HC Deb 19 February 1863 vol 169 cc547-56

Order for Committee read.

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


said, he rose to move that it be an Instruction to the Committee to make provision for the registration of marriages in Ireland. A registration of marriage was quite as important as a registration of births and deaths. The Report of the Registrar General for England showed that the register of marriages was a complete barometer of the welfare of the people, and in all cases of property which depended on questions of legitimacy and descent it was of the greatest importance to have a complete system. In London alone last year there had been 1,178 searches into the marriage register, which showed how largely it was made use of by the people of this country, and what a benefit it was likely to be to the people of Ireland. Nothing was more common than for cases to occur in which the want of some such means of proving the legitimacy of children was painfully felt; for Irishmen frequently went abroad, and when they died out of the country, leaving property, great difficulty was often experienced by their representatives in establishing their claim. Many instances had come to his knowledge of property having been wholly lost to the rightful heirs in consequence of the absence of an authentic marriage record. The matter had been very fully inquired into by a Committee in 1861, and most important evidence was given as to the value of such a register. A system of registration should have nothing whatever to do with the question of the la\v of marriage, which many persons thought ought to be assimilated in the three kingdoms. Three plans had been proposed for the purpose of giving the country the great boon he sought to confer upon it. One, contained in Bills brought forward by himself and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was that register books should be furnished to Roman Catholic clergymen, which should be forwarded to the Registrar General, through the local registrars. His hon, and learned Friend the Member for Wexford (Mr. George) proposed another plan, imposing on all clergymen the duty of transmitting certificates of the marriages performed by them to the Registrar General, without the intervention of a superintendent registrar. A third plan was proposed by his right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell), and provided that Roman Catholic clergymen should transmit copies of the certificates to the Registrar General through a Roman Catholic diocesan ecclesiastic. Any one of those plans would effect the desired object. It would, perhaps, be wiser to leave the system at present in force as to the marriages of members of the Established Church and the marriages of members of Dissenting bodies as it existed, and merely provide for the registration of Roman Catholic marriages. That ought to be done in the manner most acceptable to the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church and to the Roman Catholic people at large, and he was persuaded that it was quite possible to do it without giving offence or imposing undue trouble on the parties concerned. He knew there was an impression abroad that the registry of Roman Catholic marriages might lead to a neglect of the religious ceremony, but he believed it would have quite the contrary effect, for he had known instances of persons who were married before the registrar merely for the purpose of availing themselves of the facilities of registration, which such a proceeding put within their reach. He was astonished at the timidity shown by his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary in declining to approach the subject, believing as he did that there would be no serious opposition to a proper system of registration of Roman Catholic marriages. The Bills which he (the noble Lord) and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had already introduced had been lost merely on account of the pressure of business, and a dissolution of Parliament, and not because they had met with any serious opposition. The present was a most favourable occasion for taking up the subject once more, and he trusted that the opportunity would not be let slip.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to make provision in the Bill for the Registration of Marriages in Ireland.


said, he was surprised to hear the noble Lord confine his Motion to the marriages of Roman Catholics.


said, that the law already provided for the registration of marriages between members of the Establishment and of Protestant dissenters.


would cordially support the Motion, but he wished to see the same privileges extended to members of all denominations.


said, his hon. Friend who had just sat down had fallen into a mistake. He had confounded the registration of marriages with an alteration of the marriage law. He entirely concurred with his noble Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas) in thinking it advisable to deal with the registration of marriages and the operation of the marriage law as two separate questions. For the present they ought to confine themselves to the former. He did not think the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland ought to be accused of timidity for not having taken up the subject in connection with the registration of births and deaths; because, clearly, his wish was to avoid a matter which up to that time had excited a great deal of uneasy feeling in Ireland, arising from an apprehension that there was an intention of making an alteration in the marriage law. As to registration itself, no doubt there was an objection on the part of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland to perform functions for the Government, and that could not be wondered at, seeing that they were not recognised by law; but he would remind the House, that after many attempts at legislation on the subject, a Marriage Registration Law was passed for Scotland in 1854. By the provisions of that Act parties contracting marriage were obliged, under penalty, to register their own marriage. Immediately after the ceremony a schedule obtained from the registrar was filled up by the clergyman, the parties, and witnesses; and, within three days, that schedule was sent to the registrar of the district, to be by him forwarded to the Registrar General. Since the Scottish system had been found to work so successfully, he thought it might, with advantage, be introduced into Ireland. The noble Lord referred to a suggestion he made in the Committee of having a Catholic ecclesiastic to which Catholic clergy should send certificates of the marriages solemnized by them. That might work well, but they had had no ex- perience of it, while they had had experience of the Scotch system. They had already a system of registration of the Protestant marriages in Ireland, and it behoved them to provide for the registration of the marriages of Catholics, who comprised three-fourths of the population. He understood that one of the first measures of the new Pasha of Egypt had been to give orders for the registration of births, deaths, and marriages; and he trusted that, in that respect, Ireland would not be allowed to remain behind other civilized countries.


said, he did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and he would venture to repeat his advice to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) to persevere with his Bill for the registration of births and deaths, reserving to a future Session the question of the registration of marriages. He agreed in the proposition that it was desirable to have in Ireland a complete system of registration of marriages; but before they could effect that there was one obstacle which they must get rid of, and that was the law relating to mixed marriages in that country. That law would prevent the application of the Scotch system to Ireland, because the clergyman would have to sign the schedule; and if the marriage were a mixed marriage, he would be liable to a penalty. Moreover, he objected to the proposed mode of legislating on the subject. The Bill purported to provide for the registration of births and deaths, and it was moved that the Committee be instructed to insert provisions for the registration of marriages. Such a mode of legislation, he contended, was most objectionable.


said, he saw great difficulty in dealing with the subject of marriages in connection with the registration of births and deaths. There was no objection to the Bill as it stood; on the contrary, he believed it would give general satisfaction in Ireland.


said, he would admit that the time had come when there ought to be a registration of marriages in Ireland, but he thought the machinery of the present Bill was not suited to such registration. One of the best things the Irish Members could do would be to avail themselves of the example of Scotland. It was a mistake to suppose that the Catholics of Ireland were opposed to the registration of marriages; but the fact was that the existing marriage law was penal against Catholic clergymen. There might be cases where, in the cause of morality itself, a Catholic clergyman might be compelled to solemnize a marriage between two persons of different religious persuasions, and where, if he did not celebrate the marriage, the greatest injury might be done to the woman. In such a case, as the law now stood, it would be dangerous for the clergyman to register the marriage, because he would be registering his own condemnation. While, however, he adopted the principle of the noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth. he did not think it would be wise to push the House to a decision at the present time. Let the House pass the present Bill, and then the Government, if they so pleased, might introduce another for the registration of marriages, assured that they would not meet with any factious opposition from the Irish Members.


said, he was anxious to see a registration of marriages, but he thought that was not an opportune time for proposing it. A system of registration in Ireland must be established by a distinct measure. To attempt to carry out that system by the Bill before them would, in his opinion, defeat the present measure. He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Baronet would not adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord.


said, that no two men in the world were more capable of expressing the real feelings of the Roman Catholics of Ireland than the right hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) and the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire). Both agreed in the desirability of having a registration of marriages, and both denied that such a measure would be distasteful either to the Roman Catholic clergy or to the Roman Catholic laity in Ireland. The right hon. Member for Limerick had suggested a plan which would give satisfaction to all classes—namely, that the registration should be made by the parties interested in the marriage, and, for his own part, he could see no difficulty in so altering the Bill as to make it applicable to marriages as well as to births and deaths. Another argument in favour of dealing with marriages now was a pecuniary one. The Bill as it stood would entail great expense upon the counties of Ireland; and if we were to have another measure for the registration of marriages, the cost of the two would constitute a burden of no inconsiderable magnitude.


said, he hoped that the noble Lord would press his Motion to a division, for the Bill as it stood was not worth the £16,000 a year which it would cost the country. If the Bill were delayed beyond Easter by including marriages in its provisions, so much the better, for the opinions of the country would thereby be ascertained. The law which made it penal for Roman Catholic priests to celebrate mixed marriages ought to be repealed, and the registration placed on the same footing as it was in England and Scotland.


contended that they could not have registration in Ireland till the question of mixed marriages by the priest was settled, and that could not be settled till arrangements of a synod of Roman Catholics was adopted by the Legislature. A Roman Catholic priest might marry persons of his own persuasion in any place or at any hour; but if he attempted to celebrate what was called a mixed marriage, he was liable to be indicted for felony. That was too serious a state of things to be settled in the manner proposed by the noble Lord. The difficulty could never be got over till the validity of marriage was rendered independent of the religion of the parties. It was easy to deal with registration of births and deaths, very difficult to deal with the registration of marriages; and he therefore said, "Deal with the easy case at once, and make the difficult case easy as soon as you can."


said, he would admit that it would be very important, if possible, to establish a registration of marriages in Ireland; but, looking merely at the discussion which had taken place that evening, the opinion of the House, he thought, was rather in favour of the Bill going on as at present framed than that he should introduce into it a subject which would require a material alteration in the machinery, and, he believed, render the measure impracticable. His noble Friend seemed to think he had showed timidity in dealing with the subject. Now, "he dared to do all that might become a man;" but if he were to undertake that subject, he believed he should meet with great opposition. His noble Friend on two or three occasions had attempted to legislate on the subject, and, through no fault of his own, but owing to the general feeling of the House, had signally failed. His noble Friend said that the proposal he made did not entail any alteration in the marriage law of Ireland; but he maintained most confidentially that it would. Looking at the present law of marriage in Ireland, it would be impossible to attempt to legislate on the subject without introducing into it very material alterations. His right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) said he must not, in treating the subject, confound alterations in the law of marriage with registration of marriages; but he differed from his right hon. Friend. At that moment Protestants and Presbyterian Dissenters in Ireland had great cause of grievance in consequence of the Act of 1844. It did not deal with the position of three-fourths of the population, the Roman Catholics of Ireland. They might not celebrate mixed marriages, but they could marry at any hour, in any place, without any registry, without any registrar being present. The Act of 1844 laid great restrictions on the Dissenting bodies, and they would never allow the removal of grievances affecting the Roman Catholics till their own were removed. Besides, he thought it would be unfair to endeavour to impose on the Roman Catholic body in Ireland a course of proceeding to which they said they had conscientious objections. His right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick said, if he proposed alterations, they would be accepted; but he did not think so. His right hon. Friend last year had himself presented a petition signed by twenty-seven of the Roman Catholic hierachy in Ireland, protesting against the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns). They stated— That your petitioners are willing to co-operate in every fair way with the State in making these registers available in courts of law, and even for statistical information; but they object to the legal imposition of such obligations as the Bill before your honourable House would enact.…… It brings Roman Catholic marriages under the general provisions of the pro posed Act, thereby subjecting such marriages to restrictions which Roman Catholics must hold the State to be incompetent to attach to the celebration of marriages, and creating penalties from which in the worse days of the penal laws Irish Catholics were free. There were restrictions which members of the Established Church were bound to submit to, and why should they exempt Roman Catholics from what they obliged Protestant ministers to regard, with respect to hours and places of celebration r Again, if he had proposed that the Roman Catholic clergy should send their returns to any except the Vicar General of their Church, they would not have as- sented. He believed it would be impossible to deal in one and the same Bill with the subject of the registration of marriages, and that of births and deaths. He felt very strongly on the subject. He hoped the House would not force on him the painful duty of placing obligations on, Roman Catholics which they would conscientiously refuse to accept, and which might raise agitating discussions in that House. That the Bill imposed a charge of £16,000 could not be for a [moment compared with the advantages which it would confer, and could form no reasonable ground for opposing it. Precisely the same charge was levied upon the local rates in England and Scotland, and he could not understand why Ireland should be placed upon a different footing to those parts of the kingdom. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield) said, that all the Dissenters of Ireland approved the Bill of the right hon. Member for Belfast; but that was not the case, as a large body of Protestant Dissenters in Ireland opposed it, and he had himself presented petitions of unimportant bodies in the north of Ireland. In order to show the difficulty of dealing with the subject, he would read to the House a history of the recent attempts at legislation in that direction:—Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages Bill, introduced by Lord Naas, read a first time 8th March, withdrawn 6th April, 1859, previous to dissolution of Parliament; ditto, introduced by Lord Naas, read a first time 8th May, and second time 17th May, 'i860, withdrawn 5th July; ditto, introduced by Mr. Cardwell, read a first time 10th May, and second time 17th May, 1860, considered in Committee and reprinted 21st May, withdrawn 5th July; ditto, introduced by Mr. Cardwell, read a first time on the 11th of February, and second time 15th of April, 18G1, referred to a Select Committee 15th April, reported 11th July, withdrawn 23rd July; ditto, introduced by Lord Naas, read a first time on the 22nd February, and second time on the 15th April, 1861, referred to the same Committee. Marriage Law Amendment Bill, introduced by Lord Chancellor Campbell, read a first time, in the Lords, 11th March, and second time on 23rd April, 1861, passed the Lords 4th of June; ditto, introduced by Sir Hugh Cairns, read a first time on the 24th of July, 1861. Marriages, Solemnization and Registration of, Bill, intro- duced by Sir Hugh Cairns, read a first time on the 19th February, and second time 12th March, 1862, considered in Committee 2nd April, withdrawn 2nd July. In the course of a brief period the noble Lord was courageous enough to propose three Bills, but all were withdrawn, and therefore he (Sir R. Peel) did not think he could fairly be accused of undue timidity in declining to deal with a subject involved in almost insuperable difficulty by including it in a measure for the registration of births and deaths, for which there existed adequate machinery.


observed that two of the Bills referred to by the right hon. Baronet had been referred to a Select Committee, who, after a careful inquiry, came to the conclusion that it was not only possible, but easy to adopt a mode of registration of marriages that would be acceptable to the great body of Roman Catholics, and to the clergy and laity of all denominations. Upon that Committee eight were Roman Catholics and seven Protestants, and by a majority of ten to four they adopted their report, the minority even being favourable to registration, but differing upon details. How, then, could it be said that there was any difficulty in dealing with the subject? He hoped the noble Lord would press his Motion to a division.


said, he was very anxious, after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary, to disclaim, on behalf of the Roman Catholics whom he represented, any intention to shirk the registration of their marriages. He believed, that on the contrary, they were desirous of having them properly and regularly registered; and that the right hon. Baronet had entirely misunderstood the purport of the Petition of the Roman Catholic Bishops to which he had referred. The right hon. Baronet had brought in one Bill for the registration of births and deaths, and another respecting illegitimate children, but none in relation to marriages. Indeed, to judge from the right hon. Gentleman's measures one would fancy that there were no such things as marriages in Ireland. Nobody in Ireland had any confidence in the Irish Government, and the Chief Secretary knew nothing about the country. He trusted the House would insist on improving this Bill.


said, he should sup- port the Bill as proposed by the Government.


said, he thought it would be a pity to endanger the passing of the Bill, which undoubtedly was important, by tacking on to it another proposition, which could not be carried out without considerable difficulty. The registration of marriages was a most important object; but it ought to form the subject of a separate measure.


said, he should support the instruction to the Committee, as every Roman Catholic Member who had spoken was in favour of a registration of marriages. The very Petition which the Chief Secretary had quoted I showed that the hierarchy of that communion wished for such a registration, and were prepared to give it every assistance in their power; but they would not have their church or their religion interfered with. Without a scheme for the registration of marriages the Bill would be only a ridiculous system of ' statistical pedantry.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 66; Noes 89: Majority 23.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.


said, he would move that the Chairman report progress. He thought it very desirable that the Bill should be postponed until after the assizes in Ireland. He thought it most unfortunate that Bills relating to that country were generally brought forward when the majority of the Irish Members were absent.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.