The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the Motion with which he should on this occasion conclude, would have for its object to effect the settlement of a great and important question, which was of great consequence to the public, and which interested a large portion of the community. It was a question which had been for a long time unsettled, and to settle which 1074 various, but ineffectual attempts, had at different times been made; and, if it were once set at rest on proper and satisfactory principles, that would tend to promote harmony, peace, and contentment among those who adhered to the principles of the Established Church of England themselves, as well as to those who conscientiously dissented from the principles of that Church. The object of the Motion which he should submit to the House was, to provide relief in regard to the celebration of the ceremony of marriage to those Dissenters from the Church of England, who objected to having the ceremony of marriage performed as at present required according to the rites and ordinances of the Established Church. It was no doubt known to all who heard him, that in the year 1754, an Act had passed, 26 George 2nd, commonly known by the name of Lord Hardwicke's Act, which made a great alteration in the law of this country in respect to marriage. By that Act, it was provided, that no marriage ceremony should be performed by any clergyman, excepting by a clergyman of the Church of England, and according to the rites and ordinances of the Established Church. The only exception made was in favour of Jews and Quakers, who were allowed to contract marriage according to their own forms and ceremonies. The Dissenting body objected to the provisions of that Act. They alleged that there was no relation in life which tended more to the happiness of individuals, and the general good of society, than that of marriage; and they objected to a law which rendered that relation invalid, unless it were contracted according to rites, and in conformity to ceremonies, in which they could not conscientiously concur; and they, therefore, required of the Legislature the enactment of such a law, as would enable them to contract the ceremony of marriage, without being compelled to go through those forms and ceremonies, from which they conscientiously dissented. That was the objection brought by the Dissenters to the law as it now stood. Now, he would say, that if the scruples of the Dissenters were really sincere, that no one could deny, not only the justice, but the policy, of affording them the relief which they required. The Church of England could have no object in calling upon those who conscientiously dissented from its tenets and principles in all other matters, 1075 to contract the ceremony of marriage according to the rites of that Church. Neither had society any interest in requiring that such a ceremony should be performed. It was not sufficient to say, that the ceremony of marriage, as contracted according to the rites of the Church of England, was a mere form of words, and that the persons so contracting marriage were not called upon to subscribe to any of the doctrines or principles of that Church. The persons contracting marriage received, according to the rites of the Established Church, a solemn benediction from the mouth of the clergyman, expressly and avowedly for the purpose of giving a religious sanction to the ceremony; and if the contracting party could not conscientiously comply with the ceremony, or concur in that benediction, it ceased to be that solemn and religious ceremony which was intended. Under those circumstances, it became necessary to consider what mode of relief could be afforded to Dissenters; and it occurred to him, that of all the plans proposed, there were only three which were at all feasible, or by which the object the Dissenters had in view, could possibly be accomplished. In the first place, it had been suggested as a remedy, that it might be possible to alter the ceremony of the Church of England. But the alteration in that ceremony would, in his opinion, be a violation done to the consciences of those who, adhering to the doctrines of the Church, entirely approved of that ceremony. There was nothing in that ceremony, to which they felt the slightest objection; on the contrary, the benediction, and all the proceedings contained the essential and vital principles of their faith. The members of the Church of England, therefore, had a fair right to object to the alteration of a ceremony with which they were perfectly satisfied, and which was entirely conformable to their feelings and doctrines, provided that any other mode of satisfying the conscientious scruples of those who dissented from the Church, could be discovered. Besides, the only object that could be gained by such an alteration, would be, provided a concomitant enactment were passed for the purpose, that no marriages should take place, unless they were solemnized according to the altered form. Because, if the form of the Church of England were altered in the first instance, and parties were afterwards left to 1076 perform what rite they pleased, for the purpose of giving a sanction to the act of marriage, it was quite clear that nothing would have been gained; and, on the other hand, if it were made compulsory on all parties to celebrate the ceremony of marriage according to the altered form, he believed it would be quite impossible to establish any rite, to be performed in the Church of England, by a minister of that Church, which would be satisfactory, without exception, to the whole Dissenting body. In fact, there were, he believed, some parties who objected to any religious ceremony at all. Others there were who did not object to the religious rite, but who objected to the principle of being compelled to solemnize the act of marriage in the Church of England, or through the aid of a minister belonging to the Established Church. The result, therefore, of any attempt to alter the marriage ceremony of the Church of England, would probably be, that the Legislature would do violence to the consciences of the members of that Church, and at the same time give no satisfaction to the Dissenters, but the reverse, if the House were to compel them by law to celebrate their marriages according to a certain ceremony, let that ceremony be as different as it might from the existing one. In his opinion, therefore, it was not expedient to attempt any alteration of the religious rite of the Church of England, with the view of giving satisfaction to the Dissenters, especially without knowing whether such an alteration would meet with the general concurrence of the members of the Church. But even if the concurrence of the adherents of the Church were obtained, he did not know whether it would be proper to adopt the plan, for he could not hope to make such a change in the present ceremony, as would give satisfaction both to all classes of Dissenters, and to the members of the Established Church. He, therefore, dismissed from his mind all hope of settling the question by the adoption of that plan—namely, by an alteration in the Liturgy of the Church of England. The second mode by which it might be possible to give relief to the Dissenters, and a mode which had been hitherto almost always tried was, to make some provision by which Dissenters should be able to perform the ceremony of marriage within Dissenting chapels, and various Bills had been submitted to the 1077 consideration of Parliament, since the year 1824, some of which had passed the House of Commons, founded on the principle of giving permission to Dissenters to celebrate the marriage ceremony within their own places of worship. In 1824, a measure was introduced for that purpose, but it provided relief solely for the case of the Unitarians. In 1825, another Bill was brought in for the same object; and in 1827, a measure was introduced founded on a different principle. At length, in 1834, the noble Lord opposite proposed his Bill, and that was the last measure on this subject which had been submitted to the consideration of Parliament. The noble Lord's Bill was founded on the principle of attempting to give perfect satisfaction to the Dissenter, by permitting him, under certain regulations, to celebrate the ceremony of marriage in his own Dissenting chapel. He would proceed to describe the provisions of that Bill. In devising any plan for the relief of Dissenters, in respect to the celebration of marriages, it was necessary to consider three points, each of which was of essential importance. The first was, the notice which should be given (either in the way of license, or of bans, or by some other mode), by the instrumentality of which the commission of fraud, and the celebration of clandestine marriages, might be prevented. The second point was the nature of the contract or ceremony which should be performed. The third point was the mode of registration. The noble Lord's Bill provided for these three separate and important objects in the following manner.—The noble Lord proposed that the bans for the marriage of a Dissenter, should be published in a Church, by a minister of the Established Church, in the same manner as bans were at present published; that a declaration of the fact of the publication of the bans, should afterwards be given by the minister of the Church, and that the Dissenter should then be allowed to celebrate the ceremony of marriage in a Dissenting chapel, duly licensed for that purpose. The noble Lord's Bill also enacted that a license should be issued for the solemnization of marriage in any Dissenting chapel, provided that an application for such license should be made by twenty householders; and the Quarter Sessions had no power to withhold the license, if so applied for. The bans of marriage having been previously published 1078 by a minister of the Church of England, the Dissenter was at liberty to have his marriage solemnized in one of the licensed chapels. With respect to registration, the noble Lord's Bill provided, that the minister, teacher, or preacher, who officiated in the licensed chapel, should keep the registry of the marriages; that the book should be provided at the expense of those who frequented the chapel for the purpose of worship; and that, after a certain period, the registry should be transmitted to the register of the diocese, to be kept by him. Such were the provisions of the Bill brought in by the noble Lord, unquestionably with the best intentions, and for the purpose of giving satisfaction to the Dissenters; but it was open, in his (Sir Robert Peel's) opinion, to objections; and, first of all, to this very powerful objection—that it gave no satisfaction whatever to those it was intended to relieve. The grounds on which the Dissenters were displeased with that Bill were stated in various petitions presented to the House; and he would refer to one of those petitions, in which their objections were very briefly but emphatically expressed. The petition to which he alluded was presented in the course of the last Session, and it contained a solemn and decided protest on the part of the Protestant Dissenters, against the Bill of the noble Lord, which they opposed on the following grounds;—1, because they objected to the celebration of marriages in places of worship exclusively; 2, because they objected to the publication of bans in parish churches, and to the granting of licenses by surrogates; and 3, because they felt, that the affixing the license granted for the solemnization of marriages in some conspicuous part of their places of worship would give rise to feelings, which it would be better to avoid exciting. It would be seen, therefore, that very material objections were entertained by the Dissenters to the measure proposed by the noble Lord. In his opinion, the third objection was one of minor importance; but still it must be remembered that it was put forward by the Dissenters themselves. Besides these objections, there were others which he thought might be urged to the noble Lord's Bill on general grounds. The noble Lord proposed to permit the marriage ceremony to be solemnized in any place licensed for that purpose on the application of twenty resident householders. Now, he was sure, that, however, they 1079 might differ on matters of religion, they would all be of one opinion, as to the extreme importance to society of taking effectual precautions against fraud, and the celebration of clandestine marriages. In his opinion the Dissenters were equally interested with the rest of the community in the adoption of these precautions, for the sake of the peace of their own families, as well as for the general interests of society. And he thought that, as such precautions were in a great measure effectual in the case of members of the establishment, he was not going too far in saying, that the members of the Dissenting bodies must be peculiarly anxious to have similar precautions adopted in respect to themselves. Unless effectual precautions were taken in their case, the Dissenters, and particularly the female members of their families, would be subject to be practised upon by imposition and unfair artifice. It was quite clear, that society in general was interested in taking effectual precautions against the commission of frauds in this matter. In making new regulations, it was necessary not only to take into consideration the regulations already existing, but also the means which might be afforded, in consequence of the alteration of the law for the commission of fraud. It was well known, that the law placed no impediment in the way of the registration of Dissenting chapels; the law imposed no test by which the character of Dissenting chapels could be known. Any parties wishing to register a place for the purpose of religious worship had only to apply in proper form, and on the payment of half-a-crown the registration was effected as a matter of course, and the place then became entitled to the protection of the law as a place of religious worship. It was not necessary that the place registered should be a separate building; and he apprehended, that if application were made for the licensing of a room for the purpose of religious worship, the license must immediately follow on the payment of 2s. 6d. If the noble Lord's Bill, then, had passed into a law, how easy would it have been for parties, on their application, though it might not be a bonâ fide application, to get a room licensed for the purpose of religious worship in the first instance; and afterwards, if twenty persons had made application, that that room should be licensed for the solemnization of marriages, there would 1080 have been no authority to prevent the issue of a license for that purpose. Where so general and promiscuous a license was given for the performance of the ceremony of marriage, great apprehension would necessarily be felt, that those frauds and evasions of law, against which it was so desirable to guard, would take place. The noble Lord proposed to permit the ceremony of marriage to be performed by any teacher or preacher. Now, it was undoubtedly true, that in some Dissenting communities, there were preachers with a fixed and stationary character, fully recognized as the ministers of settled congregations; but there were also some ministers who had no such fixed and stationary character, and who belonged to various congregations. The noble Lord's Bill, however, would have given authority to the latter description of preachers to celebrate marriages. It therefore appeared to him most desirable, in giving relief to the Dissenters, that the House should proceed on a principle which would apply equally well to all classes and kinds of Dissenters. With respect to registration, the noble Lord's Bill provided, that the registries should be kept by the minister, teacher, or preacher, that they should not only be in his handwriting, but also in his custody. Now, if this regulation were applied indiscriminately to all descriptions of preachers—both to those who had a fixed and stationary character, and to those who had no settled character—and they were invested with the important duty not only of making the registries, but also of keeping them in their custody, it was quite clear that sufficient precautions would not have been taken against the evasion of the intentions of the Legislature. But as the noble Lord's object was to give relief to the Dissenting body, it was the less necessary for him to refer to the other provisions of the Bill, since it had proved unsatisfactory to the Dissenters. It was quite clear, that the great object which the noble Lord had in view, had not been gained by the introduction of that measure. He had already alluded to two modes by which it might be supposed, on a first impression, that relief should be given to the Dissenters:—1st, to an alteration of the marriage ceremony of the Church of England, which he set aside as an ineffectual mode; and 2dly, to the mode adopted by the noble Lord, which continued the publication of the bans by 1081 the ministers of the Church of England, but which permitted the marriage of Dissenters to be solemnized by the ministers of the congregations to which they belonged. The second mode not having given satisfaction to the Dissenters, it therefore remained to be considered by what mode satisfaction could be given to that body, consistently with a principle which would admit of universal application without inconvenience or mischief. He would now, after much consideration of the noble Lord's Bill, which had proved unsatisfactory, not only to the Dissenters, but also to many members of the Established Church (for they had objected to be made the instruments of performing the preliminary ceremony of the publication of the bans, in respect to a rite which it was proposed should cease to be sanctioned by the religious forms of the Church of England)—he would now, he repeated, proceed to state to the House the principles on which he proposed to found a Bill, for the purpose of giving relief to the Dissenters. It appeared to him, that by far the most efficient and least objectionable mode of giving that relief was to propose two ceremonies, one a civil ceremony, and the other a religious ceremony; taking care to encourage, as far as possible, the religious ceremony, but not imposing it as an absolute and essential condition of the validity of a marriage. He would make the civil ceremony an indispensable preliminary of marriage. That was the security which he would require on the part of society. He would fain hope, however, that the ceremony of marriage would not, in consequence, be divested of its religious character; he believed that it would not. He believed, that so much importance was attached to the religious rite by the Dissenting body, that they would, in almost all cases, superadd the religious to the civil ceremony; and he doubted not, that the religious sanction so super-added would be more efficient as a sanction if left to be imposed by the parties themselves, according to such forms as were most acceptable to them, than if prescribed in the nature of a fixed ceremony by the Legislature. Every one must desire to see the religious sanction possess a solemn and binding character; but was it probable that it would have the effect of solemnity, or be of a binding nature, if it were not precisely in accordance with the conscientious feelings of the parties on whom 1082 it was imposed; but if it were, on the contrary, prescribed and determined by law, to which they would be compelled to submit? He repeated, that he would encourage as much as possible the religious ceremony, but he would not exact its performance as an indispensable condition of the validity of marriage. Indeed, it would be impossible for the Legislature to impose one fixed form of religious ceremony; it must be varied to suit the different opinions of the different bodies of Dissenters. The religious ceremony that would suit the Unitarians, would not suit the Independents, or the Baptists. But it appeared to him, that if the Legislature were to leave the Dissenting bodies to super-add to the civil contract of marriage such religious observances as were in accordance with their peculiar opinions, nothing of the value of a religious sanction would thereby be lost. In acting on this principle he was acting in precise conformity with the principle of a Bill which passed the House of Commons in the year 1827, and which proceeded in the House of Lords to a third reading, and which was then only postponed on account of the advanced period of the session. The Bill which related to Unitarians, was introduced by Mr. W. Smith, and the House would see from a description of its provisions, that it directly recognized the principle on which he now proposed to proceed. The Bill provided, that "the bans were to be published in Church. Where both parties were Unitarians, a certificate of the publication was to be given by the clergyman, on payment of the usual fee. On presentation of that certificate to a Magistrate, the Magistrate might marry the parties. The parties were required to make a declaration, that they were both Unitarians. Magistrates marrying the parties were required to give certificates of marriage, such certificates to be deposited in the parish chest, and marriages to he entered on the parish registry." Before he entered into an explanation of the particular details of the measure he proposed to introduce, he wished to show the House that the principle on which it was founded was recognized by the law of England previous to the Marriage Act of 1754. He apprehended that the law of England recognized marriage as a civil contract; and that it did not require, as an essential and indispensable condition of the validity of that 1083 contract, the performance of any religious ceremony. In the famous case of "Dalrymple v. Dalrymple," Lord Stowell, then Sir W. Scott, laid down that principle, and in support of his opinion, he referred to the judgment of Lord Holt, in the reign of Queen Anne, in the following terms:—"It was said by Lord Holt, and agreed to by the whole Court, that if a contract be per verba de præsenti, it amounts to an actual marriage, which the very party themselves cannot dissolve by release, or other mutual agreement, for it is as much a marriage in the sight of God, as if it had been in facie ecclesiæ." In Wigmore's case the same Judge said, "that a contract per verba de présenti is a marriage, so is a contract per verba de futuro; if the contract be executed, and the man take her, it is a marriage; and they cannot be punished for fornication." Lord Stowell stated, that in the Ecclesiastical Courts, as well as in the Common Law, "the stream ran uniformly in the same course," and he referred to the case of Lord Fitzmaurice, the son of the Earl of Kerry, brought in the year 1732, before the Court of Delegates, In that case it appeared that the engagement to marry was made in the following terms:—"We swear to marry one another," and it was held that each party was bound by that declaration. The decision of the Court was to the following effect:—"The Court, composed of a full commission, paid no regard to the objection, and found for the marriage, and, on application for a commission of review, founded upon new matter alleged, was refused by the Chancellor." Lord Stowell next observed, that things continued on this footing till the Marriage Act of 1754, which was not intended to give the ceremony of marriage a religous sanction, as a religious sanction; but was only intended as a precaution against fraud and clandestine marriage. In making, therefore, the civil contract an indispensable condition of the validity of marriages, and leaving parties to superadd the religious sanction, he was acting in conformity, not only with the principle of the Bill of 1827, but with what was the principle of the law of England previous to the Marriage Act of 1754; and he thought he was only acting in conformity with the dictates of reason and good sense in not prescribing any precise religious ceremony, but in leaving the parties interested to fix for themselves 1084 such religious sanction as was best suited to their religious opinions. The principle of his Bill was also recognized by the existing law, because the Marriage Act of 1754 did not impose the religious ceremony as an indispensable condition in all cases, for that Act expressly provided that its enactments should not extend to the cases of Jews and Quakers. He knew that ingenious doubts had been expressed as to the validity of the marriages of Jews and Quakers; but he apprehended, that no man could doubt that the whole course of law established this position — that the marriages of Jews and Quakers were valid as far as regarded the legitimacy of the offspring, and the transmission of property. But in some of the possessions of the British Crown marriages could be performed without the intervention of a minister of the Established Church. In Ireland, the presence of a minister of the church of England was not necessary to give validity to marriages; neither was it necessary in India. There were others in that House better informed on the subject than himself, but he believed that, according to the existing law in India, a marriage performed either by a minister of the Chuch of England, or by a Roman Catholic priest, was valid; while a marriage performed by a Presbyterian minister was not valid.
stated, that an Act had been passed to legalize marriages performed in India by Presbyterian ministers.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
was not aware of that fact. He might extend his former remarks to the state of the marriage law in Newfoundland; but he thought he had said enough to show that the whole state of the Marriage Act required review and revision. In some of our dependencies, and even in this empire, it was far from being in a satisfactory state. Having said thus much of the general principles on which he proposed to proceed, he would now proceed to explain the enactments which his Bill would include. It would be recollected that the Dissenters had objected to the Bill of the noble Lord opposite, because it required the publication of bans in churches by ministers of the Established Church. The present method of notifying the intentions of Dissenters to contract a marriage with one of their own community was repugnant to the feelings of the Dissenters, but if he could 1085 devise any other mode by which effectual notice could be given, which should relieve the Dissenter from the necessity of conforming to the religious rites of the Establishment, and if he could introduce some simple form of notice, by which the conscientious feelings of a minister of the Church would be spared the pain of assisting, in a ceremony which was in opposition to the forms prescribed by the Establishment, he thought that the object he had in view would be effectually answered. In some cases, also, it would occur that an individual might assent to the civil contract, but might not wish to have it confirmed by the performance of any religious ceremony. Now, his Bill would do a good deal to effect these objects. The form he intended to propose would be very simple, and if, when he had laid his views on this Question before the House, this was found not to be sufficient, why, then let the Dissenters join with him in framing one which would answer the ends better. If there were two parties who had an objection to the form of marriage as solemnized by the Church of England, they would have within their power the remedy which it was the object of the Bill to secure to them. But he did not wish to make this enactment compulsory on all who conscientiously differed from the doctrines of the Church. He did hope that the impediment of pride being removed, when it was no longer absolutely necessary for the Dissenter to be married according to the forms and establishment to whose doctrines he could not subscribe, he would, in many instances, not avail himself of the kind of relief proposed by the Bill. He would give the Dissenter every facility of being married elsewhere, if he preferred it, but he hoped that the Dissenter would be induced, unless there was some serious objection in his mind to the form of the marriage ceremony as performed in the Church of England, to conform to that ceremony. What he meant to say was, that he did not wish to repudiate and reject the Dissenter from joining in the performance of the common rites and ceremonies of the Establishment, if he thought proper to do so; but, on the other hand, if he objected to those rites and ceremonies, the Bill would give him a full and satisfactory remedy. He proposed, that a civil ceremony only should be performed between parties who objected to the marriage rite of the church; 1086 and to render them competent for the performance of the ceremony, it would be necessary that one or both of them should have resided, at least, seven clays previous in a certain hundred, before the Magistrate of which the proceedings were to take place. The parties would have to give notice to the Magistrate of the hundred, who would preside at the performance of what he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would call the civil ceremony of marriage —namely, the acknowledgment of the contract between the parties. Each would have, on the ratification of the contract, to give a written certificate, stating that he or she acknowledged the contract to be binding. The form would be found in the schedule of the Bill, which he proposed to lay on the Table, and was of the most simple kind. Each party would then sign a form, acknowledging the other as standing in the relationship of husband or wife. The written acknowledgment, or completion of the ceremony, before the civil magistrate, was not to take place till after a period of fourteen days subsequent to giving the notice, and must take place within three months of the period. He preferred the proceedings before a single magistrate, although he was aware, that it might be said, that the security would be greater if the ceremony took place in the presence of several; but, when he recollected the nature of the ceremony, and the character of those who generally attended at the petty sessions, he was satisfied that it would be a relief to the parties about to enter into the strict relationship consequent on the contract, if he enabled them to enter into it before a single magistrate. He was sure that the grace and value of the gift would be diminished, if they made it requisite that the ceremony should be performed before a number of magistrates. He had now mentioned the nature of the relief which he intended to propose, and the nature of the civil contract he wished to recommend for those who objected to the performance of the ceremony in the church. At present it was necessary to make a declaration previous to procuring a marriage licence. He intended to propose, that a similar declaration should be made before the magistrate, on entering upon the civil contract; and the same oath, as on obtaining a license, would be administered, namely—that the parties were above the age of twenty-one; that the contract was with the consent of the 1087 parents or guardians; and that neither of them were aware of any legal impediment to the marriage. It might be said, that a door would be opened to clandestine marriages by the non-publication of bans. At present, however, nothing was so delusive as the publication of bans; such a complete change had taken place in the state of society, since they were adopted, that they gave no security for the object for which they were intended; he was convinced that most of the illegal or clandestine marriages that took place, were those where bans had been published. In many populous places, parties might have bans published, and their names escape observation. Under the system which he proposed, there would be no greater temptation to illegal marriages than there was at present. If the notice were incomplete, of course the magistrate would not suffer the contract to be completed. Where there were no religious scruples, it was not intended to alter the present form; but all that he had in view was, to relieve those who entertained objections to the marriage ceremony being performed in the Church by the clergyman. It appeared to him that the securities he had taken were quite as valid as those which existed on applying for a license. He was convinced that if he were to attempt to take superfluous securities, he would only diminish the value of the relief, which he was anxious to afford. He should previously have stated that he also proposed, that the magistrate before whom the acknowledgment of the contract was made, should take two or three copies of the form, which were to be signed by the parties, which would be the best evidence that could be obtained of the contract, and that one of these copies should be sent to the minister of the parish, whose duty it would be to keep the register of the civil contract of marriage. The Dissenters would not be brought into contact with the minister, but the magistrate would transmit to him one of the copies of the certificate, that the parties had entered into the contract. It had been said, that they ought not to call upon clergymen to enter the names of the parties in the register, when the ceremony was not performed by themselves, but he was sure that the Ministers of the Church would not object to become registrars. Whatever register, however, was adopted, he thought it desirable that they should, if possible, make it a common register, and not make 1088 distinctions. His own earnest wish was to leave this register, under the present state of things, in the hands of the ministers of the parish, being convinced that they would be less liable to inaccuracies than any other parties that could be chosen. He was aware, that there were some points that he might have passed over, but he trusted that the House would excuse him when they considered the number of matters he had had to consider during the sitting of Parliament. It was not possible for him to give several important matters the attention which he wished. Among other things, he had been unable to give the consideration he desired to some measure for a general civil registration. If they were not able to obtain a new registration on a general principle immediately, he thought that it was desirable, in the mean time, to avail themselves of that form of register which they had. By the mode which he proposed, they would have a civil registry in one place, and a religious one in another. With respect to the claims for compensation, and the fees to the clergyman, for the simple registration, he had little to say. He believed, that when those matters which affected the scruples of Dissenters, were removed, that there would be less objection than at present, to the performance of the ceremony in the Church, and still less to the payment of fees. He intended to propose that the whole amount of fees payable in the civil contract of marriage, should not be more than seven shillings. There would be no necessity for payment for a license in this case any more than at present, when bans were published. Out of this fee of seven shillings, he proposed that five shillings should go to the parish officer or clergyman, who kept the register; by this means, he was justified in saying that the whole expense of a marriage would be less than it was at present. He assuredly felt much obliged to the House for the attention and kindness with which they had listened to him on a matter on which he was much less informed than those who had made the law their immemediate study. He had not felt himself called upon to enter upon technical refinements on the subject, but had endeavoured, as shortly and simply as possible, to explain the enactment, which he trusted would have the effect of removing the conscientious objections of those who dissented from the Church, and at the same 1089 time relieving the ministers of the Church from the publication of bans between parties who object to his performing the ceremony. If he succeeded in the object he had in view, he should rejoice at removing one of those causes which had tended to alienate the minds of those who dissented from the doctrines of the Church, from its ministers, much more than anything connected with the ceremony could compensate to them. In conclusion, he did not propose the slightest change in the present law of marriage, with respect to the members of the Establishment; but with them the civil contract would still be subject to the religious sanction. He was sure that no one would object to the claim he put in for the members of the Establishment, of the continuance of that law which best suited their habits and feelings, and which superadded the religious sanction to the civil contract. The Right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the relief of persons dissenting from the Church of England, in regard to the celebration of marriage.
§ Mr. Wilks
felt bound, on the part of the Protestant Dissenters, to thank the right hon. Baronet for the tone and manner in which he had brought the subject forward, and proposed to effect a change in a matter which every member of the Church must feel to be of the deepest importance, and highly objectionable, as regarded the ministers of the Church. The early and strict attention given to the subject by the right hon. Baronet, added much to the feeling of obligation which he, on the part of the Dissenters, entertained. All the body to which he alluded would deeply feel, that, notwithstanding the immense variety of objects which must necessarily have occupied the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, that, unsolicited by them, he had come forward with a view of making arrangements in matters which had been so long complained of by them as grievances. He should not do justice to his feelings towards his Parliamentary Friends, to whom the Dissenters were under such deep obligations for their exertions to get rid of the Test and Corporation Acts, which were felt by them not merely as a conscientious, but as a great political degradation, if he did not take the opportunity of thanking them for the measures brought forward last year, and above all, for that on the subject of Dissenters' marriages which was with- 1090 drawn for the purpose of being remodelled in the interval between the last Session and the present, and also for other measures for the relief of the Dissenters, which he knew it was intended to bring forward. He had no doubt that arrangements would have been made of a satisfactory nature, both as regarded a general civil registration, and the removal of the Church-rates, and also other measures which would relieve the Dissenters from grievances under which they had long I had reason to complain. With respect to the present measure it was impossible to deny that the right hon. Gentleman had taken a very calm and considerate view of the subject, as well as a candid review of the measures that had been brought forward during the last ten or twelve years for removing the conscientious objections which Dissenters felt to that which was now the legal form of marriage in this country. Measures had been brought forward for the attainment of this object by many of the warm and steadfast friends of Dissenters, and above all by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell). There were objections, however, to the Bill of the noble Lord, which it was found difficult to overcome, above all as regarded the publication of bans, and also connected with the registration. The Dissenters would have been extremely glad to have accepted the boon offered to them; but there were objections raised to it, both by those who were opposed to the concession, and by those upon whom it was to confer a benefit, and not giving satisfaction, it was withdrawn. The measure of the right hon. Gentleman obviated many of the objections that were raised against the noble Lord's Bill, but still it was liable to many objections. He was anxious to do full justice to the plan of the right hon. Gentleman, but he should be guilty of unfairness if he did not at once state, that he was sure the measure would not be perfectly satisfactory to all classes of Dissenters. He was satisfied that many would object that Dissenters' marriages were only to be regarded as a civil contract, and not also as a religious contract. What. the Dissenters required was perfect social equality and equal rights, with other of his Majesty's subjects, obtainable in as nearly as possible, the same way. They had no wish to subvert the Church Establishment, nor would they accept of the revenues of the Church, if offered to them, 1091 for the maintenance of their ministers. If the right hon. Baronet had taken them back to the state of the law that existed before the passing of the Marriage Act, he would have given general satisfaction. There would have been no complaints if he had gone back to the old law of England, or to that which was now the law of France, and as well of the greater part of the civilized world. Many of the Dissenters would consider that the present measure would draw an invidious distinction between members of the Establishment and themselves. It would be imagined by many, that the Dissenters were to be married in a different way, and were not to have the religious ceremony, because they did not belong to the Church, or because they were persons of degraded intellect. This would be argued by some of the Dissenters, when they were told that marriage with them was only to be a civil contract. He wished to have an uniform system for all classes. There would, also, be some difficulties, as regarded the Dissenters going before Magistrates, to enter into this contract. He believed that one-third of the Magistrates of England were ministers of the Established Church. It would be a great hardship to compel Dissenters to go before these Magistrates for the purpose of being married, and, in point of fact, would be no relief whatever. It would not be the substance, but merely the shadow, of advantage. It would be attended with great practical inconvenience to make the Dissenters attend before the clergyman of the parish when acting as a Magistrate. He was convinced that the feelings excited in the minds of Dissenters, by adopting this course, would be of such a nature as to be almost insuperable. He was afraid, from the experience they had hitherto had of parish clergymen, that they would not be found in this respect, more than in others, adequate public Magistrates. He was convinced, that the only satisfactory registration that could be adopted, was a general civil register of births, marriages, and deaths. If they had such an institution, the official agent to enter the registration, would be neither Magistrate nor clergyman. All that would then be required, was a simple form of registration, not only for Dissenters, but for all classes of his Majesty's subjects. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had introduced the Bill, which he was 1092 sure manifested the favourable regard which he entertained towards the Dissenters, and which required his acknowledgments on their part. He was satisfied that the measure was liable to some objections, which he had stated; but he would gladly co-operate with the right hon. Gentleman in his desire to promote such a good understanding, as would lead to a satisfactory settlement of the question. In conclusion, he was most anxious to lessen the feelings of asperity, which he deplored, existed between Churchmen and Dissenters, and to promote a stronger feeling of mutual benevolence.
Lord John Russell
having been the person to introduce the Bill for the relief of Dissenters, into the last Parliament, could not let the question be put without making a few observations on the subject. In the first place, he would allude to the Bill which was brought in last year, and which turned out to be unsatisfactory to those whom it was intended to relieve. A great many objections were made to it, some of which he thought were well founded, while others were, in his opinion, captious; but such were their nature that, altogether, he found it impossible to proceed with the Bill; he, therefore, withdrew it. The field, consequently, was entirely open to the right hon. Gentleman; and he felt bound to say, that the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman had proposed his measure, was most liberal and kind, and which, he trusted, would always prevail in the future discussions on this measure, and which would be found more advantageous in legislating on this subject, than by pursuing the course which had hitherto been followed. He admitted the value of many of the suggestions of the right hon. Baronet; but he thought it would be going too far, if he then attempted to follow the right hon. Baronet into the details of the measure which he had brought forward. He wished, in the first place, that the Bill should go forth to the world, and should be fairly considered by the Protestant Dissenters; and he hoped, when they had done so, that they would fairly and openly state their opinions on the subject. If they objected to it, that they would state their objections in such a reasonable manner, as to entitle them to the serious consideration of the House, and not meet it in a spirit of opposition, but in such a way that their just wishes could be best satisfied. There- 1093 fore, throwing aside, for the present, the details of the measure of the right hon. Gentleman, he thought that he was right in taking the opportunity of declaring that the great obstacle that he found to the success of the measure he had brought forward for the relief of the Dissenters was, that they considered the measures of relief themselves as the remains of the system which they felt so strongly during the continuation of the Test and Corporation Acts, and as tending, in some degree, to degrade them. That these measures, intended to remove difficulties under which they laboured, had in them something insulting and degrading; such opinions, however natural, they were in no way justified in entertaining. He deeply regretted the feeling which existed between the members of the Establishment and Dissenters, and was most anxious to remove it. With this view, he confessed, before the introduction of the Bill of last year, his feeling was, that the first object of the Legislature, was to form a system of general civil registration; that the registry, both of members of the Church and of Dissenters, should be purely of a civil nature; that all should come equally under one head; and that all should merge in one civil, not ecclesiastical, register. This was not a scheme of the Government to which he belonged, but it was a plan which he had intended to bring into Parliament on his own responsibility. He was the more convinced of the propriety of this course, from the consideration he had given to it; and he was satisfied, that it was the most efficient plan that could be carried into effect, and that all attempts at a change in the law, as regarded the present subject, would be found defective, until it was adopted. In saying this, he begged to repeat that the Government to which he belonged, did not feel called upon to bring forward a measure on the subject; therefore he could not be supposed to blame the Ministry of the right hon. Gentleman, for not having proposed such an extensive measure. With respect to the present measure, he could not say whether it would give satisfaction or not; but, at any rate, it was brought forward in such a spirit of liberality and justice to all classes of his Majesty's subjects, that at least so far it ought to give satisfaction.
wished to understand whether, when two persons were married in the manner proposed by the Bill, ques- 1094 tions as to their belonging to any sect of Dissenters, were to be put to them before, or subsequently to the performance of the contract?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the form of oath to be taken by the party ran thus:—"I, A. B., do swear that I am not a member of the United Church of England and Ireland, and that I have lived in the parish for so many days; that I am so many years old, a bachelor or widower (as the case might be), and that I know of no other impediment, kindred, or alliance, which is an obstacle to this engagement.
did not think, as the measure did not embrace a provision for one of the parties being a member of the Church of England, and the other not, that it would give entire satisfaction. No one could hail with greater pleasure than he did, the adoption of the main principle of the Bill. In 1827, he had taken the liberty of stating to Parliament, that it was utterly useless to introduce a Bill of this description, unless it was a Bill calculated to lead to entire satisfaction to Dissenters, and that the only mode of accomplishing that would be, by reducing the marriage ceremony to a civil contract. He was confident that if the right hon. Baronet had adopted his noble Friend's Bill, or, indeed, the principle of any other such measure, which had been attempted to be brought forward for some time past, he would have found himself involved in inextricable difficulties, and given satisfaction to no one. When he expressed his entire approbation of the main principle of this measure, he was at the same time bound to state, he could not adopt all the reasonings which the right hon. Baronet had taken the trouble of going into, in introducing the Bill. He could not altogether agree with him as to what was the principle of the marriage law in former periods. He should have been reluctant to mention this, unless aware that from the circumstance of the debates in that House becoming publicly and universally known in the country, it was more desirable he should state his opinion now, than that he should leave it to be uttered out of doors, where it could not receive the full response that it was calculated to meet with by being expressed in the House of Commons. In ancient times, though a marriage was good and valid, although not celebrated before a 1095 priest, yet the Council of Trent could require the marriage to be celebrated in another form. At the Reformation, England refused to accept the provision of the Council of Trent, and in consequence the matter was reduced to this state—that a marriage by civil contract was valid. It was in this extraordinary state, that by a civil contract, by a man accepting a woman for his wife per verba in præsenti, that became a valid marriage, but still not to all intents and purposes, not with respect to real property. A marriage of that description never became valid at all; but in order to render it valid, the parties were compelled to celebrate the marriage in facie ecclesiæ. That was the state of the marriage law before 1754, as it was confined to England and Wales. It was, undoubtedly, the habit of Presbyterian ministers in England to marry, and those marriages were good and bad for different purposes. Subsequently Mr. Canning, then at the head of the Board of Control, took the opinion of 12 counsel upon the subject, and after great deliberation, as was stated by Mr. Justice Bosanquet, they came to the decision, that those marriages were not good as to real property, upon which an act of Parliament passed to render them valid. At present, in some of the colonies, the ancient law, such as it existed before 1754, now remained. He made these observations only with this view, that unless he had noticed what had been stated, it might have been supposed by the public that, prior to 1754, marriages were considered iu this country solely of the nature of a civil contract, and that there were no means of compelling them to be celebrated afterwards in facie ecclesiæ, although the fact was otherwise. It would be unbecoming in him, ignorant as he necessarily was of the details of this measure, to trouble the House at any considerable length. He would, however, state to the right hon. Baronet, that one of the great difficulties he should have to contend with would be the registration. It was absolutely necessary that the entries should be made in forms the most likely to prevent the possibility of fraud. Notice was necessary to guard against frauds. Unless from fear of interfering too much with the liberty of marriage, nothing could be more desirable than to adopt the strictest provisions for the prevention of fraudulent marriages. The House knew 1096 little of the fraudulent marriages that took place, which often plunged families and their descendants into the deepest calamities. The object, therefore, of giving the utmost publicity to marriages, with a view to prevent clandestine marriages, was of the highest consequence. Sincerely did he wish that those who were about to contract marriages with the consent of their friends and relatives would not consider the little restrictions that were imposed intolerable, when they reflected on the dreadful consequence of fraudulent marriages, which so often took place; heartily did he rejoice that the right hon. Baronet had had the courage to come forward that night in the manner he had done, with respect to this subject. When he recollected, that notwithstanding the anxiety of those who composed the late Administration to administer complete and entire relief to Dissenters, who complained so heavily as to their marriages, they knew that though a measure might pass that House, it would be certain of defeat elsewhere, he could not but consider the indication of to-night, in the bold avowal of the right hon. Baronet, to be a verification of a part of that speech which he addressed to the House upon a late occasion—that there was an assembly elsewhere which would receive and approve of a measure calculated to relieve the Dissenters.
§ Mr. Philip Howard
took that early occasion to express his feelings of approbation at the measure which had now been so ably propounded, not only did he feel assured that it would give satisfaction to the large body of Protestant Dissenters—but to the Members of that Church to which he belonged, and from which all others had dissented, namely the Roman Catholic. Last session of Parliament he had concurred with the late Member for Beverley, Mr. Langdale, whose name he could now unfortunately utter without any breach of order; in the introduction of a Bill to legalise the marriages of Roman Catholics by their own Clergy. Upon that occasion he had experienced the difficulty of providing a strict and complete system of registration, so as to secure the rights and descent of property, without imposing penalties, which many of their clergy regarded with some degree of dismay. He again tendered the homage of his thanks to the right hon. Baronet which he did with the more satisfaction,as to him he was, under Providence,indebted for the removal 1097 of those civil disqualifications which had so long and so heavily pressed on the Catholics of this realm.
§ Mr. Baines
wished to unite his tribute of acknowledgment to the right hon. Baronet at the head of his Majesty's government, for the friendly spirit towards the Protestant Dissenters in which this measure was conceived and for the clear and satisfactory manner in which he had conveyed his sentiments to the House. He did not think that there would be felt amongst the Protestant Dissenters any objection to the Bill, as far as related to constituting marriage a civil contract, or to the registration of their marriages through the medium of the magistrates; but there might be objections to some of the details; though those, he hoped, might without much difficulty, be removed. He was afraid that there might be a jealousy created throughout the community, by requiring that the marriages of some should be celebrated by a religious ratification, whereas with others that it should be only a civil contract. To give the greater solemnity to marriage, in all cases, he thought that some religious service ought to be engrafted upon the civil contract, and that the service should be performed by the minister of the religious body to whom the parties were attached. With regard to the registry at the parish church, he hoped that this was to be considered a temporary, and not a permanent arrangement, subject to alteration by a general registry bill; because, as a permanent measure, he did not think that it would be satisfactory to the Protestant Dissenters that their marriages should be required to pass through the register of the Established Church. He knew that a strong feeling existed on this point amongst the persons whose grievances this Bill was intended to redress, and that they considered it as an implied admission of subserviency or inferiority to the Church with which they claimed an equality of privileges. The charges mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman were also open to objection. To persons in humble life the fee of seven shillings would be considered unduly high, and would operate as a barrier against the poorer classes availing themselves of the privilege of marriage according to the proposed form. There was another topic on which he wished to make an inquiry. What was to be done when the parties contracting marriage were of different re- 1098 ligious persuasions, one of them being of the communion of the Established Church, and the other a Protestant Dissenter? According to the certificate, or declaration, that had been read by the right hon. Baronet, the husband's faith was to regulate the wife's. Was this intended? or was it meant that if either of the parties were Members of the Establishment, that the other was to conform. He, however, did not wish to throw any impediments in the way of this Bill; he hoped no impediments would from any quarter be thrown in its way. He trusted the right hon. Baronet would give full opportunity to the country of considering its effect, and by allowing the country to express its feelings, the right hon. Baronet might be enabled to make the Bill a most unexceptionable one, and highly calculated to insure the great purposes for which the marriage ceremony was originally intended. He regarded this as a tranquillizing measure; and to him it was not of the least importance from which side of the House such a measure proceeded. Of all things on earth, matrimonial contracts ought to give rise to harmonious feelings; and it was his earnest desire that the measure might be carried to a happy consummation. He had been desirous of making his remarks in a spirit of cordiality, and most anxious was he that this measure should be carried to its happy consummation.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
did not think the principle which ought to guide the Legislature, would be fully established until the marriage ceremony was made altogether a civil contract. Marriage, in his opinion, had nothing to do with a religious ceremony. That was his opinion, marriage ought to be a matter of civil contract, and of civil contract alone so far as the State interfered with it, leaving it, if it were required, to the parties marrying to celebrate it by any religious ceremony they might think proper. He could not agree with his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for the Towel Hamlets, as to what the law of England was previous to the Marriage Act. It had been well laid down by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer that marriage was then a mere civil contract; and there could be no doubt at all that a marriage formed by such civil contract was good and valid. Such a marriage did not bring up all the questions of legi- 1099 timacy as to property, and so on in the succession of children. Inheritances were perfectly safe. It was a good marriage in all respects and in all parts of the world, and inheritances of fathers and mothers could not fail to descend to their children, the same as if the marriage had been solemnized in the face of the Church. He knew perfectly well what the act was that passed with regard to marriages in India. He had been consulted upon that act, and in his opinion there never was a fair doubt of the marriages celebrated in India having been perfectly valid. The provisions of the Marriage Act did not extend to Scotland or Ireland, or parts beyond the seas; therefore there was no objection to the Marriages that took place in India. He knew of several cases of inheritances descending to the children of persons in India whose parents had been married when they had not had the means of celebrating marriage in the manner prescribed by the Marriage Act, and whose rights could not be disputed. There were some parts of the right hon. Baronet's measure which would require amendment. There was that part, for instance, which made it imperative, that one party should be a Dissenter from the Church of England. He might be wrong in his construction of it, but from what he had collected it appeared to him to be necessary that the husband should not belong to the Church of England. If that were so, he could not approve of such a provision. With him it mattered not whether the party was a Dissenter or not; if he objected to the celebration of his marriage according to the Church of England ceremony, he ought to be at liberty to have it celebrated in the form of a civil contract. The measure ought to be analogous to the form of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill. With the principle of the measure, however, so far as it went, he was much pleased, and he hoped that it would lead to a measure of more complete satisfaction not alone to Catholics or Dissenters, but to the whole community. He thought that going before Magistrates and making a declaration should not be considered evidence of the marriage. He had some remarks to make on this point, but he would not then advert to it. Heartily should he rejoice when the marriage ceremony was brought back to what it was before the passing of the Marriage Act, when there was nothing required but the mutual contract of the 1100 parties before witnesses. He hoped to see the day, and it was not far distant, when no person should be able to know he was a Dissenter by any civil disability, or by any mark set upon him, by which he was set apart in this country from those who belonged to the Church of England. He was not one of those who railed against the connexion of Church and State, but he did think that no professor of the dominant religion of the country ought to enjoy a single privilege which was not equally to be possessed by all classes of society.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, that he felt very deeply on this subject. It was known to many that in the place he had the honour of representing there originated, last year, that cry for the voluntary principle which went abroad and increased to a demand for the separation of the Church from the State, of which so much had been heard. He had never hesitated in public or in private to express his entire dissent from that doctrine, although he had always stated to that large body of Dissenters who formed a considerable part of his constituents, that it would be his most earnest endeavour to aid them in all measures which should relieve them from all those grievances of which they justly complained. Entertaining those feelings, he had certainly heard with great satisfaction the speech of the right hon. Baronet. He hailed with great pleasure the great principles there laid down; and although it would be necessary for him to know the details of the measure before he could express his unqualified approbation of it, yet, as the details would no doubt be completely in conformity with the principles which had been described, he could not but feel persuaded, that the grievances of the Dissenters upon this particular point would be greatly removed. He differed conscientiously from his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Cutlar Fergusson) as to his observation of marriage requiring no religious ceremony, but that it ought to be a purely civil contract. He conceived, that if the marriage ceremony was accompanied by religious rites it was more likely to be considered binding, and be sacredly observed. In the plan proposed, therefore, by the right hon. Baronet, whilst he admitted the principle so fully, whilst he endeavoured to make it perfectly sufficient for the Dissenters, whilst he remedied the grievance of forcing parties to 1101 pass through a religious ceremony in which they did not believe, he thought the right hon. Baronet might have carried the provision further, and made the same principle equally applicable, and equally good, towards persons belonging to the Church of England, leaving it to them to have their marriage performed in the Church, but not making it absolutely compulsory by law. The right hon. Baronet's measure was likely to leave one point of grievance still to be complained of by Dissenters. It might be said, that that grievance was imaginary, and so, unquestionably, it was, but it was in human nature to object to what did not give satisfaction. The Bill did not propose to place persons of different opinions on exact equality; and it was upon this, leaving a point of distinction, which it was most desirable to do away with, there would still continue to exist a source of grievance, and which it ought to be the most anxious wish of the House to stop. With reference to the Church of England itself, it was not desirable to leave such a difference; it drew a line which was not advisable, and made a distinction which might operate to the disadvantage of the Church itself. Many, in his opinion, who dissented from the Church of England, might desire to have their marriage celebrated according to the rites of that Church, and there certainly ought to be no line of distinction drawn by which that should be prohibited. Any distinction of this sort would tend rather to defeat than facilitate the object of the right hon. Baronet. The plan of registration proposed by the right hon. Baronet there could be little objection to for the moment. He proposed removing all necessary communication between the Dissenters in their marriage ceremony, and clergymen of the Church of England, respecting the registration. In his opinion, that would serve as the first step to-words a system of general registration, to be placed in the hands of civil Magistrates, exactly as it was in other countries. He should have great pleasure in considering the Bill fully, and in giving his advice to the Dissenters, with whom he was connected, to regard the spirit of the measure in the way in which, he was sure, it was intended.
§ Mr. Harvey
felt assured that this Bill would be received by those for whose relief it was intended with the same 1102 unanimous feeling of satisfaction that had pervaded that House, so far as it manifested a desire on the part of Government to meet thewishes of the Dissenters, at the same time it could not be denied that objections presented themselves to the measure, at the very outset. The provisions were exceptionable at the beginning and the end. He thought many Dissenters would object to the interference of what would be considered Magisterial control. The idea of depositing in the hands of Magistrates a power to the extent proposed, though it might not be a just view of the authority with which they were to be invested, would create a prejudice which was likely generally to prevail. Still more strongly would there be an objection to that part of the Bill which proposed a registry through the medium of the clergy. But there was another objection urged by the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Wilks)— they were making still wider, that distinction which at present exists, and which it ought to be the primary object of all Christians, of whatever creed or denomination, to extinguish, between the Members of the Established Church and Dissenters; they were proposing that the marriage of the one should be a civil contract, while the marriage of the other would remain a religious ceremony. It was impossible to conceal, that they were placing Dissenters in a most invidious situation, inasmuch as their alliances would be open to the construction which levity might suggest as not partaking of the high sanction and religious character imparted to those solemnized by the Established Church. That, however, appeared to him a difficulty of easy solution; because, although many right hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House might not, at the present moment, be prepared to go the full length of considering marriage a civil contract, surely they were much nearer the general recognition of that great principle than in the preceding Session, and he did not doubt that the able and lucid speech of their distinguished leader, would soften the strongest scruples. Indeed, the question was, where were they to place the religious obligation—at the first or second part of the contract? If, in the first place, they declared marriage a civil contract only, why should not the obligation be enforced on all citizens alike? After being before the Magistrate, and having 1103 signed any form which might be thought fit, in order to secure the great purposes intended with reference to property and the social relations, why should they not be allowed to retire, and celebrate the event by such religious or social expressions, as their judgment or inclination might suggest? It appeared to him they were only combating shadows. If they would commence, by stating that marriage was a civil contract, to be celebrated according to certain provisions, leaving the parties to follow out their peculiar impressions by any supplemental acts, they would at once dissipate all the objections which had been raised. When the right hon. Gentleman had given to this subject a little more attention (and that he had already bestowed on it much attention was evident from the lucid explanation he had given of it) he must eventually see that it was only in the recognition of that great social principle that the object he had in view could well be effected. The present measure was morely an incipient improvement. It was admitted on all hands, that the registries could not remain as they now were, and this was one of those measures that should be subservient to a comprehensive system for the due registration of births, marriages, and deaths; and if it were in the contemplation of Government, as he hoped it was, to have an efficient registry embracing all those three subjects, it would be far better that the proposed Bill should be deferred till they were in a condition to carry out all those suggestions, rather than at some future period to alter the law as regards the registry of marriages. He threw out these passing observations in a spirit of good will towards the measure, with respect to which he fully concurred in sentiment with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Poulett Thomson) who last addressed the House. He thought those would be acting a most ignoble part who should interpose objections morely because the proposal proceeded from a quarter, whose politics might in some respects be unsatisfactory. Referring to the course he had taken upon former occasions he did not think he could very fairly be accused of any great affection for those who now occupied the Treasury Benches, but he did not hesitate to say that, whatever might be its fate, or the objections which might be entertained towards it by the Dissenting body, the present Bill bespoke great kindness and 1104 regard for them, and entitled the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Peel), and those who were connected with him, to their most grateful consideration.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
congratulated the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the spirit in which the Bill had been received by that House. In spite of some slight indications of objection from the hon. Member for Southwark and one or two other Members, he still ventured to hope that by the country and the Dissenters themselves the measure would be received, if not as entirely coming up to their expectations, at the least as indicating the best spirit on the part of the Government to give them all the relief which it was possible to administer, with a due consideration to the feelings of the Members of the Established Church. With respect to Dissenters' grievances, a very strong feeling undoubtedly prevailed in that part of the country with which he was more immediately connected (the Wrest Riding of Yorkshire), but it certainly did not amount to any desire at all to infringe or trench upon the feelings of the establishment; and it was with great pleasure, therefore, he understood from the statement of the right hon. Baronet, that as far as the Members of the Church of England were concerned, and who were attached to the ceremony of marriage, as now religiously celebrated, no change was intended. There was some difficulty in finding out measures by which the mode of solemnization and registration might be made in some degree uniform, and at the same time perfectly safe for all the varied interests of property; and, therefore, he trusted that on a subject so intimately connected with religion, and so likely to excite the strongest passions and prejudices of the people, there would be evinced on all hands a spirit of mutual concession and conciliation, in order that they might be enabled to legislate with safety and effect. Without going into the details of the measure, he might be permitted to observe, that in his mind there was no very serious obstacle in the case stated, where one of the parties was a Member of the Established Church, and the other a Dissenter. He could not but allude to the concluding observation made by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Dr. Lushington) as the only allusion in the spirit of party which had been made in the course of the evening, 1105 to the probable fate of this measure, if it had been introduced by the late Government. Perhaps he would not, receive credit when he said, that such an allegation was altogether destitute of foundation; but he was amply supported in his opinion by a reference to what took place in the House of Lords in 1827, when that measure to which the right hon. Baronet alluded in his speech was introduced, which was very much assimilated in principle to the present, differing mainly and almost solely with respect to the publication of bans, and which, after going through the Commons, had been all but technically read a third time in the other House of Parliament. By whom was it supported? Why, by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, then Bishop of London, and the last speech which wound up the discussion and produced the majority was that of the present Lord Chancellor. Nor was it unfair to presume if they had supported such a measure in 1827, they would not be more reluctant to support it now. At the late election, when there had been the greatest excitement and vehemence of political feeling, he took occasion to tell the people, if they would but wait till the right hon. Baronet got fairly possessed of the reins of Government, they would be astonished at the spirit of liberality and justice which would characterize his measures. He did not mean that any change had come over the right hon. Baronet, for he had referred to the history of his past life for the purpose of assuring them of the truth of that assertion, his measures having been at all times regulated by nobleness of spirit and great liberality. To him it was a matter of high gratification to find that the right hon. Baronet had pursued such a course, at least in reference to this measure; and he could not help thinking that in the part of the country with which he was connected, and where political parties were arrayed almost entirely according to religious opinions, the greatest blessings would be produced, if by such a spirit of conciliation and mutual concession they could be brought to understand their own interests, and consult their hap piness among themselves, by uniting with regard to such measures for the good of their country.
§ Mr. Lennard
highly approved of the temper and spirit in which this measure had been introduced, and lie hoped that 1106 the other grievances of which the Dissenters complained would receive the same friendly and just consideration from his Majesty's Government. He viewed the measure, if not with surprise, certainly with the greatest satisfaction. It would be most beneficial in itself, but he hoped it was only the precursor of a more extended and useful system. It could not, however, be entirely free from objection while it created a distinction between Dissenters and Churchmen; and till a general registry was established, it would be necessarily incomplete. He should, at the same time, be most happy to co-operate with the right hon. Baronet in rendering the measure as perfect as possible.
§ Mr. Ewart
observed, that while the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. S. Wortley) deprecated the tone assumed by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Dr. Lushington) he seemed pretty much to have followed the course he deprecated, though on the other side of the question. With respect to the measure itself, it would have been more permanently satisfactory, had the right hon. Baronet declared that for Churchmen and Dissenters marriage should hereafter be a civil contract; they might add, if they pleased, a religious ceremony, but the House should content itself with restoring the old law of England, as it existed during the time of the Commonwealth, and till the Marriage Bill was introduced. That any distinction should still prevail between Churchmen and Dissenters he very much regretted, however formal, shadowy, and unsubstantial, it might appear to be; but he was fully convinced, that the time was near at hand when that distinction, of how evanescent soever a character it might appear, would no longer exist. Another great objection arose from the necessity there would be of going before the Magistrates frequently, as they were connected with the Church of England. Two great Amendments must shortly take place with respect to the system of the Magistrates—in the first place, that they should be stipendiary; and next, that they should not be clerical. He hoped the day was fast approaching when in this country, as in all other civilized communities, there would be one civil officer for registrations, and when carrying into effect the recommendations of the Committee of which the 1107 hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Wilks) was chairman, the rights of all persons and property would be at once secured by establishing a general system of registration for births, marriages, and deaths. He was bound to say, when those objections had been removed, the right hon. Baronet would have entitled himself to great honour from the country.
§ Lord Sandon
said, that while the people of this country were not by any means prepared to see the plans of certain theoretic philosophers carried out in that House to their full extent, he thought this Bill would give great satisfaction to Dissenters, while it left the general feelings of the great mass of the people attached to the Established Church not in any degree wounded or impaired by detaching the ceremony of marriage as a civil contract in their case from the sanctions of religion. He thought it was the duty of the House to legislate in such cases with the view of meeting acknowledged grievances on the part of Dissenters, without interference with the feelings of the bulk of the community connected with the National Establishment, while providing for the security of property involved in the proper authentication of the marriage contract.
§ Mr. Roebuck
complained of the slur which the noble Lord (Sandon) had attempted to throw on the theories of some hon. Members whom he chose to designate the philosophers in that house, and maintained, on the part of the Dissenters, an equal right to all civil privileges with every other class of his Majesty's subjects. With respect to marriage, the right hon. Baronet had incontestably argued, that there was no reason why the state should regard it as other than a civil contract; and if that were so, why did it not apply as well to the Churchman as to the Dissenter? If, in the latter case, it was left to the right feelings of the individual to superadd any religious sanction he thought proper, why should not the same course be adopted with respect to the Churchman? Why, then, was all this outcry got up? —Why this bugbear stalking in the person of the noble Lord about trenching on the religious feelings and principles of the people? With respect to marriages being registered by the clergyman, he did not think it should form any objection on the part of the Dissenters. Nothing could be 1108 more frivolous and puerile than such an objection. But of course he would much prefer that, certificates of marriage having been procured from the magistrate, they should be transmitted to some central part of the country, or to the metropolis, at once to be registered, without reference to any sect or persuasion whatever, bearing steadfastly in view the great principle propounded by the right hon. Baronet. He was glad to find that the opinions of those philosophers which were so disagreeable to the noble Lord (Sandon) had made their way to the Treasury benches, and that the Government was now to be conducted, not by prejudice, but by reason.
§ Lord Sandon
rose to explain. He did not very well know the ground of those pretensions which the hon. Member for Bath seemed to entertain, of giving lectures in that House on arrogance and acrimony. He was quite willing to leave the matter to the decision of the House; all that he had stated was, that the feelings of the people ought to be consulted, and not the vague theories of philosophers on what had certainly not been represented as a practical grievance by any petition to that House.
§ Mr. Praed
said, that if ever he had heard a speech perfectly kind in its tendency, it was the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Halifax. It did not, therefore, require the remark which had been applied to it by the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool. Compliments had been passed, to which he had listened with the greatest delight, from the other side of the House, as to the spirit with which the measure now under consideration had been introduced; and he could fairly imitate an example set him, and with perfect justice return those compliments. With respect to the objections which had been urged against the Bill of his right hon. Friend, he should take leave to answer a few of them. The first was that urged by the hon. Member for Leeds, respecting the payment of the fee to the clergyman. He should be borne out, he believed, by the House when he replied, that this was not a ground of religious objection, and, therefore, on that topic it was no objection at all. The next objection was, that urged by the hon. Member for Kircudbright, that the ceremony of marriage was to be celebrated in the presence of a third party. Now the hon. Member was a lawyer, as well as a 1109 legislator, and he should have known that marriages to be effective as regarded inheritance and other matters relating to the transmission of titles and property required to be proved. If the consent of the parties only were deemed sufficient to constitute a marriage, the proof would be most difficult, and in some cases impossible. For that reason, he thought, and for no other, the ceremony should be a distinct one. He (Mr. Praed) should only notice one more objection, or rather two in one, at that hour of the night, he meant those of the hon. Member for Leeds, and the hon. Member for Kircudbright. The former objected that marriage was made to partake in any thing of the nature of a civil ceremony, while the latter urged that it should have nothing at all religious in its solemnization. Now he agreed with both, and the Bill of his right hon. Friend met each of these objections. He thought marriage should be a civil ceremony, and not made religious by act of Parliament, which was just what the Bill proposed to make it for the Dissenters; and he also thought it should be a religious ceremony for those who conscientiously believed that it ought to be so, which the Bill effected for the Members of the Established Church. He concluded by expressing his full concurrence and entire approbation of the measure, and his pleasure at the spirit in which it had been received by the House.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that the Gentlemen on his side of the House were loud and persevering in their praises of the measure of the right hon. Baronet, while those on the opposite side had not said a single word in its favour or against it. Among them he had looked in vain for any expression of approbation or disapprobation on the part of the Members for the Universities—those conservatories of everything salutary—but not a single symptom of either could he discover in their physiognomies. However, all pleasantry apart, he thought there was good in the Bill, mixed up with much that was permanently and in its nature objectionable. The clergyman for doing nothing except registering the marriage of two parties, was to have 5s., while the Magistrate, upon whose shoulders devolved all the trouble—first, of receiving the notice; secondly, of inquiring into the accuracy of the declaration of the parties; and, thirdly, of signing and serving the certificate of 1110 celebration, was to have only 2s. Now he should beg to suggest to the right hon. Baronet that this inverse disproportion between the payment and the labour of the two parties—the clergyman and the Magistrate—was calculated to create a belief in the minds of Dissenters that the Church of England was made paramount still, and that a premium was still continued to her clergy. He thought there was no remedy for this evil, but in the appointment of public functionaries whose sole and exclusive duty it would be, not alone to sign, but to register all contracts of marriage. There was another objection on the face of the measure, and he conceived it a strong one. A Dissenter marrying a woman of the Church of England faith, was required to go to the Church and make a declaration. Now, as many Dissenters could not conscientiously do so, was not the inference obvious, that in most instances they would persuade the female to abandon her own religion and conform to his? This should be looked to by the supporters of the integrity of the Establishment. With respect to the measure itself, be (Mr. Sheil) fully concurred with the hon. Member for Halifax when he designated it one calculated to excite surprise. He hoped that all the measures of the right hon. Baronet would be of the same nature, and that he would go on exciting surprise of that description day after day. But he especially hoped that he would, by the measure of reform he intended to introduce regarding the Established Church in Ireland, create a degree of surprise equal, if not greater.
§ The Attorney-General
said, that the reason no one on his side of the House spoke on the Bill, was their perfect concurrence with its principle, while the necessity for their doing so was likewise obviated by the unequivocal testimony borne to its merits by the side of the House on which the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary sat. Both sides appeared to be of agreement on its principle, and there was no objection taken to any portion of it except its details, which were properly the province of the Committee. The hon. Member for Tipperary had alluded to the Universities, as if they were opposed to all Reform. Now he (the Attorney-General) was connected with the Universities by holding high office, and therefore felt as strongly with them as it was possible to feel; yet what did he say on an occasion 1111 of a petition being presented in the last Session of Parliament for the relief of Dissenters' disabilities? He said, "I, for one, think, though a zealous and most sincere friend of the Protestant Church, that no Dissenter or any other of his Majesty's subjects ought to experience any disadvantage in all civil and secular matters; and that no Church of England man should possess in these matters any advantage over others of his fellow-subjects. I am desirous of seeing, in these respects, all classes of his Majesty's subjects on a footing of perfect equality. In saying this he felt he was but echoing the sentiments of those learned bodies. Such being his registered opinions, he should take leave to call the attention of the House to the declaration of the hon. Member for Kirkcudbright, who said that marriage ought to be a civil ceremony to all intents and purposes. He did not object to this, but on the part of those members of the Church of England who entertained a conscientious feeling on the subject of this rite, he claimed that they should not be compelled to make it a civil contract, if the Dissenters were allowed to make it not a religious one. In other words, he claimed that if the latter were allowed to abandon the religious ceremony, the former should be allowed to abandon the civil. If the two forms of belief were to change places—the Dissenters to have the power, and the Church of England to be the suppliant—the latter would have precisely an equal claim, and could urge equal reasons for calling for the abandonment of the civil, as the former had for urging that of the religious ceremony. With respect to the measure itself, he thought no degree of praise too great could be accorded the right hon. Baronet who brought it forward—and he was happy to perceive, that all parties concurred with him to that effect.
§ Mr. Estcourt
said, he had thought it might not have been necessary for him to make any observations upon this question, as his right hon. Friend had stated, that his object was to bring forward a measure for the remedy of an inconvenience or a grievance, as it was termed, which seemed to call for the interference of the Legislature; but after some comments, which had come from the other side, he could not content himself with giving a silent vote. Concurring, as he did, in all that had been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman 1112 who had just sat down, he was not disposed to quarrel with those who regarded marriage as morely a civil contract; he only desired that persons, who, like himself, belonged to the Church of England, might be allowed to regard it as a religious rite. He was fully impressed with the belief that this Bill was more calculated to conciliate the views and feelings of persons of all persuasions in this country than any measure he had ever known in the whole course of his Parliamentary life. It must be most gratifying to his right hon. Friend to hear that men who differed upon nearly all other political points were unanimous in approving of this. He could now only say, that he was ready to give his best attention to the details of the Bill.
§ Sir John Campbell
concurred in all that had fallen from both sides of the house in praise of the Bill of the right hon. Baronet. He believed the measure to be one brought forward in the true spirit of liberality, and he also believed that it would give great satisfaction to the Dissenting portion of the community. Having stated what he conceived would be the general impression of the country, he was bound to state his own private impression. For the first time a distinction was made by it between the followers of the Church of England and the Dissenters in regard to the manner in which marriage should be celebrated. Such a distinction was quite unprecedented in the annals of the country. Previous to Lord Hardwick's Act, marriage could be celebrated by mutual recognition—per verba de præsenti —and this form entitled children the issue of such a union to all the privileges of the filial ondition—inheritance, &c. Lord Hardwick's Act made it a religious ceremony it was true; but then it equalized it among all sects in the religious and social community. By the Bill before the House, the community was to he divided into two halves; with one sort of marriage for one and another for the other. He was not insensible to the faults of the Bill brought in last Parliament by his noble Friend, the Member for Devonshire, but it had not that amongst them. It made all marriages between whatever sects celebrated a religious ceremony—not that the noble Lord was of opinion a religious ceremony was the best, nor that a civil contract was not the fittest form of marriage—but the noble Lord conceived, that 1113 the public mind was not fully prepared for so important a change as the conversion of a religious into a civil ceremony. By the present Bill, however, the faults of the noble Lord's measure were preserved, one of which was the conservation of the religious ceremony, while faults of a nature peculiar to itself were added. For instance, all persons belonging to the Church of England were compelled to have the intermediation of a clergyman, while Dissenters could go before a Magistrate and solemnize their marriage without any such intervention. Moreover, he believed the measure would not have all the effect which it was expected it would produce. Many of the Dissenters deemed marriage as much a religious ceremony as the members of the Church of England—some of them more. Now the scruples of these would be shocked to perceive the members of the Church of England going into the Church to get married, while they could only go to the private house of the Magistrate for the same purpose. He thought that marriage should be a purely civil contract, with permission to celebrate it in a religious manner subsequently to the act of a Magistrate. Such a mode of performing it could shock the consciences of no parties. Church of England or Dissenting. It was the mode practised at this day in France, and in other Catholic countries, where marriage was regarded as a sacrament. In this respect he thought it would have been far wiser of the right hon. Baronet to have adopted the principles of the Bill of the last Session, interweaving his own details on that groundwork. The Law of Marriage should be equal for all; it might be either a civil or religious contract, but it ought to be universal in its operation. The details of the measure were properly the province of the Committee; but he begged to point the attention of the right hon. Baronet to one or two objections in limine. If the Magistrates, as the Bill proposed, were compelled to perform three different functions—first, to receive the notice; second, to perform the ceremony; and third, to register the contract—they would be performed incompletely and unsatisfactorily. He had the highest respect for the Magistracy, but he could not conceal from himself that there were some individuals in it who were quite unfitted for the station, from incompetence, ignorance, and other reasons. Now, if there 1114 could be found priests who would celebrate clandestine marriages, it was not going too far to say, that there might be found Magistrates who would do the same; besides which a great proportion of clandestine alliances might be fairly calculated on from the causes already assigned by him in relation to some individuals in the Magistracy. It was his opinion that the ceremony would be open to the greatest abuses until there should be appointed public functionaries for the purpose of attending to it solely. Another clause in the measure which he conceived open to much objection was, that requiring an oath to be made by parties not of the Church of England, about to enter into the nuptial contract. What was the necessity of such an oath? Was there a peculiar provision made in the Bill for the punishment of perjury, or was it to be left to indictment, as at Common-law? It seemed to him that the introduction of this affidavit was an unnecessary multiplication of oaths. The Bill, however, as he had already said, was conceived in the best possible spirit. He hoped it would please the Dissenters, and he knew it would give great satisfaction to the country. It should have all the assistance in his power.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that the proposed measure was a Bill for the relief of Dissenters, and it completely fulfilled its object. If any parties had a right to complain, it was the members of the Church of England. As to what had been said on the subject of oaths, he could not help observing that oaths taken before Magistrates were quite as likely to be held binding as before a clergyman.
§ Mr. Kennedy
believed that the present measure would be more unpalatable to the Dissenters than that of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) last year. The objections which the Dissenters entertained to that Bill affected only its details—such as the necessity of a publication of the bans and a connexion with the Establishment by the mode of registration proposed; the present measure was objectionable in detail—it went to draw a line of demarcation between the Dissenters and the members of the Church—to establish two kinds of marriages, one of a civil, and one of a religious character—and to degrade the Dissenting clergy by placing them in a position of inferiority, of which they would justly complain.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that his only object in rising was to notice briefly the few observations which had been made in reference to the intended Bill, lest they might have the effect of prejudicing it, either with hon. Members or with the great body of the Dissenters. He never felt more satisfied of anything than that he could succeed in convincing any reasonable body of Dissenters that the tendency of the Bill would not be to establish any invidious distinctions—that there was nothing in the Bill which could prove in the least objectionable to Dissenters, excepting that which must, under all circumstances be inseparable from dissent. From the fair and liberal spirit in which the whole proposition had been met, he felt he had little more to do than express his confident hope, that practical grievance was about to be met by a practical and effectual remedy. There were objections, he was aware, to almost any view of the subject, and he had attempted to meet them in such a manner as should not shock the feelings of either party. His impression was, that if members of the establishment were satisfied with the present state of the law, that they should not be interfered with. Some hon. Gentlemen in that House might say, "put the law on another footing—put it on a civil footing." But for his own part he could say that he never had heard from anybody belonging to the Church of England, or from any of the leaders of the great bodies of Dissenters, a desire to dispense with the religious solemnity. If he were to be required to declare that this solemnity should or might be dispensed with for the members of the Established Church, he certainly did think it would savour of that intolerance which was condemned by the Dissenter, for it would seem that that Dissenter not only looked for relief for himself, but expected that the Government should make an alteration in the ceremonies of others, and accommodate them to the relief granted to him. He could assure the hon. Gentleman opposite, that, so far from having a wish to put the Dissenters on a different footing, his anxiety was, if possible, to have made the ceremony a religious one. But he found that there were great difficulties in the way of this arrangement. If all classes of Dissenters entertained the same feelings and opinions on the subject, the settlement would have been extremely easy; but was this the case? And, there- 1116 fore, was he obliged to adopt a different rule of proceeding. No degradation was ever contemplated by him in the arrangement. Those of the establishment conformed to certain principles and rules—to a prescribed form of religious worship; it was consequently, easy to deal with them. If there were only one class and form of dissent, it would be equally easy to deal with the body of Dissenters, and far more agreeable to him to propose a religious rather than a civil ceremony. But hon. Gentlemen should consider that he was not placed under these favourable circumstances. He had to legislate for a great number of different sects, possessing different principles, and he had found it impossible to prescribe any particular form of religious ceremony which could possibly be acceptable to all these various classes of religionists. Some sects of Dissenters were not in the practice of using in their marriages any religious ceremonies at all —the Quakers, for example. And he believed there were other classes of Dissenters, who were equally indifferent to a religious ceremony. Now, if this were the case, would it not, according to the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite, have been the strongest proof of intolerance, on his part, if he had attempted to prescribe and enforce one religious ceremony for all these different classes? How was it possible, he asked, that he could embody in one Act, an arrangement to which all could agree? While, therefore, he claimed for the members of the Church of England the right of persisting in their ceremony, he would not, although he might succeed in pleasing one or two classes of Dissenters, attempt to prescribe a religious discipline respecting the matrimonial contracts of the multitudinous sections of those differing from the Established Church, in so great a variety of degrees. He denied that any slight was intended, or could reasonably be presumed to be imputed, to the several denominations of Dissenting Ministers, because he did not declare them to be, one and all, fit and proper persons to solemnize, and give a legal sanction to, the matrimonial rite. He felt no difficulty in allowing anybody, who had such a vocation to preach and to teach; but he doubted whether he could be held justifiable, even by the Dissenters themselves, in permitting a civil act of great importance—a contract of the most solemn nature—to be perfected by everybody and 1117 anybody, who might happen to have a congregation who were disposed to listen to him, and to acknowledge his ministry. Although he had no desire to interfere with the spiritual form which might be adopted, he had a right to ascertain that the civil contract had been duly made. He believed, that the learned and intelligent class of Dissenting Ministers would feel themselves degraded, by being placed on the same footing with every illiterate parson, who might fancy himself inspired upon a particular occasion, and consequently competent to perform a religious ceremony, to teach and to preach, and to go through all the other functions of the Christian Ministry. Hon. Gentlemen who wished to have this conclusive right of performing the marriage ceremony conveyed to the Dissenting Ministers, should show that it was safe to confide it to every man, who might claim and exercise the right of a preacher: if they did not do this, they would fall short in their argument, for how could the distinction be drawn between the teacher of one sect, however large, and of another, however small, of Dissenters? Therefore, it was that he fell back upon the method which was likely to be most satisfactory to the general body of Dissenters, namely, that of encouraging the religious ceremony, and securing the accomplishment and the acknowledgment of the civil contract. He trusted that the Dissenters would be convinced, that there was not the slightest intention, on his part, to inflict any hardship or degradation, upon them. Indeed it would appear, the hon. Gentlemen had exercised some ingenuity in their opposition to the measure. It had been formerly contended that Dissenting parties would not be satisfied, so long as they were compelled to go before the clergyman of the Established Church; well, this was to be no longer necessary! But, surely, the fathers of families would require some security for the binding nature of the contract in which young females were to be engaged. Therefore, he said, to avoid any collusion between the person who might fancy himself inspired to act as a minister, and either of the parties—to avoid the many obvious calamities which might ensue, he said to the Dissenters—go before the magistrate, the only civil functionary he had at their service. Men might object to the constitution of the magistracy, and so forth, but was he to wait until the magis- 1118 tracy was reformed? Was he, until then, to delay the relief to the Dissenters which they so anxiously desired? He left, too, from a regard to the delicacy of the females, the privilege of going before any magistrate they might choose, lay or clerical. This he had done, instead of rendering it imperative upon them to appear at quarter sessions, or even appearing before more than a single magistrate. He might have erred, but it certainly was from no unkindly feeling towards the Dissenters. Next, as to what had been urged respecting the system of registration, he might have conceived, that there might be some objection on the part of the clergymen. He could not conceive any upon that of the Dissenter. It was the most satisfactory mode of registration which now existed —he did not say that it might not be amended—he did not say that he should be averse to its amendment, but he was obliged to take it as it stood. Besides, it was that which was in use for the members of the Established Church. He did not ask the Dissenter to go before the clergyman, but only before the magistrate, who would transmit to the magistrate the certificate. Then, as to the amount of fees, he had to state, that in Mr. Smith's, and in Lord John Russell's Bill, and in every other Bill, for the relief of the Dissenters, the rights of the clergyman had been respected. His object had been to bring in the Bill in the most liberal spirit. He had desired less to make anything like a speech in reply, than to set aside statements, which might have the effect of exciting prejudices which were perfectly unfounded.
Leave was given to bring in the Bill.