HC Deb 20 August 1835 vol 30 cc791-5

Mr. Horace Twiss moved the further consideration of the Report on the Marriage Act Amendment Bill.

Mr. Poulter

said that, sorry as he was to make any objection to the Bill which might have the effect of putting an end to it, he could not allow the second Clause to pass, as he considered it directly inconsistent with the principle laid down in the first, it was also inconsistent with the promise of his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Dr. Lushington) when he promised, that next Session, a Bill should be introduced for making certain marriages in future good and valid, for the Clause in question distinctly and finally condemned to all intents and purposes all such marriages as absolutely null and void. Upon that ground, and as the Amendment suggested by him the other night, viz., the excepting from the operation of that Clause the case of a man desiring to marry the sister of his deceased wife, had not been acceded to, he should move that Clause 2 of this Bill be struck out.

The Speaker suggested that the House should go into Committee to discuss the subject.

The House in Committee.

On Clause 2,

Mr. Poulter moved that it be struck out of the Bill.

Mr. Potter

hoped his hon. Friend would not persevere in his opposition, because great fear had been expressed that the Bill would be lost, and in that case what would be the feelings of great numbers of persons who were anxiously looking for it with a hope that it would be passed into a law.

Mr. Poulter

said they ought to legislate on correct principles and not insert a Clause wholly subversive of the principle laid down in the first Clause of the Bill.

Mr. Ewart

said, the only question was whether the two Clauses were consistent. It was not right to purchase present advantage at the expense of future consistency. He considered the two Clauses wholly inconsistent, and the House ought, whatever their feelings might be, to proceed on that principle alone.

Mr. Pease

objected to the Clause as contradicting every principle, whether of law or of humanity, by punishing the children for the offences of the parents. If they sanctioned the principle that those marriages were invalid, they should alter the law altogether: the Clause was wholly inconsistent and contradictory, and he should vote against it.

Mr. Pryme

could not agree in the opinions just expressed as to the contradictory nature of the Clause. What was more common than to forbid a thing for the future, but to say they would not interfere with those, who, either in carelessness or ignorance, had hitherto transgressed? At present, marriages were continually contracted, which were productive of the greatest inconvenience and confusion, and he could not agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Shaftesbury, (Mr. Poulter) that such marriages, for instance of a man with his wife's sister, ought to be permitted. If it was intended to introduce next Session a measure of mitigation, there might be some reason for postponing the Clause, but he could not agree to any alteration in the degrees of consanguinity now existing, and he considered there would be no inconsistency in allowing the second Clause to remain in the Bill.

Mr. Twiss

said there was no question as to the first Clause. As to the second he begged the House to consider the present anomalous state of the law as to marriages. As the law now stood the marriages alluded to were not void, but only voidable; at the instance of any malicious person a suit could be instituted in the Ecclesiastical Court, and the marriage could be declared void. Now, under these circumstances the Legislature was driven to do one of two things, make the marriages absolutely void, or absolutely valid; it was impossible to leave the law in its present state; for no error could be greater than that of leaving the law on so important a subject in a doubtful situation. But then if the House were to declare those marriages valid, the effect of such a provision would be, to shock the prejudices—the powerful prejudices—of a very large proportion of the British population, and prejudices the more powerful, because they were of a religious character. Now he could not but respect religious scruples, though they might be erroneous, and he was sure his hon. Friend, the Member for Shaftesbury (Mr. Poulter) would admit that the existence of those prejudices formed a powerful argument against the rendering those marriages valid. They were driven, therefore, since they could not leave the law in its present doubtful state, to the alternative of making those marriages, for the future, void. There could be no hardship in that, for the House would then declare plainly its intentions, and by so putting the law at rest would prevent people from, as it were, cheating themselves; and, under the impression that valid marriage might take place in future, allow a relaxation of morals which it was very desirous not to encourage.

The Committee divided on Mr. Poulter's Amendment: Ayes 33; Noes 21: Majority 12.

The Clause was struck out.

Sir William Follett

said, that nobody he thought would contend that such marriages ought to be allowed; as the law now stood, they were not void but only voidable, and he thought it advisable to set the question at rest by making them for the future either void or valid; that was his intention in inserting the 2nd Clause in the Bill.

Mr. Poulter

said, what he agreed to was the remediable part of the Bill, but he considered, that as they could not at this period of the Session deal satisfactorily with this important subject, they should leave the subsequent part of it open to deliberation in a future Session; he thought they had acted safely in striking out the Clause, leaving the rest of the Bill to operate.

Sir William Follett

considered the rejection of the 2nd Clause as a virtual rejection of the Bill, he was sorry the hon. member had done so, and he should therefore, not trouble the House with any further Amendments.

Dr. Nichol

considered it perfectly consistent to declare marriages already consummated, and marriages, the parties to which were dead, to be valid; and at the same time to make all future similar marriages void. He should have supported the Bill in its original form, and he considered that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury had reduced it to a perfect absurdity.

The House resumed.