§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir ARTHUR SHIRLEY BENN
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a Bill to amend the law relating to the marriage of persons with their nephew or niece by marriage. I do not think it will be necessary for me to take up the time of the House for more than a few minutes, because this is an absolutely non-party Bill, which is brought forward, not to carry out any great reform but to get rid of an anomaly which ought never to have existed. The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act, 1907, makes it possible for a man to marry his deceased wife's sister and it is now possible for a woman to marry her deceased husband's brother, but it is not possible for them to marry the children of either. I am sure that, when the 1907 Act was passed. The creation of that anomaly was never considered by the House, nor was it considered when the Act was amended in 1921 by the Deceased Brother's Widow's Marriage Act. I do not propose to enter into any ethical or theological discussion but I fee fairly confident that, if Archbishop Parker were alive to-day and found that a deceased wife's sister and a deceased husband's brother were removed from the thirty degrees in the Affinity and Kindred Table, he would be unopposed to removing also the children who come in at the end of the list.
793 The kind of relationship with which this Bill deals does not usually occur until either one or both of the people have already reached middle age. I do not propose to say when matrimonial discretion begins or ends, but I have found, in the study of many of the cases that have been put before me, that it is usually for the purpose of producing a more convenient partnership between a man and woman who know each other, who know each other's faults and virtues, who have been closely brought together in the earlier part of their life, and who will doubtless continue to be brought together to its end. I have received scores of letters in connection with this Bill and in connection with the Bill which was introduced last Session and which went to a Committee where it went to sleep, necessitating the introduction of this Bill. I have never had one single letter protesting against it. Everyone has been urging that it should be passed. I have had letters from people who have gone to Holland, to the United States and to Canada in order to get married. We have many people here in this country who are suffering in the same way, but cannot afford to do this, and who want to get married. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. It does not do anything but remove an anomaly, which is quite illogical and, I am sure, was never intended.
§ Mr. AMMON
I beg to second the Motion.
I do not propose to take more than a minute or two, as it seems to me the anomaly is so clear cut that the House would be prepared to pass the Bill without any delay. As far as one can gather, the present decrees are based, or were based, until the passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act, on the Levitical law, a particular paragraph of which reads:None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness.The theologians and the lawyers appear to have so contorted and expanded that passage as to extend it far beyond anything which could be properly construed as relationship or consanguinity. The a passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister's passing Marriage Act presents us with the absurd anomaly that the relationship dealt with 794 in the Bill, which is even more remote, still remains an obstacle to marriage in England. My final point in urging the. House to give a Second Reading to the Bill is the fact that marriage in this relationship is legal in our Dominions, and we have the curious position that persons who might be legally married in our Dominions would find, on coming to this country, that their marriage could be declared illegal. It appears to me there can be but little dispute in regard to this matter save presumably on fine points of what is called Canon law; but I think most of these are points which have already been set aside by the good sense of this House and the general good sense of the public and of the Christian community in particular by the passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Act. I hope the House will complete what was left unfinished when the former Act was passed.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
It is one of the advantages of these Friday afternoon discussions that one may differ from one's colleagues who sit on the same benches. I could not find it in my conscience to allow this Bill to receive a Second Reading without putting forward some of the weighty objections to it and asking the House to pause before giving assent to the Bill. It seems curious that in a matter so important as the question of the marriage laws it should be left to a private Member, however distinguished, to bring forward such a proposal as this late on a Friday afternoon. This Measure is much more far-reaching than the hon. Members who support it seem to appreciate. It strikes at the whole root of our marriage law. The present marriage law proceeds and has always proceeded on the assumption that consanguinity and affinity are treated in the same manner as regards the prohibited degrees I agree that to an extent that principle has been invaded by the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act, but apart from that particular case, the whole principle of the law, not only of the Canon law, but of the whole law in Catholic countries and Protestant countries alike and in countries which have established Churches like that of England, is that where marriage is prohibited by reason of blood relationship the same principle applies to relationship by marriage. That is always treated as consanguinity. 795 Actual consanguinity and a similar relationship obtaining in respect of a wife's relatives have always been treated in a similar manner.
It is no mere trifling operation which is here proposed. It may be that some Government, after full consideration, may at some time find it necessary to propose an alteration in the whole of our marriage system. Although the House appears to be very tranquil under this revolutionary proposal, yet when the matter was raised on former occasions in the form of Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bills it created the greatest excitement, and I believe provoked one of the most Conservative of our Members, a certain Noble Lord, to come very near to disorder by remaining in the Lobby for a protracted period. To-day, however, it appears that people have not the same interest in preserving these principles as they had some years ago, which I very much deplore. But it is interesting to observe that Lord Robert Cecil, as he then was, speaking of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill, pointed out that that Measure would go very much further than dealing with that particular case, and he pointed out at that time that the inevitable effect of such a Bill would be that an attempt would come along sooner or later for the destruction of all prohibited degrees which were not prohibited degrees of consanguinity. At that time the promoters of that Bill assured him that there was nothing further from their minds than that they were going to make a general invasion of the marriage laws. They said: "Here is the great injustice of the case where the sister of a man's wife had been looking after the children, and because the wife died that sister was an appropriate guardian for the children. To that extent, we will allow an invasion of the general Christian law in regard to marriage, to deal with the peculiar case of a deceased wife's sister."
How can that argument be used appropriately of the proposal here? The probability is, in this class of case, that the niece will be of a different generation from the man who is proposing to marry her. She would be usually and normally of the same age and status as his own children, and their cousins, and so forth, and surely it is a very bad thing that, 796 where a man is mixing on normal terms of intimacy with his wife's relations, there should be any question of a possibility that he could Never marry young girls who really could be regarded practically as his daughters. [An HON. MEMBER: "Only one at a time!"]Quite so, but with this kind of legislation being introduced, it is quite possible that some day—I hope, in the far future—some Member will bring a Bill before Parliament to enable people to marry more than one at a time. I object to these Measures not so much as in themselves promoting bigamy—I will not put it so high as that—but as lessening the reality of responsibility in dealing with these matters, and I think this Bill is much more than a rectification of a mere anomaly. I do not understand what the hon. Member means when he talks about an anomaly in this connection. If marriage has any meaning at all, other than the mere secular contract, you cannot have anomalies. What it was wrong, as I see it, a thousand years ago to marry, it is equally wrong to marry to-day. Surely, in the matter of whom you may or may not marry, there can be no area for a progressive enlightenment, otherwise if to-day it was considered an anomaly that you might not marry your wife's niece, I do not see why to-morrow it should not be considered an anomaly not to marry your own niece, and you might finally go right round the circle and get to the Egyptian system of marrying your own sister, all, of course, in the name of progress and of the abolition of anomalies. It is better, I submit, that we should stand firm in the ancient ways in this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) has referred to the law as it exists in this matter, but I do not want the House to run away with the idea that this in some far-fetched idea, based on the Canon law. As a matter of fact, Archbishop Parkers Table, which was published in 1563, is now referred to in the Book of Common Prayer, and I should have thought that, when that Book was under revision, any Bill that dealt with these matters might be postponed until Convocation and the National Assembly and other bodies had had the opportunity of considering it. Among other things, this Measure would alter the Table in the Common Prayer 797 Book. There you will find the prohibited degrees set forth, and so important were they considered that it was required that a statement should be placed in every church setting forth who might and who might not marry, and as one result everybody to-day realises to the full that a man may not marry his grandmother. That is a matter of common knowledge.
The matter does not end there, because in 1833—lest there should be any doubt as to the conflicting jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical and ordinary Courts in this matter—a special Act of Parliament was passed saying that all marriages between persons within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity and affinity should be absolutely null and void. That is now the law, and, undoubtedly, a number of decisions have been given upon it. In chose circumstances, I submit that this is not an anomaly, but is a very wise provision, with the experience of thousands of years, that the relations of the wife should be treated in a similar way to one's own relations in the matter at marriage, because I think that people discover, as a matter of experience, that where you have a husband and wife, it is expedient that each spouse should look upon the relations of the other as if they were his or her own relations. At any rate, that is the system under which the Western world has developed during all these years. It is not an anomaly at all that marriage should be prohibited by affinity as well as consanguinity through the wife or the husband, as the case may be. It is of the essence of the whole subject. If you frame a Bill and propose to alter the position at 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon, I do think we are going rather further than we ought to be expected to go in private Bill legislation.
This is very characteristic of a certain class of legislation which is constantly being brought before this House at the present time. As I say, we have in many ways, sometimes wisely, sometimes unwisely, altered the law. I feel that if I had been in the House at the time, I should certainly have voted against the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill. But however that may be, there were exceptional circumstances in that case. The argument—and the only argument—used in that case, was that the deceased wife had left a sister who 798 knew the children, and that that woman normally might make a good guardian to look after the widower's children. That was the whole argument from beginning to end. Any suggestion of dealing with the abolition of all prohibited degrees of affinity, such as exist in this case, were entirely absent, and the Noble Lord, Lord Robert Cecil, as he then was, dealt with the matter entirely in that way. Very respectfully, I have a very great admiration for the Noble Lord, and I am very glad to see that most of the things I have said so inadequately this afternoon were said by him at the passage of that Bill.
Another problem arises. You get two kinds of law. Is that wise? Already we have the trouble that divorces which are recognised by the secular State as valid are not recognised very largely in the Church. In addition now, you are going to get two types of marriage, if this Bill be passed. There is special provision made in the Deceased Wife Sister's Marriage Act which exempts any clergyman from the obligations of marrying any person who wishes to marry his deceased wife's sister. There is no similar provision in this Bill, and the result is that if it becomes law we shall strain still more the relations between Church and State. This House will have said that a certain type of union, as to which the Church has never been consulted, is valid. I would not mind so much if the matter had been before Convocation. If the opinion of the Bishops had been obtained, if it had been before the National Assembly, or found any place in the proposed revised Prayer Book. The hon. Member who promotes this Bill does not suggest that any ecclesiastical authority whatever has ever been consulted officially. I do not know whether he and others have spoken about it to Bishops or not, but officially the Church has never been consulted as to whether it does or does not approve of of this.
§ Sir A. BENN
I can give cases where clergymen of the Church of England have married—[Interruption.]
§ Sir H. SLESSER
The hon. Member's statement is ambiguous. I do not know whether he means that they solemnised the marriage of persons within the prohibited degrees, in which case they certainly committed ecclesiastical, and possibly civil, crimes, or whether they went 799 further and actually espoused the persons themselves. The hon. Member is quite wrong in saying they married them, because you cannot marry them. You can go through the form of marriage, but both the secular and the ecclesiastical law expressly prohibit it; and so whatever happened they are living in sin and they are not married. However that may be, I think the hon. Member does agree with me that the Church has never officially expressed any opinion either in favour of or against this change in our Marriage Service, and that this Bill is presented merely on the score that it does away with an anomaly.
I submit to the hon. Gentleman that the proper thing to do is to ask leave to withdraw the Bill, which. I am sure will readily be granted, and then to go before Convocation and the National Assembly and ascertain the opinion of the Church on this matter, and, if he pleases, ascertain also the opinion of the Nonconformists, the Catholics and other people who are interested in the sanctity of marriage. Let him consult those various religious bodies and when he has got their opinion let him come back to the House and say, if he will, "In spite of all those opinions I think the secular authority ought to override the religious." The House would then know what they were doing, at any rate would have before them information which to-day is lacking. The hon. Member has not done that, and in the absence of any suggestion that any religious body at all in the country would approve of this Measure—and I are quite sure, speaking for one of them at any rate, that there would be a good deal of objection—I think this Bill is premature and dangerous; and I am sure it is my duty to take this point on Second Reading, because it is a question of principle which no discussion in Committee can cure.
In conclusion, there may be Members of this House—I do not know whether there are—who would say, "These matters of marriage are entirely matters for Parliament and the secular law." I cannot take that view. There are at least two aspects of the matter. On certain occasions we are always reminded that the Church of England is an established and national Church. If it is to be established and national for the purpose of discipline, it must also have the right to 800 discipline others, and it does at the moment lay down principles as to what constitutes marriage, and I say it is in the highest degree undesirable that they should be altered in this way. Why the hon. Gentleman should be so much concerned about anomalies, I do not know. There are many things in the Party to which he belongs which attract me, and others which repel me, but the most attractive thing is that they are never frightened of anomalies. I see no objection to anomalies in moderation, and his attitude seems to me to favour a Bolshevist or destructive tendency which I regret. Let us leave the matter alone. In the whole country there cannot be more than 100 people who wish to marry their deceased wife's niece, and of those 100 I should say 98 have no right to marry. This is a Measure dealing generally with a marriage between a man and his deceased brother's widow or between a man and his deceased wife's brother or his sister's daughter. It does abolish altogether the provision that a man must not marry those relations of his wife whom he would be prohibited from marrying if they were his own relations. This really cuts away half of the people whom you may not marry at the present time, and I cannot believe the House of Commons will accept that proposition without some further consideration. I hope therefore that this Bill will not be passed this afternoon and that it be left for further consideration.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
I am not sure that the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) is right in thinking that this Bill does not give a clergyman of the Church of England the same right of marriage as is given by the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act. I have not had a chance of referring to the principal Act, but I see that the form of this Bill is apparently to introduce into the Act of 1907 the wordsor between a man and his deceased wife's brother's or sister's daughter, or between a man and his father's or mother's deceased brother's widow.I should have supposed that the exemption of the clergy from being obliged to marry those people under the Act of 1907 would apply to those with whom this Bill proposes to deal. At any rate it would interest the House, and it is a 801 matter of considerable importance, as to what is the position of the clergy of the Church of England in a matter of this kind, and if the hon. and learned Member has not looked up this point no doubt my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading is sure to know all about it.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
I was struck by the fact that there is no operative provision on the face of it. I have not consulted the Act of 1907 and if I have overstated the point, then I withdraw. It all depends on the wording of the 1907 Act.
§ Mr. HERBERT
Would it be in order to ask the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill to answer that question?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think we had better hear the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department first and, perhaps, he will be able to enlighten us.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
I think I am right. The Act of 1907 says, in Section 4:Nothing in this Act shall relieve a clergyman in Holy Orders of the Church of England from any ecclesiastical censure to which he would have been liable if this Act had not been passed, by reasons of his contracted or hereafter contracting or solemnising a marriage with his deceased wife's sister.Provided also that when any minister of any church or chapel of the Church of England shall refuse to perform such marriage service between any persons who, but for such refusal would be entitled to have the same service performed in such Church or chapel such minister may permit any other clergyman—No; I think I had better leave it.
§ Captain HACKING
Where lawyers disagree, it is surely not right far a mere civilian to take sides, and, therefore, I am not going to attempt to answer the question that has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. D.Herbert) both to the promoter of the Bill and to the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser), but it is certainly a point which is well worth consideration. Had I thought that the previous Bill would not have lasted until four o'clock, I myself, probably, would have been prepared with the answer to this most unfortunate question. In the absence of any real desire on the part of my hon. Friend for Plymouth (Sir A. Shirley Benn) to withdraw his Bill on the request made by my hon. and learned 802 Friend, I would like to say one sentence. Perhaps, however, I had better preface it by saying that, if these Bills on Friday afternoon are of no other value, they do at any rate show up very conclusively the differences of opinion which are held by Members on the Opposition benches. For the second time to-day, we have had shown up these differences. If there are differences on this side of the House in connection with this Bill, at any rate we have not as many as those sitting on the Opposition benches. There was one observation made by the hon. and learned Member in answer to an interruption from the hon. Member for Middleton (Mr. S. Sandeman) on which I am not quite clear. I think the hon. and learned Member said—I hope he will correct me if I am wrong—that he hoped there r would be another Bill introduced to allow him to have two wives.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
What I said was that I feared another Bill might be introduced on the Conservative side of the House enabling us or compelling us to have two wives.
§ Captain HACKING
The hon. and learned Member did not say whether he would vote for that Bill or not, and, in the absence of any reply, perhaps we may assume that it would have his support if such a Bill were introduced on this side of the House. There is just one anomaly in connecton with this Bill that I would like to point out. In the Title of the Bill it is stated that it is a Bill toamend the law relating to the marriage of persons with their nephew or niece by marriage.Then in Clause I, Sub-section (1), there is the full definition. Whatever that legal language may mean, the effect of the Bill is to remove the prohibition against marriage between a man and his deceased wife's niece or between a man and his uncle's widow. Thus it might be necessary to amend the Title of the Bill if we are to have the Title in complete agreement with the text of the Bill. So far as the Government are concerned, we are not going to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and, as usual, the Government Whips will not be put on. There is only one other observation that h want to make, and it is in connection with, another remark which fell from the lips: of the hon. and learned Member. He 803 said that it was a matter of common knowledge that a man could not marry his grandmother. I thought that that was also a, matter of common sense. But I want to say that, if in the hon. and learned Gentleman's opinion there is any doubt, or if there is any doubt in the minds of any other hon. Members of the House, I myself will see that the matter is cleared up and made perfectly plain in Committee. As I have said, the Government are not going to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I am sure my hon. Friend is very anxious to get the Bill through, End it is not necessary for me to say any more on the matter. We expect that the House will support the Second Reading, and then, when the Bill goes up to a Committee, if there are any Members on the Front Opposition Bench who desire to be represented on that Committee, I am sure their wishes will be given consideration.
§ Lieut.-Colonel JAMES
I regret that, owing to the rather late hour at which this Bill came forward, I did not anticipate that it would be reached, and, consequently, have been unable to refresh my memory or make myself informed on the subject of the authorities so eloquently quoted by the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser). He quoted Archbishop Parker. Surely, in this matter of consanguinity and affinity, it is not so much a matter nowadays of, let us say, sacerdotal infallibility but is rather a matter of progressive eugenics, on which argument, I believe, hon. Members on the opposite benches are, in the main, enthusiasts. When I heard the hon. and learned Gentleman adducing these reactionary Conservative opinions, I wondered how he came to be on those benches, and why he was not on these.
§ Lieut.-Colonel JAMES
I cannot say whether his not being a progressive eugenist is the hon. and learned Gentleman's misfortune or his fault; that is for others to judge. None the less, his general outlook on this important case was rather, if I might say so without offence, that of a reactionary old Tory, and not at all the sort of outlook that we 804 generally associate with hon. Members on the benches opposite. I suggest that this Bill is not entirely revolutionary. Far from it. It rounds off the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act. At one time, that Measure undoubtedly provoked considerable controversy, but at present it does not appear to arouse any great revolution in this country. Although individuals from time to time marry their deceased wife's sister, and the clergy actually give these weddings their blessing, the country still seems to continue unhampered and unhindered. In these circumstances, I very much hope that that this Bill will receive the Second Reading which it thoroughly deserves.
Mr. STEWART SANDEIVIAN
In reading through this Bill, my eye was arrested by the following:to amend the law relating to the marriage of persons with their nephew or niece.That relieved my mind of a great deal of trouble, because, as one wades through these various Clauses, the old riddle that was asked in our childhood comes to one's mind:Sisters and brothers have I none, This man's father was my father's son.I do not believe there are five people in the House who know the answer to that question. I personally do not know it, and I think it is a very debatable point whether any answer is correct. Is there any reason why, so long as consanguinity is not in question, a man should not marry his wife's niece. I wish they would talk about a wife's niece or a husband's nephew. It would make it so very much easier for everyone to understand. But I suppose a Bill has to be drafted so as to cause Members as much trouble as possible, and draftsmen are extraordinarily successful in their efforts in this direction. I cannot see any reason against the Bill. It seems to me a perfectly common-sense proposition. If a man is allowed to marry his deceased wife's sister, why on earth should he not be allowed to marry his wife's niece? There is no harm at all. There may be occasions where there is harm but they have been very few indeed. The late Solicitor-General, I think, is slightly old-fashioned in some of his views. There is a certain line that always comes to 805 my mind about the ancient Puritanic traditions of right and wrong. What may have been very good a hundred years ago I am certain hon. Members above the Gangway will say is not good to-day. [An Hon. MEMBER: "The Tory party!"] The Tory party has gone on advancing more than any of them. I do not think hon. Members need have any fear about the Tory party advancing and going to greater heights the whole time. The only bit of the Bill to which I take objection is the Clause where the question of divorce is mentioned. If in the event of death occurring it is right for them to marry why, if it is a case of divorce, should they not marry 4 I hope when the Bill goes to Committee it will be amended on these lines because I think it is perfectly just and common sense. I am sure the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
I think we are entitled to comment on the great lack of leadership we have received from the Government on this very difficult and complicated Bill. It is a Bill that raises difficult legal and ecclesiastical questions, and we have to rely for our complete knowledge upon the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser).
§ Captain HACKING
This is not a government Measure, and any information should be given by the promoters of the Bill.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
I quite understand that point of view, but at the same time it raises very difficult questions affecting ecclesiastical as well as secular law. There are one or two reflections which occur to anyone who reads the Bill through. In the first place, the idea seems to be that a man is now to regard his wife's relations not, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, as his own relations, but as a kind of reserve force, and if that is true, in correcting one anomaly it may create another. If he is to be allowed to marry a wife's niece, who has no blood relationship, why should a man on those terms not be allowed to marry his mother-in-law? There are other questions of a very grave character which have been raised. For instance, are the clergy protected, as they were in the case of the Deceased 806 Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill? There seems to be no answer. There is also the question of a man marrying the sister of his divorced wife. We have had the best defence of anomalies that I have ever heard from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. There are some people who have the monstrous idea that they need to go round searching for anomalies, in order to remove them.
I think the House, in embarking upon a question of this kind on the procedure of a private Member's Bill on a Friday afternoon, is doing a very dangerous thing, and there will be great feeling aroused amongst certain bodies who have not been consulted. We have been told that the great question of the revision of the Prayer Book is coming, up. Surely, this is a question on which at least the opinion of the Church Assembly ought to have been sought. We ought to have had some information from the promoters of the Bill as to what was the opinion of the ecclesiastical authorities, who are at least entitled to be consulted. I know that to-day the question of Church and State and the problems which arise therefrom arouse different feelings in different quarters of the House, but I am sure that no hon. Member will maintain that the Church is not entitled to be consulted on a question of this kind. We do not know whether the rights and privileges of the clergy are to be protected or not. For these and various other considerations I think the House would do well to consider very carefully before passing a Bill which may arouse a great deal of difficulty, which can do very little good, and may eventually open up the whole question of the marriage laws and the whole question of the divorce laws, which are much larger questions than we wish to venture upon on the procedure of a private Member's Bill, late on a Friday afternoon.
§ Mr. D. HERBERT
It has been said by the hon. Member opposite that you cannot always on an occasion like this expect to impose the views of the national Church or any other Church on subjects of the realm as a whole. The point upon which I raised a question and asked for an opinion some time ago is one of considerable importance. How- 807 ever much we may support the main proposals of this Bill, I am sure the House would wish to protect the clergy of the Church of England against being obliged to solemnise marriages which were contrary to the rules of their own Church and contrary to their own consciences. Therefore, the question which I have asked is one of considerable importance, and I hope that the promoters of the Bill will give further information about it. Perhaps the House might like to know what appears, on a somewhat hasty reference to the Act of 1907, to be the real position. If hon. Members will look at Clause 1 (2) of the present Bill and will then refer to Section 4 of the principal Act which is there mentioned, they will find that the clergyman is protected in a certain way. Section 4 of the Act of 1907 provides that:Nothing in this Act shall relieve a clergyman in Holy Orders of the Church of England from any ecclesiastical censure to which he would have been liable if this Act had not been passed by reason of his having contracted or hereafter contracting a marriage with his deceased wife's sister.
§ Sir A. BENN
This is a matter which can be dealt with in Committee. None of the promoters would oppose in Committee anything which would protect the clergy.
§ Mr. HERBERT
It may be a Committee point, but my view is that the position of the clergy of the Church of England in regard to a Bill of this kind is so important that before we give a Second Reading to the Bill we ought to have a proper explanation of the attitude of the promoters to this very important part of the question. I am not proposing to vote against this Bill, if I can be satisfied on these particular points which are troubling me with regard to the position of the clergy, and they really are not matters which one can make clear by references to the Act in the course of a Debate like this. The clergy are affected and are dealt with under the principal Act in regard to two possible matters in which they may be concerned. First, there is the position as to what is to happen to a clergyman of the Church of England if he takes advantage of the Act.
Then there is the other point, if he is called to solemnise a marriage of this 808 kind, is he to be allowed to refuse? It seems to me that Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 of this Bill does incorporate the provision of the principal Act with regard to clergymen who take advantage of it. It incorporates the condition that if a clergyman takes advantage of this Bill he is not relieved from any ecclesiastical censure to which he may be liable, but I do not see that there is any Clause in the Bill which redeems him from the necessity of solemnising marriages of this kind. I want to draw attention to one further point on which I think we should have a little more information. Under this Bill, is it to be made lawful for a man to marry the daughter of the sister of his divorced wife? Under the Act of 1907 there is this provision:Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857, it shall not be lawful for a man to marry the sister of his divorced wife or of his Wife by whom ho has been divorced during the lifetime of such wife.One can well understand that Parliament may have had good reasons for inserting that proviso, but as far as I have been able to read the Bill, I do not see anything which incorporates that provision or makes it apply to the case of the daughter of the sister of a divorced wife. These are questions on which the House really ought to have more information. They are questions of so much importance that I think we should know the attitude of the promoters of the Bill towards these points in the interests of the clergy of the Church of England, the strictest sort of clergy, before we proceed any further.
§ Sir A. BENN
I thought I made it quite clear, that as for as the promoters are concerned, we are quite prepared to deal with these points in Committee.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
This is no new principle. What it is intended to do under this Bill has been before the country for years. It is this: Shall a man be allowed to marry his aunt by marriage or his niece by marriage? Cannot the House of Commons make up its mind on this point in one hour, without any lead from the Home Office? Is not this House competent enough to make up its mind on that subject within an hour? It is a simple question—is a man to be allowed to marry his aunt by marriage or his niece by marriage—if he wants to? Let us clear our minds of the word-spinning of the ecclesiastical autho- 809 rities or the legal authorities. This House has a right to decide, and the small matters dealt with by the last speaker could very well be settled quite satisfactorily in Committee. From what I know there is no real objection or obstruction to the Bill in the country. By passing the Bill we should simply be doing a little justice to a small number of people who will be relieved by the Bill. Anything we can do to tighten up the institution of marriage and encourage more people to marry who are at present living in sin, the better it will be.
§ Captain BOURNE
I wish to protest against this attempt piecemeal to amend the Table of Affinity, after 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon. The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser), who represents a certain section of ecclesiastical opinion and very frequently voices it in this House, has raised the question whether the Bill has ever been submitted to any of the bodies which are competent to express religious opinion in the country. I think a case might be made out, and quite a good case, for amending the Table of Affinity, but it should not be done in this piecemeal way. First of all, it was the deceased wife's sister. Then it will be the deceased husband's brother, then the niece or nephew by marriage, next time possibly the mother-in-law, and subsequently we might reach the position that a man can marry his wife's grandmother, or something even worse. If there really is a case for amending the law, let us get together people who are versed in civil and canon law. Let them consider the facts and come to this House with a set of logical recommendations. This Houses I believe, will most willingly pass any Act that may be required, but I do not think it is the least good bringing forward a piecemeal proposal like this.
§ Mr. AMMON rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Sir A. BENN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but MR. SPEAKER withheld his Assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Captain BOURNE
The Bill, as drafted, contains an anomaly in that it does not apply to Northern Ireland. [Interruption.]
§ Sir A. BENN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Captain BOURNE: The points that I have mentioned require a great deal more consideration than they have yet been given.
§ It being four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Two Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next (7th March).