HL Deb 26 June 1822 vol 7 cc1373-4

The report of this bill being brought up,

The Lord Chancellor

expressed his approbation of the provisions introduced, with a view prospectively to prevent improper marriage, upon the principle, that a marriage once contracted ought to be indissoluble. He thought the retrospective enactments had no connection with the prospective clauses, and that they ought to form a separate bill. These retrospective enactments went to make valid, with certain exceptions, all marriages that had taken place by licence since 1754, the date of the Marriage act, which would otherwise, under the operation of that act be deemed null and void. But their lordships should be aware, that whilst these enactments went, generally speaking, to legalise the marriages of the superior classes of society that had taken place by licence, they took no notice whatever of the other classes who had been married by banns, and who, in the case of fraudulent banns, were left to all the consequences of void marriages, and the bastardising of issue. He stated several cases in which the retrospective enactments would operate most injuriously with regard to the rights of parties now entitled to property, in consequence of the invalidity of marriages, which would now be rendered valid, and concluded by reading several amendments, which he should propose in a subsequent stage. The principal objects of these amendments were to declare all those marriages invalid which had been decided to be so in actions or suits in courts of law or equity, and to enact that the rendering marriages valid as proposed, should not affect any deeds or instruments respecting property settled or sold, under the belief that such marriages were null and void.

Lord Ellenborough

said, he could see no reason for a separation of the prospective and retrospective parts of the bill. He did not believe that, under the operation of these retrospective enactments, evils would arise in any degree equal to those which had arisen, in con- sequence of the operation of the Marriage act. And he was satisfied that the adopting the indissolubility of marriage as the principle of our law, would be conducive to the happiness and morality of society.

The Lord Chancellor moved, that the retrospective clause be left out, merely to put his opinion upon record.

The Earl of Harrowby

said, the retrospective clause was calculated to quiet the apprehensions of families, but at the same time affected the property of others, who, as the noble and learned lord stated, were not in the situation of having violated the existing laws.

After a short conversation, the retrospective clause, as amended by the Committee, was agreed to.

The Earl of Liverpool

moved, as an amendment to the first proviso, that this act do not extend to any marriage, with respect to the validity of which any snit is now pending.

The Marquis of Lansdown

said, that if there was a class of persons entitled to the protection of their lordships, it was those who had contracted marriages, under an ignorance of the operation of one of the most mischievous and immoral laws that had ever disgraced the legislature of the country. He vas prepared to go back to every case where no actual possession had been created by the sentence of a court of law, and he should therefore oppose the amendment.

The Earl of Westmorland

said, there were two classes of persons who would be affected by this measure, one class who were seeking to avoid, and the other to confirm, their contracts, by resorting to a court of law, and the effect of the amendment would be to deprive the latter class of the power of carrying into effect the honourable intention of confirming existing engagements.

The House divided on the amendment—Contents, 28;. Not-Contents, 67.