HC Deb 24 April 1970 vol 800 cc809-12
Mr. S. C. Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 3, line 4, at end insert— 'within a reasonable period of time '.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that with this Amendment we take Amendment No. 10, in page 3, line 7, leave out ' required ' and insert ' entitled '.

Mr. Silkin

I hope that the House will not be weary of my voice, but in this case, as in some others, once one starts on something one tends to go on with it. That is how a number of Amendments now appear in my name.

Clause 6 states that the provisions of the Marriage Act, 1949, are to apply for the purposes of this measure to a marriage intended to be solemnised under the procedure laid down by the Bill as they would to a marriage intended to be solemnised under the provisions of the principal Act, but with a modification in respect of the consent of any person whose consent under that Act would be required.

The modification is that where, as matters now stand, there is, by reason of the absence of that person, or his inaccessibility or being under a disability he presumably cannot be found, that consent can be dispensed with. The reason for that modification is the shortness of the time within which these matters have to be dealt with because of the fact that the person with whom the Bill is concerned may be, if not on his deathbed, certainly seriously ill and one therefore wishes to proceed with the utmost dispatch.

It occurred to me on reading the Bill as it emerged from the Committee that the Clause does not make abundantly clear, as it ought to do, the necessity for that dispatch. It provides that if for the reasons set out the required consent cannot be obtained that consent should be waived, but no direction is given to the Registrar General as to the sort of period he should allow for absence, inaccessibility, and so on. We may have a situation in which the person whose consent is required is to be absent for three or four months, and will then come back. It will be difficult in those circumstances, to say that his consent cannot be obtained by reason of absence, because it would be able to be obtained after that four months period.

In the meantime, the unfortunate person who is to benefit from the provisions of the Bill may be beyond recovery. That difficulty could be resolved by inserting the proposed words. The word " reasonable " would be related to the time scale under which the Bill is in any event to operate.

Amendment No. 10 is, in a sense, a probing Amendment. The Clause continues with the words … the superintendent registrar shall not be required to dispense with the necessity for the consent of that person and the Registrar General may dispense with the necessity of obtaining the consent of that person …". Although I have read the words many times I cannot follow the intention of the word " required ". I cannot see why the superintendent registrar should in any event and in any circumstances not be required to dispense with consent. It seems to me that he should be entitled to do so, but I cannot see how he can be required to do so. I may have completely misunderstood the wording. If I have, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will put me right, and that, if he does not do so, the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) will.

Mr. O'Malley

The Clause states that … if the consent of any person whose consent is required under that Act cannot be obtained by reason of absence or inaccessibility or by reason of his being under any disability, the superintendent registrar shall not be required to dispense … I cannot recommend the House and the Bill's sponsor to accept the Amendment proposed by my hon. and learned Friend, because I am advised that it might, in practice, prove restrictive as it could force the Registrar General to delay for a " reasonable time " before deciding to dispense with the consent. As the Bill stands, the Registrar General would be enabled and entitled to use his discretion taking into account all the circumstances and the urgency of the circumstances. The Amendment could cause delay where delay, because of the circumstances of the case, could well be fatal.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to the use of the word " required ". Section 3 of the Marriage Act, 1949, says that in certain circumstances the superintendent shall dispense with consent. If we are linking or seeking to maintain similarities between this piece of legislation and the principal Act it seems that the word " required " is more appropriate than the word " entitled ". My advice to the House is that the Clause as it stands is in line with the principal legislation on this subject and " required " seems the appropriate word. In some circumstances, there would be delay as a result of the words proposed by my hon. and learned Friend in his first Amendment. Therefore, I could not commend either Amendment to the House.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Goodhew

While I am most anxious to be helpful to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), I was given to understand, and still believe from what the Under-Secretary has said, that one of the vital things about the Bill is that it should tie in with the principal Act. This form of words ties in with the form in the principal Act. Therefore, I hope that the hon. and learned Member will not press his Amendment.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I listened with great interest to what the Under-Secretary said and I appreciate that the effect of the proposed Amendment might be the opposite to that which I intended. I had intended to speed matters up but the advice which the Under-Secretary has received is that these words might have the effect of rather slowing matters down. No doubt the point can be considered further elsewhere.

In view of what my hon. Friend has said, I think that it would be right that the matter should be considered elsewhere rather than dealt with definitely here. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to
Forward to