HL Deb 28 June 1949 vol 163 cc350-2

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, and perhaps it is desirable that I should say briefly something about it. This Bill reproduces, subject to the corrections and minor improvements proposed in a Memorandum laid before Parliament under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949, the law relating to the solemnisation and registration of marriages in England, which is at present contained in about forty different enactments dating from 1540 and is almost unintelligible owing to the number and complexity of the enactments. The clear and concise form of the present Bill makes it difficult to appreciate the extent of the improvement in the statement of the law which it achieves, and it is not until one begins to look at the existing Acts that the value of the Bill becomes apparent.

The earliest general Act about the solemnisation of marriage now in force is the Marriage Act, 1823, which, except in the case of Jews and Quakers, recognised marriages only according to the rites of the Church of England. Later, the Marriage Act, 1836, was passed for the relief of Dissenters in general and enabled marriages to be solemnised under a superintendent registrar's certificate in Nonconformist and Roman Catholic chapels registered under that Act and in register offices. This Act was extensively amended by the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1837, and by the Marriage and Registration Act, 1856. In 1898 another important change was introduced by the Marriage Act of that year, which enabled marriages to be solemnised in registered chapels in the presence of an authorised person instead of in the presence of a registrar. At each of these main stages in the development of the present law, no verbal amendments were made of any of the earlier enactments, and to understand the combined effect of the different enactments is no easy task.

The law relating to the registration of marriages is equally difficult to find. The registration of marriages by clergymen is dealt with in one Act, the registration of marriages by registrars in another, and the registration of marriages by authorised persons in yet another. Yet the law relating to marriage has to be interpreted every day by a large number of people who are not specially skilled in the law. It is very desirable that it should be clearly stated so that it may be readily understood by the clergymen and registrars who are required to comply with it, and by persons who wish to be married.

The state of the Marriage Acts makes their consolidation a case in which the procedure of the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act—which recently passed into law—is particularly useful. I accordingly have tabled a Memorandum under that Act with a view to making a number of minor amendments in the existing law. The Bill has been drafted as if amendments proposed in the Memorandum had already become law. These amendments, although minor in character and containing no point of substance, have made a great difference to the form of the Bill. Without them the Bill would not only contain several ambiguities and conflicting provisions, but would also be longer, owing to the obsolete and unnecessary provisions which it is proposed should be repealed. At the suggestion of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bill has been discussed with the Chairman of the Legal Board of the Church Assembly and certain members of the Board who are diocesan chancellors. They have been most helpful in the preparation of the Bill, and I hope it will be found acceptable from the point of view of the Church of England. The Bill has also been examined on behalf of the Church in Wales. I hope and believe that the other religious denominations will find nothing in the Bill to which they can object. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

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

On Question, Bill read 2a. Bill, together with a Memorandum laid before the House on the 2nd instant, and any representations made under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949, referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.