HL Deb 20 May 1970 vol 310 cc1142-4

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. There are perhaps two kinds of Private Member's Bill: those that err on the side of trying to do too much and those that err on the side of doing little. This Bill of mine is in the second category. It makes the most modest incursion possible into those deep and mysterious waters, the marriage laws of England and Wales, into which none but stout and well-found vessels like the Law Commission can hope to venture without perishing beneath the waves for ever. This Bill is not a matter of such high venture. It has only one very limited purpose; namely, to extend to others an advantage and a benefit which is at present held exclusively by the Anglican Church for the benefit only of her own members; and to extend it to that limited number of occasions when one of two parties who wish to marry is very seriously ill and not expected to recover, who may be at home or in hospital, but who is too seriously ill to be taken to any of the places where, under present law, a marriage can be solemnized according to the rites of the Anglican Church. This Bill will confer on the Registrar General powers in respect of others analogous to those which the Archbishop of Canterbury has in respect of Anglicans; namely, power to issue a licence for a marriage in the special circumstances in places not registered for that purpose.

My Lords, even this extremely modest objective requires a Bill of 20 clauses, first, because of the complexity of our marriage laws and also because of the importance, value and sanctity of marriage itself which, if it is not to be entered into inadvisably, lightly or wantonly, requires a substantial legal frame to support it.

The Second Reading of this Bill was set down for June 9. In preparation for that I already have 18 to 20 pages of notes on which, with further development and refinement during the Recess, I could well have made a speech lasting some 30 minutes on the Second Reading alone. However, I hope that your Lordships will be content with the much briefer introduction that I have now offered and will be still further reassured when I say that this Bill was thoroughly discussed in another place.

I like to think that the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, will be able to confirm that this Bill is satisfactorily drafted and that it does nothing whatever to delay the much wider and deeper review of the marriage laws which the Law Commission has currently in hand, and out of which enterprise I propose to keep well clear, if I possibly can. My Lords, if in my desire to expedite business I have been over brief, I shall be only too glad to answer questions, but I now beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

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


My Lords, I think the House will want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on changing gear so smoothly, and perhaps even on changing his collar. We are all deeply indebted to him for pruning those 20 pages to which he referred. As he said, this Bill provides a means of helping a small number of people who are, in urgent circumstances, in this particular situation. At the moment the Archbishop's special licence is available only for marriages according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, and it is an anomaly that Roman Catholics, Methodists and those of other denominations and faiths are unable to have the religious marriage ceremony they wish and that people who wish a civil ceremony have no means of getting married.

I should also point out that, in addition, the Archbishop's licence is not available for divorced persons having a former spouse still living. The Bill will not in any way affect the Archbishop's power to issue a special licence, and the Bill applies only to England and Wales, as there is already provision in Scotland for marriages in the circumstances outlined in the Bill. The House will like to know that the Registrar General has undertaken that one of his senior officers will be available to deal with urgent applications, in co-operation with the local superintendent registrar, and of course in urgent cases the work can always be done over the telephone.

I should like to confirm the point made by the noble Lord about the Law Commission. As the House will know, a Working Party has been set up jointly by the Law Commission and the Registrar General under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Scarman, and we think that probably as a result there will be wider improvements in this particular branch of the law. Nevertheless, the Bill is required now. It is a useful Bill, it will remove distress in a number of cases and I commend it to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution):


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time. In the ten or eleven years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House this is my first experience of taking responsibility for a Private Member's Bill. If I had thought it was as easy and straightforward as this I might have tried my hand before. However, I am quite aware that it is indeed "beginner's luck" that I am to be allowed to take the Bill through all its stages in one day. I am extremely grateful to your Lordships for allowing me to do this, and to the Government and the "usual channels", in particular, for their treatment of this modest measure; but, what is more important, so will be those people, albeit only a few in number, and their dependants, for whose benefit the Bill has been put forward. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.

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