HL Deb 29 June 1896 vol 42 cc235-8

Provided that no clergyman of the Established Church of England shall be liable to any pains or penalties for withholding the rights and privileges of Church membership from persons living together in marriage made valid by this Act, or from either of them; and nothing herein contained shall relieve any such clergyman from any ecclesiastical pains or penalties to which he would otherwise he liable if this Act had not been passed, by reason of his contracting, or having contracted, or living in marriage with his own deceased wife's sister.

VISCOUNT HALIFAX moved after he word "passed" to insert the words, By reason of his solemnising a marriage between a man and the sister of his deceased wife or The noble Lord said he understood the object of the clause was to leave the ecclesiastical law as it stood, and with the object of securing that more effectually he moved this Amendment, so as be provide that no clergyman of the Established Church should be relieved by the Act from the ecclesiastical pains and penalties to which he was now liable by reason of his solemnising a marriage between a man and the sister of his deceased wife.


accepted the Amendment. He thought it was totally unnecessary, but otherwise it appeared to him unobjectionable.

Amendment agreed to.

On the Question that Clause 2, as amended, stand part of the Bill,


contended that the clause might inflict great hardship on many members of the Church of England. A man who made a perfectly legal marriage with his deceased wife's sister might live in a parish, the clergyman of which might hold extreme views, and refuse him the sacrament or refuse to baptise his children, and this clause specially exempted that clergyman from any penalties for so doing. That, he thought, was a special case of hardship, and if he thought there was any possibility of the Measure becoming law this Session with this clause in it he should take the opinion of the House on the matter.


agreed with the noble Lord. It seemed to him they were doing just what they did with another objectionable Bill, the Divorce Amendment Bill. If marriage with a deceased wife's sister was to be allowed, what right had they to put a penalty upon it? The clause was in his opinion a penal clause, and if a division were taken he should vote against it.


thought that a determined stand ought to be made against any attempt to effect indirectly a change in the law of the Church of England by altering the clause. The proposer of the Measure had drawn special attention to it as safeguarding the rights of the Church.


shared the objections expressed against the clause. They would set up a most dangerous precedent if they were to enact that the law of marriage as settled by Parliament should be subject to a kind of indirect veto on the part of the clergy. Such a state of things might be all very well if there were no established Church, but if this kind of cleavage were sanctioned it might extend and end in cleavage between Church and State.


held that the proposed provision would very likely weaken the Establishment, the strength of which lay in this, that it represented England as a whole. If clergymen were to be permitted to refuse the rights and privileges of the Church to persons who had contracted the marriage contemplated by the Bill, the danger alluded to by the noble Earl who had preceded him would very probably arise. He should vote against the clause.


expressed the opinion that it would be wise to retain this clause in the Bill. He would not go into deep questions of principle, but would rather ask the House to look upon the matter from a prudential point of view. The difference to the persons who desired to be married under this Bill of being married at a registry office or at a church was not, he imagined, a very great one. If they liked big words they might talk of "penalising," but he did not believe that anyone would consider this enactment a very severe hardship. At any rate, whether their Lordships approved of the clause or not, they might be quite certain that if any coercive power were applied to force the clergy of the Church to celebrate these marriages the vast majority of the clergy would object, and there would be all the trouble and all the scandal and all the danger that arose when the power of the State and the conscience of the clergy were opposed to each other. He did not see how what they could gain by such a challenge to the clergy would compensate for the loss and injury that would be caused. Therefore, carefully avoiding on that occasion all those questions of principle that could be raised later on, and merely appealing to their Lordships to deal with this matter as if they were dealing with the religion of another community, he earnestly advised them not to strike out this clause.


put the question that the clause stand part of the Bill, and his decision in favour of the "contents" was at first challenged, but ultimately the clause was agreed to.

Bill re-committed to the Standing Committee; and to be printed as amended.—[No. 170.]