HC Deb 02 March 1842 vol 60 cc1372-5

On the order of the day being read for the third reading of the Marriages (Ireland) Bill,

Mr. Murphy

said, that though he understood the Solicitor general for Ireland to promise that he would frame a clause for the purpose of fixing the burden of the supporting' the children by a first marriage, which was declared illegal, on the man, who had married a second time, he found no such clause in the bill as it was now submitted.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

Though the case stated by the hon. and learned Gen- tleman was a very strong one, he had given no other promise with regard to it than that he should take it into consideration. It was not considered expedient to frame a clause to meet the case complained of—first, because he believed it was a solitary one; and next, because it would not be just that the person alluded to should be dealt with, as it was suggested he should be, without being heard.

Bill read a third time.

On the question that it do pass,

Mr. Sharman Crawford

was desirous of calling the attention of the House to the injudicious limitation of the first clause. Relief, it appeared, was only intended to be given in cases in which marriages had been celebrated by Presbyterian ministers between members of their own congregations and of the Established Church. Now it had been understood in Ireland for years, that all marriages celebrated by Presbyterian ministers were legal, and many instances had occurred in which two members of the Established Church had been married by a Presbyterian minister. Now it was very hard that persons so circumstanced should be precluded from relief. It was cruel to illegitimatise families, merely in consequence of such a mistake on the part of their parents. Relief by such a bill as this ought not to be stinted, but it should be extended to all cases in which parties had married under a misapprehension of the law. He had understood that there were many cases in Ireland of marriages celebrated by Presbyterian ministers between members of their own congregation and members of the other sects; he wished to know from the learned Gentleman opposite, in what situation those parties were placed by the decision of the Irish Judges, and whether such marriages were valid in law? He thought that all marriages solemnised by a Presbyterian clergyman should be made valid. He would, therefore, move that all the words in the first clause, between the word "teachers," in the 11th line, to the word "shall," in the 25th, be omitted.

Mr. F. Maule

hoped that the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his motion, as he was sure his object would be answered by an assurance from the Government that they would take it into consideration. He must, however, enter his protest against the clause for legitimatising the offspring of the second marriage, and leaving the father quite free, even as to the support of the first. He thought it was not at all certain but that the children of the first marriage would dispute the matter at law after this bill was brought in, and it was by no means certain whether the decision of the Irish judges would be adhered to.

Mr. Shaw

observed, that in the first place it was always considered that a Presbyterian clergyman marrying persons belonging to the Church of England did that which was not considered quite lawful. And, in the next place, it was clear that though this bill provided for an existing defect, it did not shut out the parties alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman from trying the question before a legal tribunal.

Sir R. Peel

trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not press his motion to a division. The object of this bill was merely to provide for an existing evil, which might lead to others if remedied in too hasty and inconsiderate a manner. Looking at the state of the marriage law, it did not present much ground for satisfaction. He was aware of the difficulties of assimilating the law in the three countries, and particularly of those which impeded any change in Scotland; but a question which affected the peace and domestic happiness of families was in a most unsatisfactory condition. He was sure, too, that the general marriage law of Ireland could not be touched without inquiry and without great caution. It was the intention of her Majesty's Government to look into the subject, which was one the House of Lords might apply themselves to with the greatest advantage. It would be impossible, however, even for that House, reckoning as it did amongst its members the highest legal authorities, to touch this question without consulting the feelings of all classes of the people.

Mr. Wakley,

while he hoped that his hon. Friend would withdraw the present amendment, did not see why, if any change was requisite, that House could not make the necessary inquiry and alterations with as much advantage as the House of Lords.

Lord Eliot

observed, that there existed the greatest anxiety for the passing of this bill. He had looked through the petitions, and he did not find a single allusion to such a case as that referred to by the amendment of the hon. Gentleman.

Sir P. Peel

wished to qualify what he had said, by a single observation—and that was, that if they extended the provisions of this law to a single other case than the obvious evil which it meant to remedy they might throw doubts on the validity of several marriages which were now undisputed.

Mr. Litton

bore testimony to the fact, that no case such as that alluded to had occurred within the knowledge of the bar of Ireland.

Amendment withdrawn. Bill passed.