§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD HADEN-GUEST
My Lords, the Bill which comes to us to-day is one which will make it easier for members of Christian organisations to marry. One might have thought that such a Bill was hardly needed at the present time, but under existing legislation members of Nonconformist bodies—using the word "Nonconformist" in a wide sense—have considerable difficulties in marrying. This Bill, which I hope your Lordships will be willing to give a Second Reading to-day, deals with the difficulties under the law as it is at present in regard to the distance of residence of the parties to a marriage from the place of worship in which they desire to be married. Their place of residence must not be more than two miles from the place of marriage. The proposed change in the law will also apply to humanists and ethicists, and others.
The main purpose of the Bill is to do away with the two-mile limit. The law at present provides that a person who wishes to get married in a registered building must give notice that he lives within two miles of the registration district. It is sufficient for one of the parties so to qualify. But if a person not known to a registrar walks into his office and says that he wishes to get married at a chapel, and if the registrar finds that it is outside the boundary of the registration district, he then has to measure the distance. The law is not clear as to whether that distance is as the crow flies or via the shortest highway. It may easily be, and in Wales often is, that the shortest distance is less than two miles as the crow flies, but the road journey would be ten miles.
At present, one finds that either one party to the marriage, or both, attend a place of worship which is three miles from their homes; and in these circumstances the parties cannot be married in their usual place of worship. If they want to get married in a chapel, they must get married at the chapel in the district in which they live, although one strange to them. Take the case of A and B—this is quite a common case nowadays—who work together, or may travel 434 together to a nearby town from a new housing estate. There are no places of worship on the estate. They may have been rehoused from a town and either used to attend the same place of worship or may have gone there since. At present they would not be able to get married in the town place of worship, if it was more than two miles from the registration district. This Bill does away with that restriction.
In Wales, there are valleys and mountains separating communities, but the registration district rules apply, and often people say, for instance, that they will get married at Brecon, where they attend a place of worship. But should they come from the nearby Sanatorium Talgarth (a place, incidentally, which I know very well), which is more than two miles away, they are debarred from getting married at Brecon. The unfair thing is that advantage is gained by small sects and denominations over the larger ones, as it is possible for the small churches or sects not to have a place of worship within the registration district and then the marriage can take place at the nearest—which may be anywhere from Liverpool to London. This anomaly applies only to Nonconformists. The new Bill does not affect the Church of England, the Church in Wales, Quakers or Jews, to whom the limitations of the present law do not apply. The practice has been, and still is, for parties to the marriage, or one of them, to reside within the area of the place of worship by just staying with a friend for the stipulated period, or, as in most cases, to take the illegal step of leaving cases there, or at an hotel maybe, for one night. Clause 2 brings under the Bill such sects as humanists and ethicists and other religionists who cannot normally be termed Christians. The passing of this Bill, which went through the other place without opposition, will remove an anomaly, and I trust that your Lordships will be willing to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Haden-Guest.)
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT WOOLTON)
My Lords, no fundamental change in our marriage laws is in issue here. The changes are small. They concern only 435 marriages outside the district of residence, and they do not touch the legal requirements as to registration of marriages, which remain exactly as they were. The Government have agreed to facilitate the passage of the Bill, and I am sure that no Member of your Lordships' House is likely to disagree with its object of removing unnecessary restrictions upon marriages in buildings used for religious worship by the denomination of the parties concerned in the marriage. I am pleased to be able to support the noble Lord who has moved the Second Reading.
My Lords, this Bill seems to be based entirely on common sense, and I should like formally to record that we on the Liberal Benches are pleased to give it our full support.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.