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The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to reform, simplify and consolidate the existing procedures for marriage. It implements recommendations made to the Government by the Law Reform Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, to which I pay full credit. It is virtually identical to the Marriage Bill considered in some detail by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill received widespread support from a variety of interested parties. It was welcomed on a cross-party basis during its passage in the Assembly, where it had undergone debate on the Floor and detailed scrutiny from the relevant Assembly committee.
The order has essentially three main aspects. First, there is the introduction of a new system of universal civil preliminaries based upon the use of the marriage schedule. This will put the law in Northern Ireland on a generally similar footing to that operating in Scotland. It replaces the existing complicated system.
Secondly, there will be a new statutory scheme of authorised officiants who will be able to celebrate religious marriage. Religious bodies have welcomed this move which shifts the emphasis from the registration of buildings for religious marriages. That was commended by the Law Reform Advisory Committee as a more suitable and flexible model.
Thirdly, there is a relaxation of the current rules relating to civil marriage venues. It will no longer be necessary for a civil wedding to take place in the local registration office. This, too, has been welcomed in Northern Ireland and gives couples wishing to marry a greater freedom of choice. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for bringing this order before us. To save repetition, I thank him for all the orders that he is about to bring and all that he is about to do. I assure the HouseI say it now so that it goes into Hansard oncethat I have not read the orders in detail, but I have read all the Explanatory Notes. I have taken some advice from outside parties and done my best in a short space of time to know what is being discussed. I have done my best to ensure that there are no particularly provocative matters in these orders.
Until now, and onwards, I suspect, the legal situation regarding marriage in Northern Ireland has been different from that in England. I think that that is a pity. As I understand it, it is now coming well into line with the situation in Scotland. However, I have to declare an interest in that I have been married more than once. The issue is complicated, and made more costly and difficult to tidy up, for those who marry more than once and have to go this way and that in order to marry in a jurisdiction in Ireland, in Scotland or in England. I hasten to add that I have not done the tour. I am not being frivolous. I believe that this is a good order.
In another place, my honourable friend David Wilshire, backed by Lady Hermon, asked a large number of leading questions. From my reading of Hansard from another place, he received pretty satisfactory answers from the Minister. I therefore believe that we should welcome this order.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I, too, welcome this order and the other orders. Perhapsto take a leaf out of the book of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoranthis is something that should be said only once. These orders have been given some consideration by the devolved Assembly. Devolution means devolution, as far as I am concerned, and the content of these orders is what the Assembly wants. I hope that we return soon to real devolution. If it does not happen, we may have to second guess what the Assembly might have thought. The Assembly has done much work in discussing these orders. These are the orders that the Assembly would have passed had it been functioning. I therefore support this order.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I welcome the order. During the Second Reading of the original Bill in the Assembly, the former Minister of Finance and Personnel pointed out that the main statute on the formalities and preliminaries which must be undertaken for a marriage to take place in Northern Ireland was more than 150 years old. Having periodically been added
I particularly welcome the provision in Article 18 which will allow people suffering from serious injuries or terminal illness to marry in a hospice or hospital. That is a sensible and compassionate innovation. The order is intended to simplify, codify and modernise the fragmented and piecemeal legislation that has existed for many years. With that in mind, I should like to impress on the noble and learned Lord the need to provide strict and clear guidelines to district councils for setting criteria and nominating places where marriages can take place. With no fewer than 26 district councils currently in existence in Northern Ireland, there is clear potential for implementation of the legislation to be rather inconsistent from one district council to another. I support the order and look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on those issues.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, like all noble Lords, I am happy to see my noble friend Lord Maginnis back in his place after a brief absence, the reasons for which he was kind enough to inform me of. I shall take on board the points that have been raised and ensure that the appropriate officials bear them in mind.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the draft order reflects a different approach in Northern Ireland, as we heard my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath say earlier. The order provides for the important new public office of a commissioner whose purpose and aim are to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young persons in Northern Ireland.
The order provides for a four-year term of appointment, renewable once, by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, with accountabilitythis is very importantby way of annual reports. However, in day-to-day operation the commissioner will rightly be independent and free to determine priorities. The draft order sets out a number of guiding principles, chief of which is a requirement that the right of the child must be the paramount consideration. But others rightly include, for example, a requirement to have regard to the role of parents.
As the noble Lords, Lord Shutt, Lord Maginnis and Lord Glentoran, pointed out, the order had almost completed Committee stage. It had the full support of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is a very important step forward. I shall not mention that to my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
Northern Ireland is a small community. Children in Northern Ireland have probably suffered more than children in other areas of the United Kingdom as a result of the awful happenings over the past 30 years: the lack of law and order; the high levels of incest and maltreatment of children in the areas dominated by the paramilitaries where the police cannot enter; and, worst of all, the loss of parents and children; the loss of access to their schools and all the awful things that we know children in Northern Ireland have had to suffer for far too long. It is an excellent move on the part of the Government to appoint a person with sole responsibility for looking after the interests of children and children's rights.
I am delighted that the order nearly completed its passage in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I believe that the relevant amendments have been incorporated in the order. It is a great step forward for families and children in Northern Ireland.
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