HL Deb 21 February 1985 vol 460 cc675-7

3.18 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

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

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

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester

My Lords, I hope it will not be thought inappropriate by this House, or by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene, if a brief interjection is made from these Benches, even at this stage in the progress of this Bill. Your Lordships may recall the speech made by my right reverend friend the Lord Bishop of Ely when this Bill was being read a second time. In it, he referrred to the report entitled No Just Cause, produced by a group led by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. May I on behalf of the bishops and others in the community reiterate the gratitude which we felt and expressed for that report in our discussions?

However, at the time of the Second Reading of the Bill now before us it was not possible to give any particular expression to the corporate mind of the bishops, as they had had only a preliminary discussion of the report with no conclusions drawn. I can now report to your Lordships' House that the House of Bishops at a meeting last month was able to give time to a further discussion of these matters of principle raised in the report. As the minutes of that house record, on the question of marriages between parents-in-law and children-in-law the House of Bishops resolved, by 36 votes to one, to endorse the recommendations of the minority of Lady Seear's group; namely, that the existing impediment to such marriages should be retained. I believe it is only right that this should be reported to your Lordships' House.

However, it is equally right to point out that the House of Bishops has had no discussion whatsoever on the particular case of Mrs. Hill and Mr. Monk. It would therefore, in my judgment, at least, be going too far to assume that the bishops would necessarily take any particular view in regard to this Bill. As my right reverend friend the Bishop of Ely suggested on Second Reading, one can be cautious in principle and at the same time acknowledge that the circumstances of individuals, in all their complexity, may justify certain exceptions, given the present state of the law regarding personal Bills. The bishops' main concern is, and, I am sure, will be, to affirm and strengthen the bonds which secure family life in our society. The target that they have in their sights, so to speak, is not this particular Bill, but the debates on affinity in principle which they expect in due course following the publication of No Just Cause.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, at the Second Reading of this Bill, dealing with the private lives of two human beings, the House exercised its usual diligence and care in considering matters of this kind. Many of us felt that there were special considerations that deserved our sympathy in this case. I rise on this occasion only to repeat something that I ventured to say on Second Reading on behalf of my noble friends. It was that we should consider at a very early date whether it is the correct procedure and the most human procedure that exceptions to our general law, as it stands at the moment, should be considered in this way in public in your Lordships' House. There must be more suitable, more private and more compassionate ways of dealing with matters of this kind. That is the only contribution that I have to make on the Bill this afternoon.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I support the Third Reading of the Bill having at one stage brought in a Bill designed to achieve what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has indicated—to avoid the almost inhuman approach that is necessitated by the procedures for dealing with these matters. I listened with great care to the right reverend Prelate. I hope that the Bench of Bishops will adopt their usual compassion in relation to matters of this kind. I hope that it will be possible in the near future to find a procedure that is far more satisfactory than the present procedure for the purpose of dealing with this kind of situation.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, having just listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, as we did on Second Reading, I should like to express the same view. It is most unpleasant for this House to be confronted with personal, private and intimate details of a situation of this kind. I support ardently and most sincerely his view that we must find a different and better procedure.

The Bill has practically completed its progress through this House. Before that final stage is reached, three points need to be made and should be made. At any rate, I feel that I must make them. Those of us who have intervened, whatever view we take, have had in mind three points. First, this is a private problem. Secondly, the most important need for society as a whole, whatever our religious beliefs or scepticism, is that the family should be preserved as an institution, with barriers to protect it as a desexualised institution for the protection and upbringing of the young. Thirdly, as the right reverend Prelate has said, there has been an overwhelming vote in the House of Bishops which enables those of us who are members of the Anglican Communion—I am a Scots Episcopalian—to take, with the backing of authority and scholarship, a much firmer and clearer line than we might otherwise have taken. In this case, it is to support the minority report of the very interesting service rendered to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and her committee in their study of the matter. Finally, it is worthwhile, and proper to warn that if there is another occasion of this kind, the promoters should not assume that they will win approval for their Bill so easily as has happened this time.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I would have been happier, though I am sure that it is not the right reverend Prelate's fault, had I been informed that he would be speaking on this subject. I am no ecclesiastical—if that is the word—or theological expert, but I agree with those noble Lords who have spoken that it is embarrassing for the couple involved to have their names dragged through Parliament. I hope that in the future other arrangements can be made. As my noble friend Lord Lauderdale has said, this Bill now before the House for Third Reading has gone through 90 per cent. of its stages. Nothing can therefore be done about it, presumably, at this stage.

As I remarked in Second Reading, there were extenuating circumstances and perhaps exceptional circumstances in this case. The most important was that concerning the upbringing of the children. I thank the noble Lords who have spoken. I believe that we now have to vote—

Noble Lords


Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.