The House went into Committee upon this Bill, Mr. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe) in the Chair.
Clause 1, page 1, line 14, leave out from 'Acts,' to end of line 19.
Clause 1, page 1, line. 21, leave out from 'registered.' to end of line 22, and insert 'for solemnising marriages therein under the Marriage Act, 1836.'
In the absence of the ATTORNEY GENERAL, these Amendments were proposed upon his behalf by Mr. T. W. RUSSELL, and were agreed to.
Upon clause 1, page 1. line 21, after 'worship,' insert 'and for the solemnisation of marriages therein.'
§ In the absence of Mr. GEDGE (Walsall), this Amendment was proposed upon his behalf by Mr. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge).
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
said he hoped the honourable Gentleman would not persist in moving the Amendment, as it was one that the Committee could not possibly agrees to. He also thought the honourable Member who put the Amendment down did not attach much importance to it, as he was not in his place to move it; he therefore trusted that it would not be proceeded with.
§ The Amendment was, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 1, line 22, at end, add—
(5) The governing body of a religious denomination shall mean for the purposes of this Act any prelate, priest, minister, trustee, person, or body of trustees or persons recognised by the Registrar General as having the power of appointment of the minister of that denomination in any particular area, or district, or of the minister of any particular place of worship, and where such power of appointment is exercised by the congregation whose usual place of worship is the registered building of which the person certified, as hereinafter provided, is minister, the governing body shall mean the managing body of such congregation, or if there be no managing body, ten householders being regular members of such congregation.
(6) When a. building is duly registered for the solemnisation of marriages therein, and the Registrar General has received a certificate in writing from such governing body that a person named in such certificate is a
regular officiating minister of such building, or an officer of such building appointed by the governing body for the solemnisation of marriages therein, the Registrar General shall forthwith register such person as qualified to solemnise marriages in such building, and thereupon such person (in this Act referred to as 'the registered person') shall, until the thirty-first day of December, inclusive, in the year in which he has been so registered, provided he shall so long remain a regular officiating minister or officer of such building, be qualified to solemnise marriages therein.
(7) When such governing body has certified the name of a minister or of such officer as aforesaid to the Registrar General, such governing body shall, before the first day of December in each year, certify to the Registrar General that such person continues to be a regular officiating minister or officer of such building, and thereupon the Registrar General shall register such person as qualified to solemnise marriages therein during the ensuing year, and in the event of any registered person dying or ceasing to be a regular officiating minister or officer of such building the governing body shall forthwith by writing inform the Registrar General thereof."—(Mr. Sydney Gedge.)
§ * MR. GEDGE,
in rising to move the Amendment, said this Amendment was taken from two Bills introduced in this House of Commons by the Attorney General in 1886–1887, for the purpose of securing the public interest in regard to marriages of this kind. He had not been able to satisfy himself that the Amendment of the Attorney General would effect the object they had in view. At the same time he disclaimed any desire to stand in the way of the passing of the Bill, but he moved this Amendment because he thought there was time to consider it, and it was a, very desirable Amendment. The object of it was to secure that all persons who performed the ceremony of marriage other than the ministers of the Church of England, the Church of Rome, Quakers and Jews, should be duly authorised. The only question was how they could be best authorised. The Attorney General's Amendment was an alternative one, and it did not seem to him [Mr. Gedge] to give sufficient security. There was no provision made for keeping a list of the gentlemen who were authorised, or for declaring how long the authorisation lasted, and it would be better to adopt the suggestions embodied in his Amendment. If they did not wish to have just anyone to perform the mar- 332 riage ceremony without a proper certificate or authorisation, clearly they ought to have some responsible body or person to see that the Act had been complied with, and that the marriage had been, rightly performed according to law.
§ * MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)
appealed to the honourable Gentleman opposite not to persevere with his Amendment. The scheme he proposed was really a scheme in competition with the Attorney General. On behalf of the promoters; he wished to state it was their intention to accept the whole of the Amendments placed on the Paper by the Attorney General. With regard to the proposal put forward, which was taken from the Bill of 1886, he would point out that that Bill which had been carefully considered by the Nonconformists of the country, was found to be impracticable. He also desired to say that this Amendment would impose on Nonconformist churches very serious trouble in annually registering the whole of the ministers' names who were authorised to perform the ceremony of marriage in Nonconformist places of worship. The Amendment also threw upon the Registrar General the duty of discovering or determining whether the minister was an authorised person or not, instead of throwing it upon the trustees or governing bodies of the various churches in winch these marriages had to be solemnised. He hoped, under the circumstances, the honourable Gentleman would not persist in the Amendment.
§ SIR F. POWELL (Wigan)
expressed his gratification that the Amendments of the Attorney General were to be accepted.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL,
in the temporary absence of his right honourable Friend the Attorney General, supported the appeal to the honourable Gentleman.
§ * MR. GEDGE
said he made his. Amendments without seeing those of the Attorney General, but as the right honourable Gentleman was responsible for looking after the public interests he was quite content not to press his Amendment, although he preferred it 333 to those of the right honourable Gentleman.
The Amendment was, by leave, withdrawn, and the clause as amended was added to the Bill.
Clause 2, page 1, line 23, leave out 'shall extend to the Channel Islands, but.'"—(The Attorney General.)
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Isle of Wight)
, in moving this Amendment, said it would not be possible to allow this Bill to extend to the Channel Islands, as representations had been made to him that if it did it would create difficulties.
§ The Amendment was agreed to, and the clause added to the Bill.
§ Upon clause 3—
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said he did not know whether the matters had been considered by the promoters of the Bill, but it had been suggested to him that the operation of the Act should be postponed a little longer than, January 1st next, but if honourable Gentlemen thought sufficient time was given by that date to allow all arrangements to be made to carry out the provisions of the Act, there was nothing more to be said.
Clause 3 was added to the Bill.
Upon clause 4, page 2, line 8, after 'but.' insert 'in the presences of such duly authorised person as hereinafter mentioned and.'"—(The Attorney General)
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL,
in moving this Amendment, said that he desired to take the opportunity of stating what the scheme of his Amendments was. He should have been glad to have received more help than he did from honourable Gentlemen in dealing with this difficult question, but he hoped the Amendments on the Paper would serve as a working basis for the satisfactory solution of the Bill. In his speech on the Debate for the Second Reading of the Bill he had been compelled to criticise the Measure in the shape in which it was presented to the House, as in his opinion it did not provide a sufficient safeguard for the proper registration of marriage. He had ventured to draw attention to the 334 important paragraph in the Report of the Select Committee which had considered the questing, in which it was said that it was important that there should be a permanent register kept at the building at which the marriage was solemnised, and that there should be some person responsible in connection with that building, for the registration of marriages. The honourable Member for Lincolnshire admitted that the criticisms which he [the Attorney General] had addressed to the Bill were well founded, and intimated that he would be prepared to accept any Amendments which he might be able to frame, and in those respects he would be prepared to consent to a modification. It was with that object that the Amendments had been placed upon the Paper. In framing the Amendments the idea had been—instead of their being on loose sheets of paper, which were often lost, and for the safety and custody of which there was no safeguard, and the obligation, to return which was so vague—to provide for the formation of official registers, thus approximating the position of the Nonconformist churches with that of the Church of England. In the second place it was found that there must be some person in connection with the church who must be responsible for the keeping of correct registers and of returning the certifying copy or the certificate of marriage to the proper quarter. It was from that point of view that he had asked the Committee to amend clause 4 in the way he proposed. When he dealt with the subsequent Amendments he would endeavour to safeguard with sufficient liberty the person who was going to be made responsible for the registration. It was necessary that there should be some duly authorised person who should undertake this responsibility. Having explained the general outline of the Amendments, he would be very glad later on to answer any questions as to detail, or to consider any modification of the lines he had laid down.
§ * MR. PERKS
ventured to say that the promoters of the Bill ought to have had an opportunity of conferring with the right honourable Gentleman upon the details, and had the Amendments been placed upon the Paper at an earlier date 335 no doubt they would have had an opportunity. He had stated previously that the promoters were prepared to adopt anything in reason which the. Attorney General proposed with regard to "duly authorised persons." There was an official list published of all the ministers of the great Nonconformist churches. He did not know whether it would be proper to put in en bloc that list as showing who were authorised to solemnise marriage. Perhaps some future provision would be made for that.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
pointed out that the difficulty under which he had laboured had been that he had had to develop his Amendments out of his own inner consciousness to the best of his ability. The one point the authorities would insist on would be that there should be reasonable provision made for registration. There must be something like personal responsibility in connection with the chapel. With regard to the suggestion that the official list should be handed to the authorities as a list of all the established and authorised ministers, he might say at once that that would not be accepted.
§ * SIR H. H. FOWLER
The honourable Members upon this side of the House, as well as the bodies they represent, attach very great importance to the removal of this unpleasant grievance which has been forced upon them by the presence of a public officer representing the Registrar General at their marriages. We are quite as anxious as the right honourable Gentleman the Attorney General that there should be sufficient safeguard for the due solemnisation of marriage, and I approve of the proposals of the right honourable and learned Gentleman for the securing of the proper registration of marriages. The ministers of by far the largest proportion of Nonconformist places of worship registered for marriages are in each case appointed by a public body, the trustees of the building So far as the various shades of Methodism are concerned there will be no difficulty in preparing and handing in an official list of those ministers.
§ MR. J. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, Thirsk)
The "duly authorised person" in many cases would not be the minister, 336 because the ministers in certain denominations are changed about every year from one place to another. I think it would be well to provide that the person responsible for the registration of marriages should be a person resident in the parish. [Cries of No, no."] Well, if the promoters of the Bill do not like that I may say that I have always been in favour of the principle of this Bill.
§ * SIR H. H. FOWLER
The honourable Member is not, perhaps, acquainted with the circumstances, but if his suggestion were adopted the whole Methodist bodies would be excluded from the benefits of the Bill.
§ MR. GRANT LAWSON
I do not make the suggestion in that spirit. I thought that the objection to the registrar was that he would not belong to the same denomination, and that the objection would be met by the presence of a registrar of the same denomination.
§ Amendment agreed to, and clause 4, as amended, adopted.