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Session 2007 - 08
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Church of England Marriage Measure

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Robert Key
Bell, Sir Stuart (Second Church Estates Commissioner)
Blackman, Liz (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
Blunkett, Mr. David (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing, West) (Con)
Breed, Mr. Colin (South-East Cornwall) (LD)
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Davies, Mr. Quentin (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Field, Mr. Frank (Birkenhead) (Lab)
Gilroy, Linda (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)
Hughes, Simon (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD)
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab)
Kaufman, Sir Gerald (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
Southworth, Helen (Warrington, South) (Lab)
Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 13 May 2008

[Robert Key in the Chair]

Church of England Marriage Measure

4.30 pm
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Church of England Marriage Measure.
It is a pleasure to have you in the Chair, Mr. Key. I am reminded of the play by Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons”. Having sat on the Synod and the Ecclesiastical Committee, you now have the honour and pleasure of chairing this Committee today.
With your permission, Mr. Key, before we begin I want to pay my respects and homage to Miss Ingrid Slaughter, who is here with us today and who is the legal adviser to the steering and revision committees on the Measure. She has attended this Committee and the Ecclesiastical Committee on quite a few occasions, and she has served the General Synod with great distinction in the legal department. Sadly, from our point of view although no doubt not from hers, she is now going to take her leave and follow other interests in retirement. This will be her last appearance before our Committee, so I would like to place on record our grateful thanks and appreciation.
I also want to refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside—
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I am going to have to move, because I am not your PPS.
Sir Stuart Bell: One can go from the sublime to the ridiculous, but we have gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. When my right hon. Friend was Home Secretary, he was a great friend of the Church, and we fully appreciated all the work that he did on our behalf, which still resonates to this day.
The Measure before the Committee is brief and, essentially, simple. As the short title indicates, it deals with marriage in the Church of England. As the Committee might expect, the Church wishes to do all it can to encourage and support marriage. The Measure will help the Church to welcome couples who come to it to be married, and avoid giving the appearance of putting unnecessary obstacles in their way. At the same time, the Measure will make the process of being married in the Church of England simpler and more straightforward for a good many couples, without depriving anyone of their existing rights.
The basis of the Measure is that all marriages in the Church of England, like all marriages in England, are governed by the Marriage Act 1949. As the law stands, the position is that, with a few exceptions, a couple has a right to marry in the parish church of the parish where either of them lives, worships regularly and has their name on the church electoral roll. However, in today’s increasingly mobile society, it is by no means unusual for a couple to wish to be married in some other parish.
To take an obvious example, the couple might wish to marry in another parish, where one of them grew up and where their parents are still living. The problem, which both church and couple have to deal with, is that under the 1949 Act the couple can only do that if at least one of them worships there regularly—for at least six months—and is entered on to the church electoral roll, or if the couple is granted a special marriage licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In view of that, the Measure extends the existing rights of a parishioner to marry in their parish to cover a parish where they already have a clear connection in one of the ways listed in the Measure. That means that the person concerned can marry there after the calling of the banns in the same way as a person living in the parish, without the need to apply for a special licence. The Synod recognised that it would be impossible for the Measure to cover every possible situation where a couple, or one of them, has a special connection with a parish. The Synod also wished to make the Measure clear and straightforward for couples and the clergy and therefore decided that it should include a short and simple list of connections with the parish that would give a couple that extended right. A great deal of careful thought went into the list so that it covers the most common cases in which the problems at present arise and so that it would not normally be difficult for the person concerned to show, and for the minister to be satisfied, that one of the relevant connections with the parish exists.
I shall run through the list briefly. It covers cases in which the person who wishes to marry in the parish was baptised or prepared for confirmation there; or that person or their parent has lived in the parish, or has habitually attended public worship there, for at least six months at the time of the marriage or at any time in the past during that person’s lifetime; or that person’s parent or grandparent has married in the parish.
The Measure provides for the House of Bishops to issue guidance to the clergy on what information they should accept as sufficient to show that one of those connections exists. That guidance will be made public and will help couples as well as the clergy, as they will know in advance what information they need to provide in order to marry under the Measure. If a couple has a genuine connection with a parish that is not one of the more usual ones and thus is not on the list, the Measure does not affect the possibility of applying for a special licence.
4.36 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
4.51 pm
On resuming—
Sir Stuart Bell: There is also the possibility of one or both members of the couple worshipping regularly in a parish for six months and securing the right to marry in the parish by entering themselves on the church electoral roll.
As I have said, the Measure is simple, but it will help to further the cause of supporting and encouraging marriage, which is sacred to the heart of the Church and to many hon. Members and their constituents. At the same time, it will help in a practical way a good many couples to marry in a place with which one or both of them have a special connection.
After careful discussion of the precise terms of the Measure, the Synod was overwhelmingly behind it, as shown by the fact that it approved the Measure by a total of 258 votes in favour to only six against. The Ecclesiastical Committee found no difficulty in agreeing that the Measure was expedient, and I therefore commend it to the Committee.
4.52 pm
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): This is not a party matter, so I should not be regarded as speaking for the Conservative party. I agree wholeheartedly with everything that the Second Church Estates Commissioner has said. If I can pick out one part for special mention, it is his tribute to Miss Ingrid Slaughter, who was rightly recognised at the sitting of the Ecclesiastical Committee, which I was not able to attend. She and those who have worked with her know that the Ecclesiastical Committee has at times looked as though it has been a prime supporter of the Church of England and occasionally a supporter of the Synod, but, for all its ups and downs, I think that everyone who has ever contributed from the House of Lords or the House of Commons will acknowledge that she has treated the Committee with diplomacy and has given forthright and helpful answers to questions. We will miss her.
The revision committee spells out in the 225th report of the Ecclesiastical Committee the various suggestions made during the later stages of the Measure and the reasons why they were not adopted. That is mainly because the Measure adds to rights that already exist. Page 6 of the report spells out the legal principles governing the existing rights of parishioners. It also spells out the discretion that is available in respect of applications for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special licences.
What the Measure does, which has been found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee, is to add to those rights in the ways specified by the Second Church Estates Commissioner. I do not think that there is anything else to add. The House is grateful that the Synod can take such a Measure through until it comes to consideration by the Ecclesiastical Committee and then by both Houses, rather than treating Church Measures as though they were Bills, which would require a Second Reading, Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading. This Measure shows the merits of the system, and it is not controversial. When we consider other more controversial Measures, we should remember the courtesy that Miss Ingrid Slaughter and her colleagues have shown the Ecclesiastical Committee, and I hope that Members of both Houses will do the same when we have further hearings.
4.54 pm
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I join other hon. Members in thanking Miss Slaughter through you, Mr. Key. She was well and properly thanked at the Ecclesiastical Committee, but such matters always go into Committee or downstairs to the Floor of the House, and she has served those parts of our procedure very well. She will be missed.
This is a good Measure. It was clearly well supported in the Ecclesiastical Committee, and it has a huge amount to commend it, but I just want to make one obvious point. There was a controversy about whether the Measure would result in the beautiful churches, or the churches with status, receiving all sorts of requests for weddings, to the detriment of the less exciting churches—the workhorses of the Church, which do their business day in, day out. There might be a bit of a drift in that direction, but the more important and valuable consideration is that if this Measure is passed—I hope that it will be, and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cornwall and I support it, although, again, not on a party basis—it will be possible to link couples better with places that mean something to them and their families. In an age when we bemoan the loss of community, the consequences of greater globalisation and the greater difficulty that people have in maintaining roots back to the places that they come from, that would seem to be an advantage. More people will be likely to get married in churches, because they will be able to marry in those that they think are important and valuable. The option of going off and being married on a beach or a hotel might therefore be less appealing. That will be a good thing for the Church, for couples and for their families, who will feel more involved in the process. I therefore support the Measure.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Church of England Marriage Measure.
Committee rose at three minutes to Five o’clock.

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