§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD ELTISLEY
My Lords, I beg with respect to move the Second Reading of this Bill, to provide for the extension of hours during which marriages may be solemnized. Its simple, sole and single purpose is to extend the permitted hours during which persons may get married from three o'clock in the afternoon to six o'clock in the afternoon. As the law stands at present it is not permissible for persons to get married after three o'clock in the afternoon. So far as I can ascertain there does not appear to be any valid or good reason why those hours should not now be extended in view of the altered circumstances which obtain. It will be observed that by Clause 2 of the Bill it is not to apply to Scotland. The reason why the Bill is not intended to apply to Scotland is that Scotland already has these matrimonial facilities.
The Bill makes reference to the Marriage Act of 1886, and perhaps 1886 is as far back as I need go now in delving and digging into the past of the marriage laws of our country. Prior to 1886 the permitted hours during which marriages might be solemnized were between eight o'clock and twelve o'clock, but I would remind your Lordships that at that time twelve o'clock was the accepted dinner hour, and it was customary, and on many grounds it was probably convenient and desirable that marriages should not be solemnized after that hour. When the Bill of 1886 was introduced it was originally proposed that the permitted hours should be extended from twelve o'clock to four o'clock in the afternoon. Subsequently, however, when the Bill was passing through Committee, it was considered better that the time during which marriages might take place should be limited more or less to daylight hours, and therefore three o'clock was substituted for four o'clock.
I would in passing observe that in those clays lighting was by no means what it 437 is now, and if there were any need in those days, for that reason, to fix the hour earlier, at any rate now we have flood and other forms of lighting, and whatever need there may have been then for a law which regularised marriages only up to three o'clock has faded away in the light of modern development. I think it is interesting to note that during the passage of the Bill in 1886 the then Home Secretary, Mr. Childers, on the Third Reading of the Bill on the 29th March, 1886, observed:There is no objection to this Bill in any quarter of the House.I hope, therefore, that the attitude of your Lordships in respect to this Bill will be to consider that it is a reasonable Bill and that it should find a place on the Statute Book. I should like to say that the Bill passed through all its stages in another place without amendment, that it was backed by members of all Parties, and that it was unopposed by any member there.
The object of the Bill is, as I have already said, a very simple one. It is not so much to meet the desires, and possibly the wishes, of the residents of Mayfair, but it is to meet the wishes of some working men and some working women, who perhaps, in certain cases, can ill afford to spare the time and face the loss of even a single day's pay to celebrate so vastly important an occasion in their lives as their marriage. I have not myself been able to find or even to think of any objections of substance to this Bill. I have received correspondence about it from various sources. One or two bachelors deplore the provision that there should in future be three more hours during which they may perhaps be persuaded to take the fatal step,' and others makes allusion to one more of their excuses "going west." But as to those concerned with the actual ceremony, I suggest that the hours proposed will not be unduly long for the registrar, and, so far as the clergy are concerned, no complaints have reached me. It may indeed well be that this Bill will simplify their task of solemnising matrimony on bank holidays and on other special occasions and alleviate and lighten the burden thrown upon them by enabling them to spread their hours of duty over a little longer period. This Bill also merits consideration on the ground that it places no obligation on State funds. It has the 438 laudable purpose of encouraging marriage, not by way of bribery, not by way of subsidy, not by way even of a grant, or by pressure of any kind, but by the simple act of removing an old Victorian obstruction. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—.(Lord Eltisley.)
My Lords, I only wish to say that the Government agree that it will be for the general convenience if this Bill is passed. So far as the marriage officers under the Registrar-General are concerned, there will be some slight balance of convenience in their case, as the Bill will extend the work that they have to do more evenly over the day.
§ LORD PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I wish to say that we shall certainly support this Bill. I think it will be a great convenience, and I congratulate the noble Lord on introducing it. The danger point of the dinner hour having been avoided, people now will have a choice anyhow of being married after tea, which sounds domestic. I think perhaps we ought to have heard from some members of the Episcopal Benches what the attitude of the Church is on this point, but I should say that the change will be for the convenience of all ministers of religion, as it will certainly be for the convenience of those who wish to be married.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.