HC Deb 21 January 1976 vol 903 cc1326-7
9. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to reform the marriage laws in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

10. Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will seek to amend the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 as recommended in the 1969 Kilbrandon Committee's Report, paragraph 114.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

To extend recognition in Scotland to marriages of non-Christian religious bodies, as proposed in paragraph 114 of the Kilbrandon Committee's Report on the Marriage Law of Scotland, while incorporating the safeguards and changes on which the Committee's recommendation was conditional, would involve a fairly extensive Bill. I consider that it would be preferable to deal with the matter in a comprehensive Marriage Bill, which would also implement other recommendations of the Committee, but I cannot yet say when it will be possible to find parliamentary time for this legislation.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my hon. Friend aware that recently an English boy serving in Her Majesty's Forces wanted to marry an Airdrie girl and that, because of his service to the country, he could not fulfil the residential qualification of 21 days? It cost him £23 to obtain a licence, together with legal fees, to marry the girl. Does not my hon. Friend think that this is a grave injustice? [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap at the price."] Bonny lassies in Airdrie are worth an awful lot more, but the lawyers and the sheriffs are taking the money. Does my hon. Friend think that some steps should be taken as soon as possible to end such a grave injustice being imposed on young serving soldiers who live elsewhere than in Scotland?

Mr. Ewing

I am sure that the person concerned would consider the money well spent. However, I recognise that this is one of the prevailing problems in the existing marriage laws. It is one of the matters that we are considering. We shall deal with it as soon as parliamentary time becomes available.

Mr. Hutchison

Will the Minister consider the possibility of the legislation that is contemplated in my Question being handled by a Private Member, with perhaps some help from the Scottish Office? It cannot be such a vast or difficult undertaking.

Mr. Ewing

I do not discount the difficulties involved in such a suggestion, but I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we shall consider what he has said.

Mr. Rifkind

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Divorce (Scotland) Bill introduced by my noble Friend Lord Selkirk has now completed all its stages in another place? Would it not be sensible for this place to find time to consider that Bill rather than to have two Bills running in double harness? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that such a course would ensure that this necessary reform, which is desired by a strong majority on both sides of the House, was not delayed for many more months?

Mr. Ewing

Divorce, while related somewhat loosely to marriage, has little or nothing to do with the Question. In fairness to the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick), I should say that his Private Member's Bill on divorce law reform will be coming before the House in the not-too-distant future. For the moment I prefer to leave the matter at that.