HC Deb 21 May 1819 vol 40 cc657-60
Dr. Phillimore

having moved the third reading of this bill,

Mr. Denman

wished to offer to the hon. and learned gentleman a suggestion that did not proceed from himself alone, but which was the general opinion of a number of hon. and learned friends of his, who all agreed with him in approving of the principle of this bill, but who strongly objected to one part of it. That suggestion was, as to the expediency of omitting the second clause, which dispensed with the necessity of parties giving their residences.

Mr. Wynn

thought that the suggestion of the hon. and learned member would come more properly after the third reading. The great merit of the present bill was, that it reduced the law of marriage to a certain system, because it did away with those vague and indeterminate provisions of former acts, which were so strongly objectionable. It was aimed also, very effectively, against clandestine marriages, by publication of bans; which publication, under the existing laws, it was almost morally impossible could ever reach the ears of those whom the law intended it should reach.

The bill was then read a third time; after which,

Colonel Wood

proposed, that the bill should have an ex post facto operation, in cases where marriages had been contracted under the ages of twenty-one, and where they had no issue.

Dr. Phillimore

opposed the clause, on the ground that the House could not pass such a clause on any principle of justice.—

The clause was rejected.

Mr. C. Tennyson

was anxious to introduce a clause to prevent a marriage between a minor and an adult, from being in any case liable to be annulled at the suit of the adult. It was a most disgusting and revolting fact, that in a great majority of cases, the proceedings were instituted by the husband, who had attained twenty-one at the period of the marriage; and, as the bill stood, the power would still remain to him, until the expiration of six months after his wife's attainment of the age of legal majority. Every principle which induced the House to approve of the bill as it stood, would justify its going the length he suggested; for nothing could be more repugnant to reason, decency, and justice, than the practice he wished to prohibit; unless indeed it were the circumstance, that in a civilized age and country, the law should so long have continued to permit, and thus to sanction it,—a permission and sanction in no respect necessary for securing the genuine object of the marriage act, which was designed mainly for the protection of minors. That act could not have been intended to furnish, as it did, the means of accomplishing the ruin of an innocent and virtuous female, who perhaps, after resisting all the arts of seduction, relied with the unsuspicious ignorance of youth on the validity of a marriage offered to her by a person of full age, while that person having gained the ends of his passion, more effectually than by means which would have incurred the severest inflictions of the law, was enabled with impunity to reap a double advantage from the perjury by which he had obtained the solemnization of the marriage rites. The alteration he suggested would also render the bill more conformable to the law on the subject of marriage in other respects; for a mutual contract or promise of marriage between an adult and a minor, was so far binding on the adult as to subject him to an action for damages, though the minor remained free from such liability Under the provisions of this bill, the minor would still remain at liberty until a sufficient period had elapsed after the age of legal discretion, but that the adult should also remain so, the shadow of a reason did not occur to his imagination.

Dr. Phillimore

said, he felt the force and justice of the observations which had fallen from the hon. gentleman, but yet trusted he would not press the amendment he had proposed. A great amelioration, he admitted, it would be; but as the mischief complained of, arose out of the law as it had long stood, and a great deal had already been done by the bill, which, even as now framed, had not passed through the House without much objection; he thought any material extension of its principle might still further endanger it in another place.

Mr. Davies Gilbert

said, he quite agreed with the hon. gentleman who suggested this amendment, in thinking that the law which gave such an undue advantage to persons of full age, was in a most objectionable state. The bill, however, as it stood, would tend much to diminish the grievances resulting from the marriage act, and he thought it better therefore not to increase the risk which it might yet have to encounter before it finally passed the legislature. On this ground he hoped the hon. member would withdraw his proposition.

Mr. C. Tennyson

said, he so entirety approved of the bill as far as it went, that though he thought the time which the law had existed formed no apology for it, and though he could not surmise a reason why, in another place, the clause he proposed could appear to render the bill more objectionable, he should be happy to defer to the judgment of the hon. members who wished him to withdraw it.

The amendment was withdrawn accordingly.

On the motion that the bill do pass—

Sir C. Robinson

said, he could not let the motion be carried without entering his protest against its precipitate introduction, and the principle it proposed to substitute instead of a better one. He thought the means it afforded of instituting and carrying on suits to avoid impro- per marriage contracts were entirely too limited.

The bill was then passed.