HC Deb 02 April 1862 vol 166 cc411-24

Order for Committee read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he should oppose the Motion. It was to be regretted that a Bill of so much importance as regarded the social peace and happiness of the people of Ireland, had been allowed to be read a second time without any discussion. Nothing but the strongest sense of duty could have induced him to oppose a measure to which his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Hugh Cairns) had devoted so much time and trouble; but the more he looked into the Bill, the more he disapproved of it. He had intended to move that it be referred to a Committee upstairs; but the more he considered the Bill, the more he was convinced that his objections to it could not be removed by simple, modifications. The existing Marriage Act for Ireland was not of very old date, and with much trouble had been brought into working order; and now that that object had been achieved a measure was brought forward, proposing to upset the whole system. With regard to mixed marriages, the Bill, like the present law, made their celebration a felony on the part of the priest, unless certain prescribed forms were adhered to, but no security was afforded that those forms would be observed; and no due precaution was taken to prevent the marriage of two persons, minors perhaps, who might profess to be Roman Catholic for the purpose of getting married by a priest, and on the next day might return to their former profession as Protestants. He saw no reason why the marriage law in operation in England, against which he had heard no complaint, should not be extended to Ireland. Such a proposal, he should contend, would be a much better proposal than that of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Bill, while professing to simplify the marriage law of Ireland, established four different codes of marriage law applicable to marriages of persons of different persuasions. The whole subject was one of great importance, and therefore he had thought it necessary to give an opportunity to Irish Members to express their opinions on its principle. So far from its being an improvement of the law, it would be a blemish as respected Roman Catholics, whereas, as far as regarded Protestants it would only accumulate difficulties in the way of their marriage in Ireland.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee, —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he thought that little good would result from referring the Bill to a Select Committee, seeing that the whole question of Irish marriage law was considered in a Select Committee last year on the registration of births, deaths, and marriages in Ireland. The Bill would create a system in Ireland, which would be generally acceptable to the people, and there was no defect in it which could not be cured by a discussion in Committee of the Whole House.


observed, that Her Majesty's Government had been wanting in their duty in not taking up a Bill of so much importance as a Government measure. If the recommendation of the Select Committee of last year that duplicate registries of marriages should be kept, one at the place of marriage and the other at the Registrar General's in Dublin, were adopted, then there would exist that uniform registration of marriages which had so long been desired in Ireland. He would not, of course, resist the Motion for going into Committee on the Bill; but he was bound to say that, as it stood, it did not carry into effect the resolution at which the Committee upstairs had arrived with respect to the mode of registration by a large majority, and would fall very far short of the expectations of the community at large.


said, he fully concurred with the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken in the opinion that the Government had failed in their duty in not dealing with the question. He was prepared to give the right hon. Baronet the present Chief Secretary for Ireland credit for the best intentions; but he must at the same time say that he had, in framing the measures which he had submitted to Parliament in the present Session, made choice of the very worst system on which they could be based—owing, no doubt, to his want of experience of the country and of legislation. It was held out to the English public and the world that Ireland had a bonâ fide representation in that House; but he denied the fact. They were generally governed by inexperienced gentlemen, holding the office of Irish Secretary, who, having set their foot in Ireland for a fortnight, fancied they knew more of the country than those who had passed their whole lives in it. He might be asked why, under such circumstances, he remained in the House at all? His only reply was, that at that moment it suited his family and personal convenience. So far as the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast was concerned, he did not wish to oppose it, though it was not one which he could altogether approve. In accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, he was for a general register by one set of officers, and not for legislating piecemeal, and having marriages registered by one set of officers, and births and deaths by another. His view was that births, deaths, and marriages should be registered by the clergy of the different denominations. He was disposed to have proposed the omission from the Bill of the registration of Roman Catholic marriages; but that would probably be jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire, by handing over the registration of those marriages to the pet police of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he thought they might discuss the clauses of the Bill in Committee with advantage, and thus succeed in passing a measure which would be acceptable and useful in Ireland. The hon. and learned Member, who, as usual, imported the police into the question under discussion, was mistaken in supposing the Government had been wanting in their duty in not proposing a measure dealing with it. The facts of the case were that the Bill had been brought in early in the Session by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, when he himself had intimated that it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill on the subject; that Bill, out of respect for the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, he proposed not to lay on the table until the measure of which he had given notice had been produced. That being so, the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded to a second reading, and met with such universal approval that nobody opposed it; and he could not help thinking that it would not, under those circumstances, be well for the Government to interfere with the views of the Irish Members. The remarks, therefore, which had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Cork as to the inexperience of Irish Secretaries were not very appropriate on the present occasion, seeing that he himself, in the course he took, had merely deferred to a distinguished Irish Member, and consented to leave the matter in his hands. Of that Bill itself he must say that he thought some of its provisions required very considerable amendment. It would, for instance, he thought, be impossible to work with advantage a system in accordance with which the clergy of all denominations of Christians in Ireland—of which he believed there were no less than sixtyfour—should be called upon immediately to send a register to the Registrar General in Dublin. There was, at the same time, no reason why the Bill might not be so improved in Committee as to render it a measure of great utility to Ireland.


said, if he thought that when they went into Committee upon the Bill there was the slightest chance of their labours ending in a satisfactory manner, he would readily assent to the Motion; but it was impossible that the Committee could adopt the Bill as it now stood. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast had done what the House had objected to last Session, namely, mixed up in his Bill two things which were entirely distinct—the religious celebration of marriages, and the registration of the evidence of marriages. It was admitted on all hands that numerous important alterations would have to be made in the Bill; but as these had not been printed, it would be utterly futile to go into Committee on the present occasion. He, however, thought that it would be discourteous to the hon. and learned Member to oppose the Motion, and he would suggest that they should go into Committee pro formâ, and postpone the discussion upon the clauses until after Easter.


said, that he would admit that the law of marriage in any country, but more especially in a country in which considerable differences in religious belief prevailed, was a subject with which it was most difficult to deal satisfactorily. In dealing with it, the late Government had proposed to embody their views in one measure, which he held was the right course to adopt; and when called upon to consider the matter in his capacity of law officer of the Crown, he had come to the conclusion that it was expedient to procure, if possible, a registration of the fact of marriage, and that by attaining that end the difficulties which stood in the way of Roman Catholics establishing their pedigrees or their right to property in the courts of law would be removed. The attempt, he might observe, was constantly made to put in evidence the certificate of the Roman Catholic priest as proof of the marriage; but that was worth nothing, inasmuch as no Act of Parliament imposed upon him the duty in that respect which was imposed on clergymen of the Established Church. In the case of Malone and O'Connor, for instance, the decision was that the certificate of the priest could not be received as legal proof. Now, as the Roman Catholics formed a large portion of the community in Ireland, it was but fair that their rights should be secured in like manner as those of other people. Well, the late Government, as he had already said— and it should be borne in mind that they had law officers in the House— introduced a Bill with a view to meet the difficulties of the case, while another, based on the same principle, had been introduced by the right hon. gentleman the Member for the city of Oxford (Mr. Cardwell); and these two measures having been before the House, the subject was referred to a Committee. Nothing could be more fair or impartial than the manner in which the investigation of the Committee. —which was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, who was one of those short lived Chief Secretaries for Ireland who came and went like birds of passage—was conducted. Well, they proposed a Resolution in accordance with which the desirability of allowing a certificate to be sent up by the parish priest at once to the Registrar General in Dublin, and giving him a small gratuity for doing so, instead of establishing an expensive machinery for the purpose, was advocated. That Resolution had been passed, and when Irish Members agreed in regard to legislation upon local affairs, their opinions ought to be respected, and it would be utterly impossible for the Government to conduct the government of Ireland if they did so in violation of those opinions. It was not, however, he would admit, fair to throw the blame of what had since taken place with respect to it on the right hon. Baronet the present Chief Secretary, or to find fault with him for not having done that which his predecessor ought to have accomplished. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had not the assistance of the Irish law officers, and, though he did the best he could, it would be hardly fair to ask him to take up such a subject as that under consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford, as Chairman of the Committee, ought to have proceeded with the Bill, but he left his office and left his Bill. If Ireland was to have a system of registration at all, the hon. and learned Member for Belfast deserved the thanks of the House for taking up the clauses as recommended by the Committee of last Session, and incorporating them in his Bill. It was, no doubt, extremely difficult for a private Member to deal with so large and important a question as the marriage law of Ireland, but his hon. and learned Friend represented a large constituency. His hon. and learned Friend had been blamed for attempting to provide for each denomination of Christians. It would be his duty in Committee to take care that no additional difficulty should be cast upon the Established Church in the celebration of marriages. If the Presbyterians were satisfied, and if the rights of the Established Church were properly respected, there would only remain the question touching the Roman Catholics. He agreed that the clauses dealing with mixed marriages would require mature consideration in Committee. Meanwhile, he might remark that the proposal in the Bill lo enable a parish priest to marry a person not of his own persuasion was accompanied by the provision that the priest could celebrate such a marriage only in the way prescribed by the Act. If that provision should be thought not sufficient to guard against mischief, it would be their duty to amend it in Committee. It was quite clear that the Irish Administration could do nothing; and therefore he thought the House could not do better, while attending to all the suggestions that could be made, than endeavour to pass the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend.


said, he was sure that the House had only one desire on the subject—to take the first opportunity of getting rid of a difficulty which had been felt in Ireland ever since the establishment in England of a system of registration of births, deaths, and marriages, twenty-five years ago. He gave the fullest credit to the Government of the Earl of Derby for their attempt to overcome that difficulty. The present Administration had also endeavoured to settle the question. When he was Chief Secretary, he introduced a Bill for the establishment of a uniform system of registration. At the request of the Irish Members that Bill was referred to a Select Committee, though he objected to that course, because he saw that it would be fatal to the Bill passing during the session. For the first time in the history of Ireland the Committee appointed to consider it exhibited a perfect concurrence of opinion among all religious denominations that there should be established a registration of marriages in Ireland. The Committee did not go into the registration of births and deaths, but it really solved the whole question, because the only difficulty was about the registration of marriages. That was a golden moment for settling the question, but it was near the close of the session, and just as the Committee was about to terminate its labours, a Resolution was moved in the House which gave to the clergy of the different denominations in Ireland, who were to make the entries in the register, a remuneration five times the amount paid to the clergy in England and Scotland for the performance of a similar duty; and whereas the remuneration in England and Scotland was paid from local rates, it was proposed in the ease of Ireland to place the charge upon the Consolidated Fund. No Member of the Government could have ventured to recommend to the House the adoption of such a proposition, when it was not intended to extend the same advantage to England and Scotland, and, as most of the Irish Members left town soon afterwards, he thought it would not be right to proceed with his Bill in their absence. Such was the reason why he withdrew the measure at the end of last Session. The House was now asked to consider a Bill dealing with the whole subject of the law of marriage in Ireland. That law required amendment in three particulars, two of which were of great importance, and all of which were dealt with in the present Bill. One was, that there was no register of marriages in Ireland. The second was, that as the law now stood, and as no one wished to perpetuate it, a marriage celebrated by a Roman Catholic priest between two persons, one of whom was and the other was not a Roman Catholic, was invalid, and the priest who celebrated it was guilty of felony. It was also proposed by the Government last session to remedy that evil, and, with the assistance of the late Lord Campbell, a Bill for that purpose was introduced and passed through the House of Lords. But just as that Bill was about to approach the House of Commons the hon. and learned Member for Belfast moved the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the law of marriage in Ireland. To that Motion, which was seconded in an eloquent speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University, the Government gave willing assent, and the Bill altering the law of marriage, which they had prepared and were ready to proceed with, was suspended pending the sittings of the Committee. It happened, however, that the Committee was not appointed at all; and he understood that the hon. and learned Member; for Belfast, after communications with the I Irish Members, which his great influence with them and his knowledge of Ireland entitled him to hold, thought the better course would be to introduce a Bill on the subject at once. The third particular in which the existing law was defective, though not of general interest, was of considerable importance to certain classes of Protestant Dissenters in Ireland, who felt that their interests were overlooked when Parliament passed the Irish Marriage Act in 1844. Upon all the three points a remedy was proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast; and, since the subject had fallen into such good hands, it would not have been decorous on the part of the Government not to have given it a fair and candid consideration, and, as far as possible, their support, and to have insisted upon introducing a measure of their own. He contended that the Government had taken the course which it was their duty to pursue. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast had incorporated in his Bill precisely those registration clauses to which he was able last session to give his assent; but not that giving fivefold remuneration to the clergyman who made the registrations, having left it to the House to say what, in its wisdom, was the proper remuneration. He hoped the House would not dispute as to who was to have the credit of carrying a measure on that important subject. Let them rather rejoice that there was a prospect, by the concurrence of all parties, of remedying that which had long been a defect in Irish legislation— namely, the want of some certain means of establishing by evidence the legitimacy of children and the right of inheritance.


said, he hoped the House, without indulging in further discussion, would go into Committee at once. Not a single objection had been urged against the Bill which might not be disposed of in Committee.


said, the reason given why the House should not go into Committee —that there were various Amendments to be made in the Bill—was a very singular one. He should not have been surprised to find that a Bill consisting of between 100 and 200 clauses, contained a great deal which might be amended in Committee; but what were the facts? The Bill was prepared so far back as July last year; it was introduced at the very commencement of the present Session, no attempt had been made to hurry it forward; the second reading was unopposed, and up to that day not a single Amendment had been put upon the paper. He had every reason for believ- ing that no violent opposition would be offered to the details; but the fact that Amendments might be proposed was certainly no reason for not going into Committee. Several objections had for the first time been urged against the Bill. One was, that there ought to be established in Ireland a comprehensive, simple, and uniform scheme, applicable to all denominations and all parts of the country alike. In the justice of that observation, as far as theory was concerned, he entirely concurred. He agreed that in the matter of a contract which was one of the most important into which a person could enter, there ought, if possible, to be a uniform system adopted by the State as regarded publicity and notice, leaving each denomination to super add its own religious forms. But, unfortunately, he could not legislate upon that principle, nor did he believe that any Government in the present day could do so. If it could be done, it ought to be done by the Government; and if done at all, it ought to be done for the whole three kingdoms together. To the establishment of such a system in Ireland there were many insuperable practical difficulties. The Established Church had a system of licensing through the medium of surrogates, which prevailed not merely in Ireland, but also in England; and was it to be expected that the members of the Church would surrender the whole of their privileges in order to merge themselves in the general body of the community? Some members of the Irish Church, it was true, had shown themselves willing to do so, but it was one of the fundamental articles of the Union between England and Ireland that the practices of the Church in both countries should be the same; and, consequently, Parliament could not touch the practice with respect to licensing in Ireland without altering it in England also So with regard to the Presbyterians. Their system of licensing was established in 1845, and they were satisfied with it in the main. It would be vain to ask them to abandon it. The Roman Catholics also had a system with respect to the law of marriage between Roman Catholics alone which they would object to see changed. He maintained, then, that if the three most powerful Churches in Ireland were to combine, as they would be sure to do, it would be utterly impossible for any Government, far less any independent Member, to carry a comprehensive, simple, and uniform scheme in the face of such an opposition.

Another objection was, that the Bill; abolished the marriage law in Ireland, and substituted a different code for it. The Bill did nothing of the kind. It contained a great many clauses, but most of them were mere re-enactments of the old law, and the new sections were comparatively few in number. The hon. Member for Dublin City (Sir E. Grogan) had said that the marriage law was working in a satisfactory manner, and should not be interfered with. He did not think that statement would be seconded by any hon. Member in the House. For years past the cry had been that the marriage law in Ireland was in an unsatisfactory state, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had just pointed out the particulars in which it was most defective, and with which the present Bill at tempted to deal. He admitted that the marriage law as carried out under the superintendence of Dr. Ratcliffe worked satisfactorily, but that portion of the law related only to the Established Church, and with it he did not propose to interfere in the least.

The next objection was one which had been made elsewhere—that the Bill laid down a different measure of law for different denominations. That objection arose from a superficial observation of the character and nature of the Bill, which did not propose to do anything of the kind. He had already stated that the Established Church and the Presbyterians had systems of their own by which two checks were provided—first, the check of the person who granted the licence, and then the check of the clergyman who celebrated the marriage. But when the Presbyterians obtained their system, in 1845, Parliament entirely overlooked the fact that it left all other bodies of Protestant Dissenters, which up to that time had enjoyed free; action in regard to the celebration of marriages, without any provision at all, throwing them into the office of the registrar, obliging the registrar to be present at the marriage, and leading to the certificate being signed and pleaded as if the marriage were celebrated by the registrar instead of a minister. It was mainly to remedy that: grievance—a grievance which was loudly complained of by the Protestant Dissenters—that he had introduced the present bill, and the way in which he proposed to deal with it might be briefly explained. The Methodists had a central body—the Conference—and he proposed to put them upon precisely the same footing as the Presbyterians; but the various bodies of Congregationalists—Independents, and others—having no central authority, making it a matter of boast that every congregation was a separate Church, and that there was no necessary connection between one congregation and another, could not, without infringing their principles, appoint a licenser for the whole body. What the Bill proposed was, that the Congregationalists should give their notices to the district registrars, just as they would give them to the licenser if they had one; that they should get certificates of the notices having been received and duly published by the registrars; and that then they should be in the same position in which the Presbyterians and the Methodists were when they had given their notices to the licensing minister, and got his certificate. It would thus be seen that the variety was only in name, and that in substance the systems were the same. Coming to a different subject, he might mention that only one change was introduced in reference to marriages in the Established Church—namely, a residence of fourteen days, thereby adopting the provision in the Scotch Act. With regard to the provision repealing the Act of George II., the hon. Member for Dublin was of opinion that the result would be that the Roman Catholic priest would be allowed to marry Protestants; but that was a misapprehension of his hon. Friend. He (Sir Hugh Cairns) would be as much averse as any one to such legislation; but as he understood the provision in the Bill it would not have that effect. With respect to the registration clauses, he was quite ready to surrender them to the Government if it should be thought desirable to pass them as a separate measure. If the House went into Committee, as he hoped they would, he should propose to take only the clauses up to 44, which were re-enactments of the existing law, and postpone the new clauses till after Easter.


said, when he came into the House that morning he was disposed to support the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Dublin; but after hearing the observations of his right hon. and learned Colleague (Mr. Whiteside) and the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, he should certainly regret that any step should be taken which would delay the measure going into Committee. He, however, thought it would he much more desirable if the Bill were confined alone to the question of registration, and had not attempted to deal with the other difficulties arising out of the present marriage law in Ireland. He hoped that they would succeed in carrying a useful Bill through Parliament with good feeling and good temper, and that it would prove beneficial to Ireland.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 (Registrar General to appoint Clerks).


said, he would move the insertion of the words "the Lord Lieutenant, or Registrar General subject to the approval of the Lord Lieutenant."


observed, that in practice the Registrar General appointed subject to the approval of the Lord Lieutenant, but he had not the least objection to the words proposed being introduced.


said, he thought it was better to leave to the Registrar General the appointment of the Clerks.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 postponed.

Clauses 10 to 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 (Banns to be published on three Sundays).


suggested the introduction of the word "holidays."


said, that the clause had better stand as at present, otherwise banns might be published on only one Sunday and two saints' days immediately following, so that a marriage might he celebrated within one week, instead of, as the intention was, in three weeks.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 20 to 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 (Hours within which Marriages may be solemnized).


inquired what was the restricted time in the Church in England?


replied, that the hours were eight to twelve; but he approved of the clause in the present Bill, which extended the time till two.


said, he was quite satisfied to follow the English example.


said, he thought the penalty of felony for celebrating a marriage beyond the prescribed time was unnecessarily severe.


The clause says "wilfully."

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 28 to 43 were also agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report progress; to sit again Wednesday 14th May.