HL Deb 17 July 1820 vol 2 cc489-91

Lord Ellenborough moved the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill, and stated that he had several amendments to propose in the committee, the printing of which he intended to move for, with a view to their discussion on the re-commitment of the bill. He thought the clauses might be so worded as to remove the objections made against them as they now stood, and he hoped that every noble lord who took an interest in the measure would attend the committee.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that from the respect which he entertained for his noble friend, he could easily conceive that the bill might, after it had gone through a committee, prove much less injurious to the morals and religion of the country than it now appeared to him calculated to be in all its clauses. He must at the same time say not-content to the motion for going into a committee.

Lord Redesdale

observed, that if the bill was to have a retrospective operation, nothing should induce him to vote for it. It would go to overturn numberless settlements, to revive suits which had been decided, to set aside wills and revoke administrations. As the bill now stood, its retrospective effect would extend over a period of seventy years, and marriages solemnized during that period might by possibility be made null and void.

The Earl of Liverpool

agreed with what had fallen from the noble lord, but at the same time thought that the Marriage act required alteration. To him it appeared that the simplest law was the best, and he should rather be for granting more facility than for interposing any obstruction in contracting marriage. Every new regulation, however, should be prospective only; and although there might be past cases in which hardships must be sustained, it could not be said that there was any injustice in leaving parties to the provisions of the old law.

Lord Holland

also thought that the law required alteration, and that the proper course was to go into the committee. Those who held that the bill should be retrospective would likewise have the opportunity of submitting a proposition with that view. His own conviction was, that as the law now stood, it was as bad as it could be.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that one of the most objectionable clauses he had ever seen in any bill was that which provided, that because the bans had been irregular, it should be left to the judge to decide whether it was a bona fide marriage Such a provision would inevitably lead to a degree of profligacy of which it was difficult to form an estimate. He doubted much whether any judge could be safely invested with this discretion; and if all cases of marriage by licence were to fall within the same clause, it would be much better to abolish marriage by licence altogether.

The Earl of Westmorland

thought, that if the act had not a retrospective operation, no good would follow from it.

The House then went into the committee, and several new clauses were proposed by lord Ellenborough.

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