HC Deb 07 February 1850 vol 108 cc524-8

, in moving for leave to bring in the Bill of which he had given notice, said, he believed he should best consult the convenience of the House by refraining from entering upon the merits of the question. When he had introduced a measure upon this subject, upon a former occasion, he had deemed it respectful to the House to make a statement of his views; but, as a general rule, it was not a convenient course to discuss the principle of a Bill on the first reading. He would therefore merely state that the main object of this Bill was the same as the former one; but to meet the more important objections that had been made by some of his Friends around him, and by some hon. Gentlemen opposite, he had introduced Amendments, the purport of which he would state. One of the Amendments which he intended to introduce, would have the effect of protecting parties to marriages recently contracted, from any consequences arising out of the law of the land, as well as that of rendering their issue legitimate; the second would have reference to the clergy. Now, one of the chief objections to the former Bill was, that it protected the clergy from the consequences of celebrating these marriages. He did not now mean to interfere in that respect with the law or the discipline of the Church, but leave it to the clergy to celebrate those marriages or not, according to their own consciences, without any fear of civil consequences, the law of the Church being left as before. He had felt that there was force in the objections made last Session, and, after deliberation and consultation with his friends, he had come to the conclusion that it would be wise to omit those provisions to which such objections had been made, and to leave the rules and discipline of the Church perfectly untouched by the Bill he now proposed. It was not his intention to interfere at all with the Church. He reminded the House that in the course of last Session, after three nights of full debate, the main object of the measure had been sanctioned by a House consisting of 320 or 330 Members.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend and alter an Act passed in the fifth and sixth years of the reign of King William the Fourth, so far as relates to marriages within certain of the prohibited degrees of affinity.


said, that sooner than the principle of the measure should receive the assent of the House, as he apprehended it would if the introduction of the Bill were permitted without discussion and opposition, he would himself oppose the Motion. He was sanctioned in his opposition by the opinion of the House, as expressed on a former occasion. When his noble Friend behind him, who was inferior to none in talents and character, asked leave to introduce such a measure, he felt bound to resist it, and the House rejected the proposition. He placed his objections to it on three grounds: that it was an alteration of the law of the land, an alteration of the law of the Church, and an alteration, if man could make it, of the law of God. It was a violation of that which he believed to be scriptural truth. But it was not necessary for him to take ground so high; it was enough to justify his opposition to the measure that it was equally against the law of the land, and of the Church; but he believed it was equally against the feeling of the great body of the people, and it certainly was against the unanimous feelings of one sex in this country. How often had this Bill occupied the attention of the House before? The result of it all was, that the Bill was adjourned for six months—in other words, abandoned. He appealed to his hon. Friends the Members connected with Scotland, and particularly him whom he might term, without disrespect, that venerable Member for Scotland the Member for Montrose, whether the public sentiment of that division of the empire was not against the change? Did anybody deny that? Did anybody deny that the almost universal feeling of the women of the empire was against it? Did anybody deny that a very large proportion of the men of the country were against it? When the principle of the Bill was, for the first time, carried last year, leave only having been given on former occasions to bring it in, it was by a majority of no more than 33, and he believed there was a growing feeling against any secular legislation on the subject. He hoped there were many who would feel that this question, if not a scriptural one, as he contended it was, was so much connected with religion that the voice of its ministers ought to be heard upon it with great respect, whilst those who constituted the great body of professing Christians in this country, namely, the adherents of the Established Church, gave it their strong and decided opposition. The law, as it now stood, was upheld alike by Greek, Armenian, Protestant, and Roman Catholic. He believed that the proposed change would be a violation of the interests of social life, that it affected the peace of families, and might prove the source of the greatest unhappiness. He therefore earnestly entreated the House to refuse leave for the introduction of the Bill.


could not but feel that the measure was now brought forward on different ground from that of last Session, affecting, as that did, both the civil law of the country and the ecclesiastical law of the Church of England. Speaking for himself as a member of the Church of England, he had not only no wish to see the law altered, but he must deprecate an alteration of the law which, so far as it affected his religious communion, would have a mischievous effect on society. But here, having to deal with persons of other communions, who did not recognise the same ecclesiastical law—with the Roman Catholics, who by dispensation tolerated marriages such as those proposed by the Bill—there being also Protestant churches in Europe and Protestant denominations in this country, who recognised the validity, ecclesiastically speaking, of such marriages—it was impossible not to feel that the civil law which declared the illegality of such marriages, bastardised the children, and imposed a heavy penalty on persons who, by contracting them, did not contravene the tenets of their religious persuasion. The proposition made last year was so objectionable that it was not then in his power to support the Bill. It was a direct interference by Parliament with the discipline of the Church, of which he was a member. No body, however trivial its objects, could maintain itself if it was not to be allowed to uphold, for its own purposes, its own discipline, and the by-laws by which it was to be governed. He thought the proposed interference by Parliament so objectionable, that no advantage to be derived from other parts of the measure could induce him to give it his sanction. But this great alteration having been made, the change being to affect the civil law only, without touching the ecclesiastical law, he thought it would be an ungracious act towards religious denominations dissenting from the Church of England to say that this Bill, so affecting their civil rights, should not be allowed to he read a first time. If, therefore, the hon. Member for the University of Oxford should persist in moving the rejection of the Bill in its present stage, he should, without pledging himself in any way as to the course he might think it proper to take at a future point of its progress, think it his duty to vote against the Amendment.


thought it a fatal objection to the Bill that it retrospectively made such marriages legal, and legitimated the issue of them. A greater violation of the law, in his opinion, could not be offered than in the present measure. But his opposition to the Bill would be founded on higher principles—on the opinion, as expressed by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, that it was contrary to the notions of the Church of England, and he should have thought, until he heard the opposite opinion, contrary to all Christian notions from the earliest times, and contrary, also, to the Jewish notion. The so-called marriages already contracted were mere void ceremonies; it was, in fact, a concubinage which had been entered into by those parties in violation of the existing law, and they might as well legalise the cohabitation of any number of persons with their mistresses for the last ten years, and say, that if they went to church all should be reckoned as if they had married ten years ago— Conjugium vocat; hoc prætexit nomine culpam. There had been nothing in such cases approaching to an honest religious ceremony; but if they had done it with the sanction of a minister of the Church, it was by an impudent fraud, and by representing that they knew of no obstacle why marriage should not be contracted with the permission of the Church. The present proposition would give a premium on the violation of the law and deception of the clergyman, and was absolutely insulting to the moral sense of the Legislature.


said, that the only passage from the Scripture that was relied on in opposition to this Bill, had in his opinion quite an opposite interpretation, and they had the best of all human testimony that it was so in the fact that those to whom that law had been delivered took the same view of it for which he contended. There was another point which he thought had not been before raised, and it was this. He believed that the law as it stood opera- ted as a delusion and a snare among honest people, as it provided to effect that by Act of Parliament which could only be done by the law of nature in professing to establish between a man and the sister of his wife the feelings which were impressed upon his heart by the law of nature towards his sister in blood.


said, that if he had not risen immediately after his right hon. Friend to oppose his Motion, it was not because his opinions had undergone any change upon this matter, but because his right hon. Friend, not having stated the new grounds on which he intended to rely for the support of his Bill, he thought it better to wait until the question would come again before the House before stating his grounds of objection to it. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had told them that he would act on the law of God as written on the heart alone—


I said no such thing. What I stated was, that we sought to create a sacred feeling by Act of Parliament with regard to a wife's sister, which God had implanted in our hearts towards sisters in blood.


said, that then the argument of the hon. Gentleman came to this—that he would set the restrictions made by the law of affinity entirely aside. It was plain that the hon. Gentleman had not read the chapter in Leviticus, and he should therefore advise him to do so before the second reading of the Bill came on.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 65: Majority 84.

List of the AYES.
Abdy, T. N. Cayley, E. S.
Adair, R. A. S. Chàplin, W. J.
Anson, hon. Col. Childers, J. W.
Anstey, T. C. Clay, J.
Archdall, Capt. M. Cobden, R.
Armstrong, R. B. Cockburn, A. J. E.
Bagshaw, J. Copeland, Ald.
Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T. Craig, W. J.
Baring, T. Crowder, R. B.
Barnard, E. G. Dalrymple, Capt.
Bass, M. T. Dawson, hon. T. V.
Bellew, R. M. Dodd, G.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Duke, Sir J.
Best, J. Dundas, Adm.
Birch, Sir T. B. Ebrington, Visc.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Ellis, J.
Bright, J. Elliot, hon. J. E.
Brocklehurst, J. Evans, W.
Brotherton, J. Ewart, W.
Bunbury, E. H. Fagan, W.
Buxton, Sir E. N. Filmer, Sir E.
Cardwell, E. Foley, J. H. H.
Caulfeild, J. M. Forster, M.
Fortescue, C. Monsell, W.
Fortescue, hon. J. W. Morris, D.
Fox, W. J. Mulgrave, Earl of
Freestun, Col. O'Connell, M. J.
Frewen, C. H. Ogle, S. C. H.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Paget, Lord A.
Greene, J. Parker, J.
Grenfell, C. P. Pechell, Sir G. B.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Peto, S. M.
Grey, R. W. Pilkington, J.
Grosvenor, Earl Power, Dr.
Hamilton, Lord C. Power, N.
Hanmer, Sir J. Rawdon, Col.
Harris, R. Ricardo, J. L.
Hastie, A. Ricardo, O.
Hatchell, J. Rich, H.
Hawes, B. Romilly, Sir J.
Hayter, rt. hon. W. G. Russell, F. C. H.
Heald, J. Salwey, Col.
Heathcoat, J. Sandars, J.
Henry, A. Scholefield, W.
Herbert, H. A. Scrope, G. P.
Herbert, rt. hon. S. Seymour, Lord
Heywood, J. Smith, J. A.
Heyworth, L. Smith, J. B.
Hill, Lord M. Smyth, J. G.
Hobhouse, T. B. Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.
Howard, Sir R. Stanford, J. F.
Hudson, G. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Hume, J. Strickland, Sir G.
Jackson, W. Stuart, Lord D.
Jervis, Sir J. Stuart, Lord J.
Jocelyn, Visct. Stuart, H.
Ker, R. Thompson, Col.
Kershaw, J. Thompson, Ald.
Lascelles, hon. E. Thornely, T.
Lascelles, hon. W. S. Townshend, Capt.
Lennard, T. B. Trelawny, J. S.
Lewis, G. C. Tufnell, H.
Loveden, P. Vivian, J. H.
Lushington, C. Wakley, T.
Macnaghten, Sir E. Walmsley, Sir J.
M'Cullagh, W. T. Watkins, Col. L.
M'Gregor, J. Willcox, B. M.
Mandeville, Visc. Williams, J.
Mangles, R. D. Wilson, W.
Martin, S. Wilson, M.
Masterman, J. Wrightson, W. B.
Matheson, Col. Wyld, J.
Melgund, Visc. Wyvill, M.
Milner, W. M. E. TELLERS.
Milnes, R. M. Wortley, J. S.
Moffatt, G. Spooner, R.
List of the NOES.
Adderley, C. B. Duckworth, Sir J. T. B.
Arkwright, G. Duncuft, J.
Bennet, P. Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D.
Beresford, W. Farrer, J.
Berkeley, C. L. G. Forbes, W.
Bernard, Visct. Fordyce, A. D.
Boyle, hon. Col. Fox, S. W. L.
Brisco, M. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Broadley, H. Greenall, G.
Cabbell, B. B. Greene, T.
Campbell, hon. W. F. Grogan, E.
Carew, W. H. P. Gwyn, H.
Chatterton, Col. Hall, Sir B.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Halsey, T. P.
Coles, H. B. Hamilton, G. A.
Cubitt, W. Hastie, A.
Disraeli, B. Hayes, Sir E.
Hildyard, R. C. Reid, Col.
Hildyard, T. B. T. Richards, R.
Hood, Sir A. Sandars, J.
Hope, A. Sibthorp, Col.
Lindsay, hon. Col. Stafford, A.
Lockhart, W. Stanley, E.
Lygon, hon. Gen. Stuart, J.
Mackenzie, W. F. Sullivan, M.
Maule, rt. hon. F. Taylor, T. E.
Morgan, O. Turner, G. J.
Mullings, J. R. Verner, Sir W.
Naas, Lord Wegg-Prosser, F. R.
Napier, J. Wellesley, Lord C.
Packe, C. W. Willoughby, Sir H.
Pakington, Sir J. TELLERS.
Palmer, R. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Plowden, W. H. C. Law, C. E.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Stuart Wortley, Mr. Edmund Denison, and Mr. Masterman.