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Column 1323responsibilities. He referred to the sea fisheries committees. Scotland has always taken a different line on that. We feel that it would add a layer of bureaucracy to an already complicated system and might, through byelaws, cause problems for the fishing industry. It is something of which we are constantly reminded by some fishermen, although others remind us that they do not want committees in Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who is an acknowledged expert on the countryside, shared his expertise with us. If I could just establish contact with him, I must say that I thought that I noted a hint of suspicion in his comments. I believe that he thought that English conservation legislation was perhaps more effective than the equivalent Scottish legislation.
I remind my hon. Friend that King Robert the Bruce introduced the first conservation Bill, which dealt with salmon, significantly before any such legislation in England. Of course, at about the same time we put certain men to flight at Bannockburn. [Interruption.] I want to keep hon. Members on side.
My hon. Friend was absolutely right to highlight the importance of cockling on the Solway. I shall not digress and become involved in the story that he was relating about John Paul Jones. The cottage in which he was born has recently been renovated and opened to the public, and is located near to the main cockling areas on the Solway which we are debating. My hon. Friend also mentioned the support given by the RSPB, and I reiterate our gratitude to that organisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) gave us some interesting information about the amount of feed required to sustain the bird population. He is right to say that we have to find a balance between the long-term livelihoods of fishermen and the sustainability of the bird population. He also mentioned the barnacle. I am sure that there is a substantial number of Brent geese in his part of the world, just as there are substantial numbers of pinks and greys on the Solway and all around the coast of Scotland. My hon. Friend also mentioned the fact that cockling on the beaches has become a particularly unattractive sight because of the sometimes venerable tractors and, more important, the diggers and other implements which do not mix well with those who enjoy walking on the beach or bathing in the summer when cockling takes place. We have always accepted and welcomed cockling from boats, but the problems that have been highlighted are the reason for the introduction of the Bill. We have to prevent a modern form of cockling, which has been imported perhaps from Holland and which has overtaken cockling from boats which has existed in this country for many years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) also stressed the importance of sustainability and of striking the essential balance between fishing from boats and fishing on shore. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester asked a key question--how soon would we be able to take action ? I highlight the imperative of the issue by pointing out that only this week I signed yet another order to ban cockling from fishing vessels from 1 August--in other words, the ban on vessels fishing for cockles will be continuous, because stocks are so low.
When the Bill has received Royal Assent, I shall, rightly, have to allow several weeks for consultation, but, subject to that consultation, which I must not prejudge, we
Column 1324shall have an order in place in the not-too -distant future. I believe that we are talking about a month or two. Initially, we certainly envisage that for the Solway firth, but, if the situation were to deteriorate on the Dornoch firth or the Moray firth or elsewhere in Scotland, legislation is available to be introduced quickly to deal with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside spelled out the importance issue of the activity that we wish to restrict. When we introduced the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984 to provide powers to regulate inshore fishing, no one anticipated that tractor-based dredging would be introduced a few years later. This is our first opportunity since the position became serious to prevent that from happening in the future. There will be proper consultation and we will take action on the basis of scientific evidence of the availability of stocks.
My hon. Friend's Bill will give us the opportunity to make an order, again subject to consultation, to prevent dredging of cockles by tractors. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds highlighted the huge tonnage that could be extracted in a week's fishing with dredgers. That is why we want to have the legislation in place as soon as possible.
I am disappointed, of course, that we have to prevent local fishing vessels from fishing for cockles, but that is because the stocks are so critical and so very low. After a year or so, we shall reassess the position and consider what can be done this time next year, when the order that I have just signed runs out.
We have to take all factors into account, as well as the additional duties that were placed on me and other Fisheries Ministers under the Sea Fisheries (Wildlife Conservation) Act 1992. That Act was introduced as a private Member's Bill and, like the Bill that we are discussing today, attracted strong Government support.
The long title of the 1992 Act adequately explains its function. It requires Fisheries Ministers and relevant bodies to have regard to the conservation of flora and fauna in the discharge of their functions under the Act. Section 1(1)(b) also requires Ministers to achieve a reasonable balance between conservation of flora and fauna and any other considerations to which they are required to have regard.
In effect, the Act merely confirms the existing position, because I and my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and in the Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices already took such factors into account. However, it was helpful to confirm that in legislation and to bind our successors to the practice that we believed to be sensible.
Existing vessel-based fisheries came within the purview of the fisheries Acts. My powers would therefore be used after taking into account the conservation interests mentioned in the long title of the 1992 Act. The subsequent developments brought increasing numbers of tractors, which ploughed the exposed foreshore at low tide. Unlike the vessel-based fishery, those activities were not open to control under existing fisheries legislation. We therefore faced the unwelcome fact that a natural and finite resource was subject to exploitation by increasing numbers of operators, but that only one group was subject to control.
I should perhaps stress that I do not believe that all tractor dredging is necessarily harmful or that the activity should be prohibited under any and all circumstances. If that had been my view, I would have suggested to the House that section 3 of the Act should be amended to enshrine an outright ban in the primary legislation.
Column 1325Dredging activities have shown themselves to be economically efficient. We must now examine what safeguards should be set in place to ensure that other factors are taken into account. In some highly sensitive areas, that may mean many year-round bans--I cannot rule that out--but in other areas it may be possible to develop controls that will allow judicious amounts of dredging to take place while still taking into account the impact on the stocks and the effects on other forms of natural life. Therefore, the issue is one of ensuring that the new activity is open to control in the circumstances required.
I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose constituency borders the Solway as much as mine--indeed, more so--became increasingly concerned about the effect that combined fishing pressure might be having on stock levels on the Solway. The scientists at the Scottish Office marine laboratory conducted surveys of the stock level in the area affected. Some of the results of the surveys have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds.
The surveys showed conclusively that the cockle stock had reduced significantly. It was not easy to determine whether that was due to the natural fluctuations which natural populations are subject to or whether dredging activities were having a more direct impact, but it was clear that the stock level had reduced to a point at which fishing pressure could make the difference between stock collapse and stock recovery.
We looked at other ways of trying to meet the problem ; in particular, we recommended to local authorities that they might frame byelaws under the Civil Government (Scotland) Act 1982. But at the end of the day, because of the necessity to get almost universal approval from landowners to the shore, it was considered best to proceed as we are--by this legislation. That is why we were so glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside was successful in the ballot. We are about to see the Bill's enactment into law.
As I said, the Bill has considerable support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I know that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) gave it warm
Column 1326support in Committee. We will now proceed, once the Bill is enacted, to consult and then decide to bring in an order to deal with something that is presently, at face value, very harmful to the cockle stock on the Solway.
We are looking not only at the issue of saving the cockle stock but at the long-term future of the fishermen--the traditional fishermen who have earned a valuable livelihood over many years and who are now finding it swept away by modern methods which were, as I said earlier and as hon. Members mentioned, originally imported from Holland. We are concerned about other fish. All in all, the Bill will be a valuable restriction and a tremendous help to the fishermen and fish processors. A number of fish processors in Scotland deal with cockles and other similar products.
Hon. Members have mentioned how popular cockles have become in restaurants abroad. Of course, that is very welcome. The amount of fish exported from Scotland is high, and that is important to the Scottish economy. It is interesting that in 1992, the total income from shellfish landings into Scotland was more than £46 million ; yet, in 1938, the comparative figure was £70,000. Even allowing for inflation, that shows that it is an important issue in Scotland. I am grateful to hon. Members for the all- round support that we have had for the Bill. It is right that we have highlighted our concern about not only the fishermen and the cockles but the tourists. What has stood out firmly today is the way in which hon. Members felt this was important to bird life, and the interest that has been shown by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. After all the explanations that we had in Committee, in another place and in this House, this is the moment when we should say, "Well done," to my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside. He has achieved a significant piece of legislation--something with which we in the Scottish Office are proud to be associated. I am grateful to the large number of my hon. Friends who have shown support here on a Friday. I support the Third Reading of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed ; without amendment.
Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered ; reported, without amendment.
Order for Third Reading read.
I am pleased to say that the Bill enjoys support on both sides of the House and beyond. You may have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, that today every national newspaper is carrying a delightful picture of yesterday's royal wedding. I hope that you have also seen a wonderful British film called "Four Weddings and a Funeral", which is a considerable box office hit--one of the most successful British films ever made. It is playing to marvellous business throughout this country and on five continents.
It seems that the whole world loves an English wedding and my Bill is designed to give couples who choose a civil wedding in England and Wales even greater choice as to where their marriages take place. The Bill would implement two of the most popular recommendations contained in the Government's 1990 White Paper, "Registration : proposals for change"--those aimed at introducing greater choice and flexibility for couples over a venue for civil marriage, by empowering local authorities to license suitable buildings, in addition to registry offices, as venues for such marriages, and by allowing couples to marry by civil ceremony in any registry office or approved building in England and Wales.
As the law stands, couples wishing to marry by civil ceremony have to do so at the registry office in the district where at least one of them resides. There are many reasons why people wish to marry by civil ceremony in other places, the most common being that they have moved away from their family home to study or work, but wish to return there for their marriage. Perhaps the registry office does not meet their expectations of a suitable place for marriage--it may not be sufficiently stylish or large. Those of us who believe in marriage want it to be celebrated in the style and manner that the couple choose.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : I would appreciate it if my hon. Friend could reassure those of us who watched, "Love Story" and saw the rather sickening chic of the marriage sequence in that film, or who occasionally browse through the pages of Hello ! magazine and have seen some of the grosser excesses of Las Vegas-style weddings, that his Bill will not open the floodgates for such scenes.
Mr. Brandreth : I am shocked by the revelation that my hon. Friend reads Hello ! magazine. "Love Story" is not a British movie and therefore not one that I have seen. My hon. Friend can be reassured that there is no way that we want to move towards the Las Vegas style of wedding. Marriage is, we hope, a uniquely important event in any couple's life and the ceremony must be conducted with dignity in suitable premises. I shall elaborate in a moment.
By allowing local authorities to approve buildings such as stately homes and hotels as venues for civil marriages, and by removing the requirement to marry in the district of residence, the Bill will give allow members of the public a greater choice over the venue of their marriages.
Column 1328whether it is a requirement of the Bill that a marriage should take place in a public place, in the sense that an approved location is one to which the public can have access.
Mr. Brandreth : Yes. Being a distinguished lawyer, my hon. Friend has gone to the heart of the matter. One of the basics of the English marriage is that it should take place in a public place, so the place must be accessible to the public. Obviously a constituency such as mine, which is rich in heritage and packed with historic buildings and the finest hotels, is ideal. Candidly, I foresee a day when the City of Chester becomes the most popular location for weddings in the United Kingdom.
The Bill ensures that local authorities adopt a responsible attitude in approving buildings for civil marriages, by providing for the making of regulations setting out the procedures to be followed by councils. That follows consultation with the local authority associations and the drawing up of formal guidelines. The Bill has the support of the Association of County Councils, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, and the Society of Registration Officers--the registrars' professional organisation.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) : I am concerned because the Bill does not mention the Association of District Councils. For those of us who live outside the main metropolitan areas, the district council is the chief planning authority and it might be worried if unsuitable premises, from a planning point of view, were selected by the county council. Has my hon. Friend taken that into account in the Bill ?
Mr. Brandreth : Yes. My hon. Friend will find that district and county councils will be able to work together on this in a satisfactory way. I shall show him the range of consultation that has taken place and he will be reassured on the involvement of the district councils.
As I have mentioned the registration service, this could be an appropriate point at which to pay a tribute to that service and the contribution that it has made to the civilised ordering of important moments in all our lives. The registration service in England and Wales came into being in 1837 and, in many respects, its organisation and procedures have not changed greatly up to the present day. It is in some ways comparable with the city of Chester and--some would say--with the hon. Member for the City of Chester in that it is a service that is as modern as tomorrow and yet has a lot of time for yesterday.
Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash) : I am sure that my hon. Friend is whetting the appetites of those who wish learn about the provisions of the Bill and about the delights of the city of Chester. When will the proposals be put into effect if the House agrees to them ?
Mr. Brandreth : If the Bill goes through the House and has a satisfactory passage through the other place, we hope that weddings will be taking place in this way this time next year, so it will be reasonably imminent.
Exactly a decade ago, the Government's programme of efficiency scrutinies included an inquiry into the registration service. The findings were published in the efficiency scrutiny report on the registration of births, marriages and deaths, and the report made nearly 50 recommendations for change.
Column 1329In 1987, the Government announced that if time could be found, new legislation would be introduced. As a first step, a working group was set up and was asked to consider the scrutiny recommendations and to make proposals for the form that the legislation should take. The working group covered a wide range of interests, with representations from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, the Department of Health and Social Security--as it then was--the Home Office, the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. In sub-groups of the working party, the Society of Registration Officers, the National and Local Government Officers Association--as it then was--the Local Authorities Conditions of Service Advisory Board, the Society of Genealogists, the Institute of Population Registration and the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies were also represented. The consultation process was wide and deep.
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : My hon. Friend has given a long and impressive list of professional societies, corporate bodies and voluntary organisations which were consulted in connection with the Bill. Were people at any stage also consulted ?
Mr. Brandreth : Very much so. The working group reported in 1988 and its recommendations were published in a Green Paper called "Registration : a modern service". That Green Paper received 600 responses from throughout the United Kingdom, including many from public bodies and other organisations, but also many from individuals. The great majority of those who responded registered broad agreement with the proposals.
In January 1990, the White Paper to which I referred was published and the proposals that it contained put forward a sound basis for reforming and modernising the registration service in England and Wales. Because of the many other reforms that this great reforming Government have introduced, it has not yet been possible to find time in the parliamentary programme to introduce the legislation necessary to implement many of the proposals. I am aiming to remedy the matter from the Back Benches.
Last year, I introduced a Bill relating to the registration of deaths. The Bill whose Third Reading we are now considering proposes to introduce two of the most popular recommendations contained in the White Paper to give members of the public greater choice over where their civil marriages may take place. It will also give local authorities greater scope and flexibility to deliver a service geared to the needs of the local population.
I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the work that they have undertaken to get the Bill to this stage. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who has taken a keen interest in this matter. He has been actively supported from his Front Bench by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and by the spokesperson on the Liberal Democrats Front Bench--I suppose that it is its lone Bench really--the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne).
In Committee, the hon. Member for Leyton tabled half a dozen amendments, half of which would have brought a religious dimension to what is essentially a Bill about civil
Column 1330marriage. It is important to understand that the Bill relates to civil marriages. About half the marriages that take place nowadays in England and Wales are civil weddings.
The hon. Member for Leyton wanted the Bill amended to allow for religious marriages to be solemnised in any building approved by local authorities. He felt, in particular, that it should be made a requirement for every local authority to approve a Buddhist or a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque or a Sikh gurdwara within its area and that persons other than registrars should be able to solemnise such marriages.
I hope that I was able to reassure the hon. Member that the law already provides for the registration for marriages of any building used as a place for religious worship and certified as such by the Registrar-General. I believe that the procedures involved are reasonably straightforward and the cost is certainly minimal. There are 281 eastern religious buildings currently registered for marriages in England and Wales. There is scope for further considerable extension. Marriage ceremonies in those buildings can already be performed by the religious celebrant, where that is required.
The hon. Member for Leyton also tabled an amendment to allow marriages to take place in gardens and other public open spaces, bringing English law into line with that of other parts of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) mentioned the possibility of beach-style weddings, the sort of thing that might feature in American or Australian films. That would change English marriage law fundamentally. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) raised that point in a timely intervention. Apart from specific and historical exceptions, marriages in England and Wales must take place in a registry office, a church or chapel of the Church of England or the Church of Wales, or in buildings of other religious denominations, Christian or non-Christian, registered for marriages. It is a basic tenet of English law that marriages take place in buildings publicly recognised as being suitable and approved for the purpose.
It is also necessary for the venue of the marriage to be capable of clear description so that a specific and known venue can be included on the notice displayed at the registry office and to give ample opportunity for any legal objection to be made. The idea of a wedding in a garden may seem romantic, but it could be an elusive venue. We do not want to encourage people to get married behind the bushes. We want to know where the marriage is taking place.
The climate in our country might be said to be against open-air marriages. It might be possible for a marriage to take place in what could be described as a garden room within a permanent structure. It would not be possible, however, to hold a marriage in a large open space, somewhere like Hyde park, because one would arrive to witness the wedding, but would not know where it was--it could be anywhere. That is why we do not envisage open-air marriages.
A moored ship on a permanent site, such as the Thames, might be a possibility as a venue, but not a free-floating vessel. One must know where -- [ Laughter. ] My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) is amused at that suggestion, but there is a serious point behind it. One wants to be able to attend a wedding, let us say--[ Laughter. ]
Mr. Banks : Some marriages would have been better conducted in a submarine, kept quiet and never allowed to rise to the surface. What about a captain's power to twin people ? I thought that captains still had such power. Would it go ?
Mr. Brandreth : That power will not be affected. We are talking about civil weddings in England and Wales. My serious point--it is wonderful that such a happy measure is being received in such happy terms-- is that it is vital that people are able to have access to the place where a wedding is taking place. Although we want to introduce greater choice in respect of a wedding venue, it is a serious and important public event. Therefore, access to it by the general public is essential. A wedding must be at a location that is well known, open to the public and, consequently, stationary.
The hon. Member for Leyton withdrew an amendment aimed at ensuring that the regulations that are provided for in the Bill would be formally approved by the House and the other place rather than being subject to affirmative resolution. Although I recognise the importance of the Bill--the number of right hon. and hon. Members who are present today underlines its importance --I do not believe that the regulations made under it are of such significance that they warrant the affirmative resolution procedure.
In Committee, I was able to offer some good news to the hon. Member for Leyton--this will please my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight)--who asked when the legislation would be implemented. I have encouraging news on the timetable for the implementation of the Bill. The hon. Member for Leyton proposed that the Bill should automatically come into force three months after receiving Royal Assent. I do not believe that such an amendment would have been necessary.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister. Not only is he a fine Minister and an adornment to any Government, but he has taken a particular interest in the work of the registration service. Publicly and behind the scenes, he has worked hard to ensure that the important reforms are put forward as rapidly but as sagely as possible. I have been assured by my hon. Friend that, should the Bill pass into law this Session, from January next year, couples will be able to marry in the register office of their choice in England and Wales.
Clause 2, however, requires the making of regulations and the setting up of the necessary procedures for the approval of premises by local authorities. We do not want to harm a good job by doing it in a hurry, particularly when, as has been said, there might be a need for discussions between county councils and district councils. A three-month deadline would be restrictive. I hope that the provisions can be brought into effect within the first six months of next year. A spring or early summer wedding in an approved building is therefore a distinct possibility. Think of it, Madam Deputy Speaker--this time next year, at wedding receptions across the land, once the bride and groom have
Column 1332been toasted and once the best man has celebrated the bridesmaids, glasses might be raised to the hon. Members who give a fair wind to the Bill today.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Would it not be very good if, as they raised their glasses, they could think of the prospect of living in a warm and comfortable home which had been enhanced by the House also making progress on the Energy Conservation Bill ?
Mr. Brandreth : We have to proceed one measure at a time, but I understand the right hon. Gentleman's desire to move on to his business, which is why I conclude by saying that this is a good-news Bill which is designed only to add to the nation's sum of human happiness. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I welcome the Bill and the change that will occur in our nation's marriage laws provided that the Bill passes all its stages before the end of this Session. I am one of the Bill's sponsors and I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) on getting it this far. When, in Committee, he compared the Chairman, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), to Hugh Grant, the star of "Four Weddings and a Funeral", I thought that he was pushing his luck. I am pleased that he did not compare you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to Andie MacDowell, the female lead in that film, because that certainly would have been pushing his luck. When he said that, I thought that he might
The current marriage laws were enacted in 1949 and are out of date and restrictive. They do not give couples who want to get married the same rights and choices as those in other countries. I want that choice to be expanded, which is why I introduced a Bill--number 13 on today's Order Paper--on St. Valentine's day last year and again this year. But my Bill will not make progress, whereas this one will. With due respect to this Bill's proposer, my Bill is better, but we must take what we can get and the form that he proposes is welcome. This Bill deals with civil weddings and their location, whereas mine deals also with their religious aspect. In my Bill, couples can choose to get married in the manner that they wish, whereas under this Bill, the registrar decides where the venue should be, but at least it is a move in the right direction. I was particularly concerned that many couples are forced to have two weddings. In 1949, the law makers in this country knew only about the Church of England, the Quakers and the Jews. Many other ethnic minorities were not covered effectively by the wedding laws, so they have been forced to have two weddings : first, a religious ceremony
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is not answering an exam question comparing and contrasting the various methods. He must concentrate on the Third Reading of this Bill.
Mr. Cohen : This Bill relates only to civil weddings, so many people will still be forced to have two weddings. Those people will be not just ethnic minorities but couples in which only one partner is religious or when the partners have different religions. Such couples will have problems. The hon. Member for City of Chester assured us that a wedding could take place in gurdwaras, mosques or temples, and I welcome that. I hope that the "Minister for marriages", as he called himself in Committee, will add his assurance in that respect. Perhaps the guidelines that his Ministry will publish will included guidance for local authorities and registrars to allow marriages to take place in those venues in all circumstances if they are located in their vicinity. I hope that the guidelines will take that matter into account.
I should like marriages to take place in gardens, open spaces and parks. That happens in other countries. It is well known that in Australia couples like to get married under Sydney bridge. I do not see why couples in this country
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I fear that the hon. Gentleman was not listening when I said earlier that we can discuss only what is in the Bill. Open-air locations, and certainly Sydney bridge, are not in the Bill.
Mr. Cohen : I appreciate what you are saying, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the Bill is about locations for weddings and marriages. The registrar can choose nice buildings in the location, which is right. The locations should include the person's own garden. That would fall in line with giving the couple the choice. When people get married they spend money and are prepared to do so, but some may not wish to spend too much money.
The couple may also wish to get married in the place where they will live out their vows, so their garden may have a special significance to them. It is a shame that we are still restricting that choice. The measure could still include provision for open doors, mentioned by the hon. Member for City of Chester, even if the ceremony were in an open space. There could be an arrangement so that other people could object so that the marriage complied with requirements under the current law.
I welcome the Bill. A press release has been issued by an organisation called Garlands. There is a role for celebrants to conduct marriages, as happens in other countries around the world. Our law should recognise the fact that a celebrant could have a good role to play. I should have thought that the Government would have welcomed the idea of a celebrant, who conducts a sort of business--the Government say that we should encourage small businesses. When I was presenting my amendments in Committee I spoke to one of the Clerks of the House who said that he hoped that the Bill and the changes would be passed because when he retired he would like to build a church in a beautiful location and let people come to be married there for a charge. That is a reasonable aspiration and a business which could be encouraged by both sides of the House. The press release is headed, "Wedding Survey Reveals Discontent with Venues". It states :
"More than one in five couples with no religious beliefs marries in church simply because they want the tradition and pomp of a church ceremony.
It was everything I wanted' said one bride. I just closed my mind when it came to the religious bit.'
A survey of recently married couples published today reveals that 60 per cent. weren't able to have their first choice of wedding venue because of Britain's current restrictive marriage laws.
Column 1334Churches were the first choice of those who held firm religious beliefs, but over half of those questioned would choose to marry in a beautiful garden, if they could. And stately homes, castles and hotels also came out high on everyone's list. Nobody at all gave a register office as their ideal venue. In fact, increasing numbers are voting with their feet and are getting married abroad in their search for a romantic wedding.
The survey was commissioned by . . . Garlands"
"specialises in organising wedding ceremonies in unusual venues." The survey continued :
"Current law allows a marriage to be legalised only in a register office or church . . . Many couples come"
"wanting to be married in a beautiful building or by a river and then are heartbroken to find that, although they can have their own ceremony where they like, they still have to go to a register office to register their marriage. And they feel that this effectively means having two ceremonies."
It states :
" The survey shows that religious couples often have to marry in a register office because the local priest is intransigent over divorce or mixed religions, or refuses to marry non-churchgoers. And non-religious couples often choose a church simply because they want the solemnity of atmosphere or else they end up in a register office if they aren't prepared to lie about their beliefs.
"Although many register offices are attempting to make their ceremonies more memorable affairs in order to accommodate the desire for a meaningful event, some are still very mundane places without character. Dark, dismal and naff' was how one bride described her London register office. Drab and office like' said another. "The only alternative one-stop venue at present is a church but in fact only 1 per cent. of those questioned were churchgoers. Some 53 per cent. of the brides claimed some religious beliefs and 40 per cent. of grooms. But 35 per cent. of brides and 48 per cent. of grooms said they had no religious beliefs at all."
A Garlands representative said :
"That's very significant . . . Many people aren't religious but their wedding is still the most important day in their lives and they should have an equal right to a grand and dignified ceremony where they want it. If only a tiny minority of the population are churchgoers, it seems wrong that other than register offices churches are the only buildings which can be licensed to register marriages." The press release then refers to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for City of Chester. It welcomes the relaxation of marriage laws and states that his Bill
"proposes that certain other buildings such as stately homes and hotels should be able to be registered for marriages and that couples should be allowed to marry in any register officer and not just the one in the local authority area in which they live.
"Gyles Brandreth's Bill is a start but it doesn't go far enough . . . I'd like to see a situation where the marriage is legalised not because of the building it takes place in but by the officiant who performs the ceremony-- whether he or she is a priest, registrar or trained marriage celebrant. Then people could have their wedding where they want just as they do in the Australia and the USA. They're much more enlightened than we are."
That is a press release from a company and a celebrant with knowledge in this area and it puts the issues clearly. The proposal would widen choice. It shows how out of date our marriage laws are. It shows how we could and should introduce further reform to take into account couples' wishes on marriage, which are not being met in many cases.
The Bill introduced by the hon. Member for City of Chester is an important start in the achievement of change and I welcome that. It is the only prospect of achieving change quickly. I hope that we will approve it today, that it will be passed in another place and that those many couples that the hon. Gentleman referred to can have the wedding of their choice next summer.