HL Deb 11 May 1932 vol 84 cc414-20

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, twenty-five years ago a proposal was put forward to enable marriages to be solemnised in garrison chapels under an ordinary licence, and a Bill was drafted for the purpose as long ago as 1913. I believe there are somewhere near fifty garrison chapels in England and Wales. Only nine of those are consecrated, and marriages have to take place in all the others under a special licence which, I understand, costs something like £25. Obviously, such a charge is an impossible one for warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men and also, of course, for many officers. It is my privilege at last to introduce this Bill to your Lordships and, working under my noble friend the Leader of the House, to bring this matter before Parliament for the first time.

Your Lordships may ask why, when the matter has been so long under consideration by the Service Departments, it has been so long before a Bill has been brought forward in Parliament. The marriage law and the registration of marriages in this country are among the subjects which have never been dealt with by a Consolidation Bill. I understand that something like thirteen Acts of Parliament had to be consulted before this Bill could be drafted. It has taken an immense amount of labour on the part of the Parliamentary draftsman and a good deal of research. That would have been impossible but for the assistance which has been given to us, in the first place, by the most rev. Primate, whom we are all glad to see back again in his place in the House, and in particular the great assistance given to us by my noble friend the Lord Bishop of Southwark whom I ought now, perhaps, to describe as the Lord Bishop-Elect of Winchester. For several years he has given us an immense amount of advice and assistance in drawing up this Bill. Further, we have had many consultations with the Registrar-General without whom we should have been unable to produce the measure.

The Bill is quite a short one and I think I can describe it to your Lordships in very few words. Under subsection (2) of Clause 1 marriages will be allowed to be solemnised in chapels which the Admiralty certify as naval chapels or those which the Secretary of State certifies to be either military or Air Force chapels. The people who may be married in those chapels are set out also in subsection (2). They are people who at the relevant date are either serving or have served in the various branches of the Regular Forces of the Crown. Under paragraph (c) members of the Reserve Forces, the Territorial Army, or the Auxiliary Air Force, if they are actually embodied, can be married in those chapels. Under paragraph (d) nurses who are actually employed in the nursing service connected with one of the Regular Forces of the Crown can be married in those chapels, and under paragraph (e) the daughter of any such qualified person. The "relevant date" is set out in subsection (3). Speaking generally, and not going into great detail, I may say it is the date of the notice of marriage. There are two different codes, one for Church of England marriages and one for marriages under other denominations who have a different code of registration. It has been necessary to try to bring these two into line and to get as simple an arrangement as possible for the purposes of the Bill.

The remainder of the Bill is simply machinery. Clause 2 deals with marriages according to the rites of the Church of England. Subsection (1) enables the Bishop of the diocese to licence a chapel for what I might call these military marriages. Under subsection (2) the Bishop of the diocese has power to revoke a licence when he so wishes, and he is called upon to do so when the Admiralty or the Secretary of State ask him to revoke it. That is only likely to occur when a chapel is no longer used for troops owing to their having been moved to another locality. Subsection (3) enacts that when a chapel is licensed for marriage that fact shall be published in the London Gazette, and when it ceases to be so licensed that fact shall also be published in the Gazette. Subsection (4) deals with the registration of marriages, and assimilates the procedure to the Marriage Act of 1898. Clause 3 deals with marriages otherwise than according to the rights of the Church of England, and it brings the Bill into line with the Marriage Act of 1898 in regard to the registration of those marriages. Clause 4 enacts that evidence shall not be necessary to show that a person is a qualified person to have been married in the chapel, or that the chapel has been licensed for that purpose. Under the Schedules it is quite definitely laid down that a person shall have the necessary residence, and shall give the necessary information that he is a qualified person before the banns can be published. I think it covers the point adequately.

In Clause 5 your Lordships will see that the Act does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. It does not apply to Scotland because, in that instance, Scotland is more fortunate than England, in that persons can be married in any building at the present time. Therefore the Bill is not necessary in regard to Scotland. In regard to Northern Ireland, it is believed that this is a matter which should be dealt with by the Parliament of Northern Ireland if it considers it necessary to do so.

As to the Schedules, the First deals with marriages enacted according to the rites of the Church of England, and the Second with marriages by other denominations, because the Bill deals with marriages by any denomination of the Christian religion. Part I of the First Schedule and of the Second Schedule deals with enactments that have to be excluded and Part II with enactments that have to be modified. That is really only to be certain that there is no overlapping in these innumerable Acts relating to marriage. There is certainly no alteration of law. It merely adapts the existing law in regard to marriage, and fits it into the requirements for marriages in naval, military and Air Force chapels.

I said at the beginning that I felt it is a privilege to bring this Bill before Parliament. I said so for this reason. I am firmly convinced that every member of the Defence Forces of the Crown will welcome this Bill. It is a Bill that many people have asked for for many years. The family feeling that exists in a good unit is one, I think, that all of us would desire to continue and, if possible, to help. Many officers and men who would desire to be married in the garrison chapel where they normally worship have been prevented from doing so by the cost. Thanks to the good offices of the most rev. Primate and others, we are enabled to reduce that cost until it becomes the same as that for a marriage in an ordinary parish church. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a most desirable object, and I hope the Bill will receive the same favour in Parliament as I am sure it will receive in the Services as a whole.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, I wish to make only a few brief observations upon this Bill. The noble Earl has explained very clearly its purpose—namely, to enable men who are either in the Navy, the Air Force, or the Army to be married in their own chapels without the cost of an Archbishop's licence. There were various difficulties in the way of this measure, some of them technical and legal difficulties, and there were also other difficulties which were raised from time to time. Among them there is the difficulty, which I know is felt by a certain number of people who have not gone very carefully into the matter, that in the future it will be possible for a man to have his banns called not in his parish church but in one of these chapels. The calling of the banns in the chapels is, of course, an innovation, though in most cases, but not in every case, those chapels will not, be open to the public, and the criticism has been made that this does away with the publicity entailed by calling the banns in the parish churches. But I feel that this is a theoretical rather than a practical difficulty. I think far greater publicity is likely to be given in the true sense of the term if a man's banns are called out before his own comrades in the garrison chapel in which he worships rather than in a parish church into which he may never enter.

For a number of years I was incumbent of a parish church in Wiltshire in which a very large number of Service men were married. The great majority of these marriages were perfectly correct in every kind of way, but I always felt it was almost impossible to know anything about the men serving in ships who sent their names in to be called in church where probably there was hardly anyone in the congregation who knew anything about them. Only a few hours ago I was talking to a friend who had been incumbent for some eight years of a large parish church in a great garrison town, and he told me that again and again he felt this difficulty, that if men wanted their banns to be called secretly and the facts about their marriages not to be known, the simplest way was to go to the parish church, and my friend wished in such cases that those banns might have been called in the garrison church instead of the parish church.

There is another difficulty which I may just touch upon. It would be a very serious matter in some cases if the fees which are now received by the incumbents were transferred to the chaplains of the garrison churches. In many cases where the incumbent is feeling financial pressure the difference of £10 or £20 a year might be a very serious matter to him, but this Bill does not in any way take away from the incumbent the right of receiving his legitimate fee. I understand that the Departments are perfectly ready to make arrangements to see that the fee is paid regularly, subject of course to the sanction of the Treasury. It has already been done in one case I know of, where the fees are regularly paid to the incumbent of the parish church. Of course there will be the loss of a number of incidental fees which will naturally drop out, but I believe the incumbents are perfectly ready to face this if by so doing they are able to solve the grievance which has undoubtedly been felt by many.

I would also point out that this Bill does not propose that every chapel should at once be licensed for marriages. The different chapels will each be dealt with on their own merits. The Departments concerned will make their applications in each case, and each will be considered separately, so that I feel there is really no danger of any abuse arising through the extension of this privilege. I am not quite so optimistic as the noble Earl about the number of people who will avail themselves of this opportunity. I think that in many cases the bride will insist on being married in her own parish church, and I think, as far as the men are concerned, very often the very last place they would wish to be married in is the chapel which to them is so associated with church parades. But undoubtedly there are a certain number of people who, for years past, have felt the present position to be a grievance, and, therefore, as far as this Bill succeeds in removing that, it is to be welcomed.


My Lords, I do not think I have anything to say in addition to what has been said by the Lord Bishop of Southwark, who has taken an immense amount of trouble over this matter in negotiation with representatives of the Departments. As the noble Earl has said, the Bill has been the result of a great deal of inquiry and deliberation. No sooner had we set our minds to see whether something could be done than all the difficulties of the marriage laws immediately emerged. An immense amount of labour has been bestowed upon this part of the Bill by the Parliamentary draftsman. I agree that on the whole it is well that this Bill should pass. It is true that it involves, or may involve, a very real sacrifice on the part of numbers of the clergy of the Church of England, not so much in the matter of the fee, which I hope may be amicably arranged, but in the matter, particularly as regards marriages of officers, of those extra fees which accompany marriages of that kind which make a great difference sometimes to the clergy.

But, my Lords, the person who suffers most under this Bill is the individual who is now addressing your Lordships. I do not say that I personally will lose a very considerable revenue if your Lordships are pleased to allow this Bill to pass, but certainly a number of my most trusted and valuable officials—the Master of the Faculties and those who work with him and transact a great deal of very necessary business—will lose some of the emoluments which they now enjoy for that work. Therefore your Lordships will see that really I should have an interest in opposing the Bill which the noble Earl has put before the House. I am, however, willing to make a sacrifice as far as I am concerned because I am anxious to increase, as far as one can increase, the opinion that the garrison chapel is the spiritual home of the officers and men. I agree that in the case of the men they may not be so concerned as are the officers to be married in the garrison chapel, but at any rate, in the same way that parishioners, I hope, regard the parish church as their spiritual home, so the men of the garrison or marines or the men in the dockyards should look upon the chapel as the place where they would wish to be married, and that wish should as far as possible be gratified.

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