HL Deb 12 May 1915 vol 18 cc980-3


Order the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the object of this Bill is to facilitate marriages between British subjects resident in the United Kingdom and British subjects resident in other parts of His Majesty's Dominions or in British Protectorates. This proposal was put forward some years ago in England by the Registrar-General. The inconvenience attaching to the present law is more marked in regard to marriages that take place in the United Kingdom than in the case of marriages that take place under these conditions in British Dominions or Protectorates. Although the question was not formally discussed at the last imperial Conference there was, on the part of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, a considerable amount of personal conversation with the representatives of the various Dominions on that occasion, and since then he has had a continuous correspondence in regard to bringing about legislation to deal with this difficulty.

The Bill provides for the recognition here in the United Kingdom, for the purposes of marriage, of banns and notices of marriage issued in any other part of His Majesty's Dominions, and the same in the Dominions of banns and certificates of marriage issued in this country. At present any one who arrives here and contemplates marriage has to comply with conditions which necessitate a delay of some weeks before the marriage can take place. Considerable inconvenience, therefore, is caused on many occasions to those arriving in this country who are strangers to it and have no friends or relatives here. Especially is this so in the case of young girls coming from different parts of the Empire who have arranged a marriage with a British subject resident in this country. The proposal is that each Dominion will pass reciprocal legislation to the Bill which I am now submitting to your Lordships, and that reciprocal legislation must take place and an Order in Council ensue as a result of it before this legislation becomes operative. It will be seen, therefore, that the Bill does not suggest in any way the smallest interference with the self-governing Dominions. It will be left entirely to their discretion and assent as to whether they will pass the reciprocal legislation.

It has been suggested to me by the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that there may be difficulties when these certificates are presented by perfect strangers to clergymen in this country who are not conversant with the certificate and may not be able to know how they can verify its authenticity. I can quite realise that that may be accentuated by the fact that these certificates of marriage vary in their form considerably in the different Dominions of the Empire. Therefore a certain amount of difficulty might arise in the mind of a clergyman who had presented to him a certificate from one Dominion one week and a certificate from another the next week both framed in a different form. I would suggest, by way of getting over that difficulty, that when the reciprocal legislation has been passed in each Dominion and the Order in Council has been issued the Order should be published in the London Gazette, and that attached to each of these local Orders in Council should be an exact copy of the certificate of marriage which obtained in that particular Dominion or Protectorate. I think if that were done the authorities in this country, by seeing in the London Gazette each of the Orders in Council, would have an opportunity of becoming informed as to the character of these certificates. And the Colonial Office will be very glad, as each of these Orders in Council is issued, to send to the most rev. Primate a copy of the certificate in order that the clergy may know in each case the form of certificate that will be in practise.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Islington.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill for what he said with regard to the difficulty by which an innocent country clergyman might find himself beset, though I doubt whether the noble Lord's mode of meeting the difficulty quite satisfies the conditions. If a man in a country village presents a paper which purports to be from, say, the Protectorate of British East Africa and to be a proper certificate as to what is required there as regards marriage conditions and thereupon desires that a marriage shall forthwith take place, it will not be very adequate that the clergyman should be told that in the London Gazette of some years back a notice was published describing what these conditions were. In the course of the last few months I have had to deal with marriage problems, one concerning Fiji, one concerning Hong-Kong, and one concerning British East Africa. Imagine the position of a country vicar who finds documents suddenly put before him with which he must, in the nature of the case, be unfamiliar, but with which he is told to rest content. I venture to think that something more than what the noble Lord has suggested will be required if the clergy are to act upon this new law, of which I entirely approve, for facilitating marriages.

It does not seem to me that it ought to be difficult to have some little pamphlet or paper issued stating what are, in the different parts of the world, the kind of forms which the clergyman performing such a marriage here ought prima facie to regard as satisfactory. That information should be collected and not left to be discovered from successive issues of the London Gazette. It ought not to be an impossible task for the Colonial Office to put together such a statement, which could be circulated to those who have the responsibility of celebrating marriages and which they could keep by them to enable them to see in each case whether the document placed before them was worthy of respect. Every clergyman has discretion as to whether or not he will perform a marriage coming under such conditions as this Bill refers to, and he might tell the parties that he could not celebrate the marriage and that they must go to the registrar for a civil marriage; but I do not want to encourage that at all. We do not desire to shirk the responsibility which ought to lie on the country clergy. But steps should be taken to safeguard them from positions of extreme embarrassment, and possibly from the celebration of marriages which might afterwards prove to be invalid.

The matter is one which requires to be looked into by the Colonial Office before this Bill becomes operative. The noble Lord, quite unintentionally of course, a little exaggerated the difficulties when he said that as the law at present stood many weeks must elapse before the marriage could take place. If any one of the two parties had been resident for more than a fortnight in the parish a licence could be obtained even if the other party had only arrived a few hours before, but the obtaining of that licence would require the production of documentary evidence. It is in order that the study of this documentary evidence may be a little simplified that I express the wish that the Colonial Office should issue something which should be a conspectus of the rules prevailing on this subject, and which could be circulated to those upon whom the responsibility of celebrating the marriages lies.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.