HC Deb 03 July 1939 vol 349 cc1072-8

10.40 p.m.

Mr. R. Gibson

I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, to leave out paragraph (i).

This paragraph deals with the publication of banns and notification under the Marriage Notice (Scotland) Act. The Clause is the part of the Bill which introduces a novel form of marriage in Scotland, namely, marriage before a registrar. This being a new process, one has to consider what is the most practical form that the new process can take. We had the advantage in Committee of a very considerable discussion on the publication of banns in Scotland. While the discussion there was on the question of extending that practice, there was general agreement that the publication of banns served no useful purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) indicated that church proclamation as a means of publicity was quite obsolete, and in so saying, he was quoting from a report that was adopted unanimously by the United Free Church Assembly in Scotland. That was a very powerful statement, and it did not rest there, because the Lord Advocate himself indicated that banns were obsolete, and the best that he could say about banns was that the publication of banns does nobody any harm. Consequently, what is the use of cumbering a new form of marriage in Scotland with this obsolete machinery? It does not do anybody any harm, but surely a new form of procedure that is supposed to be quick and ready and easily available to people should not be cumbered by unnecessary procedure.

The proclamation of banns may be very useful in connection with a marriage by a clergyman or a minister in Scotland, but Clause I of the Bill is not dealing with that matter. Surely, it is intended to be something that is practical, and if banns have become obsolete and are merely a relic of something that is antique, then in the creation of a new machine altogether that is to have practical utility, the relic should be left out because it does not serve any useful purpose. Accordingly, if this were left out, the parties who desired to be married would go straight to the registrar and the procedure set out in the next two paragraphs of Sub-section (1) would be carried out and the registrar would go on with his duties as set out in Sub-section (2). With regard to the practical significance of banns or intimation by notification, in the terms of the Act of 1878, what is the purpose? I put questions to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State asking for information as to the marriages that had been objected to after the proclamation of banns, and the answer was that there was no information available. I tested it over different times. I took, first, the whole period as far back as he could go. That was ineffective in getting any positive information. Then I brought it down to the last year, and again it was impossible, as far as I could gather from the answer, to trace a single case in which a proclamation of banns of intended marriage had resulted in an objection being forthcoming that caused proceedings to be taken or the marriage to be postponed.

The same was the case in connection with intimations of intended marriage outside the registrar's office in the terms of the Act. There was no information available of any useful purpose having been served. Accordingly, from the practical point of view, I submit that it is a serious blot on the Clause that this antique, un-useful and ineffective machinery should be continued. It can only cause unnecessary delay and delay which is productive of no useful result to the parties who intend to be married. I, therefore, move the omission of paragraph (i).

Mrs. Hardie

I beg to second the Amendment.

I agree that this procedure should be simple and easily understood, and there is no reason whatever why it should be necessary to give this notice when a contract of marriage is about to be entered into between certain parties.

10.46 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

The Amendment of which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave me notice a short time ago is, I understand, confined to the deletion from Clause 1 of the first paragraph of Sub-section (1). The hon. and learned Member supported his Amendment by certain arguments directed, in the main, to the usefulness or uselessness of the proclamation of banns. The paragraph which he seeks to delete has nothing whatever to do with banns. It is concerned solely with the civil substitute for banns which was introduced by the Marriage Notice (Scotland) Act, 1878, the substitute, namely, of an intimation given in the registrar's office. That substitute has been in habitual use in Scotland for 61 years.

Mr. Buchanan

It is time it was altered.

The Lord Advocate

In the report of the Morison Committee there is no suggestion of any alteration of the law in that respect. On the contrary, there is commendation of the practice introduced by that Act and since habitually employed in Scotland. Further, I might observe that in another place where this Bill was first introduced, on its Second Reading in this House and during the Committee stage upstairs, practically every conceivable alteration in the law of marriage that commended itself to the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. Gibson) was proposed at one stage or another. It is only now, at this late stage in the consideration of the Bill, that the suggestion is made for the first time, that notice to the registrar should be dispensed with as a requirement in connection with the civil form of marriage which the Bill proposes to introduce.

As I say, the hon. and learned Member's argument was misdirected to the question of the usefulness or otherwise of banns. I shall confine my reply to the question of the usefulness or uselessness of the notice to the registrar. On that topic, I would say that the hon. and learned Gentleman is in error if he supposes that these notices are never productive of results in the shape of objections from persons who have a right to take objection to a proposed marriage. I have evidence in my hand that during the last ten years no fewer than 20 cases were subject to objections, stated officially, in the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee.

Mr. Buchanan

None in Greenock

The Lord Advocate

I have no figures to suggest that anything of that kind happened there—which may account for the hon. and learned Gentleman's ignorance of the fact that this machinery has been so effective. But, apart from that, I do not measure the usefulness of giving prior notice by the number of official objections. The fact that notice has to be given is in itself one of the best guarantees of the bona fides of the parties.

Mr. Buchanan

That has nothing to do with the point of what the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. Gibson) said about banns. You are confining yourself to the civil procedure.

The Lord Advocate

I do not think the hon. Gentleman could have been here when I began.

Mr. Buchanan

I have been here the whole time.

The Lord Advocate

Very well then, I can only repeat that the question of banns does not arise under this Amendment at all; it is concerned solely with the substitute for banns, the notice to the registrar. But on that point the recommendation of the Morison Committee, in dealing with the provisions for a new civil marriage, was that the requirement of the notice under the Act of 1878 should be observed, and the argument given by the Committee in favour of that course was that if the parties, however retiring or secretive they might wish to be, really intended to enter into a civil contract of marriage, it was not too much to expect that they would go to the office of the registrar in their own neighbourhood and give him the necessary particulars, and return when they had received their certificate. In that way, they said, an honourable matrimonial intention would be apparent and unequivocal. On those grounds I submit that this belated suggestion to dispense with an integral and valuable part of the new civil marriage should not be accepted by the House.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Maxton

I approached this question with a very open mind, but I would point out, first of all, that this procedure is not with reference to marriages that will be conducted by clergy, and the notices the Lord Advocate referred to, when 20 objections were taken, were notices given to a registrar with reference to marriages that were going to be performed subsequently by clergymen. Here we are dealing with marriages which are going to be performed by a registrar, and this is in substitution of marriages that were formerly conducted before the Sheriff—a marriage system which worked reasonably well in Scotland for an extended period of time, and for which no notice at all was required. It seems to me that the Lord Advocate has given a very flimsy reply to the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. Gibson) and made a debating point out of the use of the word "banns," which, I take it, he only used to mean that previous notice had been given. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate tells us about 20 objections being taken as a result of these notices, and he was very sketchy about that. He did not tell us how many of these objections were sustained. Presumably, the registrar who was to conduct a marriage ceremony would take reasonable steps to see that there was no impediment to his performing the marriage in a legal way.

Sir Edmund Findlay

How could he?

Mr. Maxton

Under this procedure all that he does is to stick out a board. Nobody reads the board except the reporter in the local newspaper, and I suppose that that is the interest of the hon. Member opposite who asked the question. I shall support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Greenock, and if he proposes to take it to a Division, I shall go into the Lobby in favour of it.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 155; Noes,23

Division No. 218.] AYES. [10.58 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Gritten, W. G. Howard Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. Hannah, I. C. Remer, J. R,
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Rickards. G. W. (Skipton)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Ridley, G.
Aske, Sir R. W. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Riley, B.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Hepworth, J. Ropner, Colonel L.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.) Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Benson, G. Hogg, Hon. Q. McG. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Bird, Sir R. B. Holdsworth, H. Salt, E. W.
Bossom, A. C. Holmes, J. S. Samuel, M. R. A.
Boulton, W. W. Hopkinson, A. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Braithwaite, J. Gurney (Holderness) Horsbrugh, Florence Shakespeare, G. H.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Howitt, Dr. A. B. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Bull, B. B. Hunloke, H. P. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L. Hunter, T. Sinclair, Col, T. (Queen's U. B'lf"at)
Campbell, Sir E. T. Jarvis, Sir J. J. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Smith, E. (Stoke)
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) John, W. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Collindridge, F. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Smithers, Sir W.
Colman, N. C. D. Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth) Sorensen, R. W.
Colville, Rt. Hon. John Kerr, Sir J. Graham (Scottish Univ.) Strauss, H. G. (Norwish)
Conant, Captain R. J. E. Lathan, G. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nbargh, W.) Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Liddall, W. S. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Cox, H. B. Trevor Little, J. Thorneycroft, G. E. P.
Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page Llewellin, Colonel J. J. Tufnell, Lleut.-Commander R. L.
Crooke, Sir J. Smedley Loftus, P. C. Turton, R. H.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Lunn, W. Wakefield, W. W.
Cross, R. H. M'Connell, Sir J. Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Dalton, H. McKie, J. H. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Davidson, Viscountess Magnay, T. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Mathers, G. Watson, W. McL.
Duggan, H. J. Medlicott, F. Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie
Duncan, J. A. L. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Webbe, Sir W. Harold
Ede, J. C. Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick) Wells, Sir Sydney
Edge, Sir W. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Westwood, J.
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Moreing, A. C. White, H. Graham
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Unlv's.) Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Emery, J. F. Munro, P. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Findlay, Sir E. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Fleming, E. L. Paling, W. Wragg, H.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Furness, S. N. Pilkington, R. York, C.
Fyfe, D. P. M. Plugge, Capt. L. F Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Gower, Sir R. V. Price, M. P.
Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Radford. E. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Gridley, Sir A. B. Raikes, H. V. A. M. Lieut.-Colonel Kerr and Mr. James Stuart.
Grimston, R. V. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Macdonald, G. (Ince) Silverman, S. S.
Adamson, W. M. Maclean, N. Stephen, C.
Buchanan, G. Maxton, J. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Burke, W. A. Parker, J. Tinker, J. J.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Parkinson, J. A. Wilkinson, Ellen
Hardie, Agnes Poole, C. C.
Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Ritson, J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Hills, A. (Pontefract) Seely, Sir H. M. Mr. McGovern and Mr. Gibson.
Lawson, J. J. Sexton, T. M.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.