I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 22, leave out paragraph (d) and insert:
(d) That the conditions contained in section 1(2) of this Act are satisfied and that the person in respect of whom such conditions are satisfied is able to and does understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony:
Provided that the certificate of a registered medical practitioner shall be sufficient evidence of any or all of the matters in subsection (1)(d) of this section referred to.
Paragraph (d) of Clause 3 —in passing I draw attention to the fact that it should simply be Clause 3; it stands as Clause 3(1), but there is apparently no subsection (2)—has the effect that the person giving notice to the superintendent registrar under the provisions of Clause 2 is required, for the purposes of the new procedure which the sponsor of the Bill is introducing, to produce to the superintendent registrar such evidence as the Registrar General may require to satisfy him on various matters.
When we come to paragraph (d) the matter required is,
that one of the persons to be married is seriously ill and is not expected to recover but that he is nevertheless able to understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony.
That is a throwback to Clause 1(2), which provides:
The Registrar-General shall not issue any licence for the solemnising of a marriage "—
in accordance with the provisions of the Bill—
unless he is satisfied that one of the persons to be married is seriously ill and is not expected to recover and cannot be moved to a place at which under the provisions of the Marriage Act. 1949 … the marriage could be solemnised.
The curious thing about paragraph (d) is that the evidence which is to be produced to the superintendent registrar covers the person to be married being seriously ill and not being expected to recover—had I been able to move my earlier Amendment the wording might have been rather different, but that does not now arise—but does not cover the other provision that he or she
cannot be moved to a place at which under the provisions of the Marriage Act, 1949 …the marriage could be solemnised.
I do not know the reason for that omission and why it is thought necessary that the Registrar General should have
evidence to satisfy him of two of those matters but not of the third. I do not see how he can carry out the requirement of Clause 1(2), that he
shall not issue any licence for the solemnising of a marriage
unless he is satisfied of all those things without some additional provision to Clause 3, which provides the procedural method by which the evidence on all three of those matters is provided for him.
Accordingly, the purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that the evidence which should be put before him, in accordance with the Clause, ensures that all the conditions in Clause 1(2) are satisfied and also the additional fact, to which reference is already made in paragraph (d) of Clause 3,
that the person in respect of whom such conditions are satisfied is able to and does understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony.
There again I have proposed a small addition and alteration to make the matter abundantly clear to cover the position not merely that he is able to understand but that he does so.
I hope that that explains the purpose of the first part of the Amendment, and I hope that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) will accept that it should improve the Bill, which is indeed its purpose.
The second part of the Amendment is perhaps a little more controversial. The Bill does not make any suggestion about the type of evidence which should be provided for the Registrar General to satisfy him of the various matters referred to in Clause 1(2). As the matter stands, any evidence brought before him may satisfy him. On the other hand, it may be that the evidence which is brought before him—evidence of some relative, for example, about the state of health and ability to understand of the person concerned, or of some relative of the other party to the proposed marriage or, indeed, the other party himself or herself —would be of a kind which might, quite properly, make the Registrar General suspicious and lead him to ask for further inquiries to be made, as is his entitlement under the next succeeding Clause.
The House will recall that by virtue of Clause 8 the period of the validity of any licence is at present limited to
one month from the day on which the notice of marriage was entered in the marriage notice book.
So time is very much of the essence of the matter. If the Registrar General is unable to satisfy himself within a reasonable period, the whole of the procedure which has been put into effect will be abortive and those concerned will have to start all over again in a situation in which the whole point of the procedure proposed by the Bill is that a person who may be on his deathbed should be enabled to be married as soon as possible.
In the light of that consideration, it seemed to me that there ought to be at any rate some form of evidence which should be unchallengeable, even though other forms of evidence, such as statements of relatives and so on, might reasonably be open to verification under Clause 1. The kind of evidence which I think should be unchallengeable would be the certificate of a registered medical practitioner as to matters each one of which can properly be described as a medical matter; for example,
that one of the persons to be married is seriously ill and is not expected to recover and cannot be moved to a place at which under the provisions of the Marriage Act 1949 …the marriage could be solemnised.
Clearly, those are medical matters.
I think that it is also a matter for a doctor to say, which he can quite properly, whether that person
is able to and does understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony.
Therefore, for the purpose of expedition of these proceedings, I have proposed that that certificate shall be sufficient evidence and that it shall not be necessary or possible for the Registrar General to look behind it.
According to your provision selection, Mr. Speaker, Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are to be discussed with the Amendment which I have moved. Those Amendments are to Clause 16, which provides for penalties for offences in connection with the Bill's proposed procedure.
It was a matter of some little surprise to me to observe that the Bill did not appear to penalise the giving of false information by way of evidence which is required, or may be required, by the Registrar General, so that as matters stand it would be possible for anybody to obtain a marriage on a wholly false basis of evidence without incurring any penalty for doing so. I have sought to rectify that situation by proposing to add to the offences in Clause 16, first, the giving of false information, and, second, the giving of a false certificate by a registered medical practitioner.
The whole purpose of the Amendments is to make the giving of false evidence and false certificates an offence, and to subject the person who " knowingly and willingly "—those are the words in Clause 16(1)—gives such evidence or certificates to certain penalties. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is a useful condition which will tighten the Bill and avoid its use for fraudulent purposes, and that after we had had opportunity to debate these matters he will accept the Amendments.
It is amazing how little attention was given by the Standing Committee to any of the points raised on Second Reading. The Standing Committee proceedings occupied only six columns, only six of the hon. Members who were appointed to the Committee bothered to turn up, and the only hon. Member who spoke was the promoter of the Bill. I think that the Standing Committee is to be criticised for not paying attention to any of the views expressed on Second Reading. Because of the little time that we have been given to draft our Amendments before considering the Bill on Report, we are not able to deal adequately with the Bill, and I think that this is a serious reflection on the conduct of affairs upstairs.
The Amendment does, to some extent, help with the point that I raised on Second Reading, although it does not go nearly as far as I should have like to go had I been on the Standing Committee.
Certainly, Mr. Speaker, and I have done that on past occasions, but one has to approach somebody on the Committee, explain the meaning of the Amendment, get him to raise it, and so on. It involves a great deal of work in putting the case to the hon. Member who is to raise it. It is bad enough being on a Committee and trying to do it at first hand.
I accept that, Mr. Speaker. I am only saying that it is far more difficult for an hon. Member to do it that way than it is if he is on the Committee himself. When he has explained it to the hon. Member who is to raise it there may be a misunderstanding, and the sense of the Amendment may not altogether fulfill his objectives.
Because of the way the Bill is phrased, it is almost certain that the party who is seriously ill will be aware of that fact because of the evidence which had to be put before the Registrar General. On Second Reading I said that it would not be possible for the well party to go to his fiancée in hospital and say, " You may be here for a few months. We have this facility for applying for a licence to get married in the hospital. Why do we not do so, rather than wait until you are fully recovered? ", because the ill party would then know that the illness was of a drastic nature.
The Amendment is a slight help in this regard because it says that the certificate of a registered medical practitioner
shall be sufficient evidence of any or all of the matters in subsection (1)(d) of this section referred to.
It means that the nature of the illness and the fact that the patient was not expected to recover would be certified by the medical practitioner, and in those circumstances the marriage would take place without the ill person knowing that he was unlikely to recover.
It is a question of who has to provide the evidence. If the patient had to say, " I am seriously ill and do not expect to recover ", or if the patient's assent had to be obtained to a statement of that kind, all the facts would be known to both parties entering into the marriage. The patient would be fully aware that he was suffering from a mortal illness. That was my point. If the evidence before the registrar was provided by a registered medical practitioner the patient would not necessarily need to have knowledge of the fact that he was suffering from a fatal illness, although I do not think that the Amendment altogether cures the evil to which I referred.
On Second Reading the other Joint Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody), acknowledged that there was a difficulty. He said:
There is a problem here. … Because we are identifying the group whom we want to help, this difficulty arises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1970; Vol. 795, c. 1651.]
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that his experience as a medical practitioner was that people would know, or might know, that they were suffering from a mortal illness. I do not think that that is universally the case.
I accept that. That is why I made my criticisms about the Standing Committee at the beginning. I regard this as a serious flaw in the Bill and think that it should have received adequate consideration upstairs. It is too late now, and we are having to do the best we can. Perhaps the noble Lords in another place will pay more attention to what was said in the Second Reading debate in this House than the Standing Committee did. I shall draw the attention of my noble Friends to what was said in the Second Reading debate and what has been said in the debate this morning. We must do the best we can in the circumstances. I merely say that if we had a choice between paragraph (d) as it stands and the hon. and learned Member's alternative, I would prefer his.
I was conscious of the hon. Member's remarks in the Second Reading debate, and I said that I would consider them. Having looked at the matter further and thought about it, however, I have come to the conclusion, honestly and truly, that the only conditions in which anyone would want a licence under the Bill would he those in which it was specifically known that one of the parties was not expected to recover. If a person were in hospital in normal circumstances and expected to recover I imagine that the usual arrangement would be for that person to hope in due course to have a marriage in church.
In the circumstances I came to the conclusion—perhaps erroneously, but it was not without thought—that probably the only cases that would be affected by the Bill were those in which it had been accepted that the only reason for asking for such a licence was that one of the parties was not expected to recover.
I can certainly think of circumstances in which the well party would wish to have the marriage solemnised—for instance, to legitimise children—and would be able to persuade the patient in hospital not to defer the marriage until that patient was well, the patient assuming that he or she would recover but the well party knowing that the illness was a fatal one.
That is possible; people with serious illnesses can delude themselves into thinking that they are likely to recover. That happened with a close relative of mine. He was convinced up to the day of his death that he would become well again in a few months. People seem to have a built-in self-defence mechanism, and in the terminal stages of a fatal illness they can convince themselves that it is not fatal.
In those circumstances there might be great value in the other person's having the marriage solemnised, although it would not be desirable to explain the detailed provisions of the Bill, because that in itself might be medically harmful for the patient. If a person has to say to a patient in hospital, " Look, there is no prospect of your recovering, and therefore we can invoke the provisions of the Marriage (Registrar General's Licence) Bill," it amounts to a sentence of death. I agree that in many cases the person in hospital will already be reconciled to the situation, but I am contemplating the possibility that in many cases those circumstances will not arise, and that the situation will be as I have put it this morning. In view of that possibility I prefer the words of the hon. and learned Member's Amendment rather than those in the Bill, and I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.
I want to say a word about the offences that the hon. and learned Member proposes to create. I can see that in logic these provisions should be written in, but I draw the hon. and learned Member's attention to the severe penalties provided under the Clause. The maximum penalty is a sentence of five years' imprisonment, and I ask the hon. and learned Member whether he does not think that that is wholly excessive for the offence of giving false information by way of evidence required by Clause 3. If we are to give the courts these immense powers the penalties should have some relation to the seriousness of the offence.
I must not anticipate Amendments that I shall move later, but I entirely agree with the hon. Member; indeed, I go further and say that the present penalty is far too severe even for the existing offences under the Bill.
If we knew what was in the hon. and learned Member's mind about penalties it might help us to come to a decision about the offences that he suggests should be written into the Bill. I cannot argue with him about the logic of his case; it is just that I do not believe that we should create new offences and impose vast penalties in respect of them without careful thought.
I strongly agree with the criticism expressed by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) about the proceedings in Standing Committee. It is extraordinary that none of the points raised in the Second Reading debate was discussed there, and that the only person who took part in the discussion—apart from the Chairman—was the promoter of the Bill.
I hope that the promoter will accept the Amendment. I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington that it does not go far enough, but that is not the fault of the mover; it is the fault of the non-selection of other Amendments. That shows the difficulty that we are in in discussing this matter.
Clause 3(1) provides that the person giving notice
shall produce to the superintendent registrar such evidence as the Registrar General may require to satisfy him
and so on, but we are left without any guidance as to what sort of evidence the Registrar General may accept. That question is left very much at large, and that is wrong.
My hon. and learned Friend has put down an Amendment that sets out clearly that the conditions in Clause 1(2) must be satisfied and, more important, there is a proviso. That is absolutely vital. If there is no proviso and no machinery for showing what sort of evidence ought to be given to satisfy the Registrar General the Bill is lacking in an important essential. The certificate of a registered medical practitioner will set out the important evidence in regard to this matter, and I hope that the Amendment will be accepted by the promoter.
I want to say a few words about Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. My hon. and learned Friend has inserted two additional offences. I agree that this is a difficult matter, and that we should hesitate before adding to our criminal law, but the two matters set out in those Amendments should form an essential part of the Bill. It should be regarded as a serious offence to give false information by way of evidence required in Clause 3 and to give a false certificate as provided for in Clause 3(1)(d). Those offences should be added to the Bill, with penalties provided. I hope that the promoter will also accept those Amendments.
My disappointment about the proceedings in Committee is known to you, Mr. Speaker. It would have been much better if the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and I had been on the Committee. Perhaps the views about the Bill which we expressed on Second Reading were such that it was better that we were not on it. It seems a pity that we cannot get on it now.
I hope that the hon. Member for Orpington will draw the attention of his noble Friends to Amendment No. 2, page 1, line 13, leave out subsection (2), and Amendment No. 8, page 2, line 22, leave out paragraph (d), which stand in my name and which, unfortunately, we have been unable to discuss, for reasons which I accept.
I wish to express a slight doubt about Amendment No. 7. It refers to
… the conditions contained in section 1(2) of this Act ".
To my mind, those conditions are all too narrow.
The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) said on Second Reading that he had tried for about 10 years to introduce a Private Member's Bill, and we were extremely pleased that he was fortunate enough to be able to do so. However, I think that most of us were extremely disappointed by the somewhat feeble use which he made of his opportunity. I should have thought that to introduce a Bill of which full use could be made only by a person who was dying was a very limited use of his opportunity. I know that a widow or widower, or any heir, would gain advantage from it. That is sensible and sound. But the number of occasions in the year when that circumstance arises must be fairly small. It is a pity to introduce a Bill of 20 Clauses for that very limited purpose.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I wished not to introduce anything new but to fill a gap. The provisions in the Bill exist for Anglicans but not for other people. That was the very narrow point with which I wished to deal. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is a reasonable ambition for any private Member.
I accept that entirely. It is a reasonable ambition but unreasonably limited.
The Amendment does not assist us in widening the conditions to which I have taken objection. I have much wider ambitions with which I shall deal on Third Reading, if that is feasible. The value of provisions of this kind would be enormously increased if they covered not only people likely to die but people who were perhaps bedridden or crippled or who, for a variety of reasons, are confined to their homes. I do not think that there would have been any objection to the hon. Member for St. Albans widening the Bill's scope to that extent. That is a very small request to make of him. I dare say that, like the hon. Member for Orpington, he has friends in another place. I have not. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will draw their attention to this point about widening the scope of the conditions laid down in the Bill.
I am hesitant about supporting Amendment No. 7. I am in a different frame of mind about Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. On the whole, I think that my hon. and learned Friends the Members for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) and Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) are correct, but there is one slight difficulty. There is a distinction to be made between the activities of a person carrying out a marriage knowingly and wilfully realising that it is not in order and the position of the medical practitioner providing a certificate when he thinks that someone is likely to die. Should a person who was thought likely to die disappoint his heirs and live, it would be almost impossible to prove that a doctor "knowingly and wilfully" had certified that he was likely to die. Nothing much is to be gained by adding to the Bill a penalty for an offence which might be impossible to prove. My sympathy for Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 is tempered by a feeling that they are not practical.
I hope that another place will take a different view of the Bill.
I have come to the deliberations on the Bill at a very late stage, but it would perhaps not be out of order if I congratulated the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) on introducing a narrow but very useful Bill which in general the Government support.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) complained about the brevity of the Committee stage and that he, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie), did not serve on it. I never serve on Committees whose proceedings are as brief as the proceedings on this Bill. The Committees on which I serve all seem to last an interminable time. The Committee proceedings on this Bill were brief perhaps because it dealt with a narrow point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton complained that the Clause and the Bill in general were too narrow and he wanted the provisions to be considerably widened. He will be aware that a review of the marriage law is now proceeding under Mr. Justice Scarman with a joint working party of the Law Commission and the Registrar General. It is expected and hoped that the working party's report will be received by the end of the year.
I deal first with that part of the Amendment which provides:
That the conditions contained in section 1(2) of this Act are satisfied and that the person in respect of whom such conditions are satisfied is able to and does understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony".
This principle has been clearly established for a long time in the civil law. The people concerned should
understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony".
Therefore, that part of the Amendment is unnecessary, because it is well established law that a marriage should not take place unless both parties understand the nature of the ceremony.
My hon. Friend may be right in what he says. I appreciate that he has only just come to the deliberations on the Bill and that consideration of it has been very attenuated. The purpose of the words which he has quoted was simply to repeat and give effect to the words which already appear in the latter part of Clause 3(1)(d):
… but that he is nevertheless able to understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony.
All that I seek to do is to ensure that he does in fact
understand the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony ".
If the words in my Amendment are criticised as being unnecessary, then the words in the Bill should also be criticised.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). I was not criticising his Amendment but examining it, bit by bit, to see what it proposes and how it differs from the existing provision. I was commenting on the nature of the common law as it exists. Nevertheless, while the Amendment is not really necessary, since this is a piece of separate legislation there is no objection to its being included.
The second part of the Amendment deals with the certificate of a registered medical practitioner and states that this
… shall be sufficient evidence of any or all of the matters in subsection (1)(d) of this section referred to.
The position is that the Registrar General would normally accept the certificate of a registered medical practitioner on this matter, and there is, therefore, no matter of principle here. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich is probably, therefore, only spelling out more clearly what previously had been the situation.
Therefore, my advice to the House—but the sponsor of the Bill must obviously exercise his own judgment—is that, while the Amendment involves no new principle and for that reason could be argued to be unnecessary, if it is the desire of hon. Members that this provision should be spelled out on the lines suggested it would do no harm to the Bill and cause no difficulty in general administration.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. These deal with false certification. The existing law deals with it as well, but once again I can give the general advice that these would not raise fundamental objections or difficulties.
I turn now to the serious point raised by the hon. Member for Orpington. He dealt with the case of a person who was seriously ill and, indeed, dying but was not aware of it. He was worried because a situation might arise in which that person would be getting married and his prospective partner would have to inform him that he was dying. The hon. Gentleman suggested that such a situation could arise as a result of the Bill inasmuch as the person dying would, as a result of the Bill, be made aware that he was dying. This could arise, he suggested, because this is a narrow Bill dealing with a specific point. His case was that a marriage of the kind which could arise from the Bill would be dealing with people seriously ill and not expected to recover. The person who was dying might be made aware of the fact by his marriage being conducted under the terms of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman raised a wider question which he must take up with the hon. Member for St. Albans, but, in relation to the specific point he put, I am advised that there is no reason why the dying person should have it brought to his clear knowledge that he is dying. The other party would give the notice and provide the necessary evidence. The dying person would only have to know the nature and purpose of the marriage ceremony. While I take the general point put by the hon. Gentleman—which is a broad question dealing with the nature of the Bill—so far as this provision is concerned we see no reason why the dying person should have his condition brought to his notice.
If the person who is thought to be dying is aware not only of the general conditions under which it is normally possible for him to be married—that is, in a church or register office—but of the conditions for marriage under this Bill, how can he be prevented from understanding that he is dying?
I take the point. It is, in effect, the same criticism as made by the hon. Member for Orpington. All I am saying is that if it is possible to make that general criticism of the Bill, as far as subsection (2) is concerned the person involved does not have to be told that he is dying. That is the only point I am making. I doubt whether the vast majority of people, in getting married, realise the legal conditions and restrictions that there are. I am sure they do not know under which Act they are entitled to get married. I am sure that few hon. Members are aware of the detailed sections and conditions of the Marriage Acts. While I take the general point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, I am, at the moment, replying to the narrower point which was raised by the hon. Member for Orpington.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have used the phrase " where a person is dying ". But we should be clear that in Clause 1(2) there is no reference to a person dying. This is very important in relation to someone getting married under the provisions of the Bill.
I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) but, with respect, I point out that subsection (2) refers to one of the persons to be married who
…is seriously ill and is not expected to recover ".
I speak as a non-lawyer—and my hon. Friend has the advantage of me in that respect—but I would have thought that if one is not expected to recover one is, in fact, at least in a prospective state of dying.
However, my advice on Amendment No. 7 is that, although it could be argued that it and the other Amendments being considered with it are not really necessary, they would do no harm to the Bill and, in some aspects, would clarify the law. These are Amendments which the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Albans might care to accept.
I am grateful to the House for the consideration that it has given to these matters this morning. Perhaps I should at once apologise for any inconvenience caused to hon. Members by this stage coming so soon after the Committee stage. Certain dates were available to me. For one reason or another they were difficult, and as there is always an anxiety about eventually becoming too late in the whole pro- gramme I reckoned I was wiser to come early than to come late. I apologise for the inconvenience this must have caused to many people in trying to prepare Amendments for today after seeing what had been done in Committee.
I must also express my gratitude for what has been said this morning, and particularly for the helpful contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). The drafting of a Bill is not an easy matter for someone like me, who is not learned, and despite all the help and advice that is given one is always grateful to have the advice of hon. and learned Members, who are constantly dealing with such matters in detail and are, therefore, perhaps better able to spot weaknesses at once.
It had not occurred to me that in paragraph (d) we were omitting anything very important. I thought that the question whether a person could be moved was automatically decided by his being seriously ill and not being expected to recover; I felt that meant that he could not be moved anyway. The Amendment is an important clarification. It also makes it abundantly clear that it should be certain that the person concerned understands, and is not merely able to understand, the nature and purport of the marriage ceremony. Therefore, I gladly welcome Amendment No. 7.
I now turn to Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. I had assumed that a doctor's certificate would be just the sort of evidence the Registrar General would be looking for. This being so, I have no objection to making it clear here that the giving of a false certificate will be the subject of a penalty under the Bill.
Order. Before the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) winds up the debate, perhaps he would explain to the House whether he will want both Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. They seem to me to be almost alternatives, but not quite.
They cover two slightly different aspects of the same matter, Mr. Speaker. The phrase
false information by way of evidence
is intended to relate to matters which are not covered by the certificate of a registered medical practitioner, whereas
Amendment No. 16 is expressly confined to the certificate of a registered medical practitioner.
Yes, Mr. Speaker.
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) for the generous way in which he has responded to my proposals. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends who have participated in this short but useful debate. Of course, I include the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), whom I regard as a friend if not an hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Orpington raised a very important point about the general scope of the Bill, which I had hoped to be able to debate on an Amendment but hope now perhaps to be able to raise on Third Reading. I gather that the hon. Gentleman has a friend in another place. I think that the hon. Member for St. Albans also has one, and I happen to have a very good one there, so between us we shall perhaps be able to raise the matter elsewhere if we cannot do so here.
I think that the hon. Member for Orpington welcomed the Amendment although suggesting that it did not go quite as far as he would like. I agree that the provision I have proposed to insert for the registered medical practitioner's certificate has the additional advantage which I had not mentioned, but which with his ingenious mind he had thought of, that it may help to avoid the situation in which a seriously ill person will be aware of the reasons for the marriage being held in hospital or wherever it may be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) was mainly concerned about the narrowness of the provisions of the Bill. That is a matter with which we can deal, but I hope that he will agree that in the present position the House must accept, at any rate for the time being, the provisions of Clause 1. Therefore, I must take them as I find them, and it is not really a criticism of the Amendment we are considering that other provisions which we have now passed are not as wide as they might have been.
My hon. Friend also made some criticism of the proposal for making additional offences. He drew attention to the difference between the Bill as it stands, which makes it an offence to carry out ceremonies in certain conditions, and the proposals which I make, which would also make it an offence for people falsely, knowingly and wilfully to provide information or evidence which would allow or persuade the Registrar General to issue his licence so that the marriage might be solemnised in the way provided for by the Bill. He suggests that that is in a different category from the actual Act of solemnisation.
That may well be, although it seems to me that the degree of enormity will differ rather by the circumstances of the case than the pigeon-hole into which we put the offence. When we come to one of my later Amendments which seeks to give very much greater elasticity to the way in which a court can deal with these various offences, I hope that my hon. Friend's point will be taken care of.
The distinction I was trying to make was between someone knowingly and wilfully carrying out an act and someone knowingly and wilfully coming to a wrong conclusion and opinion. There is a clear distinction. One is readily provable and the other is not, and if we put unprovable things into law I am not sure that that improves law.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, and I see the distinction he seeks to make. But I think that I can give the assurance, so far as I can from my experience in these matters, that Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 would certainly not be directed against any person who gave an honest but inaccurate opinion. They would be directed only against a person who could be proved to have deliberately given false information or a false certificate with the object of setting in motion this procedure, which would not otherwise be available to him. I believe that it is right that such a person should be punished.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in a very helpful intervention, drew attention, as have other hon. Members, to the very short time during which the Bill was considered in Committee. I think that, including the usual words of courtesy at the end, the Committee sat for only 13 minutes. I may also point out that apart from the hon. Member for St. Albans, who is in charge of the Bill, not a single member of that Committee is now present, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) who attended earlier, and who is very regular in his attendance here. That being the case, it seems to me that we should look at the Bill very carefully to see whether we can improve it; and I hope that the House will agree that these Amendments are an improvement.