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The Earl of Courtown: Noble Lords will recall that I made clear during the Second Reading debate that the purpose of this Bill is to introduce greater choice for people who are getting married by allowing the use of more modern language in the marriage ceremony for those couples who want it. As I explained, the 1990 White Paper, Registration: Proposals for Change, recognised that there was a case for providing modern-day language alternatives which had substantially the same effect as the contracting and declaratory words prescribed in the Marriage Act 1949. The proposals in this Bill have broadly the same purpose.
In seeking to provide an alternative form of contracting words which would set out the responsibilities of marriage, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, goes beyond the recommendation of the White Paper. Moreover, the reference to the possible irretrievable breakdown of marriage would be inappropriate at the time of the marriage ceremony when the presumption, and certainly the hope, must be that the marriage will be for life.
This is not, of course, to say that the Government do not recognise the importance of these issues. As the Committee is aware--and this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne--the Family Law Bill which recently completed its passage through Parliament sets out the principle that the institution of marriage is to be supported. Under the new system, couples will have to reflect on their marriage breakdown, consider their responsibilities and decide arrangements for the future before a divorce order is granted. They will receive information about the availability of marriage guidance counselling and other sources of help and will be encouraged to take all practicable steps to save their marriage. The Bill places public funding for a marriage support service on a statutory basis. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, the Government are therefore unable to support the amendment.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: I am grateful that so many noble Lords have remained for this debate and to the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for their contributions. I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for the gracious manner in which he introduced his amendment. I understand and share many of the concerns of which the amendment speaks, but I do not believe that the Bill is the right place for them to be expressed. In his quotation from Jack Dominian, the noble Lord hinted that marriage preparation classes before the ceremony are the right place for those matters to be raised.
The proposals of the Bill do not affect the marriage services of the Church of England. I am therefore speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic and Free Churches. The text contained in the Bill has been agreed by the Roman Catholic and Free Churches as being
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, though graciously introduced, would be completely inappropriate in the liturgical context. A marriage ceremony is not the occasion for such a declaration to be made. It would not be supported or even considered for use in the marriage service of the Church of England. Therefore I cannot support it for inclusion in the service of any other Church.
If carried, the amendment would create serious problems with regard to the Church's teaching on marriage. To enshrine in its liturgy even a suggestion of irretrievable breakdown goes against the teaching of the Church that marriage is a life-long commitment "till death us do part".
Lord Northbourne: I am grateful for the kind remarks of the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. As noble Lords may imagine, it is not my intention to press the amendment. In so far as it has been spoken to, it has received an encouraging measure of support. I shall pursue the argument about the inclusion of irretrievable breakdown with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, at a later date. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to continue for a further five years the power of the Building Societies Commission, conferred by Section 41 of the Building Societies Act 1986, to require a building society to apply for renewal of its authorisation under certain circumstances. The power was originally intended to be transitional, to allow the commission to review the deemed authorisations which had been given under the 1986 Act. That is why Section 41 has effect for only five years at a time, and requires to be renewed after that.
A Section 41 power is useful and necessary in circumstances where, and over a period of time, the commission has a number of grounds for doubt about the adequacy of the way in which a building society is conducting its business and where the society is not responding sufficiently to the commission's prudential concerns. The society has up to six months to put its house in order, if that is necessary, before it seeks to satisfy the commission that it is fit to continue to be authorised.
The power under Section 41 has so far been used only once, which suggests that it is a useful discipline. The draft building societies Bill, on which we have just completed public consultation, would make the power permanent. I beg to move.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's introduction of this draft order which seems to me to be an entirely sensible and appropriate measure. I have a number of brief questions for him which may, I hope, carry the matter further.
First, he said that the power in Section 41 has been used only once, which suggests it is a useful discipline. I suggest to your Lordships that this is a non sequitur. It may be that it has only been used once because it has been inadequately enforced. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could assure us that the Section 41 disciplines have been appropriately enforced over the period of this order.
Secondly, as the noble Lord pointed out, this was introduced as a transitional arrangement. I understand that in the building societies Bill, which is to be placed before your Lordships' House some time in the near future, this order will be made permanent. On this side we support making this order permanent. It is an obvious security measure to ensure that building societies are conducting their business in an appropriate manner. I would simply be interested to hear the thinking of the Government as to why a transitional order now is to be made permanent. Although, as I say, this is entirely appropriate, it would be nice to know their reasoning.
Finally, the building societies Bill is a measure which we have been anticipating for some time in your Lordships' House. We have heard a number of discussions on various measures and orders associated with building societies during which we have often been told by the Government that we should wait for the building societies Bill, when the reasoning behind particular orders and their full ramifications will be made clear. Now that the consultation has been completed, can the Minister say when we can expect the building societies Bill to be placed before your Lordships' House?
The second question the noble Lord asked was as to why this power was transitional. As the noble Lord will be fully aware, when the 1986 Bill was originally brought forward, it was brought forward merely as a transitional power. As I have explained in answer to the first question we then decided that, because this power was useful, we would extend it. As we still do not have the building societies Bill, it is obviously, therefore, essential to extend it even further.
That brings me on to the third question: when will the Bill come forward. As the noble Lord will be fully aware, we have just completed a wide-ranging consultation process. That consultation process ended the middle of last month. We are still awaiting responses from one or two of those from whom we would like to receive responses. We will then, in due course, bring forward the Bill. But as the noble Lord will also be fully aware, I cannot pre-empt what might or might not be in the Queen's Speech. But I can say, following the usual rubric, that it will be brought forward as soon as is convenient. I am very grateful for what I imagine I heard from the noble Lord, that this is something which will receive a degree of support from all sides of the House. I hope that when we bring forward this Bill, the noble Lord and others will give Her Majesty's Government as much assistance as possible. I commend the order to the House.
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