§ Lord John Russell
rose for the purpose of bringing forward a Bill for the general registration of births, marriages, and deaths, and likewise a Bill for the purpose of amending the laws regulating the marriages of Dissenters. At that time of the night he thought it would be most convenient to the House if he 368 stated in as short a manner as he could the object and the general provisions of both these Bills. It would, perhaps, be in the recollection of some hon. Members of that House that at the time that a right hon. Member opposite proposed to bring in a Bill to regulate the marriages of Dissenters last year, he (Lord John Russell) stated his opinion, held in 1834, that a Bill to be sufficient and satisfactory for the regulation of Dissenters' marriages should be preceded by a Bill of registration. But he had not brought forward any Bill upon the subject—because any plan that could have been devised for this purpose was considered by the Government of that day as entailing an expense which formed an insurmountable objection to its adoption—that is to say, an objection, not to the principle or to its being one day or other adopted, but an objection to its being brought forward at that time, until a plan had been more maturely considered, and until it was seen whether it could not be carried into effect economically, and with a prospect of its final success. But laying aside altogether for the present moment that part of the measure which related particularly to the grievances complained of by the Dissenters, he thought that in a general and national point of view it was most desirable that a general system of civil registration should now be carried into effect. It was a most important subject—important for the security of property—important to ascertain the state and condition of individuals under various circumstances—important to enable the Government to acquire a general knowledge of the state of the population of the country—that there should be a genera! registration of births, marriages, and deaths. The present registration was very de6cient, as had been fully proved before various Committees. In the first place, it was a registry not of births but of baptisms; and, in consequence of the system adopted, it only gave the marriages where the ceremony was celebrated according to the rites of the Church of England. But without laying any further stress upon the detail of these objections, he should just observe that they arose from this defect in the principle of the registration, that it was ecclesiastical and not civil. Now, with respect to ascertaining the fact of the births, deaths, and marriages of various parts of the community, it was quite ob- 369 vious that this subject had no reference to the religious creed of any man; but, on the contrary, in a country and amongst a people composed of various sects and religions, it was quite obvious that a registration of marriages according to the rites of the established religion alone could never possibly be perfect or complete. He could illustrate this by reference to the case of the Baptists, and to many other sects; but, in fact, it required no argument to support it. If the House wished to form a complete registration, it was necessary to have one which would comprise indifferently and impartially all classes and distinctions of religions. The plan adopted for this purpose under the Commonwealth was to have the registration taken by the inhabitants and ratepayers. But without dwelling upon this plan, which was enforced for a certain time, he should refer to another plan, introduced two years ago by Mr. William Brougham, Member far Southwark. In that Bill it was proposed that the tax-surveyors should have the cognizance of the registration. Upon instituting inquiries into the working of this system, and obtaining a return from different parts of the country, it appeared that though very many of the surveyors were quite competent to discharge the duties intrusted to them, yet in very many more cases it would be necessary to employ persons of a superior class, and to give them additional remuneration, which would entail a very considerable expense, and, as he before observed, be an insuperable objection to the adoption of the plan. But within the last year or two a change had taken place in the domestic policy of the country with regard to the Poor-laws, which seemed to open the way to the establishment of a civil registration, and which would not be attended with considerable expense. At present there were upwards of 200, he believed 228, Unions, formed in England and Wales, under the new Poor-laws, comprising 3,283,000 persons; and there would be, he expected, within a short period, more than 800 Unions in England and Wales. So that by April, 1837, there would be a sufficiently broad foundation laid for the general introduction of the system. He would direct the attention of the House to the means which the machinery of the unions afforded for carrying this registration into effect. In each union there were 370 certain officers, called "Union officers," for every 5,000 persons, the union comprehending generally 15,000, 16,000, or 20,000. Besides the overseer and assistant, there were the auditor and the clerk of the Board. It was now proposed that the Poor Law Commissioners should have the power of appointing one of these officers, or any other person they might think fit, to be the registrar for a certain number of persons; that this registrar should be under another officer, (say the auditor, or the clerk), who should be his superior; that there should be another superior registrar who should have a county office; and that there should be an office in London (as in Mr. Brougham's Bill), to be under the direction of the Poor Law Commissioners. It was proposed that the subordinate officers should register the births and deaths that took place, and the marriages that were contracted, under a Bill which he should bring forward on a future occasion; that every two months all the entries they had made should be forwarded to the county office, and be thence transmitted to the central office in London; that they should keep their books of registration until they were filled up, and then transmit them to the county registry office. This he thought was the best manner of effecting the registry, and in this respect the Bill did not greatly differ, although it did in some respects, from the Bill of Mr. William Brougham. What he proposed in cases of birth was, that notice should be given to the local registrar by the occupier of the house in which it took place within eight days of the birth of the child; and within fifteen or twenty days after notice had been given, the registrar should call on the father or mother of the child to fill up the particulars with reference to the birth. The person also giving these particulars should give the name of the child; and if the parties did not give the name of the child, or if they wished it to be entered afterwards, they should be obliged at a future period to produce a certificate of baptism, so that the registrar should afterwards be enabled to enter the name of the child. In cases of death, the occupier of the house would be obliged to give an immediate account of any death that occurred in his house; and in those cases the registrar should call upon the next of kin, if resident in the house, and get any further particulars that might be deemed necessary with reference to the dead per- 371 son; for instance, with respect to the country from whence he might come, the period of his birth, and other circumstances. As far as regarded the entries of marriages he need not then say anything, as the particulars would be given in the Bill regulating marriages, which he intended to propose after the present measure. There might be some difficulties in the way of carrying out, to its full extent, a Bill of this nature at first. It might be the case with some persons that they would refuse to give the registrar the particulars he might require; but he (Lord J. Russell) was quite sure that where the plan was established, the advantages attending it would be so obvious, and, would be so soon felt by all classes of persons, they would so soon perceive the benefit of having their children's names inserted in the general register, that it would not be very long before every one would be willing to concur in carrying out the plan. It was not proposed that parties giving this information to the registrar should be compelled to pay any fee, although they would have to pay for a copy of the register afterwards, should they require it. The manner of registration would be this, every registrar would receive a fee of 2s. 6d. for any name entered within the period of twenty days; and after twenty days, 1s. extra. The superintendent would receive, on the average, 2d. for each register. It was calculated that, altogether, there would be about 812,000 entries in the general register in the course of the year. The expense of the local registries would be something more than 40,000l. a year, and the total charge, together with the expense of the chief officer in London, would be about 80,000l. a year. The expense of the central office in London he would propose should be defrayed by the Treasury; the expense of the local registrars and the fees of the superintendents should be made a local charge, and should be defrayed by the parishes in which the persons resided, with reference to whom the entries were made. He thought that he had then stated the chief particulars that were necessary with respect to the register of births and deaths, and would proceed to explain the details of the other Bill. He thought that the law regarding marriages was a law which had been justly described as creating great confusion between things regarded by the State as important for the well government of the country, and 372 for the due succession of property, and things which were mere matters of conscience. It was of importance that the State should have a certain degree of security in order to prevent marriages being clandestinely performed between persons able to enter into a contract of the kind, and also that the contract should, after certain circumstances had been fulfilled, be considered as finally closed; and that the relative position in which the parties stood to each other should be perfectly understood. "While on this part of the subject he would observe, that it was necessary that the register should be formed in such, a way as to embrace ail classes of persons in his Majesty's dominions; that he thought was what the State required; and it would be necessary for the due security of property and the preservation of order and morality in the State, and to that its attention should be directed. There were circumstances with respect to a registry of marriages essentially different from the other registries he had described. With the exception of a small portion of the people of this country, all persons were agreed in considering it a religious ceremony, and as such, that its celebration should be accompanied with some religious forms; but they were not agreed as to the manner in which the religious ceremony was to be completed, nor as to the forms which were to accompany it. What interested the State only was, that what was then done should be a ceremony which was considered binding by both parties. If they once ascertained the parties had given due notice for the purpose, and that the marriage was settled, and that the contract was such as would be binding on the consciences of the parties—when they had ascertained this, he thought they had obtained all that it was necessary for the State to know. But now the law proceeded in a very different way, and on a very different principle, as the right hon. Member for Tamworth had justly stated last year, and in which opinion his hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, concurred with the right hon. Baronet, and that although now it was usual to have banns proclaimed, and the ceremony performed in the Church, yet that marriages might be celebrated in any other place, and that a contract per verbâ de prœsenti was a legal and actual marriage, and that this might take place in any private house, or even in a court of 373 justice. This state of things left the law uncertain with regard to marriages. From inquiries he had made, he understood that contracts of marriages of the kind he had just adverted to, formerly took place between Dissenters, and that Lutherans and others were married in this country in this manner previous to the Act of 1754. The Marriage-law of 1754, however, declared, that all marriages should be performed after banns had been proclaimed in the parish Church, or after licences had been granted to the contracting parties by competent authority, and that the ceremony should be performed within certain hours in the Church, whether by banns or licence, and by a clergyman of the Church of England. This law, he could not help feeling, was unjust, and was an unnecessary violation of the consciences of those who dissented from the Church, for it compelled persons wishing to contract a legal marriage, to go into a Church which they were not members of, and to have the ceremony performed by a clergyman in whose religious opinions they did not agree, and whose doctrines they did not follow, and many of whose religious opinions they might not be willing to receive or listen to. He thought, therefore, that the law should be brought into a state of greater simplicity, and be altered so as to avoid the objections that were raised against it on this account. The Protestant Dissenters had pressed for the redress of what they considered grievances, and he thought they justly regarded this as one of a serious nature. Within the last few years they had manifested great anxiety on this point, and he had heard statements made to the House by them during the Administration of Earl Grey, as well as during the Administration of the light hon. Baronet, in which they asserted, that they were willing to accept an arrangement in either one of two ways—either by making marriage altogether a civil ceremony, and by doing so acknowledging that all parties might adopt any religious ceremony they might consider desirable, apart from anything required by the State, and that they might perform such religious ceremony either in Church or chapel, or in any other way conformable to their consciences. If this was not admitted, they were willing to adopt another line. They acknowledged the religious nature of the ceremony, but they said, "Allow the members of the Church of 374 England to go to the parish Church, and allow us to be married by our own ministers in our own chapels." There might be great simplicity in this plan; but considering the circumstances of the country, and the feelings of the people, it was liable to great objections. The Legislature would respect, as it ought to do, the religious obligations of the contract. But if the Legislature took no notice of the religious part of the contract, and said, that the civil con tract was sufficient, and that everything then required by it had been performed, he thought that the ministers of the Church of England would complain of this as an unnecessary offence to their consciences, and that sufficient and due respect had not been paid to the religious ordinances which they considered themselves enjoined to observe. There was another way which the right hon. Baronet proposed—and in a manner, he would add, which reflected credit on his liberality, and which induced all the Members of that House who were Protestant Dissenters to acknowledge the enlarged and liberal views he entertained on the subject; but this was not satisfactory to them, as it was proposed that the marriages of the members of the Church of England should be left as at present, but that the marriages of Dissenters should be treated as a civil contract, and that the contract should be entered into before the civil Magistrate. This was a question of feeling; and he fully entered into the feelings which made the Protestant Dissenters say, that by a measure of that kind, the State acknowledged, that marriage was a religious ceremony in the Church of England, but it was not so as regarded the Dissenters. By far the greater part of the Dissenters regarded the marriage contract as much a religious contract as the members of the Church did. They said, "We have the same religious notions of the obligations of the contract as the members of the Church, but by this difference in the form you probably intentionally cast some stigma upon us." There remained another method by which the principle of relief could be afforded, and by which the Protestant Dissenters would be allowed to be married by their own ministers in their own chapels, in the way which they thought most conformable to their own consciences. He intended to propose that there should be one form with respect to all marriages; that 375 instead of the contract being entered into by the present system of bans or licences, that it should be by means of a notice-book and licence. With respect to licences, almost all the higher classes were now married by means of them, as they were obtained for sums of money; but the poorer classes were married by bans, and their names were proclaimed in the church. As to the proclaiming the bans in the parish church, he wished to observe, that after having taken the opinions of many clergymen of the Church of England, as well as other persons, on the subject, that he did not think that they afforded the security against clandestine marriages which was intended by their use. He believed that this law subsisted long before the Reformation, and when every person in the parish belonged to the Church, and all were of one religion, and when the parish church, was sufficiently large to embrace the greater part of the inhabitants of a parish, and when almost all persons resorted there. But in the present time bans were void and of no effect to all Dissenters from the Church, as well as to all persons who did not attend there. In populous parishes also, where not one-tenth or one-twentieth part of the population could attend, there was merely a huddled list of names read over, and this was done in the most careless manner; and clergymen had told him that it often occurred in an interval of the most solemn part of the service, and caused a most unpleasant and an almost indecent interruption of the service. He proposed, therefore, instead of this, that all persons about to be married should give notice to the registrar that their names might be inserted in the notice-book. That previous to the marriage the name should continue on the notice-book for twenty-one days; and that it should be open to inspection, and that the names of persons wishing to be married by licence, should remain on the notice-book eight days. There certainly was a distinction here between two classes; but it was not of such a marked nature as existed at present. Those who were married by licence had to pay a large sum for it, which those who were married by bans were for the most part unable to afford. He did not propose to do away with the special licences granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and, therefore, need make no observations on that part of the subject. As he had said before, the names 376 were to remain on the notice-book for twenty-one days, and the registrar would then give a certificate of this to the patties, and within a certain period the marriage might be performed. It was not necessary for him to state the number of days to be allowed for this, as that could be arranged in the Committee. If the parties were members of the Church of England, they might, if they thought proper, have bans proclaimed in the church; but he proposed that the clergyman should not be bound to do so, unless the parties produced the certificate of the registrar. He should previously have stated that before the names of the parties could be inserted in the notice-book, that some persons known to the registrar should declare that the parties were really and bona fide what they purported to be. If the parties were not members of the Church of England, and did not choose to be married in the church, he proposed that they might be married in a Dissenting chapel, which Dissenting chapel must be regularly licensed for the purpose. He proposed that this should be done, provided twenty housekeepers signed a declaration that they had been in the habit of attending the chapel, and that they knew it to be constantly used as a place of public worship. When this was done the place was to be licensed, and it was to be described as a licensed chapel in which marriages could be contracted. After a Dissenting chapel had been licensed for the purpose, the Dissenting minister would be empowered to marry the parties, in the manner which was agreeable to their own feelings and conscience. It was to be recollected, with respect to the officiating minister of the Church of England, that he was well known, and that his designation and habitation were fixed, and there was great security as to proper care being used in performing the marriage ceremony. With respect to Dissenting ministers, he need hardly observe that they were a great society of persons; and it often happened that a person for a time became the minister of a Dissenting congregation, and afterwards laid down his charge. The consequence would be, that there would be great uncertainty and vagueness if some care was not taken. He therefore proposed, that in all marriages in Dissenting chapels the registrar should be present at the ceremony. Then there remained that class of persons to whom he had be- 377 fore adverted, but which certainly was not very numerous, namely—those who declared that marriage was a simple civil contract; and in order to make the measure complete, he should give them something resembling what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give them in his Bill of last year. Instead, however, of making them go before the magistrate, as the hon. Gentleman proposed, he should prefer that the parties, in such a case, should go before the chief superintendent of the district, and that they should be married according to a certain form of words prescribed in the Bill. The only difference between the marriages in the Church of England and those in Dissenting chapels was, that in the former the clergyman would have to enter the date of the ceremony, and the names of the parties, in the parish register-book, and that he afterwards must prepare a duplicate copy of the certificate of marriage, which he must send within a few days to the local registrar, who would enter it in the usual way, and afterwards send it to the chief register office in London. It thus appeared that he did not propose that it should be incumbent on the registrar to be present at marriages in the Church of England; but in Dissenters' chapels he deemed it requisite that the registrar should be present. In the Church of England, then, all the forms of marriage would be preserved, and at the same time he trusted adequate relief would be given to the conscientious objections of the Dissenters. These were the chief points of the two Bills which he proposed to introduce. He thought by the proposed civil register they would have a further advantage, which he did not think could be obtained in any other way. It would relieve the Protestant Dissenter from that which he conscientiously considered a grievance, and, at the same time, it would afford good security against clandestine marriages. By passing these Bills, he thought that the Legislature would deprive the Dissenters of one of those grounds of complaint which had been adverted to in the King's Speech, and would relieve them from grievances which they considered a burden on their consciences. He thought for this purpose, above all, a system of civil registration was necessary, and therefore it was, that he was anxious to consider both Bills together. Thus, then, while no disadvantage was offered to the Church, a complete relief was afforded to the 378 Protestant Dissenters of the grievances of which they complained. He would say a few words, and a very few, with respect to other practical grievances of which he had heard Protestant Dissenters complain during the last three or four years. The first complaint was, want of a civil and general register; the second was the want of a marriage ceremony, which was not offensive to their feelings. With respect to these two points, he had already addressed the House, and he trusted that the two Bills be proposed to introduce would afford an ample and satisfactory remedy. The third subject was the disabilities under which the Dissenters laboured, as regarded attending Oxford and Cambridge, which, at the same time, disabled them from attaining those eminent degrees in some sciences and arts which might be obtained by the members of the Church of England. On this subject he would merely observe that he had always been favourable to opening the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to Dissenters; but he should be guilty of something like delusion if he held out any prospect of immediate relief in this respect. Some Protestant Dissenters, however, looked to another mode by which those honours and distinctions might be obtained, from which they ought not to be debarred in consequence of their religious opinions. He meant the establishment of a new University. This subject had occupied the attention of the Government, and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had devoted much time to devising a plan by which Protestant Dissenters, as well as all other persons, would be enabled to obtain their degrees, and that standing to which they were entitled, but which were now limited to those who studied at Oxford and Cambridge. This plan his right hon. Friend would shortly state to the House. Another matter of complaint was church-rates. Before, however, adverting to this, he would allude to the complaints that had been made, that ministers of Dissenting chapels were not allowed to bury deceased members of their congregations in the burying-grounds of the Church of England. He was not prepared to propose any thing on this point; but he would venture to say to those Protestant Dissenters who might be prepared to petition the House on the subject, that the great object all should have in view was, the promotion of religious peace; and that while they left the Church 379 of England in the full enjoyment of the rights which it ought to possess, the Protestant Dissenters should be placed in such a position as to feel themselves perfectly free and equal in all civil concerns, and that this matter should not be an occasion of jarring or quarrelling between themselves and the members of the Church. He was sorry to hear that there were some among the Protestant Dissenters, who stated that they preferred going on with the contest between themselves and the Church on this point, as well as respecting church-rates, rather (ban the Legislature should interpose to promote peace and harmony. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more desirable than putting an end to those contests which unhappily subsisted. It was the duty of the Legislature to establish such a system of laws that those feelings of alienation which unhappily existed between members of the Church and Dissenters should be lessened as much as possible. At the same time both parties should yield to a mutual feeling of good will, and one party ought to feel that it possessed nothing which could be considered an injury to the other. If this state of things was ever established, he should be able to look with confidence to the settlement of the question of burying Dissenters by their ministers in the churchyards. He was sure, if they introduced a measure for this purpose at present, and gave Protestant Dissenters, at any time, and under any circumstances, the right of going into church-yards for the purpose of performing any religious ceremonies they pleased, against the wish of the clergyman, so far from promoting harmony, they would widen the breach which now existed. The clergy would feel that it was an unnecessary and unjust interference with them, and it would excite painful feelings in their minds, to see ceremonies performed in the church-yards, against which they entertained serious and conscientious objections. If, however, those feelings of harmony and goodwill were produced, he had no doubt that this might be made a matter of compromise between the clergy and the ministers of the Dissenters. A clergyman living in harmony in his parish, and having feelings of good-will to all classes of his parishioners, might freely be induced to allow a funeral ceremony to be performed by a Dissenting minister in whom he had confidence, and with whose piety and devotion he was satisfied, and 380 from whom he did not anticipate anything obnoxious or insulting to his feelings. The subject of Church rates would form a matter of consideration and debate for another day; and he trusted that the end of these measures would be to establish firm peace between all religious parties in this country, and to do away those religious heats which now prevailed; and thus that a spirit of religious harmony would be engendered, in which respect he was sorry to say that England was far behind other countries. In commerce, in wealth, in industry, and, in some respects, in public instruction, there were some nations far inferior to us, but, in respect of religious tolerance and harmony, they were far before us. The noble Lord concluded with moving for leave to bring in a Bill to establish a general civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales
rejoiced at the extent of the measure, as regarded the marriages of Protestant Dissenters; but he wished to know whether the measure extended to Roman Catholics?
§ Lord John Russell
replied, that in England and Wales the provisions would extend to Roman Catholics.
§ Sir Robert Peel
considered this subject to be one of too great importance to make any lengthened observations upon it until he had seen the Bill, There were two great principles to be considered in it. First, the interest which all had in common, Dissenters as well as Churchmen, namely, the preventing clandestine marriages, and the insuring the perfect regularity of the ceremony, so that young persons should not be inveigled into it. The second point was concerning the religious scruples of either party. As a member of the Church of England, he would at once say, that, as far as he understood the Bill of the noble Lord, he had no objection to make to its principle. The noble Lord proposed that members of the Church of England should continue to have their marriages solemnized in their churches; that the religious character of that ceremony should continue to be respected; that there should be required no other obligation whatever for the purpose of giving validity to the contract, than the performance of the religious ceremony. He was speaking of members of the Church of England; in their case, he would repeat, the noble Lord did not pro- 381 pose to superinduce any civil form whatever in order to give validity to the contract. He was reminded of the exceptions relating to the publication of bans, but this was antecedent to the religious ceremony, and of the civil registration; but this was after the religious ceremony: they were no doubt, civil matters, but he was speaking of the religious operation of the contract, which was not affected by the Bill. Members of the Church of England would not be prevented, he presumed, from availing themselves of the religious registration now in use, as well as the proposed civil registration. The noble Lord had on this point omitted to take into consideration the question of the emoluments which at present arose to many persons from the mode of registration now in use; but this was a matter of minor importance. In the case of the marriage of Dissenters the noble Lord proposed that the ceremony should be a religious one on the part of those Dissenters who attached importance to it as such. He could only say, that whether the measure which the noble Lord proposed as more satisfactory to the Dissenters than that which he Sir Robert Peel had last year the honour of bringing forward, were really so, he must, of course, leave as a question of feeling, on which the Dissenters ought to be considered and consulted; for his own part he could not but think the measure he had proposed calculated to be equally satisfactory with the present. This, however, as he had just observed, was a question to be decided according to the religious scruples and feelings of the Dissenting body. The noble Lord had, however, not precisely described the measure which he had last year introduced; the Noble Lord said that that measure proposed to continue the marriage contract as a religious ceremony in the case of members of the Church of England, but only as a civil contract in the case of Dissenters. Now this description of the measure, although not at variance with the truth, was not at all a complete or exact description of its character. He certainly had proposed that there should be a civil evidence of the contract, but he had not proposed this because he undervalued the religious ceremony: on the contrary, the preamble of the projected Bill expressly recited that the Legislature wished to encourage the religious ceremony. The Bill certainly left it to the parties to observe 382 only such religious rites and ceremonies as they conscientiously felt disposed to; but it in no way undervalued the religious ceremony which he wished to have superinduced on the civil contract; all the Bill did was to obviate the necessity of the religious ceremony being a condition indispensable to the validity of the marriage contract. The noble Lord still proposed to make a difference between Dissenters and members of the Church of England, to which, he would admit, Dissenters could not fairly object; at the same time he might observe, that the Dissenter who reconciled himself to this difference might equally have reconciled himself to the provisions of the Bill which he had brought forward. Under the now proposed Bill, in the case of the marriage of members of the Church, the attendance of the registrar would not be required; while, in the case of the Dissenters, the ceremony would not be valid unless performed in the presence of a civil officer, the registrar of the union. In his Bill, the magistrate was the civil officer before whom the marriage was to be celebrated. Then, as to the registrar's attendance, he (Sir R. Peel) did not exactly see how it would be possible to insure the attendance of this officer, if there were to be only one in the Union, at every Dissenter's marriage. Supposing all these marriages to take place on the Sabbath-day, it would be extremely difficult for the officer to perform his many duties; and, on the other hand, it would be impossible for the Dissenters, under the contemplated circumstances, to make a free choice as to what day they would be married on, which would be a hard case. One great inconvenience and annoyance under which the Dissenters laboured, was in having their marriages performed in a place of worship in which they held no communion. Now, under the proposed Bill, suppose the registrar "to be a member of the Church of England, yet he was required to be present at every marriage celebrated under every form of religious worship which Dissenters might think it their conscientious duty to adopt, whether Roman Catholic or any other species of dissenting form. The noble Lord, in proceeding with this Bill, must take care to guard against the possibility of fraud, or evasion of the law on the part of false pretenders to religious scruples, who, making a pretence that their principles of religion taught them to consider the reli- 383 gious ceremony as not necessary to the validity of the marriage contract, might seek means of evading the law, and throwing families and society into confusion. He was not speaking of respectable and conscientious Dissenters, but of those who, under pretence of being of their profession, sought to evade the law. He must say again, that after carefully considering the nature of the proposed Bill, he saw little material difference between it and the Bill he proposed last year; but if it were more palatable to the conscientious Dissenters, they certainly had a right to adopt that which they found most consonant to their religious feelings; and if they were pleased with the present measure in preference to his, he was quite ready to say that, for his own part, he had, as a Churchman, no objections to the principles of the noble Lord's Bill. All he would stipulate for was, that the very utmost precautions should be taken that the real object of the Bill should not be defeated, for any fraud or evasion of the law would be dangerous to society and to property, and destructive of the peace of families.
§ Mr. Baines
rejoiced to find, from what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet opposite, that the proposed measure was not objectionable in the eyes of members of the Established Church, and he believed, though he spoke only as an individual, that it would be equally acceptable to the Dissenters. Nothing could be more beneficial than a general system of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths; and he (Mr. Baines) looked upon the present measure, in its general outline, as calculated to effect that desired object. He differed from the right hon. Baronet, who thought that there was no material difference between the Marriage Bill announced this night, and the one brought forward last year, for he thought the noble Lord's measure would obviate a very important objection, which applied to the plan announced by the right hon. Baronet, who drew a distinction between the marriages of Protestant Dissenters and those of members of the Established Church, the former of which were to consist, as far as the law was concerned, in a mere civil compact, while the latter had the sanction and force of a religious obligation. In the Bill of the noble Lord, the members of the Established Church would be married according to their own marriage ceremony; the Protestant Dissenters would 384 be married by their own Ministers with equal solemnity; and those that preferred the civil contract, were here left at liberty to adopt it in the presence of the registrar, who would become an attesting witness. With respect to the question of Church-rates alluded to by the noble Lord, he (Mr. Baines) hoped that they would soon arrive at a conclusion equally satisfactory to the members of the Church and to Dissenters. On this subject, speaking merely as an independent Member of Parliament, and not as the representative of a body of Dissenters, he might express his decided opinion that the Dissenters would never yield their consent to any mode of arranging that matter that did not go to the actual and absolute extinction of those rates without commutation. As to the admission of Protestant Dissenters to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, they had long claimed that privilege; but if collegiate benefits and honours could be secured to them of equal value by other means, he supposed that the principal cause of their discontent on that head would be removed. The Dissenters did not, he believed, insist very strongly upon the right of their Ministers to perform the funeral service in the parish church-yards, unless with the concurrence of the clergyman. To insist upon this privilege would, in certain cases, be to violate the conscientious scruples of the Minister of the' Established Church; and the Protestant Dissenters of England, If he understood their characters, were as little inclined to do violence to the consciences of others as they were to submit to the violation of their own consciences.
expressed his extreme satisfaction at the plan developed by the noble Lord. The relief which it would give Roman Catholics from many of their inconveniences and annoyances was considerable, and the advantage to the State would be no less so. At present, when the law required a twofold ceremony to be gone through in the case of the marriage of a Roman Catholic and a Protestant, many of the poorer Roman Catholics neglected the second ceremony on account principally of the expense, and the consequence was, that in a great many cases this neglect rendering the marriage invalid, parishes were, after a few years, burdened with numbers of illegitimate children.
thought the Bill did not 385 provide sufficiently against cases of fraud. He should, however, in the progress of the measure, take further occasion to express his opinions on several parts of it.
§ Lord John Russell
thanked the House for the very favourable manner in which it had received his proposed measure. After the broad and liberal principles which were stated last year by the right hon. Baronet on this subject, he had felt assured of his support of the present Bill. With reference to the objection which had been made on the point of one registrar's being insufficient to attend all the marriages of Dissenters within his registry, he (Lord J. Russell) would reply, that he believed there would generally be one registrar to every 5,000 persons, which would be sufficient, the calculation being, that the marriages, in proportion to the population, were less than one per cent. With reference to the facility which would be given to clandestine marriages, he did not think his Bill inferior in this respect to the Bill of the right hon. Baronet.
§ Sir Robert Peel
observed, that when no point of honour was concerned, he had sanguine hopes that many of the Dissenters, particularly the female portion of them, would prefer being married in Church.
§ Motion agreed to—Leave given.
§ Leave was also given to bring in the Bill for regulating Marriages.