that can be made, and I do accept it, it is obvious that we are increasing the scope and field of divorce and the number of divorces likely to take place.

I would ask hon. Members whether this is a suitable time to be considering a Measure which would increase the number of divorces. I have done a certain amount of research into the number of divorces during the past 50 years. The figures may be of interest to hon. Members and to the public. In 1900 the divorce rate was about 500 a year. By 1920 the figure had increased to about 3,000 a year, by 1930 to about 3,500, and in 1937, the last year before the Matrimonial Causes Act of that year, the figure was 4,886. In 1938, the first year in which the 1937 Act was in operation, the number was 6.250, so that there was a jump in one year as a result of the Matrimonial Causes Act. 1937, from 4,886 to 6,250.

I am simply developing the argument that this kind of legislation increases the number of divorces, and secondly I am asking Members of the House to consider whether, in view of the appalling increase in the number of divorces which has already taken place it is the serious wish of the House to open the door still further. That is the point I am seeking to make.

Do my hon. Friend's statistics refer to the number of divorces, or to the number of broken marriages, which is a very different matter?

They refer to the number of divorces and annulments of marriages in England and Wales.

If I may develop these figures, from 1938, when the figure was 6,250, there is a jump by 1944 to 12,314 and by 1948 to 43,698. I want to be quite fair about this, because the 1948 figure shows what, to me at any rate, is a welcome fall from the peak figure of 1947. The figure seemed to have reached a peak in 1947 of 60,190, and in 1948 there is a drop to 43,698. Those figures, at any rate, should give food for thought as to whether this is an appropriate time for us to be considering increasing the grounds on which divorce may take place.

I am sorry to interrupt again, but really the hon. Member is giving a very misleading picture. He has not answered the question which was put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). In so far as one is transposing groups of figures from one to another—broken marriages without divorce to legally dissolved marriages—it is perfectly true that one is increasing the number of legal divorces; nobody who supports the Bill would deny that. But it is entirely misleading to infer from that that one is increasing the number of broken marriages.

I am obviously only in a position to give the House such figures as exist. [Interruption.]

The hon. Lady has, I think, herself admitted that there are no statistics regarding broken marriages, and there cannot be.

People like the hon. Member think they are of no importance compared with divorce.

That is an intervention which I am entitled very considerably to resent. I happen to have taken a very great interest in this problem. In my own constituency I was the founder, and I am still the chairman, of a marriage guidance council, and over a long period I have spent very many hours in trying to deal with this problem. The intervention that I have no particular interest or concern in this matter is neither in accordance with the facts nor helpful to the important matter we are debating.

Reference has been made to the question of deeply-held religious convictions on this matter. I ask hon. Members to realise that we are dealing here with a problem where very deep principles of conscience are involved as far as a very great many people are concerned Some hon. Members can regard these people as being old-fashioned and out of date if they like, but the fact remains that there are still a very great many people in this country who believe that the declaration "till death us do part" does in fact mean what the words say. That is a deeply-cherished and deeply-held conviction, and in my submission it is all to the benefit of the country that people should take that solemn and serious view of the obligations which are involved in matrimony.

I have taken such steps as have been possible since the Bill was published to ascertain the views of the churches, both in my constituency and elsewhere. It is all very well for the sponsor of the Bill to quote the case of a letter from an individual clergyman in the Anglican Church. There are, no doubt, individual ministers of religion who undoubtedly hold the view expressed in that letter, but there is no doubt that the official and the overwhelmingly held view, both of the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church and the Free Churches, is against the Bill, and that there is a very great hope by these churches that the House will not, particularly at this time, give a Second Reading to the Bill.

I go further. I believe that a great majority of the general public are against the Bill. Although there has only been a period of about 10 days in which members of the public have had an opportunity of writing to their Members and voicing their opinions on the Bill, I detect a considerable hardening of opinion against the Bill in the past few days. I believe that if a public opinion poll or some similar steps could be taken to secure a wider expression of public opinion, it would be found that that opinion would be hostile to the principles embodied in the Bill.

On what grounds does the hon. Member base that remark? I cannot speak of other constituencies, but I have not received a single letter on the Bill except from an organisation well outside my constituency.

I have had a great many letters on the matter, letters asking me to support the Bill and letters against it, but there have been two characteristics about those letters. Firstly, practically every letter I have received in support of the Bill has been from someone with a personal interest in the subject matter of the Bill, whereas nearly every letter I have received against the Bill has been from somebody who was actuated by a matter of belief or principle in being opposed to the Bill. All shades of opinion are entitled to be considered, but I think that the people who proceed on the basis of principle rather than of personal interest in the matter, on a question of this kind ought to have the major consideration given to their views.

Finally, I ask hon. Members to consider the effect that this legislation, would have upon all the problems connected with marriage and the home, children and juvenile delinquency. There is not the slightest doubt that unsatisfactory home conditions are far and away the most common and most prevalent reasons leading to juvenile delinquency. This House at the present time ought to think hard and consider long before it does anything in the direction of striking a blow at the view which the public hold of the sanctity of marriage, or take any steps to undermine the foundation of the home. I very greatly hope that the House will decide today that this Bill shall not be given a Second Reading.

1.1 p.m.

I happen to be one of those people who support this Bill. I am not one of those who are seeking relief from a broken marriage. My marriage has been in existence for a very long time, and I hope it is going to continue for the period for which I took my marriage vows. Therefore, I support this Bill on principle. The hon.

Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) suggested that in another few months there might be another Bill further to alleviate the conditions which we are today deploring, but he will remember that, as has been mentioned already, it is 39 years ago since a Royal Commission was appointed and reported, but the recommendations of that Royal Commission have not been carried out. In 1925, some alleviation was given to the people who found their condition quite intolerable.

In 1936, there was a Private Member's Bill, which has been referred to this morning, and there are still hon. Members in this House who took part in the debate on that occasion. Speaking in that debate, one hon. Member quoted figures of divorces such as have been quoted today by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), but I should like to remind him of the following figures. In 1902, only two out of every 1,000 marriages led to divorce, while in 1928 one in 75 did so. The hon. Member opposite has just quoted the figures from 1930, 1944 and 1948, but we should remember the great change in conditions that took place during those years.

Everyone with any experience of public life must remember the numbers of people who came to them during those war years in such despair. The hon. Member has quoted the figure of 60,000 as being the number of marriages in one year which resulted in divorces during that period, but, if I might go back to the debate in 1936, I want to recall that it was then stated that the magistrate at the South-Western Court had in seven months issued 229 summonses and 89 orders had been made for final separations. These, obviously, were cases to which full consideration had been given and in which, in an endeavour to bring about a reconciliation, everything had been done, but there were still 89 final orders, carrying with them the recognition that those people had found it quite impossible to carry on in what we call holy matrimony.

What is the situation today? In October of last year, the Legal Aid and Advice Act was brought into operation, and of 8,018 certificates that have been issued up to 31st January—a period of only three months—6,572 were for matrimonial proceedings. We talk of holy matrimony, but, with progressive figures like these, the holiness must have gone entirely from these unions. This is the measure of the problem we have to consider—the problem of the broken marriages. Although there are numbers of people who feel that divorce is the crowning crime, as it were, for these people, a broken marriage is the thing that impresses much more clearly those of us who are daily seeing the results of these cases.

Under the conditions of war, the movement of the population was very much intensified. One hon. Member has already quoted figures of the number of divorces granted during the war. Young men and women left their homes for such strange environments in the conditions of the Services. This Bill seeks to give relief to those whose marriage is already broken, and the figures which have been quoted earlier show that the objections to divorce, while allowing separation, have brought about many more irregular unions than would have been assisted by divorces had it been possible to dissolve those marriages.

The question of means enters very much into this question, and there has already been the suggestion that we have one law for the rich and another for the poor. But that situation exists today. The situation is that a wealthy person can not only take proceedings for divorce but can also arrange to supply the evidence to make that possible. That happens, and is happening all the time.

I have had many letters on this question, and these letters are very varied. One of them was a very moving letter from a woman, who said that she had not seen her husband for 33 years. She is not able to prove his death, she is not able to ask for a divorce, and, therefore, she is in the position, which she admitted, of having formed another union. She also said that the misery of trying to conceal the fact that she was, as she thought and as the world thinks, living in sin was great. There are even old age pensioners who are still hoping that a Bill will come along to give them relief so that they might be able to claim that they were respectably married.

In the instance I have quoted, there were no children. The question of the children has been raised constantly by the people who are opposing this Bill. I happen to know a number of instances in which there were no children from the legal marriage, but in which, when that marriage had been broken and a fresh union had been formed, children had resulted. Again, there is the constant threat that these children will be brought up to feel a sense of shame because of the situation in which their parents were living.

What do hon. Members who are opposing this Bill suggest should happen in such cases? Must these people go on living in sin, or, under a Bill of this kind, after seven years' separation has proved that there is no chance of a reconciliation, and where these new unions have been formed with the possibility and the hope of happy homes resulting from them, should they be given the relief which is here proposed? Hon. Members who oppose the Bill have said that these marriage laws have grown up for reasons of stability in the community. I suggest that the stability of the community would be very much better served by allowing this new union to be regularised than by allowing this fear, which these people always have, to continue as at present. Divorce affects the children, I agree, but the very fact that these homes have been broken, and that this influence is expressed and felt all the time, affects the children equally.

I have another letter from a man who stayed with his wife for 18 years under conditions which he found almost intolerable because he would not have the home broken up and the children's lives made miserable. Then, after all those years, his wife walked out on him, and for 13 years he has had no association with her, although he has maintained her. Here, again, we have a problem of another kind, but just as big a problem.

The question of mutual consent has been raised. It occurs today where means are available and conditions are arranged. Everybody knows perfectly well from the casual notices in the newspapers and the reports of cases in the courts that it is by mutual consent that many divorces are arranged by people able to afford it. It is the couple without means who go into the wilderness of human relations, and their intensity of feeling is just as great, whatever their economic circumstances.

Other hon. Members have raised the moral issue. But is this only confined to marital relations? Surely, the acceptance of personal responsibility and the imposition of self-discipline are the moral issue, and this extends far beyond infidelity. I consider that the generally accepted standards of life affect all human relations and raise a problem far beyond this situation. I say, therefore, that the request made in this Bill that seven years of already broken marriage shall be a reason for application for that break to be made permanent, for another association to be made possible or for such association to be regularised if it has already been formed, is a reasonable one.

In discussing the Second Reading of this Bill, the situation of today must be taken into account. The terms of the Bill have regard to the economic conditions, fear about which prevents many people from allowing action to be taken for divorce. We should remind ourselves that conditions today are very much better for many people than they were in the past. The younger woman today is much better able to maintain herself than she was in the 1930's, and a little later on. The economic situation generally is very much easier than it was in those days, and such people, although they can claim our sympathy and understanding, are in a much better economic situation than ever before. I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading because, if it became an Act, it would bring relief to thousands, and would restore to many homes the sanctity which is now lacking. I therefore support the Bill in the hope that the Government will grant the facilities for passing it into law.

1.15 p.m.

I am very glad to have the opportunity of explaining to the House why I support the Second Reading of this Bill. I do so because I feel that it is an honest and sincere attempt to deal with something which everyone must admit presents a very grave social problem. All hon. Members know that cases occur where people marry and where, through no fault whatsoever of one of the parties, the marriage is not consummated. The result, of course, is that the other party to the marriage can, and frequently does, seek to obtain relief on that account. There is no doubt that the court gives that relief merely upon the basis of the fact, although a very important one, that it would be exceedingly hard luck if one of the parties to the marriage should be prevented from ever having children. There may also be the fear that, human nature being what it is, there is the possibility that the petitioner might be guilty of some matrimonial offence.

The House will equally be well aware of the fact that, in many cases, even though there is consummation of the marriage, there is the possibility that, through no fault whatsoever of either of the parties to the marriage, and probably on account of incompatibility of temperament, or for other reasons, the parties may not be able to live together. They may try to do so, but it may be that the circumstances are such that they cannot live together in peace. There, perhaps, a similar situation arises.

If I ever had any doubt about such a position causing a very grave tragedy, that doubt has been removed by a letter I have received on the subject There is no doubt that the time has come when some relief should be given. Although I do not think that the Bill in its present form is perfect, I believe that to a great extent it could do something to put that position right. For that reason, I support its Second Reading. I believe that a great deal of the opposition to the Bill is due to the fact that many people believe that one of its unfortunate results might be to encourage immorality. Some may think that, as a result of the Bill, there is the possibility of somebody saying, "After all, we will merely anticipate events because at the end of seven years we are perfectly certain that the matter will be put right."

I seriously suggest to the promoters of the Bill that it would be a far better Bill, though it would not cover all they wish to cover, if it were made a condition that the parties concerned should themselves not be guilty of a matrimonial offence. Many years ago—a good many more than I care to remember—when I was a legal student, I remember reading a maxim of equity with which all those who are lawyers will be familiar. It is that if one wants to have equity, one must be equitable oneself. In other words, if one goes to the court in order to get equity, one must go with clean hands.

I am much obliged. Although it is a very far cry from the Court of Chancery to the Divorce Court, I nevertheless feel that in these particular cases the same rules should apply. If we are going to allow the guilty party to come to the court and succeed in a petition against an innocent party, we shall cut right across the accepted ideas of divorce. Nevertheless, because I feel that a sincere effort has been made to meet some of these problems, I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, with the hope that the Bill will be improved later. I hope that the House will do the same and give the Bill a Second Reading.

1.22 p.m.

When we consider these very serious matters we have in the forefront of our minds, possibly quite reasonably enough, the present parlous position of some marriages; but, of course, what we are discussing and what we decide today will affect the future position of all marriages, and is really a very much greater issue. The extent to which easier facilities for divorce are provided, the extent to which we increase the number of grounds upon which divorce may be granted, will facilitate the break-up of marriages.

That is something which cannot be proved. It is a matter of instinct, of one's own experience of many talks with many folk. It must be obvious, however impossible it may be to prove one way or another in terms of mathematics, that there does come a point at which easier divorce induces people who are struggling to make a success of their marriage to give up the sponge just a little earlier than they otherwise would have done. It is not something that can be proved; it cannot be found in any statistics; it is based on what I feel as a result of conversation with hundreds of people.

Therefore, does anyone believe that if this Bill became law people thereby would be induced to think a little longer, a little more carefully and a little more deeply before entering upon marriage, or would the tendency of this Bill be to induce a little less care? That is really the test which one must apply if one accepts the proposition that the future position of all marriages is really of more importance than the present position of some.

The over-riding objection to this Bill seems to me to be this. It is a dreadful proposition that a man or a woman should be guilty of adultery or cruelty and then, by separating for the requisite number of years, force the other party into a divorce against the wish of the other party. If one is talking and thinking about man-made injustices, if one has in mind the vindictive wives of whom one has heard a great deal, is not the forcing of the innocent person into a divorce at least as great an evil—and in my view a greater evil—as that of the innocent party using a sanction, which is the innocent party's only, a little harshly? I am told that this is divorce by consent. As the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) said, if it were, one would not feel so strongly about it. But it goes further. This enables the forcing through of divorce by the one party who should not have the right to do so.

Do I understand that my hon. Friend is saying that where a marriage is in fact finished and completely at an end as far as the relationship of the parties are concerned, nevertheless it should be considered to be continuing in law?

It may be thought that if, for example, one spouse has committed adultery or acts of cruelty and then has gone away for the statutory period under this Bill, the spouse is well rid of him or her. But my contention is that that is a matter for the other spouse to judge. I disagree fundamentally with the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) when he suggested that about 50 per cent. of the legally innocent spouses were really the morally guilty ones.

I have the greatest respect for some of His Majesty's judges who have expressed concern on this point. I have practised at the Bar for only a comparatively small number of years, but it is my experience that in about 85 per cent. of the cases, at least, it is perfectly easy to point to the one spouse who has taken the step which has broken up the marriage. I can only suggest that the philosophy which lies behind much of the talk in support of the Bill—that there are always faults on both sides and that the blame is fifty-fifty—is not proved in my experience.

When the hon. Member suggests that in 85 per cent. of the cases it is possible to tell who committed the act that gave rise to the broken marriage, would he also say that it is as easy to detect the degree of provocation that preceded it?

Of course it is not, but it is a gross over-statement to suggest in a vague and off-hand way that it is mostly a matter of fifty-fifty. There are, of course, faults on both sides, but this tendency to think that there is no moral validity in belief in the legal innocence of one party is a dangerous doctrine. I am, perhaps, a little fanatical on this point, but it seems to me that not only are we losing a sense of innocence and guilt in divorce cases, but that that is a symptom of a wider disease whereby innocence and guilt have been made largely to disappear from the conceptions of ordinary life. Crime today is not a matter of guilt and innocence according to the majority view; it is a matter for therapy and psychological treatment. War criminals are not guilty so long as they can prove they had an order from a superior official.

Innocence or guilt are really being made to disappear in a kind of vague shadow of a sort of expedient justification, and I think this Bill has its birth to some extent in that kind of attitude. If the Bill were passed into law, this would be the one branch of our legal system which would enable a man to profit by his own offence. In all other branches of the law the greatest care is taken to see that people do not profit by their own wrongdoing. Here we are putting a premium upon wrongdoing. I cannot think that the principle followed in other branches of the law is wrong.

I am told that a great many people today are living very unhappy lives. I am sure they are, but I ask hon. Members to consider the position which would arise as a result of this Bill being passed and to consider whether there is not another way in which the matter could be dealt with. Many cases of hardship which are known to us in this House arise under three different categories. The first category is where over the past years, owing to expense, a party has not been able to take advantage of his or her legal right and the marriage has drifted on because of lack of means for remedial action. Of course, the Legal Aid Scheme now enables that hindrance to be removed.

The second great stumbling block to a more equitable system of divorce has been the complete damping down effected by a separation deed. If a separation deed is imported into a case at almost any time, the original desertion is entirely obliterated by it, and the innocent and guilty parties alike are placed in a position from which they cannot extricate themselves. There is, indeed, a great case for the wrongful fact of the obliteration of the desertion by a separation agreement, being made the subject of special legislation in this House. That would do away with a great many cases of hardship. But dealing with it upon that narrow ground is one thing, and bringing this quite revolutionary proposal before the House is another.

I should like to say something about the financial effects of this Bill, because it seems rather ironical that in the Explanatory Memorandum we find the words:
"This provision is a protection for deserted wives, whose husbands have defaulted on payment of maintenance."
In fact, this Bill is likely to lead to a much greater number of defaults than exist even today, because one income is seldom great enough to cover two homes and probably two sets of children. Although there now exists in many thousands of cases a situation in which the first family suffer because the income is not great enough to be spread between the first group of children and the second group, if one accepts my fear that this proposal will lead to an increased number of double families, then one is going to magnify the unhappy situation whereby the first family get nothing, the courts hesitate to put the man in gaol for his default to the first family since that would mean that the second family would get nothing; and so we should get a great aggravation of this evil of back payments and pecuniary default.

I hope the House will reject this Bill. A number of hard cases have been quoted, but it is perfectly true that hard cases make bad law. Let me refer to the most common type of case which I meet in the course of practice and my ordinary work among constituents. It is the case of the woman who, after, say, 10 years of being thoroughly overworked, immersed in her family and in the drudgery of housework without the slightest aid of modern equipment, has grown drab in looks, and whose husband has taken his entertainment and has developed interests outside the home. So far as working-class families are concerned, this is a very common phenomenon indeed. Under this Bill, this woman who has grown drab and aged before her time because of her sacrifice for home and children is going to be placed at the mercy of and compelled to submit to a divorce by a husband who has merely separated himself for the statutory period.

That is most misleading and incorrect, because the Bill specifically prescribes that the case has to come under the examination and adjudication of the court. All these facts will be ventilated, examined and adjudicated upon, and in a case of that description the divorce would obviously not be granted.

As I understand the reference in the Bill to adjudication and discretion of the court, it refers to financial maintenance, and does not refer, in my opinion—I shall be glad to hear other views—to the general background of the origin of the behaviour of both parties. It relates purely to the financial position. If this Bill is passed, we may well find that we are introducing a remedy which is worse than the disease it is meant to cure.

1.38 p.m.

I wish to support the Second Reading of this Bill in one respect; I hope that through it we may get some anomalies put right. I should like to cite as one example the case of a constituent of mine. During the war a British destroyer was damaged by enemy action and was being patched up in an American port. One of the crew, a British sailor, married an American girl, and when his ship was ready for sea in four months' time, he went to sea again and was shortly divorced on the grounds of desertion. The lady then married an American and had a child. The sailor was still married under British law. He found that although he was married and divorced in America, he could not re-marry in this country.

On the advice of the Attorney-General, who was very helpful in the matter, I obtained photostat copies of the divorce, re-marriage and child's birth certificates, and a letter from the lady in question saying that she was happily married once again. After that the man had to get a divorce over here, and the man, an ordinary seaman, had to find approximately £50. It seems very hard that a man who has been divorced through no fault of his own, and without his knowledge or consent, should have to find such a sum of money, and I am pleased to say that I was able to obtain nearly all the money from one of the Service charities. Had it been an English woman marrying an American man the divorce would have been recognised in this country. If the marriage were legal, so should the divorce be. It is in the hope that anomalies like this will be considered, perhaps in the Committee stage, that I support the Second Reading of this Bill.

1.40 p.m.

I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill. I sympathise about the difficulties in the case to which the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) referred and I welcome his indication that he will support the Second Reading. It seemed to me that towards the end of his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Wilkes) was pleading to make marriage safe for drab wives.

I think it will be a bad thing for marriage if women are to neglect their own contribution to it and to rely upon the legal prohibition preventing the other spouse from seeking relief from it. In some of the speeches which have been made today, hon. Members have been in danger of looking at the narrow and rather legalistic aspects of the problem and not at the great human experience and the social requirements which he behind it. I thought that the speech of the mover of the Amendment offered much more food for thought than did the speech of the seconder, if I may say so. What we are considering in relation to the Bill is what contribution it will make to human happiness, what effect it will have upon the institution of marriage and what, over all, will be its effect on the interests of society.

Turning first to the institution of marriage, I, for my part, deplore the constant use of the word "contract," for it seems to me that we are in danger of using a false analogy when we draw upon international agreements, and even more so when we draw upon business contracts, as the basis of our contention that the unilateral termination of the marriage is contrary to all practice in connection with contracts. The fact is that most contracts of an international or of a business character contain clauses providing for termination either at the expiry of a fixed period of years or on agreed notice being given by either side. Surely there are very few contracts outside the marriage contract in which an agreement is made for life without any provision whatever for an escape from it or amendment to it.

Let us, I beg, look at the question of the marriage contract more from the point of view of the institution of marriage in our human society and let us get away from the legalistic comparisons which we may be tempted to make with the unilateral denunciation of treaties by Hitler or the unilateral denunciation of a contract entered into by two business men. If we look at it as a social institution and a very profound human institution, we shall be discussing the matter on a more suitable basis.

The question which I think we have to ask ourselves is whether the Bill will do more harm than good. That was the question posed in the speech of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), who seconded the Amendment. What harm will it do? My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, posed a question when he asked whether the Bill would encourage those who marry in the future to look at marriage more solemnly or more lightly than would be the case if an Act of this nature did not exist. There is a lot of theory about this, but I doubt whether in practical experience there is anything but a negligible minority of people who enter into marriage with any thought in their minds about how easy or how difficult it may be subsequently to escape from it.

It is fantastic to me to suggest that young men or women, or not-so-young men or women for that matter, who are contemplating marriage, enter that solemn undertaking, that act of faith, that pledge of mutual support and affection, while meditating upon the intricacies of the divorce law or the facilities which it may offer to enable them to escape from what they surely hope will be a happy and lasting union, providing them with a foundation for human happiness. If we pass this Bill, I do not believe it will encourage those who are embarking on marriage to regard their undertaking lightly, frivolously and without due thought for the seriousness of the step they are taking.

But I would add this. I believe some marriages can be wrecked from the very beginning by the fear so frequently instilled into the minds of young people by parents, friends and advisers of the solemnity and gravity and supreme importance of the step they are taking. It is possible to put into the minds of young people who are embarking on marriage a fear of the future by an insistence that this step is for life, "till death us do part"; it is possible to instil such a fear by the sort of advice which says," If you make a mistake you will rue the day; think carefully; ponder over it"—or all those other urgent words of advice which I think tend to create a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty in embarking upon this great human experience. Whether that theory is supported by hon. Members who oppose the Bill, I do not know, but I think they have no support for the contention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central.

I am very interested in the last argument of the hon. Member. Would he explain to us how it is best for parents to instil a sense of security into their children if they are not to give the advice which he has outlined. What advice should they give?

I will answer that question straight away. It seems to me that the advice which parents can best give in these circumstances is not to obtrude the legal aspects of marriage or to impress upon their children the element of contract and the prohibitions surrounding the whole institution of marriage. It is far better, I suggest, to try to develop in their minds the exciting experience upon which they are about to embark; to impress upon them the great quality of tolerance; to stress the need for making the most of this human relationship; and to stimulate the spiritual and personal approach to it in a way which will give them the feeling that this is something which is a great joy in life, and that there is an enormous amount of happiness to be obtained from it.

There can be no question of failure if it is approached in the spirit of human relationships, personal respect, and affection. I realise how difficult it is to express in words the sort of thing which is the firmest basis for marriage, but I think that that is the spirit in which marriages should be embarked upon, rather than that which thinks only or mainly of the legal aspects, the possibilities of divorce, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central said that this Bill, if it became law, would prejudice the enduring nature of future happiness. I do not believe it will. I think that the institution of marriage can be put on a much firmer basis through social conditions, education and, a greater sense of social security, than by talking of marriage and divorce.

What harm will be done to those whose marriages have already broken down? Here we have an obviously difficult task. We have to decide, so to speak, between the parties, and we have also to have regard—which is a most important thing—to the social interest and the desire to promote a healthy society. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central referred to marriages which have broken down and have been followed by deeds of separation. It has been assumed in much of the discussion we have been having on these cases that the marriages which this Bill would dissolve are those in which there had been a legal offence—marital offence—inflicted by one of the parties on the other, but I should think myself that in most cases where there is redress under the existing law steps have already been taken by the injured spouse to dissolve the marriage—in most cases.

On the other hand, where deeds of separation have been entered into, there is no means under the existing law of dissolving the marriage, because no injury has been done by a deed of separation by one party against the other, and, indeed, as was pointed out a moment or two ago, a deed of separation expunges any previous marital offence which would otherwise have been the grounds for divorce. I do not think that there is anything socially wrong with giving relief in those cases. I do not think it is an injury to either party, where both have entered into a deed of separation, if the marriage can be finally terminated on the application of either party, where the separation has lasted for more than seven years. I think that those are the main cases which this Bill would deal with.

My hon. Friend referred to the possibility of doing something for those cases alone, without embarking on the new principle, to which exception has been taken in some of the speeches, by which one party may seek a dissolution of the marriage against the will of the other. There, however, I think that we have to consider what is going to be the greatest social good. We cannot always consider the feelings of injured parties, though they must be taken very fully and very carefully into account; but there is a social necessity, the greater interest of society, of the children, and of promoting healthy relationships between men and women. I think that this Bill will do more good than harm, and I sincerely hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

1.55 p.m.

I rise to support the Amendment, but I should like to join in the very warm congratulations that have been offered to the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), on her courage in introducing this Bill and on the very great sincerity with which she stated her case so very ably. That I disagree with her in no way detracts from the admiration I am sure we all have for the way she put her case.

I believe that at the present time when we have to consider very, very difficult problems arising from broken marriages, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are now in a black period. We are in the aftermath of war—of a period of six years during which moral standards were at their lowest. In this aftermath broken marriages are at their very peak in number, and I do not think that the numbers should be taken as the normal standard and the normal aggregate in the life of this nation.

There are anomalies; there are, indeed, many hard cases; but I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) the experience that those who have asked me to support this Bill are, without exception, what we technically term the interested guilty parties, and that those who have asked us to oppose it have, in the main, been people who would not personally be affected by this Bill but who are very concerned about the maintenance of the sanctity of marriage. We all know there have been marriages broken during the war years—by the distance apart of the husband and wife, by their long separation, by the acquaintance of a serving man with an attractive woman; and I believe that the figures we have today are abnormally inflated.

The problem we have to face today has been amply shown, I believe, by the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon. The divorce figures for 1945 were 15,000; they doubled to 30,000 in 1946; and then in 1947 they reached the peak of 60,000; but in 1948 they came down to 48,000. I believe we are now starting getting back to more normal life, and so to more normal figures regarding broken marriages.

My main and principal reason for opposing this Bill is that it introduces an entirely new principle—that the guilty party should be able to force, providing financial arrangements are made, the innocent party, who may hold the strictest views of conscience about divorce, into a divorce which is unpalatable to that spouse. This could easily be developed into divorce by consent. The parallel has been drawn that, at the moment, we allow a party to impose on one who is certified, a divorce for lunacy; but I do not think the two cases are parallel. In the other case, one party is not mentally capable of judging, but the two parties are capable of judging in the cases we are discussing under this Bill.

We have been given a figure of 200,000 separated couples, who, under the Bill, could legally marry. But can we assume that they are all being deprived of this facility by vicious spouses? Can we assume they all want to re-marry? Or can we even assume they could all take constant new partners? Does this Bill provide the same facility for the genuine cases, which have been repeatedly emphasised by the Members supporting the Measure—the genuine cases of people who have found new and constant partners? Are the same facilities to be enjoyed by the rogue who flits from affair to affair? Will he also get those facilities and be able to impose on an unwilling and reluctant partner, a divorce which is distasteful to her?

One of the fundamental principles enunciated by the mover of the Bill was: Ought one person to have the absolute right to decide whether another person should be tied and denied their freedom? In English law, marriage is defined not only in the churches but also according to civil marriage in a registry office. I have here a notice of marriage by certificate available in a registrar's office, the headline of which is:
"marriage according to the law of this country is the union of one man with one woman voluntarily entered into for life to the exclusion of all others."
That remains the law of our country and does not apply only to those who hold religious beliefs, or particularly desire their marriage in a church. It is, I believe, wrong to claim that the woman is tying a man to something which he, equally with her, entered into voluntarily, for better or for worse, for life.

I should now like to say a few words on the question of marriages "broken beyond repair." It is very difficult to think who is to be the judge. It is difficult to estimate at just what stage the conciliation officers, now doing such wonderful work, are to throw in the sponge and say, "We can do no more. This case is one for the new legislation." I believe that, as evidenced in another place by the Archbishop of York, there are many cases of families being brought together again after a separation order has been in operation; and reconciliations are not unknown where there has been a separation for more than the seven years covered by this Bill.

I accept the assurance of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) that he personally would not consider a reduction of the seven years term, but all hon. Members must be very alive to the pressure and the policy of the Marriage Law Reform Committee, who have not attempted to conceal their desire and aim that the period should be two years, so much so that their printed documents—a copy of one of which I have here—outlining basically the whole principle upon which this Bill is based, refer throughout to the term of two years in print, but to bring it into conformity with this Bill that has been altered in ink to seven years.

Can there be any doubt that there would be constant and real pressure to reduce the period from seven years to five years, and to three years in stages, when they thought that public opinion, having accepted the principle of this Bill, would accede to further pressure to reduce the period below seven years? I admire the ability and the shrewdness of those who realised that this House would not think of accepting a term of less than seven years at the present time, but we cannot be blind to the very real pressure which already exists to get the term down to as low as two years. If the term were reduced, much of the sanctity and security of marriage would be destroyed.

I should like to add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Wilkes), who spoke of the drab wife. I deplore the criticism of that comment made by the hon. Gentleman who followed, because I believe that the marriageable span of years of a man is, generally, longer than that of a woman. Many women, once they are married, have far less to spend on their personal appearance than they had before they were married, or than the attractive young women who come into the sphere of their husbands' business lives. I therefore believe that we must carefully protect the middle-aged woman who has devoted herself principally to her household and her children, and who may not have maintained the superficial attractiveness which may still beguile her husband in another direction. We should protect such women from what I believe would be the serious consequences of this Bill.

We are told that this Bill would not make for more broken homes; that it would only make the situation clearer. I believe that divorce creates broken homes. We have heard a lot about the illegitimate children, but what about the children who for five or 10 years have had a beloved father and suddenly find that he vanishes from their homes? Are not their needs just as great as those of the new partnership and of the illegitimate children the husband may bring into the world? It has been said that this Bill, will protect women and will bring home to men their existing obligations. Quite honestly, I do not believe this Bill will catch the real rogue at all, because he will take good care not to re-marry for fear of the impending liabilities.

I hope the House will forgive me if I detail many of the points so admirably published by the mover of the Bill, who has certainly done her share in making as widely known as possible the principles upon which she bases her Bill. If, as she claims, the Bill strengthens the position of the deserted wife by imposing on the deserting husband an obligation to pay, what husband will go out of his way to seek divorce and re-marry if he really wants to forgo his financial responsibilities to his wife altogether? It is the one thing he will avoid. By applying for divorce he invites the scrutiny of a divorce judge, and he may well find himself landed with heavier obligations to fulfil towards his former wife.

One of the real dangers if this Bill is passed is that of blackmail. There are many short-lived liaisons. There are in the country today many tolerant wives who have experienced a period when they have known that their husbands were conducting such liaisons, but they have tolerantly waited until the first, fine rapture had worn off and the affair ended, and those marriages have often been cemented and continued, and the two reunited in the family home. It is a little hard to think how often in this debate we have made the woman the innocent party and the man the guilty party, but we cannot double every sentence by reversing the position. I am sure I speak for all my colleagues of my sex in the House when I say that we interchange the guilty and the innocent and realise that both may be of either sex.

I believe that this Bill puts into the hands of an unscrupulous man or woman the very powerful weapon of blackmail. Hitherto, the unscrupulous woman could not force her lover into divorce and remarriage if there stood between her and her objective the free will and choice of the innocent spouse. If the wife refused, then it was just another affair. Let us suppose that Mr. X is a promising business man in the prime of life, with a roving eye. He leaves a tired but worthy wife—perhaps a "shabby wife" as one hon. Member said—who has let her domestic duties dominate her life to the exclusion of her own personal attractiveness. Mr. X has a liaison with this attractive and unscrupulous woman, probably younger than his legal wife. She is fully aware of his financial stability. He is in love with her and is generous. They set up house together where neither of them is known. The story continues to form. They may go through the procedure of changing her name by deed poll, so as to give semblance to a legally conducted household, or she may do no more than go to the food office and change her name on her ration books. But the wife refuses her husband a divorce because, as so often is the case, she does not want to close the door to a possible reconciliation.

As the law now stands, the third party knows that the wife will not agree to divorce, and so she takes what she can get while the going is good. Under this Bill, if it becomes law, she can blackmail the man. She has a weapon to use. She can threaten to expose their unmarried status, which might do very real harm to him if he had local or social aspirations, or might inflict ill on him in his business associations. She can blackmail him into marriage with this weapon behind her, that she can disclose their unmarried status, but if she had not this weapon behind her, she would be the sole loser by such a revelation. In the hands of an unscrupulous woman, I believe that this would provide her with material security after the man's death and deprive the wife of all but the maintenance allowance. If he deserts her, she is still protected by the Bill. Any attempt to remarry the first wife is only made possible after he has made financial arrangements for her, and whoever benefits by this Bill, I believe that the other woman is very high on the list.

There are two technical points which are not touched on in the Bill. These concern the various Social Service benefits which we enjoy today. Is the first wife to be deprived of her old age pension and the other insurance benefits which she would have by virtue of her husband's insurance? Presumably, the guilty party, seeking for divorce against the reluctant innocent party, would also enjoy the free legal aid service which the State provides. I believe that reforms are necessary, but I do not believe that this is a reform. I believe that it makes the situation worse, that it would bear very hardly on the drab, middle-aged wife, and I believe that it would not lessen but increase the number of broken marriages. I am sure that it is the primary object of all Members of this House to strengthen marriage and not further to facilitate divorce.

2.15 p.m.

I am a widower. Unhappily, I lost my wife recently after nearly 25 years of happy married life. I think that I can, therefore, say that I have no interest of a personal character in this Bill. I have had some experience—in nearly 30 years practice—in the divorce courts, and I suggest that no practitioner in the divorce courts who has had any considerable experience there can do other than support this Measure, and support it wholeheartedly. We have travelled a long way from the days when only the privileged class could afford the luxury, by promoting a private Act of Parliament, of obtaining a divorce.

It seems strange to us that divorce was only obtainable through the civil courts for the first time under the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857, and that until the year 1923—not so very long ago—a husband could obtain a divorce from his wife because of adultery, but adultery on the part of the husband was not a ground for divorce for the wife. I think that many of us remember with gratitude the Act of 1937—the result again of a Private Member's Bill—which brought relief to both sexes on a number of grounds, including desertion. We have travelled slowly but surely, and I hope that we have reached the stage when by this Bill we can give relief to many more deserving cases.

We have heard m this House lately a great deal of argument about the sanctity of contract. Marriage is, of course, a contract, but no one will deny that it is a peculiar contract, different in many ways from any other. It is the foundation of family life; it involves the question of children, and no one on either side of the House would lightly do anything to destroy it. We start, therefore, with that fundamental fact. But surely no one can justifiably urge that, because of that fundamental fact, it is necessary that persons should be tied and remain together, however wretched and miserable they may be.

It was the law until 1937 that a single act of adultery would enable a person to obtain a divorce, but that where a marriage was brought to naught by deliberate desertion, nothing could be done. It has been said that under our law today, there has to be a guilty party. That, at any rate, is the argument which has been put forward. It has been suggested here that we have departed from that position by invoking a new principle. I intervened while the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) was making the point with regard to what he called unilateral denunciation. We are not invoking a new principle in this Bill.

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but the Explanatory Memorandum has this phrase:

"The Bill invokes a new principle."

I have always understood that an Explanatory Memorandum never formed a part of the Bill. I am dealing with a speech to which I listened very carefully in which reference was made to a new principle being invoked, and the words used were that unilateral denunciation was something new. I pointed out—and I should like to repeat the point—that under the 1937 Act, which is the existing law, one of the grounds of divorce is incurable insanity on the part of one party. No suggestion is made, nor could it be made, that it is necessary in such cases to obtain the consent of the other party to the divorce. Surely that is an instance of unilateral denunciation, and therefore it cannot be suggested that that principle is being invoked now for the first time.

In the case of the other partner being insane, is it within the realm of possibility that consent would be given?

I am illustrating to the House the fact that it is already a ground upon which release can be obtained that one partner can show that the other partner has been incurably insane for a period of at least five years. That implies clearly that there is no question of consent on the other side, nor is there any question of a guilty party. Therefore, to suggest that unilateral denunciation is being invoked now as a principle for the first time, is, with great respect, in my submission absurd. At any rate, let me assume that, apart from insanity or apart from any question of obtaining a degree on the ground of nullity, there must be some fault under the existing law on the part of one spouse. We punish the guilty party by permitting the innocent party to obtain a divorce if the guilt is proved. Let us see what that means.

Agreement to part is no use however unhappy the married life. A voluntary separation will not do. So we invite people, if they cannot do otherwise, to arrange that there shall be a guilty party. In former years it was adultery, and the man had to be the gentleman and provide the evidence. Now he need not sin by committing adultery; he deserts. Like other hon. Members, I have had many letters from constituents and others—I have not, by the way, received one single letter against this Bill.

There are thousands of cases which will be remedied under the Bill. There are men and women who have been voluntarily separated for many years, and there is no question whatever of their coming together again. There are men and women living apart one or other of whom could bring divorce proceedings, but such a person refuses to do so and prefers to keep alive a bond which means nothing but enslavement. There are men and women in such conditions who have found others whom they could marry, and with whom they could be happy, but legitimate union is denied them. They must live alone or they must live in sin.

If they live in sin they must either not have children, or, if they do, those children must bear the brand of illegitimacy.

What are the objections? Take the terms of the Amendment, that the marriage tie will be weakened or that family life will be affected. How can that be true when already the parties have been apart for at least seven years? How can it be true when it is a condition of this Bill that there shall be no reasonable prospect of reconciliation before a decree can be granted? Why should persons in such circumstances be denied the right to be separated legally, so that they can marry and found a true family life? Another objection is that the lives of the children will be affected. If the parties have been living apart for seven years, the lives of the children have already been affected. They have lived with one parent or the other. Indeed, under this Bill their lives may be affected for the better. Re-marriage may mean to them the chance of a better family life with two parents instead of one.

I have dealt with what I suggest is not a new principle. With all respect to those who put their names to the Amendment, is there not really something hypocritical—I say it with great respect—about their attitude? If there is guilt, clearly let the innocent party obtain his or her remedy. But why, because there is no guilt, because the fault may be on the part of both parties, should there be no remedy? Where is the logic in the opinion which says that, because the husband has deserted the wife, she can obtain a divorce, but because they have found it impossible to live together, and they live apart for at least seven years and there is no hope of reconciliation, they must be tied together till death parts them? I repeat, is not that an invitation to a party to become a guilty party; to sin in order to obtain freedom? Are misery and unhappiness to be perpetuated in that way?

Then it is said that we cannot test whether reconciliation is possible or not. That suggestion was put forward as an objection to this Bill. The courts do it every day, and the courts will have evidence before them. They will see what the parties have been doing. They will see the parties, and hear them, and examine the evidence. The courts will carry out that task as they do in many more difficult cases, and decide whether or not the case has been made out that there is no possibility of reconciliation.

This is a simple Bill and a good Bill. It will not weaken the marriage contract. It will not affect adversely the interests of the children. It will bring real happiness to thousands who have suffered for years. It will prevent one spouse from wreaking vengeance on the other by refusing to bring proceedings. I hope the House will give this Bill a Second Reading by a very large majority, and that the Government will assist so that before long it will find its place upon the Statute Book.

2.27 p.m.

I think I am the only Member of this House who spoke when Sir Alan Herbert introduced his Bill in 1936. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I expect the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was in the House at the time. That Bill was introduced in almost as entrancing a speech as the speech with which this Bill was introduced today. After considerable hesitation, and then greatly daring, I rose to criticise and oppose that Bill. Eventually, by a very large majority, the Second Reading of that Bill was carried.

I am glad to be in the House again today, because I have seen history developing exactly on the lines that we anticipated in 1936 and 1937. Let me first deal with the remarks of the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Miss Hornsby-Smith). The Bill of Sir Alan Herbert was founded on the recommendations of the Majority Report of the Royal Commission of 1909 and did not include any remedy in regard to separation, either judicial or voluntary. Why? Because, as Sir Alan Herbert explained in his book, "The Ayes have it"—which I have no doubt many hon. Members have read since—as far as judicial separation was concerned the Royal Commission
"did go a short way in that direction. They recommended that where an application was made to the court for a judicial separation on grounds which would have justified a pen tion for divorce"—
and mark these words—
"the court should have power to say on the application of the respondent, 'No, there must here be a divorce and not a separation.' And this provision was contained in the Holford Knight Bill"—
and some of us will also remember that.

"But this Clause, as I understand it, meant that an injured Catholic wife, for example, might either be compelled into a divorce, of which she disapproved, or deprived of the remedy of judicial separation, which the Catholics accept."
I am not a Catholic.

"Heaven knows if I was right or wrong, but I did take upon myself the decision to omit that proposal; and I believe that it had a profound influence on the passage …"
of the rest of the Bill.

The reason therefore why we had no Clause whatever in Sir Alan Herbert's Bill as regards separation was because he felt then that it was quite impossible to impose such a law on the Catholic minority in this country and on those who agree with their views. It was not even discussed in 1936 and 1937. But the Majority Report of that Commission in 1909 included a number of other grounds. Sir Alan Herbert picked out six or seven of the grounds contained in their recommendations for his Bill. The majority of them involved a matrimonial offence. Several of them did not, and one of these was insanity. A second was habitual drunkenness.. The third was where a spouse was serving a commuted sentence of death.

When we came to deal with them, there was a long and acute discussion in the Committee. Eventually, Sir Alan agreed to drop both the commuted sentence of death and the habitual drunkenness, retaining only insanity. Our argument was that there was some principle in saying that where a matrimonial offence had been committed a person should be entitled to a divorce, and that once we got outside that principle there seemed to be no limit, except that of expediency from time to time, for what should be the ground for bringing a marriage to an end. Insanity, of which the hon. Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) has made use just now, was retained in the Bill against the strong opposition of those who realised that it would be used, as the hon. Member has used it, as the thin end of the wedge for allowing divorce on grounds other than that of matrimonial offence.

I did not use it for introducing the thin end of the wedge. What happened was that in the speech of the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) we heard the argument made that the Bill put forward for the first time the new device of unilateral denunciation. I merely pointed out that that was not correct.

If I may continue the historical account of it, let me say—if I may take a very egotistical attitude—that I realised at the time that if insanity were admitted into the Bill, Parliament would be departing from the basis on which it had conducted its proceedings up to that date on divorce, namely that divorce should depend upon a matrimonial offence. The Bill now goes outside any such test as that. There is no reason why it should not, but Parliament must realise, in regard to the Majority Report and still more to the more distinguished Minority Report of the 1912 Royal Commission, that except for those words, "As regards judicial separation," the Bill has no authority except that of such public opinion as the promoters have been able to collect, and we all have been able to collect, during these last weeks.

In the interests of accuracy, is it not important to remember that the Royal Commission of 1912 recommended that insanity should be a ground of divorce?

Oh, yes, it did, and I said that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not catch it. I said that all the grounds-which Sir Alan included in his Bill had all been recommended by the Royal Commission. This is the first time Parliament has been asked to allow divorce on grounds which have not been recommended by the Royal Commission of 1912. That sets us free to deal with this matter at large. Each hon. Member's opinion must be based very largely on his own prejudices. We all know that there are thousands of people living in unhappiness today. I am not going to repeat the cliché that hard cases make bad law. We have to see the principle underneath the Bill on which it is based. It is the principle that people can sooner or later bring their marriage to an end by separating voluntarily or by an order of the court, whether they are innocent or guilty.

We can argue indefinitely as to the expediency and advisability of it, whether we are going to save unhappiness or what we are going to do. I cannot get away from my own prejudice that the divorce laws of this country must be based on some sort of principle. We have had the principle up to date, with the one exception of insanity, that there must have been a matrimonial offence. The Bill, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, introduces a far-reaching principle which I do not think is fully explained even there.

What is the physical difference in the end between desertion and separation?

If the hon. and learned Member does not know, I am not going to attempt to instruct him now, although if we were speaking in some other place and in another capacity I would have the greatest pleasure in doing so. Desertion is a very grave matrimonial offence. I cannot get away from my own prejudice, which is, quite frankly, that we must have a principle, and a sound principle, behind our divorce laws. The alternative is divorce by consent, and that underlies the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Hon. Ladies and Gentlemen shake their heads, but seven years becomes five, becomes three, becomes two, becomes three months, and in the end becomes nothing, as in Denmark, where parties can separate at will.

If I understand the principle of the Bill correctly, it permits divorce without consent. The only purpose of the Bill is to enable divorce to take place where the spiritual affinity and union which give marriage its validity have ended, and where, in spite of that, one of the parties refuses to consent to divorce.

The hon. Member, much to my surprise, has not studied the Bill with his usual acumen. There is nothing whatever in the Bill to prevent two people finding their marriage intolerable, separating and living apart for seven years, and then one of them going to the court and saying, "I want divorce" and thereupon getting a divorce.

I think this point was dealt with most admirably in another place by the noble Lord who pointed out that those who now wish to have divorce by consent have ample facilities, if they can obtain competent legal advice.

I do not accept that view at all. Divorce on any other ground but madness involves a matrimonial offence. I know that the hon. Lady says that that is nothing, but to many people in this country it means a very great deal The moment we go beyond that and say that two people can separate for seven years and afterwards can get divorce, it is only a matter of time before we get down to divorce by consent. That is why I am not prepared to agree to the Bill.

I want to add very shortly one or two other much more mundane reasons. It is an extremely serious matter for a woman who in the event of her husband's death would be the legal widow, and as such would be the person entitled to pension, against her will to find herself deprived of that status. It is quite hopeless to say that any provision can be made against that in the Bill. Take the case of an employee who has been with a firm for a number of years, who in later life deserts his wife for a younger woman and at the end of seven years divorces his wife. That wife loses her whole right to any pension she might have received as a widow from the firm. This is a most serious objection to the Bill, and there is no kind of suggestion of how it can be dealt with. Then, of course, there would be other cases in which a State pension was involved.

As regards the children of homes which are already broken, we cannot use the same arguments as were used against the Bill of 1936 regarding the interests of children. As far as future marriages are concerned, I agree with the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) that the Bill will produce more divorces; it will produce broken homes, at least as many as, if not more than—I think it would be more—exist at present. More children will have to be dealt with, and there is no way of dealing satisfactorily with children of broken marriages. An hon. Member who spoke earlier said that the Chancery Court had nothing whatever to do with the divorce court. In fact, the Chancery Court constantly gets the results of the divorce court in applications for dealing with children. In my time at the Bar, I have had to deal with dozens of such cases. On this ground, therefore, the Bill is unsound.

The Majority Report of 1912 rejected this kind of proposal on two grounds. They said there was no demand for it, and that on the evidence they took there was no public opinion in favour of it. In the last 10 days we have all had evidence of some demand, but the time has not been anything like enough to show how great is that demand. Even the hon. Lady who introduced the Bill does not have the figures; nobody can make any guess at all of them. And how has public opinion had a chance of declaring itself in the short time since the Bill was mooted? In all these circumstances, I think that the Bill is wrong in principle, would have bad effects, and is not supported properly by public opinion or demand.

2.44 p.m.

It is particularly fortunate that I should follow the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), because I well remember long debates on this subject with him in the Committee upstairs and also in the House in 1936, since when he has gone further afield. I was very glad to see the hon. and learned Member in India on my visit three or four years ago, and now we are pleased that he is back in the House to engage again in our debates.

I am sorry, however, that the hon. and learned Member has not seen his way to support the Bill as a natural extension of the principle which was adopted by the House, and, I think, endorsed by the country, some 14 years ago. When the hon. and learned Member said that public opinion had not had the opportunity to express itself, I venture to suggest that if at present there could be a Gallup poll, although the large majority of people still have tolerably happy married lives, in my estimation at least 70 per cent. would endorse the Bill. If anyone tried to make his own amateur Gallup poll, I do not think he would find my estimate was very far from the fact.

On the other hand, there are, of course, a large number of people—but in a minority, I think—whose whole atti- tude does not coincide with that of the majority. We respect their views completely. Although there are wide variations within that minority section, as between Roman Catholics, who tolerate divorce under no circumstances, and, on the other hand, members of the Church of England, who are very varied in their opinion, there is that general divergence from the rest. But putting them all together, I recognise fully that one religious point of view regarding divorce is that either it is not allowable under any circumstances or, on the other hand, that if it is allowable, it must be allowed under only very limited circumstances. Although that is a religious point of view, it is entitled to the respect which it receives.

I do not mind confessing that in common, probably, with most hon. Members, I approach matters also along a religious path, although not synonymous with that of the Church of England or other more traditional Churches. It is, however, a religious path, and it is from that standpoint that I would urge most strongly that the facilities for divorce which are embodied in the Bill should be recognised by the House as being desired by the great majority of the country and in accordance with very high moral principles and sentiments.

Although the hon. and learned Member is quite right when he refers to the preservation of marriage in the legal sense, there is another interpretation of marriage besides the purely legal one. We have to face the fact—we all know it in our constituencies or within our private circles—that today there are hundreds of thousands of marriages still existing in name but not in fact. I know that from a doctrinal or theological standpoint there are people who say that a marriage still exists even though the parties have separated, or where they still dwell together but live a cat-and-dog life.

But from one religious standpoint I would say that, contrary to the other, if parties to a marriage have come to the stage where they can no longer tolerate each other, and when it would be dangerous physically or mentally for them to continue to live together and in consequence they are separated, this marriage has in essence broken down. Under those circumstances, from the religious and ethical standpoint from which I speak, I submit that it is in the best interests of matrimony itself to recognise the fact to which I have alluded and to give opportunity for men and women thus separated from true matrimony to start afresh and, if possible, to build up their mutual lives more successfully than before.

It is not only people in that position who are suffering. We all know of homes that appear to be respectable and tranquil but in which the outward appearances like the curtains at the parlour or front room window, hide very grim conditions indeed behind the scenes. That being so—and I emphasise this most strongly—we have to realise once again that if a marriage, on every standpoint apart from the legal or doctrinal, has collapsed, then it is in the interests of marriage itself to encourage people not to enter into illicit or irregular relationships, which many of them do. Instead they should have an opportunity to build up their lives from the standpoint of ordinary respectability and social acceptability.

At present large numbers of people who are thus separated are in fact cohabiting with someone else—we all know it. Do those who oppose the Bill suggest that that is a happier state of affairs than to give the opportunity for those who are now cohabiting to become married? Surely, if we believe in marriage as an institution at all, we should encourage that possibility of real marriage wherever possible. In the Bill it seems to me that we are extending that possibility to many who, otherwise, taking the less of two evils from their own standpoint, would feel it was better to cohabit with someone than to live lonely frustrated lives.

Again, I know full well there are earnest, devoted, religious people who contend that, while separation is allowable from other standpoints, nevertheless the burden of that separation must be bravely borne. I am not saying that it should not be; indeed, I encourage this. I am merely saying that those who feel that it should not be done should not have the different conviction of others virtually imposed upon them. It does not necessarily follow that those who wish to re- marry are morally inferior to those still married. If one wishes to judge of the essential morality of many relationships, I would say that many people who are externally living respectably in marriage today, spiritually and morally are living immoral lives.

If the real test of dual personal relationships should be in terms of respect, dignity and deep affection, I say then that there is not the slightest doubt that many of those who claim that their marriage is a true marriage, doctrinally and legally, are in fact immoral in the deepest sense of the word. That applies also to the effect of such homes upon the children. All of us who have had anything to do with social problems know well that normally it is highly desirable that children should remain in their own homes rather than in institutions; nevertheless, children would be better in institutions than living in homes which they feel or know intuitively are centres of enmity and bitter hostility between father and mother. Such conditions are the source of the gravest effect on children.

When figures are given of the increasing number of divorces as the result of the Herbert Bill of 1936—and, undoubtedly, an increased number of divorces would occur if this Bill were passed—I am not over-impressed by that argument, for it means that, without facilities for divorce, we should not have more happy homes, but more centres of tension and bitterness from which there is no escape. For that reason, I agree that it is quite true, of course, that the number of divorces since the passing of the Herbert Bill has increased enormously, not because we are living more immoral lives, not necessarily because human love in general has become weaker or evaporated, but because that Bill exposed the reality that was already there and because it cleared a way out of what would otherwise have been a festering cesspool of spiritual and moral degeneration.

Does my hon. Friend really think that what is immoral can be made moral by Act of Parliament?

Of course not. Sometimes Acts of Parliament are moral, and sometimes they are immoral. The law itself it not necessarily synonymous with morality. Moral character has changed at different times and in different parts of the world.

My hon. Friend recognises, I think, that people who have broken their marriages and who live with another person, having children, are living in a immoral relationship. Is he trying to tell this House that, if this Bill becomes law, that relationship, by the fact of this Bill becoming law, then becomes moral?

There was a time in British history when no divorce was possible, yet there have always been people living together outside of marriage, but now we have got divorce so that many of those who otherwise would lead irregular lives are able to become married and morally correct. Without delving into this interesting question of morality, I would merely say, in answer to my hon. Friend that morality in its development is traceable back to utilitarian origins, according to one school, while according to another school it arose from certain dogmatic cosmic declarations of the Deity. In any case, in the course of time, whether morality is relative or absolute, whether of natural or divine origin, morality and law have become intertwined, though not necessarily identical. Morality, of course, goes beyond law.

In conclusion, I would merely say that, as we generally understand it, people who live together without marriage are committing an immoral act, and all that I submit is that many of those who live in marriage may be living immoral lives, in so far as true marriage exists only where there is a moral foundation and a proper spiritual relationship between one person and another. It is because I want the institution of marriage to be maintained and to diminish the number of those who are compelled by circumstances to live without marriage that I most earnestly hope that this Bill will be passed into law. I hope that facilities will then be granted to those who at present may be living in strain or misery, in order that they may be able to build up a better relationship based on dignity, honour, devotion and grace, for the spiritual well-being of themselves and society.

2.56 p.m.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) expressed the hope that marriage would be enriched by the passing of this Bill, but I venture to express the opinion that what he is really trying to do is to enrich certain loose relationships which have already become established by applying to them the estate of matrimony. In other words, the alternative with which we are faced in this Bill is whether there shall be an estate of matrimony, which is an honoured and restricted thing in its scope and circumscribed in its application, and whether there shall be a code by which people can regulate their conduct, or whether, on the other hand, the institution of marriage is to follow the practice of the people, and, indeed, to follow the looser practices of the people.

It is perfectly true that any associations can be regularised and made legally respectable, and, if it is meant to apply to any relationships——

Would the hon. Gentleman say that that applies to those who have taken advantage of the facilities already existing?

I am trying to point out that this Bill makes that advantage available to every one and to every association. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon Members opposite say "No," but this Bill abandons the last restriction on divorce. Let us get that quite clear. There is no point beyond this at which we can stop. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Well, hon. Members say "Yes," but, in fact, there is not. Where are we going to stop beyond this point? One hon. Gentleman who has spoken described this Bill as a natural extension of the 1937 Act, and the next Bill cutting down this period to some shorter time will be only a natural extension of this Bill. We are dealing today, not with the thin end of the wedge but the thick end of the wedge. This is the end of marriage.

This Bill, in fact, is going to abolish marriage. [Interruption.] Hon. Members seem a little doubtful but I have here a document which has been sent out by a body calling itself the Marriage Law Reform Committee, and that Committee has been behind all the agitation over this Bill. They are the propagandists of the Bill, and they have pressed forward their particular views and sent round a circular which, at any rate, has been addressed to all members of the Bar concerning the Bill now before the House. Perhaps to avoid expense in printing, this circular has been altered in ink to make it more effective. After referring to the suggestion by the Denning Committee that separation for seven years or more might be made a ground for divorce, the printed leaflet goes on:
"The periods of either five or seven years are, however, considered to be much too long, and this Bill would grant divorces after separation for two years."
Then, because this leaflet was sent round in support of this Bill, the words:
"The periods of five and seven years are, however, considered to be much too long,"
are blacked out. Again, where it says:
"This Bill empowers the court to grant a divorce after separation for two years or more,"
the word "two" is blacked out, and the word "seven" is written below it.

In those circumstances, therefore, is it difficult to see that this is not the end, and that the agitation which has been instrumental in bringing this Bill forward is going to continue? Is it really artificial to argue that we are on a slippery slope if we introduce facilities for divorce after seven years' separation? These people say in their pamphlet that the periods of five and seven years are much too long.

The hon. Gentleman has just stated that this Bill was virtually a Measure to abolish marriage. Is there anything in the Bill to suggest that if it becomes law I shall have to break up my very happy marriage?

What I am suggesting is that the whole meaning of the word marriage depends on the fact that it is a definable and restricted relationship. If any cohabitation between a man and a woman can be called marriage, then we do not need the word at all. This Bill seeks to say that seven years' separation shall be a ground for divorce. But there is nothing sacred about seven years, except that, perhaps, if my recollection is correct, it was the time that Jacob laboured for Rachel.

Is there any single argument which can be advanced in favour of this Bill which is not equally applicable to the reduction of the number of years from seven to a lesser period? These hard- ships to which our attention has been invited would still continue. People would wait for seven years to get their release from marriage, and then we should hear stories of hardship and should be told that people were being forced to waste vital years of their lives waiting for a remedy which was assured to them by law, because there is no real discretion in this Bill. We shall be asked why they should be made to wait seven years for a divorce. If that is a valid argument, why have a seven years' waiting time?

Is it not a fact that, at the moment, under the 1950 Act, which consolidated the previous law, a divorce can be got on the basis of three years' desertion? Is it not true that all that this Bill is seeking to do is to apply the same rule to a separation which is irreconcilable, except that instead of three years it is making it seven years?

I do not wish to instruct the hon. and learned Gentleman on the distinction between separation and desertion upon which he attempted to have the advantage of the free advice of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens).

I cannot give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman again, but I think that to most people who have some experience, the distinction between separation and desertion is quite clear.

The hon. Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) was so unwise as to say that any hon. Member who had practical knowledge of practice at the Divorce Bar could not be opposed to this Bill. But the hon. Gentleman, like myself, practises mainly at the Common Law Bar, and I am informed that this is about the first matter upon which the Committee of the Probate and Divorce Bar have been united for a long time. They are united in their opposition to this Bill, and, I have no doubt, for extremely good reasons, because they appreciate that this Measure would be a blow at the very basis of the institution of matrimony.

There is the general, and, I think, perhaps, the fundamental, question underlying this proposal. I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who I am sorry to see is no longer in his place, exemplified in the highest degree the error lying behind this Bill. He gave us the same sort of assurances that we received in the case of the 1937 Act and which we have had from speaker after speaker today that a clear-cut division can be made between the consequences of marriage and the state of mind in which people enter into it or continue in it. In my submission, that is absolutely untrue. If we make divorce easier, we affect the state of mind in which people enter into marriage and the state of mind in which they continue in it. I see that an hon. Member opposite shakes his head, but this is really a vital matter because we are dealing with the balance of advantage to the community which this Bill might confer.

I ask hon. Members to test this by extending it to a logical conclusion. Suppose we abolished all restrictions on divorce and merely required registration. Is it really arguable that that change would not affect the state of mind in which people entered upon marriage, or that when people had married and their marriage had run into difficulties, as all marriages do, that a knowledge that either party had only to go along and register a divorce would really be without influence upon their conduct? I am quite sure that the House will not accept any such suggestion. In fact, as we steadily widen the scope for divorce, we inevitably weaken the bond of marriage.

I wish to advance one further argument on this point, an argument which is highly relevant, and which has, I think, been overlooked by many hon. Members who have so far spoken in the debate. It is that the whole object of having a marriage bond is to confer permanency upon the marriage relationship. If we do not want to have permanence in marriage, we need not have the bond. The whole object of the contract, the bond or the sacrament, or whatever one likes to call it, is that it shall hold the parties when they no longer wish to be held by it. That is the only object of a formal contract of any kind.

One does not need a formal contract unless it is going to bind one when one does not want to be bound by it, as, otherwise, one can just behave as one likes. While a marriage is held together by the mutual love and harmony of the parties, there is no need for a formal bond, but the formal bond performs a vital function by giving stability and security to the people who are within it. It strengthens them in difficult times; it carries them forward through the bad patches when they would otherwise separate, and the strength and rigidity of that bond are a measure of the assistance which the State gives to its subjects in honouring the obligations on which they originally entered. Therefore, I am convinced that if we weaken the formal bond of marriage we shall not only increase the number of divorces, which we have already done, but we shall increase also the number of broken homes.

Let us not minimise the value of the formal and compulsive bond of matrimony. Let us not under-estimate the help that it is to people who encounter difficulties in the passage through the years of married life. Let us not forget the danger to them that is represented by a climate of public opinion in which divorce is frequent. I heard from hon. Members who spoke in support of this Bill some references to freedom and happiness as though the two were very much the same thing. I venture to put forward an opinion which may be a little old-fashioned and heterodox. I have always held the view that happiness for human beings is rather different from the happiness the butterfly enjoys of flitting from one flower to another, and when cloyed with it, passing on.

I should have thought that happiness to human beings was rather the satisfaction of a job well done, of an undertaking satisfactorily carried out, of a personal fulfilment that comes from meeting difficulties and resolving them. I should have thought that that was a better sort of happiness. I cannot help feeling that one very often hears people talk about happiness as though it meant liberty for them to travel at will from one partner to another. It is a matter on which every hon. Member is entitled to have his view, but I should be sorry if the institution of marriage were to degenerate into a State registration of de facto concubinage, and that is ultimately what this Bill will produce.

If the object is to make de facto cohabitation respectable in every case, inevitably the consequence is that marriage becomes a State registration of actual concubinage. Some may think that freedom and happiness are matters of promiscuous shuffling from one partner to another, but I cannot believe that that is what family life and the corporate being of the State should be built upon. It is because I believe that in this Bill we are advancing down that slope and that if we pass the Bill we cannot stop logically at any point, that I invite the House to reject the Second Reading of the Bill.

3.13 p.m.

It has long been a necessary tradition of our affairs that in matters such as are raised by this Bill the Government cannot seek to impose any collective view upon the House, nor can they usefully express a collective voice. As our debate today has very well shown, these are matters on which personal opinion—and I think, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) said, even personal prejudice—cuts across all political lines. They are also matters on which people in all parties hold views based on their conscientious or religious beliefs which lead to a variety of differing conclusions, all of them strongly and sincerely held but, nevertheless, controversial for all that.

I am very sorry that owing to other duties I missed the early stage of the debate this morning and the sincere and distinguished speeches which were made on both sides of the House, as I have heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. I shall not attempt to comment either on those speeches that I did not hear or upon those to which I have been listening since I came into the Chamber; but if in anything I say I appear to express a view on the merits or demerits either of this Bill or any other proposals in connection with the marriage laws of this country, I shall be expressing a purely personal view about these matters. The Government feel that this is a subject upon which each Member should vote, if indeed a vote should turn out to be necessary at all, in the light of what I am going to suggest to the House, according to his or her own conscience without any kind of influence from them.

I imagine from the speeches which I have heard that all of us would agree to this: none of us wants to do anything which would encourage people to enter more lightly into marriage than they sometimes at present do, or which would discourage them from making that conscious effort at give and take which is essential to happiness in the married state. The fact that in the past year there have been no fewer than 30,000 divorces—the figure was as high as 50,000 a year or two ago, and the decline is encouraging—must be a matter of the gravest concern to everybody, whatever our views may be upon the present state of the law.

What we all want to do, whether we think the existing law is good or bad, whether it should be extended or modified, is to promote the stability of happy married life. The more I see of the social problems of the present time, particularly those involving juvenile delinquency, the more I realise that the most important factor of all in these matters is the successful partnership of marriage and the happy home. On the other hand, there are many who think that the sanctity and happiness and example of married life are not always encouraged by denying those whose marriage have been finally and irrevocably broken up the possibility of starting afresh.

The dangers of what Sir Alan Herbert very well called "unholy matrimony" have to be balanced against the dangers of unduly facilitating divorce. I should think that the majority of people in this country—if I am right in that, or whether I am right or wrong, I certainly include myself in that number—would reject the idea that divorce by consent ought to be possible, and would still more reject the idea that one should be able to obtain a divorce unilaterally by filling in a form and presenting it at the Food Office, or wherever it might be.

But it is an unhappy commentary on the existing state of our law that the vast mass of the people do consider that in practice divorce by consent is possible, provided that one party or the other will go through the distasteful and possibly expensive process of spending a night in some hotel with some unknown woman and then submitting, at some additional expense, to proof of the fact in the High Court. I do not say that that impression is wholly true, but the impression certainly exists, and I wish I could share the confidence which was expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, that there is no foundation for this impression.

I also practised at one time in divorce cases when I was a member of the junior Bar. I remember that one used to handle these undefended cases at the rate of about one in two minutes; "seven and one" we used to call them, and it was a very profitable morning's work, but it did not impress upon me at the time that there was any real principle operating in practice in the administration of our divorce laws. Indeed, at the time of the Royal Commission in 1912, the King's Proctor, an official for whose present activities I am responsible, gave evidence to the effect that the truth was that 75 per cent. of the divorces obtained in this country were, in fact, divorces by consent.

Whether it is right or wrong is a matter upon which different people hold different views, but it may well be the fact that where divorce becomes too easy the parties to a marriage do not, if I may misquote Shakespeare, bear their friends' infirmities—an essential condition of marriage; and here I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Buckingham, South (Mr. Bell), although I disagree with much of his speech—and perhaps are encouraged to make them rather greater than they are. We do not want to become a divorce-minded country.

But that is only one of the aspects of our present marriage laws. There are all sorts of other problems with which most of us, especially those of us in the legal profession, are acquainted, and out of all these problems the present Bill selects only one to be dealt with, and to be dealt with in isolation. I shall not express any opinion at all about the merits or demerits of the other matters, nor would it be in order for me to canvass them except in passing, but one cannot shut one's eyes to the existence of these other problems.

There is the uncertainty of the law as to non-consummation and nullity. There is the question of the extent to which a refusal of marital relations might cause grounds for divorce. There is the uncertainty which has existed in recent years, and which has given some very strange and unpleasant results, about the law as to the artificial insemination of women and the bastardisation of children. There is the question of divorce on grounds of insanity where the insane spouse is not detained compulsorily but is voluntarily in some hospital for treatment. There is the question of the discretionary powers to divorce—discretionary in this country; absolute I think in Scotland—giving rise, amongst other things, to the activities of the King's Proctor. That is a very important matter in regard to which the position under this Bill is left wholly obscure.

Is adultery by the petitioner to prevent a divorce on the grounds contemplated by this Bill? Is condonation a bar? I suppose delay would not be a bar, but it is a bar in other cases. As for connivance, as the law now stands a monetary bargain to buy a divorce is a collusive bar to the petition—in Scotland I suppose it is an absolute bar and in this country it is a discretionary bar. Under this Bill such an agreement would be a legal one, but the monetary agreement in other cases would still remain a bar.

Is that right, or what ought the law to be in regard to problems of that kind? Are damages for adultery desirable? Is there room for altering the law of marriage with persons of affinity? Should one be able to marry the sister of one's divorced wife, for example? That is the kind of problem. Is the law of maintenance satisfactory? That is an important problem. Is it desirable that the marked differences existing between the English and Scottish law to which I have referred should be maintained? How far is the law as to validity of foreign divorces satisfactory? How far is our own exercise of jurisdiction in a divorce based upon the right grounds? That is the sort of problem which arises, and there are many others.

I would put foremost amongst them the problem of dealing with the unhappy children of these unhappy marriages. Is our present practice in regard to the custody of the children—sometimes: dividing them between one parent and, another—really in the best interests of the children themselves? Here I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Miss Homsby-Smith) that the children themselves probably deserve more consideration than their parents, who have succeeded in messing up their own lives.

I have mentioned these matters simply because they are all of them ones in which very hard cases arise which have probably come to the particular notice of most hon. Members. It is the view of the Government that it would be unwise to legislate about any of these matters in isolation from the rest, without a full study of the extent of the problem and of the implications of dealing with any particular aspect of the problem in isolation. Taking only that question of the custody of the children, or taking the one referring to the monetary arrangements for the purchase of a divorce, it is manifestly inconvenient to deal with that only in relation to the present proposal, without considering its application to the general law of divorce as a whole.

These are all grave social problems. They require great study and great consideration before legislation is passed in regard to them. It is 40 years, I think, now—or just about 40 years—since a Royal Commission has studied them and reported upon them, and since that time there have been wide social and economic changes in regard to the outlook upon these matters. Accordingly, what we are going to suggest to the House in regard to this matter is—although I concede at once that it involves delay in implementing the present proposals, even if it is practical to suppose that the present proposals have a great prospect of getting into law in the immediate future—that the best way of dealing with the present proposals in the long run, the way which would arouse least bitterness of religious or partisan conflict, would be to recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to study the whole field of our marriage laws, rather than to attempt, at this stage, perhaps insufficiently considered legislation dealing piecemeal with one aspect or another of what is, in fact, a very wide problem.

The matter is, of course, one for the free decision of the House, but I hope that the House, and particularly those Members who have promoted this Bill, or those Members who have moved an Amendment in opposition to the Bill, will give most careful thought to the proposal which I am making. A vote on the present Bill, whether a vote on the Bill or a vote on the Amendment, and whichever way the vote went, would inevitably tend gravely to prejudice any subsequent inquiry which might be conducted by a Royal Commission, and both those who seek this reform of or alteration in the law and those who oppose it would probably be well advised not to prejudice their own position in the matter by seeking to take a Parliamentary decision upon it now, without awaiting the report of a Royal Commission.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to put one simple question to him? Is it suggested that the terms of reference of this Royal Commission should include Scotland, which is not included in this particular Bill?

It is contemplated that Scotland would have to be covered—whether by the same Royal Commission or another I should not at the moment like to say: but the matter is under consideration, and it is appreciated that there are differences between the law of Scotland and of England, and that we ought to consider how far it is desirable to assimilate the law of the two countries. Consequently the subject would have to be studied in relation to Scotland as well as in relation to this country.

Would my right hon. and learned Friend be a little more specific on the question of appointing a Royal Commission? As this might influence the feelings of hon. Members, will he give the House some indication of the date upon which it is proposed to appoint the Royal Commission and the date upon which it is suggested that it should commence its activities?

It will be appreciated that all these are matters for recommendation to His Majesty; the Government have to make a recommendation in the matter. I can only say that it is the intention, if the House accepts the view I am now expressing, to make a recommendation as early as possible. I do not doubt that it will take a little time to find suitable people, both to preside over and to be members of the Commission.

One would want, as far as possible, to have people who are not already completely prejudiced one way or the other. I am not using that expression as a term of abuse, because most of us have a prejudice on various things; I certainly have. It is best, if we can, when setting up a body of this kind, to find people who still hold fairly open and broad minds upon the matter to be considered. That will not be a very quick process; I should not like to say it is a matter of days, or that we could do it in two or three weeks; but it is the intention of the Government, if my suggestion commends itself to the House, to proceed with a recommendation to appoint a Royal Commission with all possible speed.

What I venture to commend to the House, and to suggest particularly to those who have promoted the Bill and those who have put down the Amendment for its rejection, is that, in order not to prejudice the possibility that a Royal Commission may be set up to study these matters they should withdraw, respectively, the Amendment and the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill; that we should not seek to take the view of the House upon this matter now, but should agree that as an alternative to taking that course we should all join, on all sides of the House, whatever our views may be upon this problem, in supporting the Government in making a recommendation to His Majesty that a Royal Commission should be appointed to cover the whole field of our marriage laws as soon as conveniently may be.

Is the House to understand from what the Attorney-General has said that the offer of a Royal Commission is in any way conditional upon the sponsors of the Amendment and the Bill withdrawing the Amendment and the Motion, or is the Royal Commission contemplated in any event? I should like to know whether the offer of a Royal Commission is conditional or unconditional?

I am not seeking, nor am I in a position, to impose any conditions upon hon. Members on either side of the House, whether they are sponsors of the Bill or supporters of the Amendment. If the House rejected the view which I have ventured to commend to it, that we should not seek to prejudice the inquiries by a Royal Commission, we should, of course, have to reconsider whether the establishment of a Royal Commission would serve such a useful purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I think we should have to do that, but I am not going to impose conditions——

No, I am not I am not seeking to impose conditions on the matter at all. I am saying that we express the view that it would be very unwise to take a vote upon this matter if the House agrees that the proper course is to submit it to a Royal Commission.

3.34 p.m.

I do not want to say anything controversial. There seems to be a reflection from the heaped up coals of fire of our proceedings in the early hours of the morning. I do not know why the right hon. and learned Gentleman's supporters are so angry with him. He seems to have made a most reasonable statement. But that is certainly not my business, and I do not rise for the purpose of commenting upon the angry reception of his observations by his own supporters.

I rise for a quite different purpose. First I should like to make it plain that I am not speaking for my party—none of us do on this matter—and to make equally plain that I would never allow the views of my party to influence me in matters of conscience of this kind. I think that applies to both sides of the House. I would not care what were the views of my Leader or Chief Whip on matters of this kind. I am opposed to the Bill, but I say in all friendliness to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I think that the suggestion he has made is an excellent one. I think that the supporters of the Bill will agree with me.

There is not the faintest chance of this Bill going through. Apart from the fact that this Parliament is soon coming to an end, and the Bill will certainly be thrown out in another place, whether we approve the principles of it or not, I find myself in the strange position of supporting the argument of the Attorney-General. From the facts he has put forward of the cruel and ridiculous anomalies of the divorce law in general, I believe that it is for this House to say to the Government, whether individually we support this Bill or not, let us do the sensible thing and have a Royal Commission to inquire into them.

The only chance we shall ever get, whether a Tory or Socialist Government is in power, of getting a real reform of the divorce laws is after a Royal Commission has reported. We shall never get it otherwise. I hope, therefore, that both the opponents and supporters of the Bill will adopt the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

3.37 p.m.

I anticipated winding up the argument for the supporters of the Bill against the Amendment and, asking hon. Members to go into the Lobby against the Amendment. The speech of the Attorney-General has, of course, put a different complexion on the matter. I am confident that the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and the seconder of the Bill will be prepared to withdraw it, in view of the undertaking given by the Attorney-General. I must say, however, that I do not entirely accept the argument of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), that because there is not a chance of the Bill passing into law, no record should be made of the opinion of the House on the principles of the Bill.

It seems to me that on a matter like this it is of great importance and would be of great value to a Royal Commission, if one is set up, to have some clear evidence of the view of the House of Commons, because this is precisely the sort of subject on which. I think, the House of Commons excels. The debate was put on a very high plane indeed by the hon. Member for Flint, East and it has been sustained on an equally high level of seriousness, with the tolerance and compassion which one would expect to find in a debate of this kind.

I want, in closing the case for the Bill and against the Amendment, to reiterate what it is that the Bill seeks to do, and to answer the arguments that have been put forward in support of the Amendment. The purpose of the Bill is this and no more: It is to say that an individual married person can claim a divorce when he or she can show to the satisfaction of the court that the parties to the marriage have been separated for a period of seven years, and can also show that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. That is what the Bill sets out to do; that and no more.

Obviously, the provisions under the Bill are likely to become effective in one or two eventualities. Either there may be a separation, be it voluntary or legal, as the result of which it is possible for either party to obtain a divorce; or alternatively there may exist grounds for divorce which one party is entitled to exercise but does not choose to do so. It has been argued by the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), and I think by the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), that this Bill is not based on any principle, but on expediency. It is said that hard cases make bad laws, but I say that bad laws also make hard cases. Let us not forget the converse. Surely there is a perfectly clear principle which underlies this Bill, that where a marriage has broken down, where the substance and reality of the marriage are broken and it can be shown to the satisfaction of the court that the marriage has been broken, it is right and desirable that that breakdown should be recognised in law.

The argument was advanced by a number of hon. Members that seven years is a period arbitrarily chosen, and that it will soon be reduced to three years, or two years, or less. I think that argument is quite invalid. Whatever may be the argument put forward by a particular body or reform society—I have not heard of such argument myself—this House has to decide on the basis of a seven-year separation. As I understand it, the reason for the seven-year period is that where a period of seven years has passed with complete separation, it is possible, and indeed reasonable, to ask a court of law to declare that there is no prospect of reconciliation. That would not be anything like so reasonable in any shorter time.

It is not divorce that is the tragedy, but broken homes. It is the rupture of this union between man and wife and not the legal position which creates the tragedy in this country. Every broken marriage is tragic, because either a great happiness has been destroyed or it has never been created. There is also the difference between the rights of the individual and the claims of the community. One side stresses the rights of the individual and the other the claims of the community. Surely it has always been the tendency of this House to recognise the rights of the individual.

There are five arguments that have been made in support of the Amendment. The first is the religious argument; that it is contrary to the principles of the Christian religion, or the Christian churches, that divorce should be allowed on these grounds. With respect, I would suggest to those who argue on those lines that while this is a Christian country it is not necessarily the function of the House of Commons to make our laws exactly to correspond with the views of the Established Church. There is a clear distinction between the two. Already there is a distinction between civil divorce recognised by the State and the fact that the Church does not recognise divorce and will not accept remarriage. Surely it is for the Church to maintain among the members of the Church her own view on the sanctity of marriage and not to try to impose it on other members of the community.

Then, on religious grounds, there is the question of conscience. It is said that under the Bill people may be forced to accept divorce although in conscience they do not believe in divorce. I cannot see how it can possibly infringe the conscience of anybody if something is done to them. There can be no moral guilt unless there is a deliberate act; there can be no guilt when something is done to a person which they cannot avoid. How, therefore, can it possibly affect the conscience of someone if, against their will, they find themselves divorced? I suggest therefore that religious grounds are not adequate to sustain opposition to this Bill.

Secondly, there is the legal argument. The Attorney-General explained in some detail the immense complexity of the outstanding problems in relation to the law on divorce. But I am not certain whether the Solicitor-General in introducing an Amendment to the Finance Bill would appreciate the argument that the whole Income Tax law must be codified before any part of it could be put right.

There is the argument under the legal heading that marriage is a contract. But it is different from other contracts. We cannot equate the contract of marriage with commercial contracts and international agreements. Many of us must have felt, when we have seen actions brought for breach of promise, that they showed the consequences of treating marriage as just another contract. But even if we do insist upon treating marriage as a contract, there are nevertheless very good grounds for saying that in all the cases envisaged by the Bill the basis of the contract has been destroyed and the contract has been frustrated. The basis of the contract under which the two parties to a marriage undertook to share their lives was the mutual affection which they felt for one another. Once that has gone, the basis of the contract has gone. I do not see how, even on the legal analogy, there is anything wrong with unilateral denunciation of the contract in those circumstances.

What significance does the hon. Member attach to the words "for better or for worse" In the marriage service?

My point is that two people, having decided by reason of their mutual affection that they can share their lives whether future circumstances are good or bad, undertake that obligation upon the basis and substratum of mutual affection. When that has gone, it is not a matter of unilateral repudiation, but of the fact that the contract itself has been frustrated.

Thirdly, there are people who say that the Bill will lead to easier divorce. I am not certain that it is wise to equate divorces and broken marriages. It is possible to argue that it is not necessarily a bad thing that there should be more divorce in certain circumstances. The figures cited in the debate may well show that in the past there were not enough divorces because there were many homes irretrievably broken where, if there had been divorce, there could have been remarriage which would have contributed to the happiness of both the individuals and the children.

There may be hon. Members who think there is a good case for making marriage more difficult rather than for making divorce more easy, but it is not practical to imagine that we can make marriage more difficult. It is difficult enough financially already, in all conscience. To try to impose more legal difficulties in the way of two people who intend to get married seems quite an impractical idea. It is also going beyond the practical to suggest that if this Bill were passed divorce would become easier. The argument is that people would say: "Let's get married. We have only to wait seven years to get divorced." That is not a reasonable argument; it is special pleading. The sanction in the Bill is heavy. Seven years is a very long time, especially if a man has to pay maintenance for the whole of the time. Moreover, if people are to enter into marriage thinking that they can get out of it at the end of seven years under the terms of the Bill, such a marriage must, by its very nature, fail.

The fourth argument is the ill-treatment of the deserted wife. Here there is a lot to be said for the suggestion that an Amendment to the Bill could provide that where a marital offence has been committed, the guilty party should not be able to obtain the advantage of the provisions of the Bill. That is well worth studying. We must consider how the deserted wife will suffer if the Bill is made law. So far as maintenance is concerned, there is a lot to be said for the argument that the Bill improves the prospects of the deserted wife from the financial point of view.

But leaving aside the financial aspect, there is another point. The hon. Member for Bridlington gave an example of a woman who had suffered desertion and had been beaten up and utterly ill-treated by her husband, who had now deserted her for seven years. Now, an additional offence is to be committed against her by her being divorced. But what does that woman really lose? She does not lose financially or materially; she cannot lose morally or spiritually. All she loses is the empty shell of marriage that remains. How could she possibly lose anything of substance if a divorce now took place?

I saw a letter in "The Times" this morning suggesting that such a woman would be "branded" as being party to a divorce. What nonsense it is to talk about "branding" in such circumstances. If an individual in those circumstances of divorce loses by it, then the fault, surely, lies with the community as a whole for considering that such a set of circumstances involves any immorality or any possible cause for people to be "branded."

The final argument is the question of "marital offence "and" the innocent and the guilty." It is unwise in these circumstances in discussing these matters to think in terms of innocence and guilt in every instance. Broadly speaking, we are dealing not with the misdeeds of men and women, but with their follies and misfortunes, which are much harder to deal with. I do not understand the logic of the Amendment when it objects to the possibility of divorce when there has been no offence. This suggests that if an offence is committed a divorce can be obtained. Surely the corollary shows that the idea in the Amendment must be wrong.

Is it not the attitude which says "No divorce without an offence being committed" that drives people to commit offences in order to get divorces? We all know perfectly well that because of this aspect of the law many divorces are based on collusive offences. It is surely unwise to assume that there is innocence and there is guilt. There may be innocence and guilt on many occasions, but not by any means in every case of the thousand changing circumstances to which people are subjected in their married life. The degree of provocation given by one partner to the other cannot easily be measured.

It was said by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Wilkes) that the distinction between innocent and guilty is becoming blurred. That is perfectly true. The hardest thing in criminal law, for example, is to decide when an impulse becomes uncontrollable, and when temptation becomes beyond withstanding. It is that blurring which has been recognised in the criminal law but which is not yet recognised by people who maintain that in the case of divorce there is innocence on the one side and guilt on the other. I suggest that in those matters it is quite wrong to assume that there must be innocence or guilt. What we have to do is to have regard to the facts in each case.

I conclude by saying that if the hon. Lady withdraws the Bill, she is much to be congratulated on having caused the Government to offer her a Royal Commission, which is long overdue and which, I am sure, will bring much happiness to many people. Whatever her decision, the hon. Lady will have done a great service to many people today.

3.54 p.m.

I had hoped, had I caught your eye earlier, Mr. Speaker, to adduce arguments why I had put my name down to the Amendment and why I intended to support it. In view of the time, however, I say merely this: I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), who introduced the Bill, will, in view of the undertaking of the Attorney-General, withdraw the Bill and not press it to a Division. If it is pressed to a Division, I shall feel compelled to support the Amendment and to vote against the Bill, as, I imagine, will other people who have indicated their views during the debate.

Perhaps I may say from these benches on behalf of those who are opposing the Bill that I was very impressed, as, I am sure, were all hon. Members, by the very strong and convincing case which my hon. Friend made. I think all hon. Members are very impressed with the large number of very hard cases about which we have heard and about the great volume of human misery, tragedy and suffering which does exist as the result of our present divorce laws, which are in a chaotic condition. I think one may assume that there is room for considerable improvement.

One thing I have learned from this debate is that there are a great many other problems to be considered in connection with our divorce laws in addition to the particular problem raised by this Bill. For example, whereas this Bill merely deals with what I regard as divorce not with the consent but without the consent of the guilty party, if we have a Royal Commission we shall be able to test public opinion and go into the Whole problem, and I am sure that we should then get a situation in which a great many of the people now opposing this Bill would give it their support.

My own view is that the Royal Commission, to which the learned Attorney-General referred, is certainly most desirable and that it should be appointed, as has been requested both by this House and another place over a number of years. I am glad to learn that the Government also think it should be appointed, but I should have thought, with great respect, that it might have been appointed on its own merits, without any reference to this Bill. However, as I moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and as I understand from what the learned Attorney-General has said that the Government will reconsider the matter if I pursue my intention regarding this Bill, then in the interests of future law reform, but quite definitely with reluctance, I feel compelled to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Bill.

We had an Amendment to this Bill on the Order Paper, but, having had the assurance of the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), that she would be willing, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the Bill, in those circumstances, I would certainly ask the leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment.

On a point of order. Is it within the competence of the House, Mr. Speaker, if you put the Question on whether leave should be given or not, for those hon. Members who are opposed to the Bill, to vote and prevent leave being given?

We never vote on that. If anybody objects to leave being given. I have to put the Question.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Main Question again proposed.

I shall detain the House for only a few minutes——

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put,"but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood). I listened to the learned Attorney-General——

Hon. Members must learn the rules of the House. The interruption of business must not come until four o'clock exactly, and we must wait until four o'clock before I can think of accepting the Motion for the Closure.

I rise also to support what was said by the hon Ladv the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). After having listened to the Attorney-General——

rose in his place and claimed to move "That the Question be now put,"but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Division No. 56.]


[4.0 p.m.

Adams, RichardGriffiths, W. D. (Exchange)Padley, W E
Albu, A. H.Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Pannell, T. C
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Hall, Rt. Hn W. Glenvil (Colne V'H'V)Pargiter, G A
Benson, G.Hamilton, W. WParker, J.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Hargreaves, A.Poole, Cecil
Bing, G. H. CHastings, Dr. SomervillePopplewell, E
Blackburn, A RHolman, P.Rees, Mrs. D
Boothby, R.Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)Reeves, J.
Bottomley, A. G.Houghton, DouglasRoberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N)Robinson, Kenneth (St Pancras, N)
Brockway, A. FennerHughes, Emry (S. Ayr)Royle, C.
Brook D. (Halifax)Hynd, H. (Accrington)Scott, Donald
Chetwynd, G. R.Irving, W. J (Wood Green)Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.)Janner, BSilverman, S S. (Nelson)
Cooper, J. (Deptford)Jeger, Dr. S W (St Pancras, S)Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Peekham)Jenkins, R HSorensen, R. W.
Cove, W. G.Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir F
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Kinghorn, Sqn Ldr, E.Sparks, J A.
Croslond, C. A. R.Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)Strauss, Rt. Hon. G R (Vauxhall)
Crossman, R. H. S.Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N.)Stross, Dr. B.
Davies, Harold (Leek)Lindgren, G. S.Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W)
Deer, G.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Donnelly, D.Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. CThorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W. Bromwich)Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)Turner-Samuels, M
Duthie W. S.McGhee, H G.Usborne, Henry
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Mackay, R W. G. (Reading, N.)Vernon, Maj W F.
Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Mallalieu, J P. W (Huddersfield, E)Viant, S. P.
Field, Capt. W. J.Mikardo, IanWeitzman, D
Foot, M. M.Mitchison, G. RWells, P. L. (Faversham)
Ganley, Mrs. C. SMoeran, E. W.Willey, F T. (Sunderland)
George, Lady M. LloydMulley, F. WWilliams, W T (Hammersmith, S.)
Gooch, E. G.Nally W.Wyatt, W L
Granville, E. (Eye)Odey, G. W
Grenfell, D. R.Oliver, G. H


Griffiths, D (Rather Valley)Orbach, MMr. Paget and Mr. Thurtle.


Awbery, S SCocks, F. S.Harvey, Air Codre A V (Macclesfield)
Ayles, W. HCollindridge, F.Hay, John
Bartley, P.Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)Headlam, Lieut.-Col Rt Hon Sir C.
Baxter, A. BCranborne, ViscountHeath, E. R.
Bell, R. M.Crowder, Capt. John F E. (Finchley)Hicks-Beach, Maj. W W
Beswick, F.Crowder, F. P. (Rulslip-Northwood)Higgs, J. M C.
Bossom, A. CCundiff, F. W.Hill, Dr. C. (Luton)
Bowen, RDarling, G. (Hillsboro')Hinchingbrooke, Viscount
Bower, N.Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N)Hope, Lord J.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. Ade Freitas, GeoffreyHornsby-Smith, Miss P
Braine, B.Delargy, H. JHorsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence
Brooke, H. (Hampstead)Dodds, N. N.Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)
Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)Ede, Rt. Hon. J C.Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E)Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Fraser, Sir I. (Morecambe & Lonsdale)Johnson, James (Rugby)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. TGalbraith, T G. D (Hillhead)Keeling, E. H.
Bullock, Capt. M.Gibson, C WLindsay, Martin
Channon, H.Grimond, J.Llewellyn, D.
Clarke, Brig. T. H. (Portsmouth, W)Harris, R. R. (Heston)Longden, F. (Small Heath)

—who put forward a most reasonable case to the House, one would have thought that anybody with any real concern for the future of the divorce laws of this country——

It being Four o'Clock Mr. SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the business, whereupon

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided: Ayes, 102; Noes, 99.

Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)Remnant, Hon. PTeeling, William
McCerquodale, Rt. Hon. M SRenton, D. L. MWalker-Smith, D C
Mackeson, Brig. H RRobens, A.Wallace, H. W.
Marlowe, A. A. HRoberts, P. G. (Heeley)Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Maude, J. C. (Exeter)Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Handling, RRyder, Capt. R. E. D.Wheatley, Rt. Hn John (Edinb'gh, E.)
Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir TShawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir HWheatley, Major M J (Poole)
Morgan, Dr. H. BSimmons, C. J.Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A B
Morley, R.Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)Wilkes, L.
Morris, R. Hopkin (Carmarthen)Stanley, Capt. Hon. R (N. Fylde)Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Moyle, A.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
O'Brien, T.Stuart, Rt Hon. J. (Moray)Yates, V. F
Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)Studholme, H. G.
Price, M Philips (Gloucestershire W)Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)


Prefumo, J. D.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Mr. Wood and Mr. Black.

I do not understand why the hon. Member is putting that extraordinary thing on his head. It is not during division time. I have not collected the voices.

I am grateful to you Mr. Speaker. May I raise a point of order? When I came in to vote, the Attorney-General was standing in the centre of the Gangway. It was exceedingly difficult to get in to vote but I did in fact succeed in voting. The Attorney-

Division No. 57.]


4.10 p.m.

Adams, H. R.Granville, Edgar (Eye)Odey, G. W.
Albu, A. HGrenfell, D. R.Orbach, M.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Padley, W. E.
Awbery, S. S.Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)Paget, R. T.
Ayles, W. HGrimond, J.Pannell, T. C.
Baxter, A. BHaire, John E. (Wycombe)Pargiter, G. A
Benson, G.Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)Parker, J.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A (Ebbw Vale)Hamilton, W. W.Poole, C.
Bing, G. H. CHargreaves, A.Popplewell, E.
Blackburn, A RHastings, S.Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Boothby, R.Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Bottomley, A. GHolman, P.Rees, Mrs. D.
Bowden, H. WHolmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)Reeves, J.
Bower, NormanHoughton, D.Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras.
Braine, B. R.Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)Rogers, George (Kensington, N
Brockway, A. F.Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)Royle, C.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax)Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)Hyde, H. M.Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Brown, Thomas (Ince)Hynd, H. (Accrington)Sorensen, R. W.
Carson, Hon. E.Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir Frank
Chetwynd, G. RJanner, B.Sparks, J. A.
Cocks, F S.Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.)Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Cooper, Geoffrey (Middlesbrough, W.)Jenkins, R. HStrauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Cooper, John (Deptford)Johnson, James (Rugby)Stross, Dr. Barnett
Corbet, Mrs. Freda (Peckham)Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Cove, W G.Kinghorn, San. Ldr. E.Teeling, W.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S)Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)Thomas, Iorworth (Rhondda, W)
Crosland, C. A RLewis, Arthur (West Ham, N)Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Crossman, R H SLindgren, G. S.Thurtle, Ernest
Daines, P.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Turner-Samuels, M
Darling, George (Hillsborough)Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)Usborne, H.
Davies, Harold (Leek)Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)Vernon, W. F.
Deer, G.McGhee, H. G.Viant, S. P.
Dodds, N. N.Mackay, R. W. G. (Reading, N.)Weitzman, D.
Donnelly, D.Mallalieu, J P W (Huddersfield, E)Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)Maudling R.Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Mikardo, IanWilley, Frederick (Sunderland)
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)Mitchison, G. RWilliams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Field, Capt. W. J.Moeran, E. W.Wyatt, W. L.
Foot, M. M.Moore, Lt.-Col., Sir ThomasYates, V. F.
Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)
George, Lady Megan LloydMoyle, A.


Gibson, C. WMulley, F. WMrs. Eirene White and
Gooch, E. GNally, WMr. Martin Lindsay.

General was saying in a very loud voice, "If you want a Royal Commission vote "No"

That is not a point of order. Any Whip could do the same thing. There is no point of order of any kind. My duty is to put the Question now. I have been ordered by the House to put the Question.

Question put accordingly, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 131: Noes, 60.


Bartley, PHarris, Reader (Heston)Robens, A.
Bell, R. M.Harvey, Air-Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield)Roberts, Major Peter (Heeley)
Bossom, A CHay, JohnRyder, Capt. R. E. D.
Boyd-Carpenter, J AHeadlam, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.Scott, Donald
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)Heath, EdwardShawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Higgs, J. M. C.Simmons, C. J.
Channon, HHill, Dr Charles (Luton)Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Clarke, Brig Terence (Portsmouth, W)Hinchingbrooke, ViscountSpens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)Hope, Lord JohnStanley, Capt. Hon. Richard (N. Fylde)
Cranborne, ViscountHornsby-Smith, Miss P.Studholme, H. G.
Crowder, Capt. John (Finchley)Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. FlorenceThorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)Llewellyn, D.Walker-Smith, D. C.
Cundiff, F. W.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. SWard, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Wells, William (Walsall)
de Freitas, G.Marlowe, A. A. H.Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J. (Edinb'gh, E.)
Delargy, H. J.Maude, John (Exeter)Wilkes, L.
Dunglass, LordMorgan, Dr. H. B.Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)
Duthie, W. S.Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Profumo, J. D.
Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)Remnant, Hon. P.


Fraser, Sir I. (Moreeambe & Lonsdale)Renton, D. L. M.Mr. Wood and Mr. Black.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.

On a point of order. May I respectfully ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you will be good enough to consider this as a point of order—namely, whether it is not in some degree, I am sure unintended, intimidation of hon. Members for the Attorney-General to say, "If you want the Royal Commission vote 'No' "as one is in the very act of voting. I am supported by some Labour hon. Members in stating that the words were used. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) has been good enough to say that he will confirm that the words were used and will state that they were also used to him. Coming from a Member of the Government, with all the authority of the Attorney-General, that is a procedure which, in my submission, is contrary to the practice of the House.

I prefer to give my answer to the point of order before hearing the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). I do not want to hear the opinion of anyone else now; I should like to give my own view. My answer is that, quite frankly, this has nothing to do with me and it is not a point of order at all. Whether a Whip or a Government Member or anybody else chooses to stand at the entrance of the Division Lobby and say which way he would like his supporters to vote is nothing to do with me, and I cannot accept it as a point of order.

In view of the precedent which was set following a vote on a Private Member's Bill last week, may I ask the Government whether they have any statement to make on this occasion?

Further to the point of order, and to the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot); let me say that in the course of my speech I said that if a vote was taken on the Bill we should have to reconsider the position. We shall reconsider the position. With regard to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn), I was asked by a number of my hon. Friends which way it would be appropriate to vote with the greater certainty of having a Royal Commission. I think that should suffice.

Further to what my right hon. and learned Friend has said in response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), do I understand that the House of Commons, having voted by virtually three to one in favour of the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Two to one."] Shall we say then, two to one? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Are we to understand that, the House having voted in favour of the Measure, my right hon. and learned Friend's statement means that that will be regarded as an adverse factor in the reconsideration which he has promised us?

It may well be that those who have voted two to one in favour of the Bill would not wish matters to be further delayed by the appointment of a Royal Commission.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn). What happened with regard to the incident which he described was this. Not only did my right hon. and learned Friend say which Lobby those who wanted a Royal Commission should vote in, but my right hon. and learned Friend had also managed to call together his colleagues for the reconsideration which he said would take place if this vote were carried. Whereas during his speech he said that if the Bill were passed the Government would have to reconsider the matter, at the entrance to the Lobby he was giving the result of that reconsideration.

Whatever the Attorney-General said outside the House has nothing to do with me. It is not a point of order.

Select Committee On Estimates

Mr. Sydney Silverman discharged from the Select Committee on Estimates and Miss Burton added.—[ Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]

Land Acquisition, Cheshunt

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]

4.24 p.m.

The House has spent the day in discussing a matter very vital to the life of this country. The matter which I now seek to raise, albeit in a very narrow and local compass, also raises a matter of great importance, that of housing. I am raising it in regard to the urban district of Cheshunt, which is a very fertile area and one of great importance in the horticultural industry. Let me illustrate its importance by saying that there are some 365 acres of glasshouse in the Cheshunt urban district, employing over 2,000 workers.

Perhaps I should say by way of background that the nurseries of the horticultural industry and houses do not make very good neighbours for two reasons: first, because the smoke from the houses is deleterious to the plants and to the glasshouses; and secondly, because the manure used in horticulture and the gases used in pest control tend to be deleterious to the residents. Those being the considerations and complications involved, it would, I should have thought, have been expected that if such an area could reasonably accommodate its own people that was a very satisfactory situation; and it certainly should not be called upon to house people from London.

In fact, Cheshunt has a formidable housing problem of its own that is urgently awaiting full solution. The position in regard to the waiting list is that—and the figures I shall quote all relate to live applications, since they have been re-submitted since August of last year—the total number of applications is 697, of which 544 are people without any separate home of their own. In addition to this, there is a current rate of new applications of about 8 or 9 weekly. Cheshunt Urban District Council have a very satisfactory record of post-war housing achievement, in that they have built in all some 615 houses or flats, including prefabricated dwellings. But in spite of that good achievement the problem before them relative to their total population is still formidable. It has of late been made infinitely more formidable by the action of the Minister in confirming a very large compulsory purchase order in respect of land in Cheshunt made by the Edmonton Borough Council.

Let me briefly rehearse, for the benefit of the Parliamentary Secretary, the previous history of this conflict of land acquisition between the Cheshunt Urban District Council, in whose area the land is, and the Edmonton Borough Council who are playing the role of the coveters of Naboth's vineyard. The opening exchange was in relation to a site known as the Dark Lane site, in respect of which a compulsory purchase order was made by the Cheshunt Urban District Council on 18th January, 1950, in respect of some 50 acres. The Edmonton Borough Council—determined, I suppose, to show that they do nothing by halves—made a compulsory purchase order in respect of the same land but with additional ancillary land, to the total of some 77½ acres; and they did that without any prior consultation with the Cheshunt Urban District Council. Time passed—indeed, a great deal of time passed—until 23rd September, 1950, when the Minister gave his decision on these compulsory purchase orders, quashing both orders on the ground that the land was necessary for horticultural use.

I hasten to say that I have no quarrel with that decision or the reason for it. I started by emphasising the fertility of the soil in Cheshunt and its great value and importance to horticulture and the food production of the nation. I do not therefore complain of the decision, though I do complain somewhat of the delay. I certainly complain of the sequel to these events, because shortly after giving that decision the Minister, on 10th October, 1950, wrote a letter to the Cheshunt Urban District Council stressing the importance of Cheshunt maintaining a continuous house-building programme.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning
(Mr. Lindgren)

Hear, hear.

The Parliamentary Secretary says "Hear, hear," Normally, I should be grateful for his applause; but it and the terms of the Minister's letter are very ironical when read in the light of the action which was subsequently taken. In that letter he also expresses his readiness to consider suitable alternative proposals. The Cheshunt Council took him at his word—indeed they anticipated his word—because on the 27th September, 1950, which is a few days after the indication of the decision, they made a further compulsory purchase order once again within the confines of their own urban district, and this time in respect of land at Church Lane. They made their compulsory purchase order in respect of 46½ acres of land, only to find that Edmonton Borough Council—again two minds with but a single thought—had made a compulsory purchase order in respect of the same site for some 38 acres.

This time the Edmonton order was a little less than the Cheshunt order, because I think that they had omitted to make full provision for the necessary ancillary open spaces and so on. Following on these orders, an inquiry was duly held on the 28th November, 1950, and a decision—in this case much quicker—came on 29th January last, in which the Minister confirmed the Edmonton order and, of course, necessarily quashed the Cheshunt order. Therefore, though the decision was much quicker, it was infinitely more unsatisfactory.

In making complaint of this action by the Minister, I want to make it quite clear—and I hope that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) will appreciate this—that I am not animated by any disregard or disrespect for the needs of Edmonton, and the Cheshunt council have at no time pursued the policy of dog-in-the-manger; very far from it, because Cheshunt does need the land, and, further, it has shown itself in a practical way conscious of, and sympathetic to, the needs of others. Indeed, as far back as the autumn of 1946 a sort of agreement was arrived at whereby Cheshunt made available for acquisition by Edmonton Council approximately 17 acres in Cheshunt for housing and by Tottenham Borough Council about 17½ acres. As a result of this there is local building of some 200 houses at Waltham Cross, which is part of the Cheshunt urban district for Edmonton, and 179 houses and flats for Tottenham. So the Cheshunt council have been as sympathetic and co-operative as their own problems reasonably allow them to be.

Perhaps I may state briefly what are the problems in regard to land availability as they present themselves to the Cheshunt Council now. The total land available—and in the figures which I give this afternoon I am disregarding decimal points as they make the matter rather complicated, especially when it comes to arithmetic done mentally on the Floor of the House—is some 119 acres, exclusive of the.Church Lane site. The Church Lane site is 46 acres so that, having now been lost by the Minister's decision to Edmonton, has to be deducted. Of the residue some 23 acres are unsuited to residential development by reason of siting and so on, another 24 acres are bespoken or required in respect of county council purposes, such as education and the like. Therefore the total of the Church Lane site, unsuitable areas, and the county council areas is some 93 acres; leaving a total of about 26 acres for all future development and re-development.

I should perhaps bring this up to date by saying that, by one of those happy coincidences which sometimes accompany the raising of matters in this House, only yesterday the Minister notified his refusal to confirm a further small compulsory purchase order by Edmonton in Cheshunt—the Edmonton No. 4 compulsory purchase order made in the Urban District of Cheshunt. Though I am grateful that the Minister has the day before I raised the matter in the House, quashed this particular compulsory purchase order, it is a very small one in comparison with the matter of which I complain; being only some nine-and-a-half acres, of which no fewer than four are, in any event, required by the Herts County Council for educational purposes.

In addition to the number of housing applicants, there is also an urgent need of re-development, there being some 211 sub-standard houses in the urban district ripe, or overripe, for demolition in ordinary circumstances. This demolition will in due course require the necessary elbow room which is necessary when re-development schemes are carried out, and fresh accommodation is required.

That being the problem with regard to Cheshunt, may I say in regard to Edmonton that I recognise the gravity of their problem, and have nothing but goodwill towards them. Even so I would say that though their problem is grave, having regard to the respective populations of the Borough of Edmonton and the Urban District of Cheshunt and having regard to these special circumstances of horticulture of which I have been speaking, I doubt whether their problem is really, in essence, graver or greater than that of Cheshunt. In any event may I call the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to these considerations in respect of the need of Edmonton? First I would refer to what the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) said in regard to this problem:
"The number of persons per house in Edmonton has continually gone down."
He then gives the figure and goes on:
"This obviously indicates that there are a very large number of houses which are under-occupied. It rather makes one wonder whether some sort of tax on under-occupation of houses might be a useful Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 1303–4.]
So we get at one and the same time a disinclination, or refusal, on the part of the people of Edmonton to make full use of their resources and then this considerable policy of invasion of an area lying in another county.

The second point I make is that Edmonton, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, is closely linked with the projected new town of Harlow. What I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary in this regard is: have full efforts been made to solve the Edmonton problem in this way? Has investigation been made to see whether greater results can be obtained from fuller co-operation between the new town corporation of Harlow and the Borough of Edmonton?

In particular, in connection with that, may I ask what consideration has been given to the possibility of using the labour force of Edmonton to build houses for the people of Edmonton in the new town of Harlow? One of the matters always raised is that unless Edmonton has a great many houses to build its labour force may go unemployed. Why should it not build houses where they can be built, in Harlow, for the use of the people of Edmonton? Finally, I suggest, with respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, that the confirmation of this Edmonton Compulsory Purchase Order in Church Lane will be taken by many people as a confession of failure in regard to the Government's new town policy.

Let me summarise the consequences to Cheshunt of the confirmation of this Order. First of all, the largest and most economical area for development in the urban district is now denied to the Cheshunt Council for purposes of housing accommodation. Secondly, the local housing need can probably only be now met by the invasion of the rural or horticultural areas, thus introducing a conflict between food and housing, two basic requirements of the nation. It disregards and over-rules the draft development plan prepared and published by the Hertfordshire County Council, though the hon. Gentleman represents the Ministry of Planning as well as of Local Government. It involves also the ultimate danger of encroachment of development upon the Green Belt Area.

That being the position, I would say to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a prior right for the people of Cheshunt to have first call on their own land for their own housing, by reason of the very grave problems and special difficulties that they have to encounter. It is also necessary to find accommodation for horticultural workers, if the industry of horticulture is not to suffer. Whereas the Cheshunt housing list contains many applications from horticultural workers, that of Edmonton, so far as I know, contains none at all, from the industry native to the land.

I have raised this matter in an objective and I hope sympathetic way and without in any way besmirching the actions either of the Minister or of the Edmonton Council; but I should be lacking in candour if I did not say that this has resulted in a sense of bitterness in Cheshunt and the feeling that there has been insufficient appreciation of their local needs and a disregard of the proper principles of planning. Since that feeling exists, as long as I have the honour to represent that constituency in this House that feeling will not go without expression. I recommend therefore to the Minister that he should take heed of it and see what he can do to improve their situation.

4.43 p.m.

I make no objection to the fair-minded way in which the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has raised this matter. I would draw attention to the extremely admirable way in which the Edmonton council have gone about the solution of their housing problem. On the Edmonton Council list there are 4,000 applications, of which 2,000 are considered to be the hard core. In Edmonton, as elsewhere throughout the country, increasing standards of life are increasing the demand for housing.

The only thing I have to add is my information that there is plenty of land in Cheshunt. The county council has already listed for residential development, to satisfy local requirements in Cheshunt as well as in Edmonton, the land which was recommended by the London Plan and accepted by the Minister as suitable for residential purposes in the Green Belt area. The Cheshunt Council should consider whether they are not being rather selfish in their resistance to this development in the decentralisation of the population of London, which is recognised as necessary in the London Plan.

4.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning
(Mr. Lindgren)

Since I have been in this House I have learned to have a very high regard and admiration for the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), in his advocacy of a case. I know that his profession is one which trains him in that advocacy, but today he has excelled in making the best of a bad case.

The hon. Member said, quite rightly, that Cheshunt have a formidable housing problem. The Cheshunt Urban District Council, although it has riot been entirely inactive, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered as a progressive housing authority. The hon. Member referred to the 615 houses built by Cheshunt. Of those, 500 are permanent and 115 are temporaries. Towards the end of the war, Cheshunt secured sufficient land for the 500 permanent houses and whilst they were being built the old Ministry of Health continually pressed them to purchase additional land for further housing schemes to meet the needs of the people within their urban district.

Cheshunt, however, repeatedly and consistently refused to purchase further land. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health at the time, said "No land, no houses." As the Cheshunt U.D.C. had said that the 500 houses were sufficient, and as they had not purchased further land, the Minister did not give them an allocation of houses in 1950. If, therefore, there has been any disregard of the needs of the local people, this has been due, not to the Ministry, but to the local urban district council. It is on the record, as the hon. Member admitted, that the Minister of Health pressed the Council to acquire further sites.

Edmonton is a progressive and enthusiastic housing authority but it is severely handicapped by the fact that there are very few sites for building within the borough. On the one hand, Cheshunt, with plenty of land available for building, was not anxious to build; on the other hand, Edmonton, anxious to build, had no land upon which to do so. Therefore, we took those who wanted to build to the land that was available for building, and I am certain the hon. Member for Hertford will admit that that was the correct policy.

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Cheshunt Council did not want to build houses on the Church Lane site, and that the land was acquired merely to be left vacant?

I was suggesting that the Cheshunt U.D.C. were not prepared to build council houses. I believe they were prepared to accept additional licences for private enterprise houses, but the policy of the Government was to provide houses to meet other housing needs—houses for renting; and as the Cheshunt U.D.C. were not prepared to build these houses, they lost their opportunity to build private enterprise houses because of the ratio between council and private enterprise houses.

Edmonton are not only a progressive and enthusiastic housing authority, but they have shown considerable skill in their programming of various schemes and in seeing that the available labour force is kept fully and continually employed. Therefore, as their first scheme was coming to an end in Cheshunt, they immediately began looking round for new sites. As the hon. Member said, they cast envious eyes on the Dark Lane, Cheshunt, site.

When Edmonton made a compulsory purchase order on the Dark Lane site, that awakened Cheshunt from their slumbers, and they too made a compulsory purchase order in respect of it. The Ministry of Agriculture, however, said that it was first-class agricultural land, and therefore neither of them got it. At the public inquiry that was held on the Dark Lane site, the Hertfordshire County Council put a plan showing all available building sites in the area and indicating suitable ones as well. The Edmonton Council, taking advantage of the information which had become available through the inquiry and through the county's plan, put in a further application for 40 acres on the Flamstead End site and for nine acres on the High Street site. Again, the Cheshunt Urban Council put in an application for the 40 acres on the Flam-stead End site, but no application in respect of the High Street site.

Again, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Minister gave his decision, following the public inquiry, and in the light of all the facts made available by the inquiry, that Edmonton should be given the 40-acre site. I do not know to what extent the Cheshunt Urban Council were given the information on which the Minister made his decision, but I am quite prepared to give the main factors to the hon. Gentleman now. These main factors were the ones referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). First, on the grounds of need, Edmonton, with its proved need of 4,000 applicants, and Cheshunt with its proved need of 600 applicants.

The decision was given apart from the question of need, because to meet the needs of Cheshunt there were still sufficient sites available if the Council desired to acquire them. Since that time, the Cheshunt Urban Council have decided to acquire further sites sufficient for 100 houses, and an allocation for 50 houses has been given to them. I say quite frankly, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that if they show enthusiasm and speed in building these 50 houses, we shall make another 50 quickly available to them.

I do submit that, although the hon. Gentleman suggested that the Cheshunt Council were not adopting a dog-in-the-manger attitude, this House would not accept that the Minister of Health, who is responsible for the housing programme, should allow an authority which has land available and is not using it to penalise a neighbour which wanted to build but lacked the land, and thereby handicap the whole housing programme. I think the attitude of the Minister in making that land available to them was the correct attitude.

Quite rightly, the hon. Gentleman referred to the policy of new towns and expanded towns. I agree straight away that out-borough or out-county building is unsatisfactory, both for the authority which has to carry it out and for the receiving authority. The real solution is the long-term one of the new towns programme, but, after all, it takes some time to get that going, and the immediate problem is to make provision for all those people who are waiting for houses. All hon. Members have individuals in their constituencies who suffer from certain hardships and believe their own cases to be the hardest in the list.

Therefore, at the present time, while the development of the new towns and expanded towns is proceeding, there must be some out-borough or out-county building, but we agree that it should be restricted to the absolute minimum, because of the difficulties that arise in connection with both. The hon. Gentleman referred to Edmonton's building labour force, and asked whether some of it could not be used in the new towns.

It is true that Edmonton has a very good and mobile labour force——

The Question having been proposed after Four o'Clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Six Minutes to Five o'Clock.