HC Deb 22 February 1884 vol 284 cc1721-3

asked Mr. Attorney General, Whether his attention has been called to the refusal of the vicar of the parish to admit Mr. Hobson, of Epping, and his wife to the Holy Communion, upon the ground that they were not properly married, Mr. Hobson having married his deceased wife's sister more than fifty years ago, before the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act; and, whether the vicar is legally entitled to refuse to administer the Holy Communion upon such a ground?


asked Mr. Attorney General, Whether the Correspondence between Mr. Hobson, of Epping, and the Bishop of St. Alban's, in reference to a refusal of the vicar to administer the Holy Communion to Mr. Hobson, on the ground of his marriage with his deceased wife's sister, contracted prior to the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act in 1885, can be produced as a Parliamentary Paper; and, whether steps will be taken by the Law Officers of the Crown to inform the Right Reverend Prelates, and, through them, Convocation and the clergy, that a denial of the Sacrament to persons so married, or to their offspring, solely on the ground of such marriage, is contrary to law?


My attention has been called to the circumstances referred to in the Question of my hon. Friend by my having been afforded an opportunity of reading the correspondence between Mr. Hobson and the Bishop of St. Alban's. I trust, however, the House will think that in relation to a matter which may form the subject of a legal suit I ought not to express an opinion either upon the rights or conduct of those who may be parties to that suit. But I have no objection to state—and I think I ought to state—that by Lord Lyndhurst's Marriage Act of 1835 any marriage which should have been celebrated before the passing of that Act between persons within the prohibited degrees of affinity should not be declared therefrom and thereafter to be annulled in consequence of the existence of those affinities. Such marriages were, therefore, by the Statute Law rendered valid; and Mr. Hobson's marriage in all respects is binding upon him, so that he bears all obligations and is entitled to all rights under it as if no question of affinity were raised in respect of it. Then I may also state that in a recent case the Privy Council, consisting of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Earl Cairns, Lord Hatherley, Lord Penzance, Lord Chief Baron Kelly, Lord Justice James, Sir Barnes Peacock, and Sir James Hannen, decided that the only cause which, under the Rubric, is sufficient to warrant a minister of his own authority; and without any trial, in repelling a parishioner from the Holy Communion, is that he is "an open and notorious evil-liver," who thereby gives offence to the congregation, and, under the 27th Canon of 1603, that he is "a common and notorious depraver of the Book of Common Prayer." The legal question, therefore, to be determined apparently is whether a man who is living in a state of marriage which the law declares to be valid comes within this description of an open and notorious evil-liver, giving offence to the congregation; but as that question may be raised in a suit which may be instituted in the Court of Arches, with the intention of punishing the clergyman for not administering the Sacrament to Mr. Hobson, I think, as I have said, I ought not to express any opinion on the question; but I cannot refrain from saying that from every point of view, in my opinion, this case is a very sad one. In answer to the hon. Member for Stoke, I have to say that the documents have been published in the newspapers, and are open to everybody. It is impossible to make such a communication as the hon. Member suggests.