HL Deb 20 June 1892 vol 5 cc1519-21



My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say a very few words in explanation of the question which I have placed upon the Paper. Your Lordships will remember that some time ago there was very considerable anxiety among many of Her Majesty's subjects in the Island of Malta on account of the doubt which had been thrown by independent authorities upon the validity of marriages which had been celebrated by other than the Roman Catholic clergy. A question was raised as to the validity of past marriages, and as to the course to be pursued in future. The noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Office promised that an inquiry should be made into the true state of the law, and also in March, 1890, Mr. Smith, in the other House, promised that reference should be made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in order to obtain an exact statement of the existing relations. Some time has elapsed and the anxiety upon this subject has not diminished, although it is known that inquiries have been proceeding and the anxiety has been increased recently by the appearance in Malta in the Government Gazette of the 1st June of a Draft Ordinance on the subject proposed to be enacted by the Governor of Malta with the advice and consent of the Council of the Government thereof. I am aware, of course, that this is of no present value until it has received confirmation in England; but nevertheless as it is a Draft Ordinance, and as it threatens to place the anxious part of the population in a worse position than they were in before, the anxiety has deepened greatly just now, and there is no doubt a strong feeling upon the subject in the island, and amongst those great communities which, one or other, are interested in all the Protestant population of the island. The first Article of this draft states that in future a mixed marriage contracted between a person who is a Roman Catholic and a Protestant shall be invalid. In fact, the statement is that it should have no civil effect either in regard to married persons or their issue unless it be celebrated according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church and by priests of that Church. It is not the less important, but rather more, to observe the third Article, which states that the marriage between persons who, with a view to elude the laws of the Catholic Church, or in fraudem legis, have abandoned the Roman Catholic religion, is invalid. This is more formidable because it threatens an inquisition into motives of a painful and may be of a destructive character. I venture therefore to ask Her Majesty's Government for an answer to the question which I have placed upon the Paper before your Lordships: Whether the questions of the validity of the unmixed (Protestant) and mixed marriages, celebrated in Malta by clergy of the Church of England and by Presbyterian and Wesleyan ministers since the British occupation of the island, have been referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in order to obtain an authoritative declaration of law relating to the validity of such marriages; and, if the questions raised have not been so referred, whether the Order of Reference will be completed before the Dissolution of the present Parliament?


I think I can relieve the mind of the most rev. Prelate. As regards that Draft Ordinance, it is so far as I know a Draft Ordinance which has been introduced into the Legislative Council by an unofficial Member for whom we are not responsible, and I do not think it is likely to get what is called here a Second Reading; but, assuming that it did pass the Council, I can undertake that it shall not receive Her Majesty's Assent in the present state of things. My Lords, the question of the validity of these marriages is about to be referred to the Judicial Committee. A case has been prepared by Dr. Tristram in support of the contention that the marriages are valid, and the other case has been prepared by Sir Giusseppe Carbone, the Crown Advocate in Malta, in support of the view which he contended for, and which I had occasion once before to state to your Lordships, of the invalidity of the marriages. I think I may say that the cases are now ready, and it is intended that an Order in Council shall be passed at the next Council referring these two cases to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.