HC Deb 17 February 1873 vol 214 cc574-6

(Sir Thomas Chambers, Mr. Morley, Mr. Leith.)

Order for Committee read.


who had given Notice of his intention to move—"That the Committee be postponed till Monday 17th March," expressed a hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Thomas Chambers) who had charge of the Bill would not think he was taking an unparliamentary course in doing so, especially as this stage of the Bill was proposed to be taken so soon, he might say so suddenly, after the second reading, and in so thin a House. It was well-known that at this early period of the session hon. Members did not attend to their duties with the same zeal which they displayed at a later period. He was not disposed to find fault with the hon and learned Gentleman for the course he took. It was a golden opportunity, and he was quite right to take advantage of it if he could. At the same time he thought a Bill of this importance should receive due consideration in Committee, especially after the small majority obtained on the second reading. The more he looked at the Bill the more important it appeared to be; and his belief was, if it became law, in a very few years they would have another Bill for legalizing marriages within other degrees of affinity. It would be impossible to stop at this degree of affinity; further relaxations would certainly follow. He knew that there was a clause which provided that the sanctioning of these marriages retrospectively did not affect any existing title to property; but if they once legalised these marriages it would seem invidious to shut out the issue of past marriages of this kind from all the rights to which legitimacy entitled them. This, if the Bill passed, would probably be attempted in a few years hence. Again, there was a question in regard to the clergy. He knew that this Bill did not go beyond allowing marriages before a registrar, but the hon. and learned Gentleman who had charge of it would not pretend to say that a claim might not afterwards be made that these marriages should be solemnised by the clergy. The measure was opposed to the Christian law, and he believed that if it were fully discussed in Committee they might come to a different conclusion than they had done. He objected to any infringement of the old Christian law that man and wife being one flesh, the relations of the one became the relations of the other; and had there been a larger attendance he should have hoped for a reversal of the decision given on the second reading. He could not, however, blame the hon. and learned Gentleman for availing himself of the opportunity of forwarding the measure a stage, and he would not press his proposal for postponement to a division but would content himself with uttering a protest against so important a Bill being hurried through so early in the Session, when many hon. Members opposed to it could not attend.


thought his noble Friend had exercised a wise discretion in not pressing the Motion to a division, and he advised the hon. Member for Kent (Mr. J. G. Talbot) to take a similar course. The question raised by the Bill was a very serious one—namely, whether they were for the first time in the history of England to sanction retrospectively the conduct of those who had broken the law. He did not like discussing such a question at all, and it could not be usefully discussed in a House with barely a quorum, and in the general absence of lawyers and Cabinet and ex-Cabinet Ministers. No man disliked the measure more than he did, but at the same time he would permit it to go with all its sins and imperfections upon its head, and receive that condemnation which he hoped it would meet with in "another place."

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

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


moved to omit the word "heretofore," in line 8, and said that the object of his Amendment was to deprive the Bill of its retrospective action. He had always imagined that the House of Commons had acted on the principle of upholding the justice and dignity of the law, and of making offenders against the law feel that if they broke it with their eyes open they would have to bear the consequences. He could understand difference of opinion on the marriage law itself. He had heard it stated that there should be no law on the subject, and that a man should be allowed to marry whom he liked, trusting to his natural sense of decency and propriety to keep him from going astray. But what he wished to point out was that, if this Bill passed, persons who had broken the law would be made ex post facto innocent. The Bill did not logically follow out its own principle, and the supporters of the Bill were not consistent. They proposed to legalize these marriages; but they did not propose to give to the issue of them all the rights to which, if the marriages had been lawful from the beginning, they would have been entitled. He avowed his conviction that should the Bill succeed it would soon be followed by another to do away with all prohibited degrees, and make the clergy, against their will, marry people to their deceased wife's sisters, although in this Act the ceremony was only to be performed by the registrar.


supported the clause as it stood, but at the same time stated that he had no great affection for the measure. After all, this was only doing for the people at large what Lord Lyndhurst did not scruple to do for a certain great peer, going to the length of declaring all such former marriages lawful, but forbidding any new ones within the prohibited degrees from being contracted in the future. If these marriages were to be good for the future they ought to be good for the past, and he could not help thinking that if this Bill were to pass it should be made retrospective and retro-active as well as operative for the future.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time upon Thursday.