Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 - Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee Contents


Forty-third Report


Instrument Drawn To The Special Attention Of The House

The Committee has considered the following instrument and has determined that the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on the grounds specified.

Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/2661)

Date laid: 8 November

Parliamentary Procedure: negative

The Equality Act 2010 ("the 2010 Act") removed the prohibition on religious premises being approved for the registration of civil partnerships. These Regulations establish the procedure for such approvals. The Government's Explanatory Memorandum says that the provision in the 2010 Act is entirely permissive and religious organisations will not be obliged to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so. The mechanism for introducing this change is to amend the approved premises scheme. The public consultation on the Regulations suggested that the principle of the proposal is contentious. The Committee has been made aware of an opinion prepared by Mark Hill QC on the Regulations and we have made this available on the Committee's website[1]. The Committee has also received submissions from the 'Evangelical Alliance', 'The Christian Institute' and 'CARE' raising a number of concerns about the instrument, in particular whether it will achieve its intended purpose. These too are published on the website[2].

This instrument is drawn to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.

1.  The Equality Act 2010 ("the 2010 Act") amended the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to remove the prohibition on religious premises being approved for the registration of civil partnerships. The framework for the approval of premises for marriages and civil partnership registrations is set out in the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005 ("the 2005 Regulations"). These Regulations amend the 2005 Regulations and establish the procedure for religious premises to be approved for civil partnership registrations (but not civil marriages).

2.  The Explanatory Memorandum ("EM") says that the provision in the 2010 Act is entirely permissive and religious organisations will not be obliged to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so (EM paragraph 7.2).

3.  The Government ran a public consultation on the proposal which closed on 23 June 2011 and received 1,617 responses (EM paragraph 8.1). The EM says the majority of the responses were objecting to the introduction of this proposal on principle rather than focussing on the detail of the consultation which was the practical arrangements to put in place the changes to the approved premises scheme (EM paragraph 8.2).

4.  The Committee has been made aware of an opinion prepared by Mark Hill QC on the Regulations and this has been made available on the Committee's website. The Committee has also received submissions from the 'Evangelical Alliance', 'The Christian Institute' and 'CARE' which raise a number of concerns about the instrument, in particular whether it will achieve its intended purpose. These too are available on the website[3]. The concerns raised by 'Evangelical Alliance' include:

·  Many independent churches operate in buildings they do not own, and officials for such a denomination may try to register all its premises, leaving evangelical ministers in a very difficult position; and

·  If a church itself is registered but the minister or congregation refuses to host a particular civil partnership, they are vulnerable to legal action by the couple concerned.

The concerns raised by 'The Christian Institute' include:

·  That the Regulations do not offer sufficient legal protection to churches that do not wish to host civil partnerships;

·  Combined with the public sector equality duty, the Regulations raise the prospect of churches being refused the right to register marriages at all, if they will not also register civil partnerships; and

·  The complexities of the different types of church structure are not properly accounted for in the Regulations.

5.  'CARE' argue that the Regulations do not achieve the stated purpose of advancing religious liberty by enabling places of worship that do wish to host civil partnerships to do so, whilst not obliging any place of worship that does not wish to host civil partnerships to do so.


1   www.parliament.uk/hlmeritspublications Back

2   ibid Back

3   www.parliament.uk/hlmeritspublications Back


 
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