“(1) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, amend the Marriage Act 1949 (‘the 1949 Act’) to provide for a system whereby details relating to marriages in England and Wales are recorded in documents used as part of the procedure for marriage, and entered into and held in a central register which is accessible in electronic form.
(2) The regulations may, in particular—
(a) provide that a Part 3 marriage may be solemnized on the authority of a single document (a ‘marriage schedule’) issued by the superintendent registrar for the district in which the marriage is to be solemnized (instead of on the authority of two certificates of a superintendent registrar);
(b) provide that a member of the clergy who is to solemnize a marriage authorised by ecclesiastical preliminaries must, before doing so, issue a document to enable the marriage to be registered (a ‘marriage document’) or ensure that a marriage document is issued;
(c) make provision in relation to the signing of a marriage schedule or marriage document following the solemnization of the marriage;
(d) make provision in relation to the delivery of a signed marriage schedule or signed marriage document to a registrar;
(e) require the Registrar General to maintain a register of marriages in England and Wales, which is accessible in electronic form (‘the marriage register’);
(f) make provision in relation to the entering in the marriage register of the particulars set out in a signed marriage schedule or signed marriage document;
(g) remove existing provision in relation to the registration of marriages which is not to form part of the system provided for under this section.
(3) Where provision made by virtue of subsection (2)(d) gives power to a registrar to require a person to attend personally at the office of a superintendent registrar for the purpose of delivering a
(a) commits an offence, and
(b) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(4) The regulations may give the Registrar General power to make regulations under section 74(1) of the 1949 Act—
(a) prescribing the form or content of a marriage schedule, marriage document or any other document specified in the regulations;
(b) making provision in relation to corrections to or the re-issue of a marriage schedule or marriage document before the marriage is solemnized;
(c) making provision in relation to the keeping of a signed marriage schedule or signed marriage document after the particulars set out in it have been entered in the marriage register;
(d) making provision in relation to corrections to entries in the marriage register or a pre-commencement marriage register book;
(e) making provision in relation to the keeping of pre-commencement marriage register books;
(f) making provision in relation to the keeping in a church or chapel of records of marriages solemnized according to the rites of the Church of England or the Church in Wales in the church or chapel.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (4), provision in relation to the keeping of a book, document or other record includes, in particular, provision about—
(a) who is to be responsible for keeping the book, document or other record and how it is to be stored;
(b) the circumstances in which the book, document or other record must or may be annotated;
(c) the circumstances in which the book, document or other record must or may be sent to the Registrar General or a superintendent registrar.
(6) No regulations may be made by the Secretary of State under this section after a period of three years beginning with the day on which regulations are first so made.
(7) In this section—
‘ecclesiastical preliminaries’ means the methods of authorisation described in section 5(1)(a), (b) or (c) of the 1949 Act;
‘marriage document’, ‘marriage register’ and ‘marriage schedule’ have the meanings given by subsection (2)(b), (e) and (a) respectively;
‘member of the clergy’ means a clerk in Holy Orders of the Church of England or a clerk in Holy Orders of the Church in Wales;
‘Part 3 marriage’ means a marriage falling within section 26(1), 26A(1) or 26B(2), (4) or (6) of the 1949 Act;
‘pre-commencement marriage register book’ means any marriage register book in which the particulars of a marriage have been entered under that Act;
‘registrar’ means a registrar of marriages;
‘Registrar General’ means the Registrar General for England and Wales;
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma, I think for the first time—as this is the first private Member’s Bill I have introduced in my 21 years in the House, I hope that you will be gentle with me. I thank right hon. and hon. Members who have agreed to serve on the Committee. There was a lot of interest in the Bill. I particularly welcome interest from those so young in the Public Gallery. I also welcome the Minister, who I know is not exactly idling at the moment, given that she is in the midst of the Offensive Weapons Bill and her other duties in the Home Office. Hopefully she will focus resolutely on this Bill for the next few hours.
I will make some introductory comments before speaking to the amendments. I do not want to replicate the many excellent speeches we had on Second Reading on
Many of today’s amendments are formal drafting amendments agreed between the Government and me. Others are—I hope—probing amendments from hon. Members, to which I will be delighted to respond. I want to keep the Bill as intact as possible, and the deliberations as tight, because the Bill is a work in progress. The Bill comprises a number of obligations for Government Ministers to review changes in the law that we would like to see and to report on how they can be brought about, and, in some cases, enabling clauses subject to sunset limitations, so that Ministers can bring the changes to legislation into effect at some stage in the not-too-distant future.
Much has happened over the past five and a half months since Second Reading, with working groups having already been established. They have started their business in various Departments. I will probe the Minister for updates on what progress they have made, when they are likely to report, and how and when their deliberations will translate into changes in legislation and whether that can be speeded up.
A lot in the Bill hinges on its consideration on Report, which is anticipated for
So, eyes down—let us get on with the amendments. New clause 2 deals with marriage registration and would amend the Marriage Act 1949, with the underlying intent of addressing the extraordinary anomaly that the names of the mothers of those getting married still do not appear on marriage certificates. The clause is an enabling clause, to enable the Secretary of State to bring about those changes, which have huge amounts of support across the whole House. Numerous attempts to change the law have so far come to nothing, but this time it is going to happen.
New clause 2 seeks to remove the marker provision that is the current clause 1 and replace it with the provisions in new clause 2 of the Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill, as per the commitment made on Second Reading on
Subsection (6) of the new clause inserts a sunset clause that limits the use of the power of the Secretary of State to amend primary legislation to a period of three years beginning on the day on which the regulations are first made. I know that this point—that it could be an open-ended power—has been a bone of some contention, and has hampered the progress of similar private Members’ Bills and legislation in the past. By inserting this sunset clause, and specifically limiting the power to the Marriage Act 1949, the Bill has a very clear intent.
The new clause would reform how marriages are registered in the future, to enable the updating of the marriage entry to include the names of the mothers of the couple, instead of just the names of the fathers, as is extraordinarily currently the case. That is the biggest reform of how marriages are registered since 1837. It is incredible that it has taken 181 years to include the mothers’ details, especially as the arrangements for civil partnerships, when they came in, allowed for both parents.
The new clause aims to introduce a schedule-based system, replacing the current paper registers. That is the most cost-effective way to introduce the change. With the introduction of a schedule system, all civil and religious marriages will be held in a single electronic register, rather than in more than 80,000 paper register books scattered around churches and religious institutions up and down the country. It will make the system more secure and efficient, and it will make it simpler to amend the content of the marriage entry, both now and in the future. The new clause enables the Secretary of State to make the required changes to the Marriage Act by regulations, and to move a schedule-based system for registering marriages. The regulations would change the current procedures in part III of the Marriage Act—Marriage under Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate—to provide that a marriage can be solemnized on the authority of a single schedule for the couple instead of two superintendent registrar’s certificates of marriage, one for each of the couple, which is currently the case.
The regulations would also provide for a member of the clergy to issue the equivalent of a marriage schedule, which is a marriage document, for marriages that have been preceded by ecclesiastical preliminaries, for example the calling of the banns or the granting of a common licence. Once a marriage ceremony has taken place, the signed marriage schedule or marriage document will be returned to the local registry office for entry in the electronic register.
Where a registrar is present at a marriage ceremony, the signed schedule will be retained by the registrar for entry in the electronic register. In all other cases, it will be the responsibility of the couple to ensure that the marriage schedule is returned to the registry office. However, they will be able to ask a representative to take it for them, or they could send it by post. Apparently, in Scotland it is traditionally a family member or the best man—if you can trust him—who returns the signed document.
If a signed marriage schedule or marriage document is not returned within the specified timescale, and after reminders have been sent, the person commits an offence in accordance with subsection (3) of the new clause. My understanding is that in Scotland there are no issues with signed documents not being returned to the registry office. Once the marriage is registered in the electronic register, the couple will be able to have a copy of their marriage certificate.
Subsection (4) of the new clause gives the Registrar General power to make regulations under section 74(1) of the Marriage Act 1949 to prescribe the content of a marriage schedule or document, to make provision to reissue or correct the information contained in the marriage schedule or document prior to the marriage taking place, and to make provision for the keeping and maintenance of the existing paper registers. It is as simple as that.
My hon. Friend briefly mentioned the role of the clergy. For the avoidance of doubt, I make it clear to the Committee that the Church of England consulted on the matter some time ago, and is fully in favour of these practical and equitable changes, which deal with a difficult pastoral situation. At the moment, the clergy often have to break the bad news to a mother that she cannot put her name on the marriage certificate at the ceremony, which causes great distress. The Church of England would like to see this change achieved. The amendments that my hon. Friend referred to are the amendments that the Bishop of St Albans tabled to the identical Bill in the Lords, which is about to return to our House.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because that is exactly what I was about to say. She has been assiduous in pursuing this cause, and I pay tribute to her. She has her own private Member’s Bill to that effect in this House that is mirrored by the Registration of Marriage Bill, which was introduced by the Bishop of St Albans and which completed its Committee stage in the House of Lords last month. That Bill also met with widespread support. Everybody supports the measure and has done a lot of work on the detail, so we just need to make it happen. Introducing new clause 2 to replace clause 1 will do that, and it is completely complementary with the detail of the Bill that the Bishop of St Albans has progressed through the House of Lords.
The final amendment in the group is amendment 12. Changes to long titles are a common theme—I have spent many hours in Committee debating the details of long titles as well as short titles, rather than the substance of the Bill, but apparently they are terribly important. The amendment would change the words,
“to make provision about the registration of the names of the mother of each party to a marriage or civil partnership” to simply,
“to make provision about the registration of marriage”.
That is apparently what needs to happen.
That is the purpose of the changes we propose to the first of the subjects in the Bill, namely having the names of both parents on marriage certificates. I am sure that all hon. Members present will want to take the opportunity to support them without further delay. The Minister will throw her entire weight behind them too, so we will be able to move swiftly on.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for introducing these many and varied important issues in his private Member’s Bill. He has done a great deal of work with several Departments in the preceding months to get the Bill into the shape in which we hope to find it in Committee. I thank him for that hard work. I thank hon. Members from both sides of the House for their hard work on the Bill, and for their contributions, no doubt, in Committee.
As agreed with my hon. Friend on Second Reading, the marker provision in clause 1 has been replaced with a new marriage registration clause that contains the provisions of the Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill that was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden. For several years, she has been a consistent, effective and, dare I say, staunch campaigner for changes to marriage registration. She has done much work alongside the Lord Bishop of St Albans, who introduced an identical Bill to hers in the House of Lords. I formally record my thanks to them for their hard work.
As the Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill contained broad delegated powers, some adjustments to those provisions have been made, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham set out, to limit the use of the delegated powers and to include a sunset clause, which places a time limit of three years on the Secretary of State’s use of the power to amend primary legislation, beginning on the day on which the regulations are made. I confirm that these amendments do not in any way affect the policy proposals of the Bill.
The new secure and efficient system of registering marriages will facilitate the updating of the marriage entry to include the names of both sets of parents, instead of just the fathers’ details as is currently the case. I am mindful of the observation by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden that it is often the clergy who, on a day of celebration, bear the terrible burden of having to break the news to mums who do not know the state of the law. I am delighted that we are removing that awkwardness, and that wedding days can continue to be days of joy and happiness.
The provisions in the Bill introduce a schedule system for the registration of marriages that will remove the requirement for paper registers to be held in register offices and about 30,000 religious buildings. It is important that an adaptable system is in place. In making these changes, we must ensure that they allow for all the different family circumstances in society, including, for example, same-sex parents. It is a much-wanted and much-needed change in the law, and I am pleased to confirm the Government’s support for it.
Without further ado—that sums it up. Nobody is objecting to this; we have all wanted it for ages. With this enabling clause, when the Bill passes, the Minister will be able to bring to an end 181 years of an extraordinary injustice, so that the name of the mother of those getting married is shown on the wedding certificate.
As we said on Second Reading, we have all heard examples of mothers who have single-handedly brought up children, perhaps because the father has deserted them or they have been the subject of domestic violence, and the father may even be in jail as a result, yet only his name is entitled to be on that certificate. The person who has done all the heavy lifting and all the legwork, and who has given all the care and love for so many years, does not get that recognition on the formal wedding document. It seems absurd, but it will no longer be absurd when the Bill passes.
We now come to new clause 1. I inform the Committee that, following the debate on new clause 1, I will not be able to put the question that clause 2 stand part of the Bill. That clause will be omitted from the Bill, as it is not covered by the money resolution.
New Clause 1