HL Deb 13 December 1984 vol 458 cc402-15

3.30 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I got involved in this matter through Mr. Keith Speed, the honourable Member for the Ashford divison of Parliament, in whose constituency I have a residence. Mrs. Hill and Mr. Alan Monk are constituents of Mr. Speed. From the amount of post I have had about this Bill, one would think that there was going to be an ugly rush of mothers-in-law wanting to marry their sons-in-law. If I had been in a position to marry my mother-in-law, I know who should have worn the trousers. Fortunately, I was not in that position. I do not think that the writers of these letters really understood that this is a Bill—it is a Private Bill—for only two people; it is so that Mrs. Hill and Mr. Monk may marry.

Mrs. Hill was born on 13th May 1935. I do not think that it is particularly important to read out these birth dates, but I suppose I should. Mr. Alan Monk was born on 5th January 1955. Mrs. Hill is therefore 20 years older than Mr. Monk, if my arithmetic is correct. That is neither here nor there. Mrs. Hill is the mother-in-law of Mr. Monk. Mr. Monk married Mrs. Hill's daughter, Janette Sandra Rusher, who was born in July 1959. Miss Rusher then became Mrs. Monk. This is very involved. Mrs. Hill's husband at that time was a Mr. Terence Rusher.

Mrs. Monk walked out on Mr. Monk and left him with responsibility for the children. These two people, Mr. Monk and Mrs. Hill, wish to get married, but there is one obstacle in the way. Under the 1949 Act there is a technical bar to their marriage. It has nothing to do with affinity in blood that there is a technical bar; the bar is under the 1949 Act. But under the 1965 Act there have been one or two occasions when fathers-in-law have married their daughters-in-law. The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a report that he brought out this year, said that, if there was just cause, this technical bar could be dispensed with; and there have been one or two occasions when fathers-in-law have married their daughters-in-law. But, as far as I am aware, there has never been a case of a mother-in-law marrying her son-in-law.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I think the House might be slightly misled. I chaired the committee in question, and I should like to say that the Archbishop has not in fact yet expressed a view on it. If the noble Viscount will forgive me for saying so, it would be to mislead the House to give the impression that the Archbishop has in any way accepted that report.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I thought that in the Church report the Archbishop has said that, if there was just cause, exceptions could be made.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships, but my information is that the group set up by the most reverend Primate issued a majority report and a minority report. That is the essence of the matter.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness. Nevertheless, there have been one or two cases where fathers-in-law have been allowed to marry their daughters-in-law.

I should like to point out, and to prove, that there is a just cause here for these two people to be married. Mr. Monk was left with two young children aged five and four, when his wife walked out, and the court gave custody of the children to him. It is very difficult for a young man who is under 30 to look after young children. He had few relations who could take on this task.

Mrs. Hill, who is the grandmother of these two children, said she would help. Mr. Monk then brought the children over to Mrs. Hill's house, where they are being brought up at the moment. The divorce went through in April 1983. Mr. Monk has custody of the children, and he had no one to look after them. He brought them over to his former wife's mother's house, where they are now being brought up. Mrs. Hill has been a very unfortunate lady in regard to her marriages, because she was in a divorce and she has been widowed twice. Both her husbands died of natural causes and she devotedly nursed them through their illnesses.

Mr. Monk and Mrs. Hill are now living together in the same house as husband and wife. They want to get married, for two reasons. One reason is that they are very fond of each other. The other reason, which is of extreme importance, is that they want to bring the children up in a stable home. Apparently the children look upon Mrs. Hill as their mother, and they call her "mummy." They are a young age and it is very important for them to be brought up in a stable home. I hope that that can be made possible by Mrs. Hill and Mr Monk being allowed to marry. As regards the Church, I understand that the wedding cannot take place in church but apparently the local vicar has said that if the Bill becomes law he will bless the wedding.

I do not think that I can take the matter any further. I could tell your Lordships a great many dates—for example, when Mrs. Hill was widowed, the cause and so on—but I do not think they are relevant. I appeal to your Lordships to give this matter a fair hearing so that the parties can get married. I pointed out that there is no blood affinity. For a long time you have been allowed to marry your cousin. You are now allowed, under a recent Act, to marry your deceased wife's sister, and there might even be a blood affinity in that case. However, there is no blood affinity in this case. I agree that marrying your cousin is not quite the same situation as that which we are discussing at present, but I hope that your Lordships will give a favourable answer to this request. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)

3.43 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I would hate there to be any misunderstanding, and I am sure that the noble Viscount will well understand me when I say that when he rises we are always used to laughing with him, but never at him. I would therefore hope that if the couple whom we are discussing this afternoon happen to be present in any part of your Lordships' House, or if they are represented, they will know that your Lordships always regard matters of this kind with the utmost sympathy and the utmost understanding, and always with the utmost consideration.

Having said that, let us consider the situation. We are talking about two human beings: a lady aged, I believe, 49, and a gentleman aged 29. The gentleman was a van driver for many years. He has been unemployed for the last couple of years—and I mention that because it is relevant to something that I shall say to your Lordships hereafter—and very recently he has been endeavouring to make his own way in life by setting up a little business of his own. Unfortunately there was a divorce, and two children of that marriage—the husband having obtained custody—are now staying with the husband, with whom your Lordships are dealing this afternoon, and with the mother-in-law. Indeed, the children were taken there immediately the parties separated. It is one of those civilised families, because I am informed that the mother of these two children visits the house every week and they have Sunday lunch together. The mother has expressed herself—certainly to the media, which is my only source of information in this respect—as being very much in favour of a marriage taking place between her mother and her former husband. There is no doubt about it, that the children regard this lady with the utmost affection.

There is no doubt about the fact that the parties have lived together in complete amity, forming a little family. So your Lordships will well understand that it was to their great disillusionment that, having decided to get married and having approached the registrar, they were told that there was a law which dates back to Henry VIII—not a great expert on the propriety of marriages—and that under that legislation, which has been re-enacted since (or, at least, the provisions of which have been re-enacted), there is a prohibition against the marriage of a woman and her son-in-law, and that the only way in which that prohibition can be lifted is by a decision of Parliament in both Houses. That is the matter that your Lordships are now considering.

Having regard to the interests of the children, the fact that the parties have lived together in complete amity and indeed with great affection for this period of time, and having regard, too, to the very proper—I almost said "old-fashioned"—desire for their relationship to be sanctified by marriage, I have little doubt that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill, and, if I know your Lordships aright, also your blessing when you give that Second Reading.

I should like to add a few words about the problem that is set before a legislative body such as ours when considering—not for the first time, because there have been a few applications in recent years—the necessity for this enabling Bill procedure. It has two grave disadvantages. The first is the publicity that of necessity is given to the private affairs of two human beings, and, possibly—and even more unfortunately—the publicity that is given to the children. The second disadvantage—and this is why I mentioned earlier the fact that the prospective husband whom we are thinking of today has been unemployed for a couple of years and is now starting on his own—is the costs involved. When talking to the press the parties said that the costs in this case had been estimated at some £1,300, and rather pathetically, your Lordships may think, there was the added comment, "If we have to sell our home we are still going to go through with it because we so badly want to marry each other".

There have been attempts to legislate in your Lordships' House and in another place, but something has always occurred which has prevented a Bill going upon the statute book which provided that, in cases where the parties were over a certain age—and I am not going to mention the age because I can remember a debate about what that age ought to be—and after an investigation by an appropriate tribunal in private, such marriages should be permitted when they do not relate to an affinity of blood. Possibly, if the parties who are concerned with the Bill now before your Lordships have done nothing more than contribute to the weight of evidence that Parliament ought now to have amassed to the effect that legislative provision should be made for cases of this kind, and if they have achieved their own happiness, then in my view, and I believe in your Lordships' view, they will have done much in having put their problem to a Member of another place and in having had their problem ventilated this afternoon when the noble Viscount moved the Second Reading of the Bill.

3.50 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ely

My Lords, courtesy demands that a member of the House of Bishops who is a Member of your Lordships' House should convey some views on the present business before the House, and I am grateful that my first words should he spoken under such an obligation of courtesy.

It was a generous gesture on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, in February 1982 to withdraw his Marriage (Step-parents and Stepchildren) Bill after its Second Reading in this House, in response to the expressed concern of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that there should be a thorough and careful study of the present law bearing on the marriage of persons connected through affinity; that is, through marriage, but not by blood. If I may put so sensitive a matter lightly for one moment, that is a matter which might be seen as traditionally being an interest of Archbishops of Canterbury: how many hours of tedium have been relieved down the centuries in the parish churches of the realm by the sheer human interest of Archbishop Parker's Table of Kindred and Affinity, which is annexed to the Book of Common Prayer?—a table which, it must seriously be added, stood unrevised until amended by statute during this century.

The present most reverend Primate was true to his word. At his invitation the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, chaired a group of leading persons in the law, theology, the social sciences and anthropolgy on this matter. In May of this year the group's report No Just Cause: The Law of Affinity in England and Wales: Some Suggestions for Change, was published.

In courtesy to your Lordships' House, I report this result of the most reverend Primate's initiative; and your Lordships might at this point therefore wonder whether, in consequence, something might be said this afternoon as to where the Bishops stand on the matter of marriage of those connected through affinity.

The most reverend Primate's sense that this was a complex subject, touching deep instincts in people, was confirmed by the fact that the group, while in agreement on certain central issues, has produced majority and minority reports, with much in common in their recommendations, but yet with significant differences. On the matter, for instance, of any abolition of the existing legal impediment on marriage between a parent-in-law and a child-in-law, the majority recommended that this impediment should be removed; the minority, that it should be retained.

How, then, does this report No Just Cause stand in the mind of the Church of England, or more specifically in the mind of the bishops? It is not possible to answer that question yet. The House of Bishops had the opportunity, and was most grateful for it, of a sustained discussion of the report with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, shortly after it was published. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed himself as wanting to listen to any public debate which might arise from the publication of No Just Cause or indeed from the passage of the present Bill through Parliament. It is expected that there will be a further discussion in the House of Bishops early in 1985, in order that that house might consider formulating its own corporate view of the various recommendations in the report.

I have here the privilege of expressing in your Lordships' House the considerable gratitude felt by the bishops to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for this report. It is the first substantial study of the subject in over 40 years. I hope that No Just Cause will be studied widely; the very fact that variance is indicated as between recommendations makes it the more constructive reading. If I may speak personally, I valued the dialogue within the report itself on the potentially very sensitive question of the limits on religious comment on the state laws of marriage, and the raising at the same time of the question of what distinctive contribution the Christian tradition could and should be offering to elucidate the principles on which our general law of marriage is built.

As a bishop, I would be concerned with all that might strengthen and support marriage and the family, with full respect of course for the individual as part of that. The report has identified a number of important issues. But all this remains to be weighed and considered, and this will take time; meanwhile I am conscious that this afternoon's business is not upon the question of general legislation, but upon a Bill for two particular people.

Perhaps I may acknowledge my appreciation of that important distinction in the last comment which, with the tolerance of your Lordships, I should like to make, recognising that this falls within the area of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.

The report No Just Cause addresses itself to the question of amending the general law of marriage and to the desirability in particular of removing certain existing impediments in respect of affinity. I believe that it is possible in principle to be uneasy about a suggestion to remove a particular impediment from the general law of marriage as it stands, and yet at the same time not to wish to impede a personal Bill to remove the impediment so as to enable a particular man and woman to marry one another. In my view one can be cautious on constructive principles on the first front; that is to say, in the matter of any possible legislation by a general Bill—cautious, because one sees one function of the law as being to express and to articulate certain givennesses in human relationships which it might be important to keep seriously before people. One could wish at the same time to acknowledge that individual circumstances can be extremely complex in ways that a personal Bill may take into account.

However, to adopt such a stance towards a personal Bill should not then be taken as conceding the major principle in terms of general legislation if a general Bill touching the point at issue were later being considered.

Perhaps I may close with the assurance to your Lordships that the House of Bishops has this matter very seriously before it and earnestly desires to make a constructive contribution to the public debate on the general topic.

3.59 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am more glad than I would usually be that it has fallen to me to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on his maiden speech, on a subject perhaps more peculiarly appropriate to the maiden speech of a bishop than are many when right reverend Prelates make their first speeches in your Lordships' House. I should like also to thank him for the generous tribute to the report No Just Cause, which I had the honour of chairing at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

That report will, I expect, be discussed much more fully at a later date when, as I hope, the question of legislation comes up because, as the right reverend Prelate has reminded us, my noble friend Lord Lloyd withdrew his Private Member's Bill in order that this investigation should be carried out and that the Church should have the opportunity to rethink their attitude towards the marriage of affines. Therefore, I do not propose this afternoon—and it would not be appropriate—to explain at any length the points made in that report, except in so far as they are relevant to the matter before your Lordships' House today.

As the right reverend Prelate said, there was a majority and a minority report. I, as chairman, signed the majority report. The majority opinion was that there was no case for the continuation of barriers to the marriage of people who were not related by blood, and in our view those barriers should be removed in regard to not only step relations, but also relations-in-law.

I do not intend to argue the case this afternoon. I would only remind your Lordships that it is now 20 years since it became legal to marry not only—as the noble Viscount said—your deceased wife's sister, but also your brother's divorced wife. In other words, you can legally marry your sister-in-law while her husband, your brother, is still living.

It seemed to us, apart from all other considerations, that once the law had accepted that position, it was logically extremely difficult to draw the line anywhere else, and that if you accept the marriage at that level between brother and sister-in-law, why should you refuse to accept it, as in this case, between mother and son-in-law, or father and daughter-in-law? Therefore the majority came down in favour of the abolition of the prohibition on the marriage of affines. There was one reservation which is not relevant in this case and to which I shall not refer.

The minority report opposed this. As the right reverend Prelate said, the members of the minority report were not in favour of approving marriage between in-laws. They were in favour, in certain circumstances, of approving marriage between step relations, although circumstances were more narrowly defined than in the case of the majority report.

The majority report based its view on the natural liberty to marry—a liberty which, in our view, should not be obstructed unless there are extremely strong reasons so to do.

I would say that both the majority report and the minority report had the support of a learned cleric. We had two very learned clerics on the committee, and it may not altogether surprise your Lordships to hear that one of them supported the majority report and the other supported the minority report; and what were laymen such as the unfortunate chairman to do in the face of so strong opposition between such learned clerics. It was not of course the first time in the history of these matters that clerics have been opposed.

A strong argument—and I think it applies here—is that, after all, we are today a country in which our citizens hold varying cultures, varying religious views, and it would surely be inappropriate to base our laws on religious teaching of any one particular church, although I know that there will be Members of your Lordships' House who will not accept that argument.

As a supporter of the majority position, which was in favour of removing obstacles to marriage, removing the prohibition to marriage between in-laws, I must ask your Lordships' House to support this case this afternoon, the personal details of which have been so ably explained to us by the noble Viscount and by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. It is the first case of its kind that we have had since No Just Cause was presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I hope that your Lordships will support this Second Reading.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I reflected for some considerable time before deciding to speak in this debate; but as I studied the issues involved, the argument against this Bill became so compelling that I could see no alternative to making a brief intervention. As your Lordships are aware, the law does not permit a man to marry his mother-in-law. Therefore one might expect there to be exceptional circumstances if this Bill were to become law. It is of course for your Lordships to judge whether exceptional circumstances exist in this case; but for my part I cannot see that there is anything fundamentally exceptional about the case before us.

I should say at this point that I have never met either Valerie Mary Hill or Alan Monk, although obviously I have studied in some detail the papers provided by the Personal Bills Committee about this case. It always worries me when I see the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, getting up opposite me and speaking in the other direction, because I always admire his undoubted debating powers, and I find his arguments well marshalled and stimulating. However, I should not wish your Lordships to be over persuaded by what he said on this occasion. It is the facts that one has to look at very closely.

Then there is the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and her committee entitled No Just Cause. This report enjoys neither the force of law nor the authority of the Church of England, as the noble Baroness made clear earlier in the debate. As your Lordships are aware, there was a majority report signed by six members of the committee, and a minority report signed by three members of the committee. I must confess, my Lords, that I found the cogent argument and balance of the minority report recommending the retention of the impediment on marriage between parent-in-law and child-in-law the more persuasive of the two arguments.

Commenting on the report, The Times had this to say on 31st May of this year—and here I quote: The cardinal principle is that no individual may look for potential sexual or marriage partners within the family". A little further, on when referring to the majority report, The Times leader continues—and here I quote again: The majority mistakenly put all its emphasis on another principle, the natural liberty of choice of marriage partner; but it is a far lesser principle than the safeguarding of the family's integrity". Finally, I am persuaded by holy scripture that this proposed union is not in the best interests of either party involved, or society in general. Leviticus, Chapter 20, verse 14, states that it is wicked for a man to marry both a woman and her mother, and perhaps I might add that this is one of only four instances in which the death penalty is ordained for marital offences, thus emphasising the wickedness of the union between a man and his mother-in-law.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he would permit, as he always does, a certain courtesy? I tried to make it clear in the course of what I said that I naturally respected the religious beliefs of anyone connected with this problem. I therefore expressly said that I hoped there would be legislation at all events removing this matter from Parliament to the privacy of a tribunal. I did not say in the course of my speech—it would not have been proper for me to have done so from these Benches—that I was in favour of the removal of the prohibition.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, as always, I must thank the noble Lord for making the position clear, and I am sure that all your Lordships are grateful.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords who have expressed understanding, indeed sympathy, with the two people concerned with this Bill. Whatever happens to the Bill in your Lordships' House, I hope that they will find happiness for the rest of their lives.

I wish to say why I believe it would he wrong to give this Bill a Second Reading. When previous personal Bills on this general subject came before your Lordships' House the phrase that sprang to mind was, "the thin end of the wedge". But this is not the case with the Bill before us. Whatever sympathy and understanding one has with the two people concerned, I have yet to be convinced that this is really an exceptional case. What appears to be the aim of the Bill is that the root principle behind the law should be waived for Mrs. Hill and Mr. Monk. That principle is that the possibility of a marriage between a man and a woman who are closely related, either by kindred or affinity, is undesirable and should be excluded by law.

I, too, should like to quote from the article in The Times of 31st May 1984, in which it was said: the ban on marriage within prohibited degrees of affinity has impressive credentials in religious tradition". Christian tradition, scripture and practice support the ban. I understand that the same applies to Judaism and to Islam. Almost all other European countries maintain a general prohibition, although some allow for exceptional cases.

It is only three and a half years since the last time that a general abolition of the ban was considered by the House. It was then defeated by 125 votes to 79. Since then, the only significant development has been the very useful report No Just Cause from the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. However, as has been made clear, this report has not yet been considered by the General Synod, and therefore it is a long way from being adopted as Church of England policy.

I found that the most persuasive part of No Just Cause was the minority report signed by three out of the nine members of the group, including the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford. The three members argued that the prohibitions were not just Christian morality as an abstract concept. They accepted the view that scripture and Christian tradition were friends, and not rivals, to moral reasoning. They saw a danger to family life in the proposals of the majority. They believed—and I believe that this is the key to the whole matter—that some specific relationships in the family are free to flourish and convey benefit precisely because they are grounded on the assumption that certain roles preclude sexual expectations. The three members further said that to license marriage between stepparent and step-child, or between parent-in-law and child-in-law, would be to condone an assault on valuable family relationships.

The present law, with its prohibitions, has been considered down the ages to be beneficial to family life. It may well be that there should be provision for exceptions to be made in really exceptional cases, other than the unwieldy and unsatisfactory method of a personal Bill. But this is not an exceptional case. To agree to the proposal in the Bill would undermine this part of family law. At a time when family life is under more than enough strain, this is something that we should not do.

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, before coming to the heart of the matter, I should like to offer my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate on such a delicate and beautiful maiden speech on a subject of immense delicacy, and in regard to which he was not in the position, if I may put it so, to declare a party line. We shall listen to him with great interest in the future, looking forward to the spirit of moderation and charity which infused his words.

This is also the first opportunity we have had in this House to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for her remarkable chairmanship of the committee which produced the report No Just Cause. As one reads it one can hardly put it down. It is so beautifully drafted, and we are all greatly in her debt—as all of us knew beforehand we were bound to be at the end of it.

I find it most disagreeable, before the gaze of the public, to be called upon or even to have the opportunity to probe a private matter. But this is both a private and a public matter. If any of the parties to this affair are present, I hope that they will realise that all of us taking part in this debate are doing so after grave, and perhaps I might add prayerful, consideration, having greatly in mind the future happiness of the parties concerned in a situation which, from any point of view, is complex and difficult. I hope that if they are present they will take it from all of us that we are looking at this as simply and as sincerely as we can.

Both the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard referred to this, in effect, as "only one case". But the difficulty is that here is a case which raises wide issues. My noble friend Lord Ashbourne has just quoted a very telling passage from The Times saying, in effect, that the principle of safeguarding the family is more important than the principle enunciated and given general acceptance of the fundamental right to marry.

The difficulty is that this verges on confusing what is often known as a step-parenting operation. In this case it is not step-parents but a mother-in-law performing the functions of a step-parent. The difficulty that some of us find is that in this particular situation that relationship is distorted.

It is important to get the outstanding facts quite straight. Mr. Monk, at 29, wishes to marry Valerie Hill, his mother-in-law, 20 years his senior, who has already been married three times. She has been twice widowed, very sadly, and is described in paragraph (5) of the Bill as a widow—though I am not clear from the papers before us whether her first husband, Terence Rusher, is still alive.

The first important factor is that Alan Monk obtained custody of the two children when his marriage broke up in divorce, his wife leaving him with the two children. As one might expect, and as is normal in such a situation, the loving mother-in-law (fond of her grandchildren and of her son-in-law, and distressed. no doubt, at the break-up of their marriage) offered to help him to look after these two children—Stuart, five, and Shelly, four. One can sympathise with the father. saying, "Thank goodness we have some way of looking after these children". This could have been and should have been a strictly "step-parenting role". if I may use that analogy. But within seven months the son-in-law and the mother-in-law were lovers and she now wishes to marry him as her fourth husband.

The declared reason for matrimony is that this is "for the sake of the children". I am not quite clear from what has been said so far how the children stand to benefit from this particular arrangement. They already are the legitimate children of a legitimate marriage. It must become confusing and puzzling to the children as they grow older to learn, if this Bill becomes an Act, that their father married their grandmother—for that is what is proposed. There is no question of consanguinity; it is purely a question of affinity. But the Bill declares in paragraph 8—and we are invited to confirm this if we pass it—that the legal impediment serves no useful purpose of public policy". This is the difficulty in which some of us find ourselves.

If we give this Bill a Second Reading we are declaring that this impediment, which has not yet been abolished in law—its abolition has not yet even been recommended by the Church; indeed, on it there are divided opinions even between the moral theologians—serves no useful purpose of public policy. That is the principal question.

The tables of affinity are established to mark—and not only to mark but to defend—the outside boundaries protecting the desexualisation of the family circle within which sexual desires are morally incestuous. That is the difficulty.

In my submission, none of the following points should affect the issue of principle: the fact that sexual desires have been aroused and have been gratified; the fact that these two good people are living as common-law husband and wife; even what I would choose to call the sentimentality of the hard case which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon—and I want to call him "my noble friend" because I regard him as such—evoked, as he can do better than anyone else in this House.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, I wonder whether he would pardon this intervention. He was good enough to refer to me in the most kindly terms. When he referred to the benefit or detriment to the children, would he have thought that it was far better that the children go on growing up with grandma and father living together as husband and wife but not yet being husband and wife? Would he have thought that this was better for the children?

The Earl of Lauderdale

Thank you, my Lords, I am in a dilemma; we all are. Frankly, I cannot see that they benefit from what would be, in effect, a legal fiction that this is a valid marriage. What alarms me is that when the children are, say, 15, someone will say at school, "Is it true that your father married your grandmother?" I cannot think that that is to the benefit of the children. Obviously, it is a matter on which we have to judge. I always accept Lord Mishcon's corrections—when they are corrections—and views at any time.

We are invited to modify the boundaries of the family circle in principle. That is what we are asked to do in approving this Bill. I must say that I see no reason in public policy why we should do so, greatly as, on purely human sentimental terms, one would be eager to do so. I only wish we had a procedure for the private judgment of these matters, as the noble Lord has suggested. But I cannot really support the Second Reading of this Bill.

4.26 p.m.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, I am very sorry for putting my name down to speak so very late in the debate. I merely want to say that I think the reason for the ban throughout the ages on marriage within forbidden degrees of affinity was purely to preserve the sanctity of family life; for example, to prevent a wife having to regard her mother as a potential rival, and so on. Pending a better way of dealing with these cases we have several times by means of Private Bills in this House made exceptions in the past. I believe that an exception should be made on this occasion if only for the sake of the children; because, in spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, has said, it seems to me that this couple have two alternatives. One is to continue to live together, as they are at the moment; the other one is to part completely and to break up the family, as it were. I cannot see that in any way this would be in the interests of the children. Therefore, I hope that this Bill will have a smooth path through Parliament.

4.27 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I hope that the House will grant me the indulgence of saying a few words at this stage. I am sorry that I was not able to put down my name on the list of speakers. I did not anticipate being here because the Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which I am a Member, was called at 2.15 and we were finishing off drafting a report to which I was submitting a number of somewhat controversial amendments.

I hope that the facts behind this Bill will be understood with some clarity. I was responsible some two or three years ago for bringing forward a Bill in relation to the proposal to enable two persons to marry. I think it was the stepfather and the stepdaughter. The House passed it on the facts. After that, I had the privilege of putting forward a Bill which, in my view and in that of many others, would avoid this unhappy sequence of events of examining in public the personal positions of all the people involved.

I brought in a Bill suggesting that this was a matter that could be dealt with by some tribunal. There were certain legal objections raised but I pressed on with the Bill and had the support of right reverend Prelates in relation to the matter. But in the circumstances it was suggested that the best course would be, instead of my pressing on with the Bill, for the matter to be referred to a committee. On that basis, on the basis that action should he taken promptly, I agreed to withdraw the Bill and the committee of my noble friend Lady Seear was set up.

I should like strongly to support the Second Reading of this Bill. The facts, it seems to me, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun has just indicated, support the questions relating to the happiness of the parties concerned. It seems to me also that it is in the interests of the children concerned that this Bill at least should have a Second Reading at this stage. I hope that this Bill will receive a Second Reading and I support the arguments given so clearly and eloquently particularly by my noble friend Lady Seear.

4.29 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as a matter of courtesy, may I start by saying that I endorse the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and should like to he associated with them. As my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard has reminded us, in 1982 Parliament passed two personal marriage enabling Acts, one enabling John Francis Dare and Gillian Loder Dare to marry, although they stood in the relationship of stepfather and stepdaughter; the other enabling Hugh Small and Norma Small to marry, although they stood in the relationship of stepson and stepmother.

The Government's view has not changed from that time and, indeed, remains as stated so succinctly by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in a debate on a marriage enabling Bill in 1980—that while it was entirely proper for a Minister to address the House on a personal Bill of this kind, the Government collectively adopted a neutral position on the merits of an individual case.

Underlying the need for a Bill of the kind your Lordships are discussing today is the much more general question of the principles which should govern marriage between affines. The Government follow closely the learned and informed debates that arise on the issues of principle and were particularly interested in the report of the group appointed by the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, which included a majority and minority report.

It was of course a great pleasure for the House (and for me in particular) to listen to my old friend, if I may so term him, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Ely, whose maiden speech was not only thought-provoking and delivered, as my noble friend Lord Lauderdale said, with a delicate touch, but also paid tribute, very rightly, on behalf of the most reverend Primate, to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for the role she played as chairman of the most reverend Primate's group.

I return to the fact that, so long as there is a measure of disagreement—and we have had a fair share of that in speeches from both sides of this House which prove that disagreement exists—the Government remain reluctant to depart from their original position in this respect, as in that concerning individual cases. Having said that, there are no special features which persuade the Government to advise your Lordships regarding this personal Bill.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate. May I say to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, that I cannot agree with what he said. Children surely come first. I understood him to say that when they grew up someone would come along and say to them, "That is not your mother: you were brought up by your grandmother". But if the present postion goes on and Mrs Hill and Mr Monk are living together, as there are children surely in a short time neighbours may talk; but in any case when they then go to school I am sure that other children will say to them, "That's not your mummy". I think that would be far worse, because children come first. Regarding the law, the law may often appear to be unjust and can be unkind. That is my opinion. As the noble Baroness said, since 1982 there have been two of these enabling Bills which have gone through Parliament and have become law.

If this Bill gets a Second Reading it goes back to the Private Bills Office and then to the other place. Could we not leave it to another place to give the final answer? I cannot see why we should not do so. Regarding the Church, we have had one or two Peers from different Churchs speaking. I believe that my noble friend Lord Lauderdale is a Catholic—perhaps I am wrong—

The Earl of Lauderdale

Anglican, my Lords.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I apologise: I always thought that my noble friend was a Catholic. I think another Peer is Church of Scotland; and the most supportive speech came from the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who of course is a very human and very kind man. I imagine that the noble Lord—at least, so I am told—is a practising Jew. I think I am right in that.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, may I say, for the information of the House, that the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, having said that he is an Anglo-Catholic, I am an Anglo-Jew!

Visount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I have always had a very great admiration for the Jewish religion, and I was very pleased that the noble Lord supported the Bill. But I am really in rather a dilemma. I would be loath to withdraw the Bill. I think we should put it to the opinion of the House, and therefore, my Lords, I will do that.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.