HL Deb 18 February 1986 vol 471 cc576-9

7.40 p.m.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My Lords. I beg to move that the Bill he now read a second time.

It is not often in your Lordships' House that we discuss a matter which is purely Welsh and therefore I am very glad to see my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies on the Opposition Front Bench and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady White. I do not see anybody on the Liberal Benches. I do not complain about that. I only, in passing, refer to the fact that had it not been for their former Leader. David Lloyd George, the necessity for this Bill tonight would not have arisen because the Welsh Church would not have been disestablished and the Act of 1949 would have applied to Wales as well as to England. I would only add, in passing, that I received an apology from his grandson the noble Earl, Lord Lloyd-George, because he cannot be in the House tonight to support this measure.

This Bill has already passed through all its stages in another place. It has been very ably conducted by Mr. Donald Coleman. It is in fact a simple Bill and, as noble Lords will see, quite a short one. The reason for it is that Section 23 of the Marriage Act 1949 did not have effect in Wales largely because the provisions of Section 23 were originally enacted in a Church Assembly Measure. The Act of 1949 was a consolidation measure.

Section 23 says: Where two or more benefices are held in plurality under the Pastoral Reorganisation Measure 1949 the bishop of the diocese in which the benefices are situated may in writing direct where banns of matrimony of persons entitled to be married in any church of those benefices may be published and where marriages of those persons may be solemnised". Your Lordships can well appreciate that, largely because of a change in church attendance and a shortage of clergy, churches are grouped today and that this applies to Wales as well as to England. Section 6 of the 1949 Act provides for the place in which banns of matrimony are to be published. Because Section 23 does not apply to Wales, the Church in Wales have to look to Section 6(3) of the Act, which said: Any parish in which there is no church or chapel in which divine service is usually solemised every Sunday shall be deemed to belong to any adjoining parish or chapelry". The word "adjoining" in this instance is not defined in the 1949 Act but "adjoining parish" is taken to mean a parish which borders one lacking regular Sunday services. Such a parish may not be in the same group.

A consequence of such publication in an adjoining parish is that, while the marriage might be solemnised in that adjoining parish by virtue of Section 12 of the 1949 Act, it would not be proper to solemnise it in the parish church which lacked regular Sunday services, because banns of matrimony cannot properly be published there. I have explained why the 1949 Act did not extend to Wales. Having, I hope, clarified the whole situation to your Lordships' total satisfaction, I would hope that this small Bill would put the matter right. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Gibson-Watt.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords. I am sure that the Church in Wales is grateful to Mr. Donald Coleman for having initiated this private legislation in another place, and indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, of the Wye in the District of Radnor in rural Wales, for having introduced the Bill in your Lordships' House and for having clarified the significance of this short, two-clause Bill and why it is required by the Church in Wales. The noble Lord has pinpointed the important point of practical difficulty over the publication of the banns of matrimony on three consecutive Sundays which is sometimes experienced in a number of the rural ecclesiastical parishes when they have been amalgamated to form a single benefice to provide improved pastoral care.

He has shown how the Bill can alleviate, if not resolve, the practical difficulty which has been experienced. It is in a sense a sad commentary on rural life that this amending legislation should be necessary, because behind the Bill lies the larger problem of rural depopulation and also the increasing problem of depletion of the rural clergy. Given the long history of rural depopulation in Wales, what is surprising is that the difficulties which over recent years have been experienced were not foreseen in 1949 when the Marriage Bill was enacted. If I may say so, I am also a little puzzled by the fact that the Church in Wales has had to resort to a Private Bill to bring about this small, non-controversial amendment to a public Act of Parliament. Perhaps the Minister can explain why that has been necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, referred to absentees from certain Benches. I, too, am a little puzzled that there is no one on the Prelates' Bench this evening. I am just wondering whether they have not forgiven the Welsh for their declaration of independence. The Bill confers upon the bishops of the Church of Wales that degree of flexibility which they may require when it has become necessary to share resources with the adjoining parish or parishes. I am sure that it will bring joy to many rural parishes. I am sure that the bishops will welcome the Bill. We give our blessing to the Bill and we hope that the Minister can give an indication that it can be enacted and delivered to the bishops before St. David's Day.

7.48 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, I should first like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt for so ably and succinctly explaining this Bill. As your Lordships know, the Government traditionally adopt a neutral stance on matters of church government and this Bill is no exception. That, I think, is the answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. My noble friend has described how his Bill seeks to amend the Sixth Schedule to the Marriage Act and I do not think that I need repeat what he has said.

Under the Pastoral Measure 1983 (and formerly under earlier Measures of 1949 and 1968) ecclesiastical livings enjoyed by a vicar or rector may be grouped and held in plurality by the incumbent. It is in these groupings that an English diocesan bishop may give administrative directions. The power to give directions is not exercisable by a bishop in the Church in Wales because, as my noble friend has said, Section 23 of the 1949 Act, which in itself was a consolidation Act, relates to the provisions of a Measure of the Church of England and such a Measure does not of course extend to Wales. I assume that Section 23 was not extended to Wales by the Marriage (Wales and Monmouthshire) Act 1962—as were some other sections of the 1949 Act—because no parishes in Wales were then grouped or, if they were, no inconvenience had been caused to or foreseen for couples who were to marry in such groupings.

The inconvenience, as I understand it, is that Section 12 of the 1949 Act, which also applies to Wales, requires that any marriage by banns shall be solemnised in the church or in one of the two churches where banns have been previously published. Banns cannot be published in a church where there are no regular Sunday services so that a couple in a plurality in Wales, who wish to be married by banns but whose local church is not in regular Sunday use, have to be married in a church in an adjoining parish where there is a regular Sunday service. Extending Section 23 to Wales would enable the Bishop in Wales to do what a Bishop in England can do now; namely, to direct that banns are read in a church in regular use and that the marriage is solemnised in the couple's local church, although it is not in regular Sunday use.

As I said at the beginning, the Government historically take no sides on issues of church government such as this, which was passed through another place in record time. However, we certainly_have no objection to this Bill.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My Lords, I think I have a right of reply, and my reply will be very short. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Glenarthur for voicing the Government's fair wind to this Bill. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for his support. I should like to return to a reference I made in my earlier speech to the Liberal Benches and to say to the noble Earl, Lord Grey, that I meant no "rudery", if I may say so. I merely wished to make some reference to the Liberal Party in view of the fact that David Lloyd George had some hand in something that happened to the Welsh Church some years ago. I do not want to go into that issue further; but I should like to say that I am most grateful to noble Lords for not impeding this Bill in any way. I hope that it will be able to go through its other stages with equal speed.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.53 until 8.40 p.m.]