§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that although this was called a Dissenters' Marriages Bill, it very materially affected the marriages of Church of England people, and that it would encourage clandestine marriages to a very great extent. It was a great grievance to many clergymen of the Church of England that persons who got certificates came to them and insisted on having their 715 marriages solemnised in the church without going through the regular canonical forms. People belonging to the Church of England who did not take out licences, but who had their banns published, had to give three weeks' notice, and he (Mr. Henley) did not see any reason why Dissenters in the same class of life should not he subjected to a similar ordeal. He saw no reason why they should be able to go to a registrar and obtain a certificate without any further trouble, and without in most cases any inquiry being made, and then go to the clergyman and insist upon being married without going through the ordinary canonical observances. The clergyman might know that there were impediments to the marriage—obstacles which rendered it unfit and improper that the marriage should be solemnised, and yet according to this Bill he would have no option. He should be glad to know whether it was the intention of the Government to let the Bill go through.
said there were many objections to the provisions of the Bill, one of which was that it limited the amount of publicity. The Bill repealed the publicity now given, by requiring marriages to be announced to the board of guardians—in many cases, he admitted, a most unpleasant proceeding—but it did not provide a security that marriages about to take place should be made known so as to give opportunity for the interference of those who might be able to detect the impropriety or illegality of the marriage. The Bill provided that notice was to be given to the superintendent registrar, who, it was assumed, would make it public, but in this there was obviously no sufficient security. He was surprised at the fourth clause of the Bill, which declared that when two parties lived in separate districts it should he sufficient if notice were given in one district only. He could not see why the amount of publicity should be halved in that manner, it would remove a very obvious security. In licences a notice of seven days was now required. The Bill proposed to reduce the time to twenty-four hours, which he thought objectionable; on the whole it appeared to him that the objects the Bill sought to accomplish would be obtained at a considerable amount of risk, and he trusted the hon. Gentleman would not press the measure at the present moment.
§ MR. CHEETHAM
explained that the object of the Bill was not to interfere with 716 the marriages among members of the Established Church, but to remedy what was considered by Dissenters a hardship. The first clause of the Bill provided that no notice of marriage need be read or published before the Poor Law guardians of the parish, or transmitted to the clerk of those guardians, and its object merely was that Dissenters should no longer be subjected to a most unjust stigma. With regard to publicity, Dissenters could not provide for this, as Churchmen did, by means of banns. Dissenting ministers would not be willing to take upon themselves the functions of a civil officer by proclaiming the banns; but persons who wished to know what marriages were about to take place could apply to the office of the registrar. As the law at present stood a member of the Church might get a licence and be married on the same day, while he provided in this Bill that a Dissenter should give twenty-four hours' notice.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, the more they examined the Bill the more they would find that it was drawn to encourage clandestine marriages to a very great extent. The Bill took away the notice from the only place where it at present existed, but substituted no other which would secure equal publicity. The second clause would enable two minors to make an oath or declaration that there was no impediment to their union, that they had resided fifteen days in a particular place, and that the consent of those persons whose consent is required had been obtained. It would open a very wide door to perjury. Another clause took away the publicity which was properly required from members of the Church of England; while another (the 14th) provided that after any marriages by licence should be solemnised, it would not be necessary to have any proof of the validity of the marriage beyond the production of the licence—that no evidence should be given in opposition. That was contrary to all the laws and the constitution of this country.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
thought that, omitting all question of Churchman or Dissenter, if they enacted a law by which the publicity of marriage was taken away, very great evils would ensue. The hon. gentleman was fairly entitled to press a Bill by which the declaration now required to be made before a court of guardians should be done away with, and it was very natural that Dissenters should feel that 717 this was an objectionable mode of securing publicity; but then it was only proper that some substitute for that publicity should be provided. The hon. gentleman said that dissenting ministers would not like to proclaim banns, and of course no one would wish to impose on them a duty which they thought they could not properly perform, and which was connected with civil functions; but there ought to be some way or other by which society should be protected. While of opinion, therefore, that the relief of Dissenters from anything which was galling to their feelings was a proper object of legislation, he agreed with the right hon. gentleman opposite that the Bill had better be postponed for the present, and its provisions reconsidered.
§ MR. HEYWOOD
hoped the House would allow the Bill to go into committee pro forma, and then the amendments could be introduced.
§ MR. T. CHAMBERS
was favourably disposed towards the object of the Bill, but the Bill contained some provisions which were quite unnecessary to attain it, and which might injuriously affect all classes, Churchmen as well as Dissenters, and hoped the hon. Gentleman would adopt the suggestion made to him.
§ MR. CHEETHAM
having expressed his acknowledgments to the House for the spirit in which the measure had been received,
§ Committee deferred till Monday next.