HL Deb 18 June 1900 vol 84 cc259-64


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which has been before your Lordships on more than one occasion, and has passed through this House, but has not become law simply for lack of time to consider it in another place. It does not, therefore, require so full an explanation as might have been necessary if the Bill had been entirely new. On the contrary, there is very little that is new in it. I need not say much about the first three clauses, the second clause being an interpretation clause and the third merely a repetition of the law as it at present stands. The fourth clause deals with a matter which is rather troublesome to the clergy, and it has already been agreed to by your Lordships. At present there are two rubrics relating to the publication of banns of marriage which are somewhat inconsistent with one another, and it is sometimes thought that the clergy are bound by the one rubric and sometimes it is thought by the other. There is one rubric after the Nicene Creed which speaks of the proper time for publishing banns of marriage as immediately after that creed; and there is another rubric before the form of service for marriage which speaks of the proper time for the publication of banns as immediately after the Second Lesson. But it has never been settled in a court of law which of the two is the right interpretation. It is not really worth while to insist upon either, and this clause—which provides that the time for publishing banns shall be on Sundays, not earlier than the hour of nine in the morning after the Nicene Creed, or after the Second Lesson at Morning Prayer; and that if there is no Morning Prayer or Holy Communion the banns shall be published at Evening Prayer—will get rid of the difficulty by leaving it to the clergy themselves to decide what is the proper time for the publication of banns. To this I cannot conceive that there can be any objection. The fifth clause empowers the two Archbishops, with the consent of the Convocations and subject to the approval of Her Majesty the Queen, to alter the rubrics to correspond with what the Bill proposes to enact. The sixth clause is the most operative part of the Bill. It proposes that when the banns shall have been published, in the same way as they are published now, the marriage may be solemnised at any church in the diocese wherein the banns have been published. At present the marriage must be solemnised in the church in which the banns have been published; or, if they have been published in two churches, as is very often the case, in one of those two churches. But this has been found to give rise to great inconvenience, and there is now no reason for maintaining the restriction. It is thought very much better that it should be left open to the parties who desire to be married to go to any church in the diocese they choose where the minister is willing to celebrate the marriage. In applying for the banns to be published the parties will have to state in what church they propose to get married. There can, therefore, be no concealment in the matter, and there is absolutely no danger of a clandestine marriage resulting from the restriction being repealed. The restriction was introduced in 1723 by the well-known Act of Lord Hardwicke, and has continued to the present day. Before Lord Hardwicke's Act it was open to persons desirous of being married to go to any other church in the diocese than that in which the banns had been published, and I think it is better on the whole that we should go back to that practice, now that the need for the restriction has passed away. Clause 7 deals with marriages of seamen, who are frequently put to considerable inconvenience owing to there being no recognised mode of publishing their banns. Often a sailor comes home and wishes to marry immediately, because, soon after, he will have to leave on another voyage. This clause provides that the banns of a seaman may be published in any church of the parish in which he usually dwells when not at sea, or, if his ship be in port, in any church within five miles of the ship. The eighth clause requires the parties applying for the publication of their banns to make a definite statement in writing containing those necessary particulars which hitherto the clergyman, generally speaking, has had to ascertain for himself. This will be a great relief to the clergyman. The ninth clause deals with marriage by licence, and provides that a marriage may be solemnised upon a licence duly issued from the registry of the Archbishop or Bishop of the diocese, and whether granted in the registry or through a surrogate, in any church within the diocese, provided one of the parties to be married under such licence shall have had his or her usual place of abode within the diocese for fifteen days before the granting of the licence, or upon a licence duly issued from the registry of an archdeaconry—which is allowable in certain cases—in any church in any archdeaconry where such licences have been hitherto issued. In short, it gives the same liberty in respect to marriages by licence as Clause 6 gives in respect to marriages by banns. The tenth clause deals with marriages of seamen by licence, and the eleventh clause simply preserves the right of the Master of the Faculties and the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury to grant licences. Under the twelth clause applicants are required to state precisely the names, descriptions, and usual place or places of abode of both parties and the name of the church in which the marriage is intended to be solemnised. When it is proposed to solemnise the marriage in a church in a parish in which neither of the parties have had his or her usual place of abode for fifteen days immediately before the granting of the licence, on the day such licence is granted notice will have to be sent by the person who obtained it to the minister of the church in which the marriage is to be solemnised. The fourteenth clause provides for the marriage of persons residing in canal or river boats or other movable dwellings, and proposes that, where either of the persons to be married shall be residing in a movable dwelling, the banns may be published in a church or chapel of the ecclesiastical parish in which the movable dwelling is at the time of the first publication of the banns, and a licence may be granted for the marriage of such person in any church or chapel in the diocese in which the movable dwelling is at the time of the granting of the licence. The fifteenth clause is a very important one, because it fixes the fees for marriages. In fixing the fees it is, of course, to be understood that there is no desire to prevent the parties who are married from giving very much more than the fee which is required of them. That is done at present in a very large number of cases, and there is no reason to discourage the practice. But at the same time it is of some importance that the fee which can be legally demanded should be the same in the church as in the registration office. There can be no question that in certain cases people do go to the registration office rather than to the church, because the fees in the church of the parish where they live are higher than the fees in the registration office. The sixteenth clause is nothing more than a repetition of the law at it is at present, and the next clause provides that any false statement made knowingly by the parties shall be punishable as a misdemeanour. It is at present difficult to deal with false statements because they are not always reduced to writing. I have had some rather bad cases in which licences particularly have been obtained by false affidavits, and I have found that it was not possible to deal with these false affidavits at all. Clause 18 reserves the right of the Royal Family, and Clause 19 simply repeals certain clauses in former Acts which will be in- consistent with this Act. Of course, the clause might be omitted altogether, because this Act will repeal the clauses referred to ipso facto; but it is better that they should be distinctly inserted in order that the clergy may know exactly how these clauses stand. I believe, my Lords, that the Bill, if passed, will be of considerable advantage in many ways, that it will get rid of a great deal of friction, and that it will remove much discomfort and distress; and I feel very confident that nothing in it will give rise to any kind of abuse. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury).


My Lords, I rise, not for the purpose of asking your Lordships to reject this Bill, but to preserve my right to criticise the Bill in Committee. The marriage laws of the country are so extremely important that without great consideration we ought not to alter them. I think the most rev. Prelate has undervalued the effect of Lord Hardwicke's Act, which was passed to get rid of a mischievous and scandalous state of the law, and to remove a number of evils to which it is not necessary now to allude. I confess that I have some doubt about the repeal of that part of Lord Hardwicke's Act to which the most rev. Prelate has referred. The whole object of publishing the banns in the churches in which the marriage is to be solemnised is to give information to those who are likely to know the parties who are going to be married. The most rev. Prelate now proposes to get rid of that provision. He proposes in the Bill that the parties shall state the church in which the marriage shall be solemnised, but he gets rid of the obligation to do it. There is no fortifying, as it were, of the provisions of the Bill. I cannot say at present that I have made up my mind whether or not this is too important an alteration of the law to be allowed to pass, but it is an alteration which requires very careful consideration.

On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.


This is a matter which might well be considered in Committee of the full House, and I move that the Standing Committee be negatived.

Moved, "That the Standing Committee be negatived."—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)


As Chairman of the Standing Committee I should deprecate very much a Bill of this kind not going to that Committee. In my opinion it is a Bill which it is very desirable should be considered by the Standing Committee.


I agree with the noble Earl. I do not think the motion is one to which the House can agree.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House on Friday next.