§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. COURTNEY
remarked that they were asked to take up a very serious subject of legislation; and though he did not propose to oppose this stage of the Bill, he certainly should oppose the Motion to go into Committee until they had some explanation from the Government as to what were their views of the state in which the law should be. No doubt, up to the present, it had been the general opinion that marriages contracted on board ship, in the presence of the commanding officer, and duly entered in the ship's log, were to all intents and purposes legal. They were now told that doubts were thrown upon those marriages, and that they were, probably, invalid. Of course, there would be no opposition whatever to making certain the validity of marriages which had already taken place. But the far more important question was, whether they should now give effect to the understanding which had so long existed, or should now, for the first time, prevent such marriages being contracted in future. It would not be wise for him to enter on so wide a question at that hour of the night in an empty House; but instead of making such marriages illegal, as he understood was the desire of Her Majesty's Government, they should surely remove all doubt as to the vaidity of such marriages in the past as well as in future, by making them all legal. Marriage was an accident which would happen in all parts of the world, and it was impossible always to have a clergyman at hand, or to observe all the ceremonial practised in England, or even those required by the Scotch law. Surely, at sea, the ceremonial described was sufficient, if the parties declared themselves to be man and wife in the 1779 presence of the captain; and if the fact were entered in the ship's log all the requirements of common sense were there complied with; and he therefore thought it was far better at once to make all these marriages valid.
§ SIR ANDREW LUSK
hoped Her Majesty's Government would be very careful before they introduced any innovation of this kind. It often happened that passengers going out together took a fancy to one another. That could not be helped, and if they were not allowed to marry, as used to be the case, something worse might follow. If this principle were carried out, if people died they would not bury them, and if people wanted to be born they would not let them. This was one of the things they could not help; and any alteration would involve a great number of people in much difficulty. He knew, from a great number of cases, that it was a very common thing for people going out in ships to get married; and it had always been understood that these marriages were as legal as any before a Registrar in Lambeth or Finsbury. He hoped the Law Officers of the Crown would think over this matter again, and not incommode a number of plain people who did not see these matters in the same light as themselves.
§ MR. A. F. EGERTON
explained that the Bill did not at all interfere with marriages solemnized before captains of other ships, but was merely intended to confirm certain marriages that had been solemnized by captains of Her Majesty's ships. The ground of the Bill, and the real reason for introducing it was, that certain widows could not receive property to which they were really entitled without the confirmation by this House of the marriages between them and their deceased husbands. By opposing the Motion to go into Committee, the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) might or might not elicit the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown as to what course they would pursue under certain circumstances with regard to the alteration of the law. This Bill, however, made no alteration of the law, and was merely brought in to confirm certain marriages, and to prevent great injustice from being done.
§ MR. A. F. EGERTON
replied, that the facts were very simple. A marriage was performed by the captain of one of Her Majesty's ships in the Bay of Panama. The husband died at Callao, on the coast of South America, and his widow became entitled to some property. The Consul obtained jurisdiction, and was the person who would have to pay over this property. He entertained doubts as to the validity of the marriage, although it was certified, and, consequently, the case was referred home. The Law Officers of the Crown had the question submitted to them, and after consultation they came to the conclusion that these marriages were invalid. It was for this reason that it was desired to confirm these marriages. He believed up to the present but two had been solemnized.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.