I am writing as Chairman of SLSC. This week the Committee considered the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 which temporarily enable civil weddings and partnership ceremonies to be conducted outdoors. The Committee has no comment to make on the policy itself but questions the justification for bringing the instrument into effect within 24 hours of laying.
The normal criteria for emergency legislation are that life, property or national security are in danger and immediate preventative action is required. None of those reasons appear to apply here - the only rationale provided is commercial and that is not an adequate reason to curtail Parliament’s opportunity to scrutinise any new legislation.
The Committee would therefore be grateful if you could provide a fuller explanation for this breach of the 21 day rule. We look forward to receiving your response by 10.30 on Monday 20 July so that it may be considered at our next meeting.
14 July 2021
Thank you for your letter of 14 July seeking the justification for bringing the above statutory instrument into effect within 24 hours of laying.
When the Government in 2019 asked the Law Commission to undertake a fundamental review of the law governing how and where people legally marry in England and Wales, it also committed separately to accelerate work to enable civil wedding and civil partnership ceremonies to take place outdoors. However, the subsequent and ongoing impact of Covid-19 presented significant challenges in delivering such a change at the pace envisaged–indeed, it was simply not feasible to bring forward the necessary secondary legislation in time for the 2020 wedding season. My Department therefore worked very hard with the General Register Office to deliver that change as soon as practicable for the 2021 wedding season.
The Committee will, of course, be aware that the weddings industry has been severely impacted by the legal restrictions on activities and on social gatherings imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many thousands of couples had to postpone or cancel their planned wedding in 2020. To bring about a change which would give more options to such couples, and to the weddings sector, in how civil weddings and civil partnerships could be celebrated by allowing all aspects of the proceedings to take place outdoors seemed to me to be of the utmost importance and urgency.
At the same time, this step supports the weddings sector by providing greater choice and potentially helping venues to meet demand for larger ceremonies. The change will benefit the almost 75% of all weddings in England and Wales that are non-religious, and which take place on approved premises, along with civil
I should also note that the changes made by this instrument are time limited. We will undertake a public consultation on these measures, together with an Impact Assessment, with the intention of laying a further instrument in Spring 2022.
I do very much regret that, on this occasion, my Department failed to meet the 21-day rule for laying this instrument. I can give the Committee my full assurance that the usual procedure for the laying and commencement will be followed for the further instrument we plan to lay in Spring next year, and this will allow for full parliamentary scrutiny.
19 July 2021