§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. VANCE
said, that in the absence of his hon. Colleague (Sir E. Grogan) he had to move the second reading of this Bill, the object of which was to place certain Churches in Ireland on the same footing as the Presbyterian Church, that of the Society of Friends, and the Synagogue of the Jews. The Churches upon which the Bill would confer that advantage were the United Presbyterians, the Covenanters, the Independents, the Baptists, and especially the Wesleyans, all of which laboured under certain disabilities. In the first place, they were obliged to send a notice to the poorhouse by the registrar in the case of projected marriages. They felt that condition as very insulting to their creed. They therefore asked that the registrar should send the notice, when any person desired to be married, to the clergyman who was to solemnize the marriage and to the clergyman of the church or chapel at which the marriage was to take place. The Bill did not interfere, in the slightest degree, with the rights of Roman Catholics, who could marry at any time or place without the intervention of the registrar. Another case of grievance, particularly with the Wesleyans, was that the registrar must be present at all their marriages, and that he signed the register, whilst their clergymen were made only attesting witnesses. There were about 500 churches in Ireland which would receive advantages by the Bill if it should pass into a law. The Bill would also enable minors to obtain the necessary certificate for marriage, when their guardians were unwilling to grant it, by applying to the consistory judge at Dublin and Armagh instead of to the Court of Chancery.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2o.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
said, he thought the Bill of very considerable importance, 1119 and he was sorry the hon. Baronet who introduced it was not present to give a more full explanation of its provisions. The Bill related to certain classes of Dissenting bodies in Ireland, who, he admitted, had grievances to complain of under the Act of 1844; but several provisions of the Bill would really require serious consideration. By one provision of the Bill the power which heretofore had been vested in the Court of Chancery to act in the place of parents or guardians of persons desirous to marry, when parents or guardians were incapacitated from acting— that power was transferred to the Judges of the Consistory Courts of Armagh and Dublin. He disapproved that provision; and unless some satisfactory explanation could be offered, it would be his duty to oppose it. In Clause 2 an important novelty was introduced, requiring that notice should be given to the registrar of the church, chapel, or registered place of worship, usually attended by one or both of the parties to the intended marriage. That was a novelty which he could not approve. It was true that some of the Dissenting bodies did complain of the existing law, but the Presbyterians did not, they having their own clergy to perform marriages. But one clause in the Bill declared that nothing therein contained should extend to giving validity to any marriage not found valid under the existing law. That clause would invalidate the whole Bill. According to the Registrar's Report, the number of Presbyterians in Ireland was 586,000, and of other Protestant Dissenters about 70,000. The last-mentioned bodies, which declined to accept the marriage law of the 7&8 Vict., had 150 churches, chapels, and places of worship, but only 109 marriages were celebrated in them in the course of the year referred to in the Report. He mentioned those facts to call the attention of the hon. Gentlemen to them. Unless Amendments were introduced in Committee to meet the objections he had stated, he should be compelled to oppose the further progress of the Bill.
§ MR. BUTT
said, that Protestant Dissenters in Ireland had grievances, but he feared the Bill would not relieve them. He would observe, that Clause 6 provided that the marriage must be solemnized by an ordained minister of the denomination to which one or both parties to the marriage belonged; but who was to decide 1120 whether a Wesleyan minister was duly ordained? He should, however, vote for the second reading on the understanding that he should be at liberty to amend the Bill in Committee.
§ MR. LONGFIELD
said, that as one of the promoters of the Bill he would not assert that its details were susceptible of no improvement. Its main principle, however, was a good one—namely, the removal of a grievance long complained of by the Protestant Dissenters of Ireland. He regretted that they could not on that occasion do what was suggested in a leader of The Times as a very great improvement —consolidate the marriage law; but, though he admitted that the measure was bit-by-bit legislation, the Bill as it stood would remedy a considerable injustice.
said, he should resist any attempt to enforce a religious ceremony in the case of a marriage before a Registrar, thus putting such marriages in Ireland on the same footing as they stood in England.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
said, he wished to ask the hon. Baronet the Member for Dublin whether he would omit that portion of the Bill which extended the provisions of the 22 Vict, to the Consistory Courts of Armagh and Dublin? He thought that the 5th clause was very loosely drawn. It provided that the Registrar General should furnishh to the minister of every registered place of worship books, forms, duplicates, &c., but did not direct what was to be afterwards done with them.
§ SIR EDWARD GROGAN
said, he could not agree to the proposition of the hon. Baronet, as the object of that part of the Bill was to extend to persons in the humbler positions of life the same facilities which were enjoyed by the wealthier classes. The 5th clause, the might add, was an exact transcript of the existing Marriage Act.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed for Friday, 13th March.