Marriage (Wales) Bill [ Lords]

Prayers – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 12th March 2010.

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Bill reported, without amendment.

Third reading

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth 9:44 am, 12th March 2010

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Knowing of your connection with Wales, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is certainly a Welsh flavour about what I trust will be a very short debate. I am a member of the Church in Wales, although I was brought up in Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru-yr Hen Gorff-and I am very proud to bring the Bill before the House.

When the Public Bill Committee met on 24 February, Members from all four parties representing Welsh constituencies attended and spoke. There was unanimity across all parties and all denominations from Free Church to Catholic, and support from all parts of Wales, north, south, east and west. Perhaps that is the most surprising element of unity.

It is ironic that the established Church of England can make a change of the sort introduced by the Bill through a simple Measure, but that we need a private Member's Bill, that most fragile of legislative vehicles, to do so in Wales. The purpose is simple. On 1 October 2008, the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 came into force. Before then, marriage banns could be called in a parish church if one or both of the parties to be married resided in the parish. If they lived in different parishes, the banns had to be called in the parish church of each party.

The Measure added five additional cases of qualifying connection with the parish. In summary, they are as follows: first, that one of the parties was baptised or confirmed in the parish; secondly, that one of the parties had, at any time, his or her usual place of residence in the parish for not less than six months; thirdly, that one of the parties had, at any time, habitually attended public worship in the parish for not less than six months; fourthly, that a parent of one of the parties, during the lifetime of that party, fulfilled either of the two previous conditions; and finally, that a parent or grandparent of one of the parties was married in the parish.

The affirmation of the relationship between two people in marriage is important, and in these days of a highly mobile population, people want to make the connections that are indicated by those five additional qualifying criteria. All that the Bill will do is bring the arrangements of the Church in Wales into the same situation that the Measure brought into place for the Church of England. The only difference is some of the terminology that is necessary to meet the arrangements in the disestablished Church.

Given the unity of support for the Bill throughout the Chamber and across all denominations, I am sure that I need say no more on the subject.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Shadow Minister (Wales) 9:48 am, 12th March 2010

I declare at the outset that, like Alun Michael, I am a member of the Church in Wales. As he said, the Bill has full cross-party support for all its provisions, and perhaps more importantly, it has the full support of the governing body of the Church in Wales and therefore represents its official policy.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Bill will bring Church in Wales practice in line with that of the Church of England. He outlined the consequences of the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008, which introduced five additional cases in which marriage banns may be called in a church in a particular parish. As he said, the change in practice was meant to reflect social changes, in that people are far more mobile than they were but nevertheless feel an affinity with a particular place where they have lived, or where a parent or a grandparent has lived, and wish to mark important occasions such as marriage there. The Church in Wales recognises that the change effected by the Church of England is good and sensible and wishes to adopt it too.

There is another point that should perhaps be made. Along the often highly populated border between England and Wales, there are parishes that fall within with one ecclesiastical jurisdiction but a different political one. The changes contemplated under the Bill will therefore resolve a great deal of possible confusion, of which there is frankly already enough along the English-Welsh border.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

As my hon. Friend regularly attends church in Wales, does he know whether the proposal will result in an increased number of church weddings in Wales? Does he have any information about the impact of the 2008 Measure on the number of weddings in churches in England?

Photo of David Jones David Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

I do not have any information about the consequences of the 2008 Measure, which is clearly fairly recent. However, I have received representations from people interested in the Bill who think that a widening of the categories of people may be married in a particular church will have a desirable effect on the number of weddings. I have been approached in particular by people in the catering trade who say that wedding catering may well be stimulated. In both business and social life in Wales, the consequences are highly desirable.

The Bill will make it easier for people to get married where they wish, which is surely a good thing. The Opposition welcome it unreservedly, and look forward to its enactment.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice) 9:51 am, 12th March 2010

I congratulate Alun Michael on the Bill, which is a sensible measure. I declare an interest as a former practising barrister who undertook a certain amount of family law. I absolutely agree with the purpose of the Bill, because the existing requirement is for the banns to be read in the parish churches of the groom and of the bride. The fact that the qualifying criteria are so strict leads to some hardship because, as the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend Mr. Jones pointed out, many people wishing to marry have moved away from home. They have gone to university and taken jobs elsewhere, yet they want to get married in their local church, perhaps in the place where their grandparents live or where they have other family connections. It is only fair that they should be able to do so-as, indeed, they can in the Church of England. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, we now have a much more mobile population, and the Bill is an important measure in ensuring that those people can get married in the church of their choice, in a place where they have connections.

I am slightly concerned about the churches in the Welsh marches, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West. The church may be in one jurisdiction, but the county in a separate jurisdiction across the march. I do not quite know how that problem is going to be sorted out-perhaps the Minister can fill us in regarding the verdict of the Ministry of Justice. It is an important issue, and a few anomalies may be thrown up.

The Bill is a small but important measure, and it will bring a great deal of happiness and joy to a significant number of people. It is good to see right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches supporting the institution of marriage.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 9:53 am, 12th March 2010

I have very little to say about the Bill, given that I am not a member of the Church of Wales. It would be interesting, however, to speculate on whether the measure will result in an increased number of church weddings. For my part, I certainly hope that will be the consequence. In principle, if we give a wider choice of venue to people who wish their marriage to be solemnised in church, that should increase take-up.

I wish to examine the consequences of the equivalent Church of England Measure. Unfortunately, the most recent statistics are for 2008, before the Measure was fully implemented on 1 October 2008. In the Church of England, between 2002 and 2008, the number of weddings was relatively constant: some 54,800 in 2002; and 57,000 in 2004, falling to 53,100 in 2008. Given that there are some 16,000 churches under the control of the Church of England, that is an average of only three marriages per church per year. Marriage ceremonies are a good way of increasing church income-with due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West, the income for the church is probably more important than the income for the wedding cake makers. I hope that the Church of England Measure that was introduced has resulted in an increased number of church weddings. The Church of England website-I imagine that the Church in Wales would do something similar-says that as a result of the Measure

"the Church of England's network of 16,000 churches-ancient or modern, intimate or grand, simple or spectacular-can offer a wider wedding welcome than at any time in the Church's history."

I hope that the Church in Wales, although not an established Church, will say something similar, and will use this Bill to promote the case for family involvement in the Church and particularly the importance of church weddings.

I should like the Church, in Wales and in England, to produce statistics to show the durability of marriages that take place in church, compared with that of marriages that take place in purely civil ceremonies, as that might be encouraging for couples wondering whether or not to get married in church. The Church, whether in Wales or England, has a lot more work to do to promote that cause. The statistics produced by the governing body of the Church in Wales show that there were only 68,837 communicants at Easter. In 2006-the last year for which statistics are available-there were only 3,779 church weddings in Wales, which is a pretty paltry figure.

We all know about the fine singing of the Welsh choirs and everything that comes out of Wales, so I am surprised that relatively few people wish to get married in church in Wales. I hope that the Bill-I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and its sponsors on its introduction-will ensure not only that there is improved church attendance but an increase in the number of church weddings in Wales. I am therefore happy to give the Bill my enthusiastic support.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health) 9:57 am, 12th March 2010

The Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly support the Bill, and we congratulate Alun Michael on its introduction. Mr. Chope asked about the impact of the equivalent Measure in England, but for me the important thing is that the Bill provides greater flexibility. It gives people the opportunity, which they have been denied in the past, to get married in a place to which they have an emotional attachment or a close family connection. It brings the Church in Wales into line with the Church of England, so it makes eminent sense for us to get on and introduce it. I do not want to delay it any further.

Photo of Claire Ward Claire Ward Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice 9:58 am, 12th March 2010

May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend Alun Michael on successfully steering this Bill through its remaining stages in the Commons? It is good to note from the speeches we have heard that it has not only cross-party support cross-denominational support.

The Bill seeks to introduce widened "qualifying connections" for couples who wish to get married in a parish of the Church in Wales, which will be equivalent to those introduced by the Church of England in October 2008. Since then, parishioners of the Church in Wales have been at a disadvantage compared with parishioners in England when it comes to their choice of venue for a church wedding. The Bill will remedy the position so that couples will not necessarily need to be resident in the parish in which they wish to get married, as is currently the case. For example, a couple may have moved away from their home parish in Wales, but may wish to get married there because their family and friends still live in the area. The current more restrictive rules could prevent them from doing so, but if the Bill is enacted, they would need only to show that they have previously lived or worshipped in the parish. Alternatively, they could demonstrate one of the other widened qualifying connections set out in the Bill-for example, that their parents or grandparents were married in that church.

I know that the Church in Wales is looking forward to welcoming more couples to its parishes for marriage as a result of the Bill, and it seems only fair that people with a connection with Wales should have the same access to their church for marriage that people in England now enjoy.

Mr. Jones mentioned the border with England. The Bill will regularise the border problem, which is the fact that some districts in Wales are under the Church of England, so parishioners in those districts are covered by the Church of England Measure.

As the Bill is a matter of Church administration, the Government have remained neutral. However, I am aware that many people with a link to Wales will welcome it and benefit from it. Therefore, with complete neutrality, I wish the Bill well.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth 10:00 am, 12th March 2010

I hope that in future we will be able to look at how we legislate for the Church in Wales and perhaps produce a simpler solution and one that is appropriate in the age of devolution. I am grateful for the support of Members on both sides of the Chamber. I know that people in the parish of St. Mellons in my constituency are looking to see what happens today with interest, because the Bill will make a difference to the traditional links between the Llanrumney estate and the parish. I am sure the Bill will make a similar difference in parishes up and down Wales and, as Mr. Jones said, particularly where parish boundaries cross the border.

I am grateful for the support the Bill has received, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.