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Clause 1

Marriage (Wales) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 24th February 2010.

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Application of this Act

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

It is a pleasure to sit under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Hancock. You may not be Welsh, but most of the south-west would have come within the boundaries of Wales if Owain Glyndwr had had his way, so I think that we should consider you an honorary Welshman for the purposes of this Committee.

I do not think that I have to declare an interest, but I am a member of the Church in Wales, although I was brought up in yr Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru—yr hen gorff—so there is an ecumenical flavour to the event. Perhaps I could range a little wider than clause 1 and say virtually everything that I need to say on the Bill. I am delighted that there are hon. Members from all parties in Wales here providing support for the Bill. That reflects the degree of consensus, and even enthusiasm, that there is for it.

The background is that on 1 October 2008 the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 came into force. Before then, banns of marriage could be called in a parish church if one or both of the parties to be married resided in that 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, one of the parties was baptised or confirmed in the parish; secondly, 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, one of the parties had, at any time, habitually attended public worship in the parish for not less than six months; fourthly, a parent of one of the parties, during the lifetime of that party, fulfilled either of the two previous conditions; and finally, a parent or grandparent of one of the parties was married in the parish.

Those connections are largely respected, especially as we have a more mobile population than we did in the past, when most people would have been born, brought up, married and buried in the same parish. People establish connections with a place during a particular phase in their life, or want to make a connection with  the parish of their parents or grandparents, as I know is the case for members of this Committee, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East. I am sure that many other Members can think of situations in which family connections are valued.

The Church in Wales recognises the importance of those links, so the Bill has the full support of the governing body and the representative body of the Church in Wales. However, it is slightly ironic that whereas all that was needed for the established Church of England to bring about the changes was a Measure, we in Wales required, for the disestablished Church, a private Member’s Bill to go through its stages in this House.

Effectively, the Bill will extend the measures that have been in place in the Church of England since 2008 to the Church in Wales. That is why we are here today. I believe that the extension of powers is widely supported—it is certainly supported by all four parties represented on the Committee—so I hope that clause 1 will stand part of the Bill and that we can deal with the remaining clauses formally.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock. Like the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, I declare an interest as a member of the Church in Wales. I am under strict instructions from my bishop to support the Bill.

This sensible Bill brings the practices of the Church in Wales into line with those of the Church of England. It has the Conservative party’s full support and we wish it Godspeed.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Shadow Minister (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow Minister (Wales)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock, but perhaps a greater pleasure to see the Bill’s speedy progress.

As a member of the Church in Wales, I, like the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, have received a letter from my bishop urging the Liberal Democrats to support this sensible, progressive and overdue measure, which we shall do.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

As we are in confessional mode, perhaps I should confess that I am a lapsed member of the Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru. It might seem strange for a member of Plaid Cymru to welcome a measure from England on powers in Wales, but I certainly do.

If you will forgive me for straying slightly off the point, Mr. Hancock, there are other measures relating to the Church in Wales that require consideration, such as those relating to the arrangements for cemeteries. A look at cemeteries legislation is long overdue because, as we all know, the condition of cemeteries in Wales needs attention, and the same is true in England.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Church has put forward its case effectively and in a non-political way to get support from all political parties? It is a great shame that it is less willing to step aside from narrow party politics when it comes to an issue as important as the Welsh Assembly. If only it could display a bit more consensus and respect—

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Order. I think that we are straying into the graveyard debate.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

I will resist the temptation to launch into the hour-long speech that I had prepared on that issue. I support the Bill and wish it Godspeed.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Just to build on the consensus, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth for the way in which he has promoted the Bill, alongside Lord Rowe-Beddoe in the other place.

I put on record that this is not just about the established Church. As a Welsh nonconformist, I think that we are right to support the Bill. There is consensus on it in the House, and the speech in support of it made by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, was the best that I have heard him make. I hope that such consensus continues.

Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth on the way in which he is leading the Bill through the Commons. He said that it had cross-party support, but I know, as a deacon of the Welsh Congregationalists, that it has cross-denominational support in Wales.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Labour, Vale of Clwyd

May I say, as a Roman Catholic, that I am not going to be left out?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

Let me begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth on getting the Bill to this stage.

I am neither Welsh nor a member of the Church in Wales, but a west-of-Scotland Catholic living in, and representing a constituency in, south-east London; I am not sure where that places me on the spectrum that we have heard about today. However, I think that I can count the Welsh as fellow Celts on this occasion, so I welcome the Bill, although the Government are expected to remain neutral on such measures. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of what my noble Friend Lord Bach said in another place, and I concur with that.

The Bill resolves an anomaly, especially on the border between England and Wales, facing people who live in Wales, but come under a diocese of the Church of England, and who therefore could be subject to opposing rules on marriage. I am sure that those people will welcome the Bill, and some members of the Committee might well benefit from it soon—I understand that it will come into force on the day on which it is enacted. I wish the Bill well.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

In the absence of any other Member wishing to speak—it is probably opportune that we have a long-lapsed Catholic in the Chair, just to give a bit of balance—and given that a member of the Committee might soon be a beneficiary of the Bill, I invite Mr. Michael to wind up the debate.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

I merely wish to thank colleagues from all parties for their words of support, and I think that we should move forward expeditiously.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

On a point of order, Mr. Hancock. We have had a brief Committee stage, so perhaps the thanks can also be brief.

I thank you, Mr. Hancock, for chairing the Committee. I also thank the Clerk for helpfully explaining the processes of the Committee to me, the Officers of the House, the Hansard writers, who have perhaps had a lighter burden with this Committee than with some others, and all Committee members who turned up to support the measure.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

That must be a bit of a record, because it was not only not a point of order, but a much longer speech than any Committee member’s. Approbation, wherever it comes from, is gratefully received by the Chair, the Clerk and anyone else involved in the Bill. I thank Members for their good humour and attendance, and the pleasure of their company.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.