rose to call attention to Private Bills for divorce in Ireland: and to move that a Return be made to this House of all Private Bills presented during the last five years for effecting divorces, showing whether the petition was presented by husband or wife, what was the matrimonial offence alleged, the Parliamentary history of the Bill, and the total cost to the parties.
The noble Earl said
My Lords, in 1857, when the present Matrimonial Causes Act became law, I think I am correct in stating that a promise or an intimation was made by the Government of the day that in the following year they would propose a measure to extend that law to Ireland. Precisely half a century has elapsed, and not only has the law not been extended to Ireland, but I am not sure that an attempt has been made to do so, and it is still necessary for persons who live in Ireland and who desire divorce—
I regret to say I have not refreshed my memory by looking up the debates, but I think I am correct in saying that a promise was made.
I will look it up, and communicate with the noble and learned Lord privately. But, whether 491 there was a promise or not, it has not been done, and it is still necessary for persons who live in Ireland and who desire to obtain a divorce to proceed by the cumbrous process of an Act of Parliament. I do not desire that this Return should contain the names of the parties. It would be quite sufficient to indicate them, but I do think it would be useful for the purpose of comment to have some such Return, and it could be prepared at small cost. My object is that when this Return is presented attention may be called, if it should seem desirable, to the very large expense which has to be incurred, and to the fact that, in consequence, divorce in Ireland is entirely the privilege of the wealthy.
Moved, "That there be laid before the House a Return of all private Bills presented during the last five years for effecting divorces, showing whether the petition was presented by husband or wife, what was the matrimonial offence alleged, the Parliamentary history of the Bill, and the total cost to the parties."— (Earl Russell)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord LOREBURN)
My Lords, I see no objection to the granting of the Return for which the noble Earl has moved, but I certainly dissociate myself from his object. I am quite certain that he is doing wrong in attempting to impose any law upon Ireland, if the people of that country do not wish it. The expression "the Parliamentary history of the Bill "is rather vague. I suppose the noble Earl means what the House did with it, and whether the Bill became law.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I see no objection to the granting of that and the other information asked for. We could not, of course, give the amount of the solicitors' bills and the total costs of the parties; but the Parliamentary costs we certainly could give, and if the noble Earl will amend the Motion accordingly I will accept it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.492
§ Moved, "That there be laid before the House a Return (omitting names) of all Private Bills presented during the last five years for effecting divorces, showing whether the petition was presented by husband or wife, what was the matrimonial offence alleged, the result, and the Parliamentary cost to the parties."— (Earl Russell.)
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I am not in the least surprised at, but am gratified for, the cautious and careful way in which my noble and learned friend has spoken of this matter. I heard with surprise the statement of the noble Earl opposite that in the yea 1887 a promise—
§ *LORD ASHBOURNE
I am not a young man, but that goes beyond my Parliamentary experience. I was, however, surprised to hear his statement. I have been a good many years in public life, having sat in the House of Commons before I had the honour of a seat in your Lordships' House, whore I have sat now for over twenty years, but I have never heard it suggested by any section of opinion in Ireland that the extension of the divorce law to that country was desired. The bulk of the population are Roman Catholic, and naturally the idea would be repugnant to them; and I may add that I have never heard any section of Protestant opinion in Ireland express a desire in this direction. If any grievance were felt in Ireland on this matter I think that steps would have been taken in the direction of a change in the law, but I do not believe that any change is desired by any substantial section of opinion. I do not think, however, that there would be any objection to giving the Return apart from the names.
There are very few cases in Ireland in which anyone, rich or poor, appeals to the law in reference to this disagreeable subject. Before a Bill is submitted to your Lordships there must be a suit for damages and also a decision of our Court in Matrimonial Causes giving a separation a mensa et thora. Then a Bill has to be introduced into your Lordships' House, and on the Second Reading sufficient evidence has to be given to 493 justify your Lordships in passing it. It then goes clown to the other House and is treated as an Act of Parliament. Of course, the proceedings are cumbrous and expensive, but where you find a nation submissive without repining for a vast number of years that may be taken as some proof that the nation is not very anxious for a change to be made. There have been two or three Bills of this nature this year, and I think that would probably more than represent the average of previous years.
I drew attention on one of these occasions to what I think might be a beneficial change, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack concurred. It has been the habit under a Standing Order about a century old to introduce in these Bills a provision forbidding the parties who are incriminated to marry. That is a rather cruel provision, and invariably it has been struck out before the Bill left your Lordships' House. According to practice the Bill is introduced in that form, and also by practice the provision is struck out on Third Reading; and I ventured to suggest, earlier in the session when one of these Bills came up, that it was desirable that the form should be modified and the Bills introduced without that clause. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack did not indicate the slightest disinclination to adopt that view, but I think he felt that owing to the antiquity of this practice it was desirable to make some inquiry.
My Lords, I think it would be convenient that I should at once remove some misapprehension which has arisen in the minds of the noble and. learned Lords who have spoken. I may say at once that I am not proposing now or at any time myself to introduce legislation for Ireland in regard to this subject. But there is one aspect of the matter in regard to which I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will to some extent give me his sympathy. It may be that in an overwhelmingly Catholic country where the majority of the population do not approve of divorce, there is no desire for an enactment of that kind; but on the ground of religious equality and religious freedom it does appear to me to be a hardship that because a person is 494 one of a small minority in an overwhelmingly Catholic country he should be deprived of a remedy which would be open to him elsewhere. This is essentially one of those privileges which it is not a democratic thing to maintain. There is nothing democratic about it. The noble and learned Lord opposite has stated the enormous number of formalities that attend this matter, and it is not altogether fair, and does not make for equality between rich and poor, that one person should be able to obtain a remedy which is denied to another. I thought I detected in the speech of Lord Ashbourne an attachment to these practices on account of their hoary antiquity; but, speaking for myself, I must say I prefer to see them preserved in museums and in books and not applied to unfortunate living people who have to suffer from their existence.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.