HC Deb 08 March 1871 vol 204 cc1599-602

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Thomas Chambers.)


rose to enter his protest not against the question whether it was desirable or not desirable to legislate on this subject, but against the very exceptional manner in which the Bill proposed to deal with the restrictions at present forbidding persons related in certain degrees by marriage from intermarrying. [The hon. Member here read, at some length, extracts from papers on the subject published in a Manchester journal.] The legislation proposed appeared to him to be arbitrary and onesided—for instance, the children of a man by his sister by marriage would be legitimate, while the children of a man by his niece by marriage would be illegitimate. Again, the marriage of a man with the second of two sisters would be perfectly valid, while the marriage of a woman with the second of two brothers would be void. If the House thought that affinity by blood should be the only bar to marriage, let them say so in a direct and consistent manner; but he objected to this half and half legislation.

Mr. SPEAKER having put the Question, "That I do now leave the Chair," declared the Motion to be agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


immediately rose, and said that he and a great many more Members said "No" to the Question that the Speaker leave the Chair. He should now move that the Chairman of the Committee leave the Chair.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair,"—(Mr. Hunt.)


said, he failed to hear that anyone had challenged the decision of the Speaker.


pointed out that it was irregular to review in Committee proceedings which had taken place in the House.

Question put: — The Committee divided:—Ayes 84; Noes 149: Majority 65.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister not void or voidable).


moved an Amendment to omit the first part of the clause, giving a retrospective effect to the Bill. The Committee ought to hesitate long before they admitted retrospective legislation into a question of this kind. Retrospective legislation was contrary to the general principles by which our legislation was usually carried on, and when Parliament dealt with a subject like this, so thoroughly mixed up with the social history of the people, they should exercise very great caution indeed. He also objected to the 3rd clause of the Bill, and intended to move its omission, because it was unjust and inequitable. The effect of that clause was to provide that where a child had been born of one of these marriages and was therefore illegitimate, its birth should be legitimatized, but yet that child should not inherit any property or title as heir-at-law. In reality, such children were to be declared legitimate by birth, but illegitimate by social position. The retrospective clause gave, in fact, the true history of the Bill. It was not sought for by the majority of the people; it was not asked for by the women of the country, but was promoted by a small number of the wealthier classes, who insisted that Parliament should condone their former errors, and legalize their deliberate infringement of the law.


said, that as a statement had recently been made that the opinion of Scotland had been changed on this question, he wished to say that that was not correct. The people of Scotland were strongly opposed to it, notwithstanding the fact that a regular paid agency, supplied with money from London, had been at work there in order to get up Petitions. With all their efforts they had only got Petitions from 11 Town Councils out of the 80 Scotch boroughs.


said, he wished to ask if the House on any former occasion had ever been called upon to sanction a deliberate breach of the law? It was quite clear—it was written in letters of fire which no one could misunderstand, that these unions were prohibited. In spite of that fact certain persons related in this way had entered into what they called marriage, but what, in reality, was no marriage. Had they done so under any misapprehension or mistake? Certainly not. Counsel were constantly being applied to to suggest means by which the law could be evaded; but the law was too well known—it had been the law of this country for 1,200 or 1,400 years, and should not be abrogated unless it could clearly be shown that it was contrary to the law of God. Why should Parliament go back to sanction the breach of law which a man had knowingly and wilfully committed? Who were those who sought to have the law changed? Why did they not show themselves? Why was there a secret agency at the bottom of this movement; and why was it that the people who professed to be the sufferers from this grievance, as they called it, never came before the public themselves, but applied to others to get the work done for them—they supplying only the money? It would be a grievous wrong to sanction a breach of law which had been openly and wilfully committed, and if that sanction were given there would be no end to the complications and quarrels and litigations it would occasion. But if the law were to be altered, it should be altered openly and fairly, and those who had contracted these marriages should be married again under the new law. In that case there would be an intelligible point to start from. If this retrospective action of the Bill were permitted, no one could tell what results it would bring about. No one knew what children had been born, or what rights had been acquired by others, and an immense field would be opened for litigation. He had a strong opinion on this question. He believed, in spite of all that had been said about the religious question, that marriages of affinity were forbidden in the same degree as marriages of consanguinity. He believed that to be the law of God, and he was sure it was the law of the land. However much one might sympathize with the children of these marriages, as born in a state of concubinage, it should be remembered that it was the fault of their parents, for there could be no doubt that they had wilfully violated the law. For his own part, he would never, either as a matter of feeling, or as a matter of duty, sanction a proceeding by which a woman would make her sister's grave a stepping-stone into her brother's bed.


desired to point out that the proposal for retrospective legislation contained in this Bill had its precedent in the Act of 1853.


said, that while the Bill sanctioned marriages which had already taken place with deceased wives' sisters, the 2nd clause declared that these second marriages should not be considered valid, if either of the parties had subsequently married again. That was an important point, which deserved attention.

But it being now a quarter to Six of the clock—

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.