HC Deb 17 June 1835 vol 28 cc858-65

On the Motion of Mr. Lynch, the House resolved itself into a Committee on the Roman Catholic Marriage Bill.

The first Clause was read as follows: Be it enacted, by the King's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the passing of this Act, so much of an Act passed in the nineteenth year of the reign of his Majesty King George the Second, intituled, 'An Act for annulling all Marriages to be celebrated by any Popish priest between Protestant and Protestant, or between Protestant and Papist, and to amend and make more effectual an Act passed in this Kingdom in the reign of her late Majesty Queen Anne, intituled, "An Act for the more effectual preventing the taking away and marrying children against the wills of their parents or guardians,"' as relates to Marriages celebrated by Popish Priests between Protestant and Papist, shall be and the same is hereby absolutely repealed; but nevertheless so as not to render valid or in any manner affect any marriage, the invalidity of which is now or hath been disputed or questioned under or by virtue of the said Act, in any of his Majesty's Courts Ecclesiastical or Civil in Great Britain or Ireland.

Mr. Shaw

objected to the Bill on two grounds; first, that it would remove the great practical impediment to the celebration of clandestine Marriages by Roman Catholic priests, imposed by the 19th George 2nd., and expressly left unrepealed by the Act introduced by the Attorney-General for Ireland (Mr. Perrin) in the year 1832, when he did Repeal the Law enacting the penalties—which he (Mr. Shaw) admitted were unduly severe—of death, and fine of 500l.; so far only, however, as regarded the Roman Catholic priest; and his (Mr. Shaw's) second objection was, the partial nature of this legislation; for while it removed the penalty of death from the Roman Catholic priest, it left, according to the strict law, the degraded Protestant clergyman subject to it.—[Mr. Perrin: "No, no!"]—He must insist that such was the law, and that the present Bill would remove the only remaining obstacle in the case of the Roman Catholic clergyman, that was the nullity of the marriage. While he objected to this partial charge, he deprecated as much as any man, the present state of the marriage law in Ireland, and was as anxious for its improvement on a broad and comprehensive basis.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, was wrong in supposing that this Bill would encourage clandestine marriages. Such marriages occurred at present, and would continue to occur, whether they passed this measure or not, the effect of which would be to take the penalty of such marriages off the innocent, and fix it upon the guilty parties. It was not right that the children should suffer; if any one was to suffer, let it be the parents. The present system encouraged young men of the Established Church in Ireland to marry Catholic females of a rank in life below themselves for the purpose of seduction. Now, the present Bill would defeat that object; it would no longer be a mock marriage; and if the young Protestant gentleman united him- self in this way with a Catholic female, that person would be actually his wife, and the innocent children would escape the punishment of illegitimacy which they now suffered. He should like to see the statute referred to by the right hon. Gentleman Mr. Shaw, for he did not believe that any such law existed. The present law was the last remnant of the penal code, and ought forthwith to be repealed. The penalty for celebrating marriages between Roman Catholics and Protestants was done away with, and the only persons now punished were the innocent children who suffered for their parents' vices.

Colonel Perceval

said, that on a former occasion, when the Bill was in progress through the House to do away with the penalty of 500l. that then existed for a Roman Catholic priest marrying a Roman Catholic and a Protestant, it was urged as an inducement to the House to do away the penalty, that the marriage so celebrated would be illegal, and now it is urged as a reason for legalising the marriage, that the penalty has been abolished, and therefore that the law, as it at present exists, ought to be repealed. By the Bill at present before the House, a Roman Catholic priest might marry when he pleased, and whom he pleased. The Bill imposed no restriction whatever; the priest might enter the House of any Protestant, and celebrate a marriage, at any hour he pleased, with perfect impunity; and this, he maintained, was more than a Protestant clergyman could do. He (Colonel Perceval) protested he could not see why the Roman Catholic people should consider themselves aggrieved in being obliged, when they intermarry with Protestants, to have the ceremony performed by a Protestant clergyman. If the Roman Catholics would but place themselves within the law, and submit to the publication of banns, or that a license should be procured before the ceremony of marriage could be celebrated, then all the objects sought would be attained; but they would not submit to that which Protestants were obliged to submit to, and therefore he considered it unjust to allege that they were in the slightest degree aggrieved. More than two years ago, he (Colonel Perceval) impressed upon the present Attorney-General for Ireland the necessity of bringing in a general marriage law for Ireland; and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman, aided by the advice of the learned civilian (Dr. Lushington) would introduce a general measure, which would not place one sect above another, or permit a Roman Catholic priest to do that which a Protestant clergyman could not do legally. Nothing could be more ruinous to the peace of families than giving facilities for the celebration of clandestine marriages; and, for his part, he could wish to see the British Parliament take a lesson from the French in this respect, by placing the names of the parties, who were about to enter into the contract, for a fortnight previously before the public. By adopting such a course, much of the heart-scalding which was known to result from clandestine marriages would be saved; and he considered that the feelings of parents ought, not to be altogether overlooked, as was the case in the Bill then before the House. Under all the circumstances of the case, he felt it his duty to protest against the removal of the only check that now existed upon the celebration of clandestine marriages in Ireland.

Mr. Shaw

said, he had got from the Library the statute to which he had referred, and as the hon. Gentleman (Mr. O'Connnell) had denied its existence, and the right hon. Gentleman (the Attorney-General for Ireland) insisted that it did not inflict the penalty of death on degraded clergymen, he hoped the House would allow him to read it. It was the 12th George 1st., c. 3, entitled, "An Act to prevent marriages by degraded clergymen and Popish priests," and provided, "that if any Popish priest, or any degraded clergyman, shall celebrate any marriage between two Protestants, or reputed Protestants, or between a Protestant, or reputed Protestant, and a Papist, such Popish priest, and such degraded clergyman, shall be and is hereby declared to be guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as a felon."

Dr. Lushington

said, that no man was more anxious that a general marriage law should be passed than he was, and he was glad to hear the gallant Member for Sligo state that he approved of the French system; but would the gallant Member guarantee that a general marriage law would pass the House of Lords? All former attempts at legislation upon the subject had failed. The law, as it at present stood, as had been truly observed by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, was the last remnant of the penal code, and until every vestige, as well as every recollection of it, had been expunged, the people of Ireland would not, and they ought not, to be contented. He should support the Bill before the Committee in all its stages.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

said, that he did not understand his right hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw) in the observations he made to advocate a continuance of the penal code—on the contrary, what his right hon. Friend urged, and what he (Mr. Jackson) demanded, was a law bearing equally upon all classes of his Majesty's subjects—which the Bill before the House manifestly was not. He maintained that the view taken of the law by his right hon. Friend was correct, as he had abundantly proved by the law he had just quoted. By the law, as cited by his right hon. Friend, if a Roman Catholic priest or a degraded Protestant clergyman celebrated a clandestine marriage, he subjected himself to the penalty of death. That law was so far repealed as regarded the Roman Catholic clergyman, and a penalty of 500l. was substituted, but it never was repealed so far as regarded a degraded Protestant clergyman.—[Mr. Perrin recollected a conviction of a degraded clergyman on circuit in the sum of 500l.]—He did not mean to justify convictions, the circumstances connected with which he had no knowledge of; but he was shewing that the penalty of death was never repealed as regarded a degraded Protestant clergyman. In the opposition he offered to this measure, he disclaimed all party views. The descent of property depended upon the law of marriage. He wished the Government of the country would take the matter up, and with the able assistance of the learned doctor (Lushington) introduce a general law that would press equally upon all classes. If such a measure were introduced, it should meet with his support. What he deprecated was, the existence of unequal laws. Every person acquainted with Ireland, knew that marriages in that country were to the priest the sources of great emolument. He was surprised if that cry came from Members conversant with the state of Ireland. He would repeat, that marriages formed a principal source of their income; and not content with the facilities that existed of Roman Catholics marrying persons of their own creed, this Bill afforded them the greatest facilities for celebrating marriages between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Why, he would ask, were the members of Protestant families to be subject to the intrusion of a Roman Catholic priest, and why should he be permitted to celebrate a marriage in their families without, the publication of banns or the obtaining of a license? If a Protestant clergyman celebrated a marriage without banns having been duly published, or a license obtained, he was subject to be degraded, and if he celebrated a second marriage under similar circumstances, he was liable to the punishment of death. The measure then before the House would have the effect of rendering the peace of families insecure, and the descent of property uncertain; and under all the circumstances of the case, he thought the House would be acting in a most unsafe way by passing the Bill then under consideration.

Mr. O'Dwyer

supported the Bill. The evils which the Gentlemen deprecated already existed, and the measure would remove them. In the manner of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, the House had a fair sample of the faction who had so long domineered over Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman contended that an exemplary and pious Roman Catholic clergyman, and a degraded Protestant clergyman should be placed on the same footing, and for this his liberality the Roman Catholics in that House, as well as the Roman Catholics of Ireland, could not but feel grateful.

Mr. Shaw

could not avoid congratulating the hon. and learned Member for Drogheda (Mr. O'Dwyer) on his new office of a lecturer on gentlemanly manners and temperate language; the House should know exactly how the law stood at present; the 12th George 1st. inflicted the penalty of death both on Roman Catholic priest and degraded clergyman; then the 33rd, George 3rd, superadded the fine of 500l. in the case of the Roman Catholic priest, but omitted the degraded clergyman; the latter statute raised a doubt by construction as to the penalty of death remaining against the Roman Catholic priest on account of the enactment of a mitigated penalty, but this did not affect the degraded clergyman; then the Attorney-General for Ireland (Mr. Perrin) brought in the Act of 1832, expressly repealing both those acts, as far as related to the Roman Catholic priest, but left the degraded clergyman untouched; also not interfering with, but expressly saving the Act which rendered such a clandestine marriage by a Roman Catholic priest void, and the present Bill was to render the marriage valid when between Protestant and Papist, but not when between two Protestants—adopting, in that respect, the principle of partiality in the case of the Roman Catholic, which pervaded the Act he had referred to of the Attorney-General for Ireland passed in 1832; this he (Mr. Shaw) considered unworthy legislation.

Mr. Lynch

said, that all the arguments that had been urged upon the other side, bore upon the Bill of 1833, but had no reference to the measure then under discussion. The present Bill removed no penalties; they were removed by the Bill of 1833. The law, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Shaw) with respect to degraded clergymen, was certainly in force, and ought to be repealed. All that he (Mr. Lynch) asked, was, that Roman Catholic clergymen should be placed on the same footing with Dissenting clergymen. All he asked was, that if a Protestant should yield to the conscientious feelings of the person he is about to marry, and has the ceremony performed by a Roman Catholic clergyman, that the marriage should not be void.

Mr. Ruthven

believed the Bill would prevent clandestine marriages, for the Protestants would be convinced that they could not afterwards escape their natural consequences.

Mr. Williams Wynn

objected to power being granted to Roman Catholic priests of celebrating marriages between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Mr. Perrin

said, that he had been under the impression that there did not any such penalty exist as that referred to by his learned Friends opposite, for such a law had never been carried into execution; but if it existed, he was ready to remove it. There was no Marriage-law in Ireland, and the peculiarity of the case was this—that whereas if no ceremony whatever were performed between a Roman Catholic and Protestant, and that they acknowledged themselves to be man and wife, the marriage was lawful, but if a marriage were celebrated between the parties by a Roman Catholic Priest, the marriage was null and void. It was to get rid of this anomaly that the present Bill was introduced.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

Do the Ecclesiastical Courts hold a marriage to be good when no ceremony has been performed?

Mr. Perrin

They do.

The Attorney-General

said, that marriages were held to be valid where no ceremony had been performed.

Mr. Shaw

was of a different opinion so far as Ecclesiastical Courts went. All which he and his friends asked was, that in all these cases of clandestine marriages, the party celebrating them should incur the penalty of a misdemeanour.

Colonel Perceval

said, there was no instance on record where a marriage was held valid in Ireland that had not been celebrated by a person in holy orders.

Bill went through the Committee,—and the House resumed.