HC Deb 11 August 1836 vol 35 cc1122-5

Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for taking into consideration the Lords' amendments to the Marriages Bill. The noble Lord observed, that there were several of these amendments to which he had very strong objections, as they certainly did not tend to carry the original intentions of the measure into effect on some important points; but, considering that it was of great importance to get an admission of the general principle of the Bill on the Statute-book, he was disposed to take the Bill even in its present defective slate. It would be necessary, on a future occasion, to propose further measures to carry the whole of the original plan into effect. At present, he was disposed to take the Bill as it was, and he would not, therefore, object to the Lords' amendments. He moved, that they be agreed to.

Mr. Wilks

said, that some of those amendments would create difficulties which ought not to be thrown in the way of those whom it was the object of the Bill to relieve—for instance, the substitution of the superintendent registrar; for the registrar would oblige parties, in many cases, to go a distance of fifteen miles to give the necessary notices. He also objected to the production of those notices weekly before the Board of Guardians. After every pauper case had been gone through—after the last relief was doled out to the last pauper on the list, then the time of the guardians was to be taken up by the reading of those notices. But if this form was considered necessary, what, let him ask, was to be done where there were no unions and no Board of Guardians? In that case, this part of the Bill would be inoperative in two-thirds of the United Kingdom.

Dr. Lushington

said, that the alterations made by the Lords would be productive of great mischief to the Bill itself, and great inconvenience to the country. However, the House of Commons would not be responsible for those changes. One great object of the Bill was, the prevention of clandestine marriages; but would the Bill have that effect? He thought, that so far from it, it would tend to facilitate them. There were at present two sorts of marriages—by bans and by licence, and now there was by this Bill, the marriage by notice to the registrar. The effect of this would be, that those who before had only one door open to clandestine marriages had now two. Those who made this charge would find in time, that they had inflicted a severe blow on themselves and their children, which they would have occasion to regret. However, though he differed much from the amendments of the Lords, he was disposed to take the Bill even as it was, for the reasons stated by his noble Friend (Lord John Russell), because it got the recognition of a most important principle, and they might have opportunities of improving the measure hereafter. When Mr. Canning got a Bill which had been sent up to the Lords, and there greatly altered, he said, that though he considered the amendments most objectionable, he would take them, for, as he had got the House in a humour to agree to the principle, he hoped to be able, on another occasion, to get them to consent to carry that principle out to the extent which he first intended. One part of this Bill, as it now stood, was highly objectionable. It was to the reading weekly before the Board of Guardians the notices given to the registrar. If this were considered a necessary check and safeguard against clandestine marriages, what check would remain where no Board of Guardians existed? There would then be no check whatever. This was the advantage of the great aid which they had derived from the other House, which thus got rid of the very security, the want of which they had complained of. There was another discrepancy in the Bill as amended. In one part, the notice was to be dated from the time it was given, and in another it was to be from the time of its entry by the registrar. How were these to be reconciled? Another important change which had been made in the Bill was the substitution of an oath for a declaration. He had thought, that with the consent of the other House, they had adopted the principle of getting rid of oaths wherever they could be dispensed with. He thought, that the solemnity of an oath ought as much as possible to be confined to our courts of justice. In the present case, if a disposition to break the oath existed, it would not be observed more strictly than a declaration. However, he repeated, let the House take the Bill, imperfect as it was. Let it not be given to the country to say, that they had sat for so many months and done nothing. They had sent up some good and most useful measures to the other House. It was not their fault that they had not become the law of the land. The principal recognised in this Bill was an important one, and they ought not to risk its loss even for the imperfections which the Lords' amendments had introduced in it.

Mr. Goulburn

thought the last reason offered by the hon. and learned Gentleman a very bad one for adopting the Bill, if, indeed, it deserved the strong-censure he had bestowed upon it. He (Mr. Goulburn) had opposed the original Bill as sent up from this House, because it divested marriage of its religious character, and encouraged clandestine unions, and he could not say, that the amendments of the Lords had made him more willing to adopt it. In one respect, he thought the other House had improved the measure, for it gave every encouragement to members of the Church of England to continue to be married in the Church.