Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:35 am on 2nd February 2018.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 9:35 am, 2nd February 2018

My hon. Friend is impatient. I will confirm that later in my speech: there is plenty more to come. My hon. Friend got in first, but it was not really necessary.

I am aware that I have majored on the first of the four parts of the Bill. It has three other important components, which I think are less complicated and hopefully less contentious.

The fact that my late mother could not add her name as a parent on my marriage certificate is an anachronism, well past its sell-by date and, frankly, an outrage. In fact, the signatures of both my mother and my mother-in-law were included on our marriage certificate, but at our discretion, and as the signatures of witnesses rather than parents. My father signed, as did my wife’s father, because in the days when the anomaly originated, a daughter was a father’s chattel for him to give away, and literally sign away. That has been the case in England since 1837, the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, and has not changed since then. The problem apparently lies with the current system of marriage registration, which relies on hard-copy register books held in churches and other religious establishments as well as register offices. That involves some 84,000 open register books in 30,000 churches and religious buildings, so it is quite a big undertaking.

Surely, in this digital age, it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to introduce a single electronic register instead of relying on hard-copy books. That would avoid the potentially costly need to replace all the register books. Instead of signing a book at the ceremony, the newly married couple would sign a document that would then be returned to the register office to be entered in the existing electronic register so that an official marriage certificate could be issued, including the names of all the parents. The measure could also take account of new family structures, including those to which I have referred. There would be two spaces for the signatures of each of the partners in the marriage, or, indeed, civil partnership. That innovation was actually made when civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, but, bizarrely, it does not apply to marriages. Both parents would be included, be they biological mother and father, same-sex parents of whom one might be a biological parent, or adoptive parents.

That, surely, would be a progressive move to acknowledge and celebrate all types of relationships that give rise to children who go on to get hitched. It would also avoid some of the more insulting scenarios that I have encountered, in which a single mum who has given everything to bring up a son or daughter cannot be acknowledged on a wedding certificate, whereas an absentee or abusive father who did a runner at the birth and played no part in the child’s upbringing has an automatic pass to be registered on the certificate. Tragically, many mums discover that literally when the pen is taken away from them straight after the nuptials, when the register is signed to confirm the marriage.

It is nonsensical that this simple measure has not already come to pass. It is apparently the policy of the present Government and that of the previous one. It has been supported by Ministers and Prime Ministers, and it has been the subject of numerous early-day motions, petitions, debates and Private Members’ Bills introduced by, among others, Christina Rees—who is present—and my hon. Friend Edward Argar. My right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman is attempting to push through the latest such measure in tandem with the Bishop of St Albans, and my proposals, which would be considered in more detail in Committee, mirror their intention—although I am aware that there are some concerns about potential Henry VIII clauses, which I will seek to restrict. Ensuring that my Bill passes into law swiftly would be the fastest way to achieve this much-supported change in the law.

I can confirm—the Minister helpfully pre-empted me on this point—that the two clauses relating to civil partnerships and marriage certificates are marker clauses. They will be replaced and elaborated on in Committee, as agreed with Ministers, albeit at the 11th hour. Is the Minister happy?