I have had many recent discussions with Departments, particularly the Home Office, not least because of my Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill, which is in train. There is an identical Bill before the House of Lords that would achieve the same purpose of allowing mothers to sign marriage certificates. I am not precious about which Bill gets to the finishing line first—we just need to do it.
There is agreement among Members on both sides of the House and across Government that the situation needs to change, so will my right hon. Friend make representations to our colleagues in government about their previous commitment to use Government time to get one of the Bills passed?
Yes. Many Members on both sides of the House have sought to achieve that end. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) for promoting an identical Bill, as well as the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees)—I want to emphasise that this is a cross-party issue—who presented a previous Bill. I received a letter from the Prime Minister in April in response to one that I sent. She absolutely acknowledges the commitment made in 2014 by her predecessor to achieve this, and recognises the need for primary legislation to make sure that the details of both parents can be on the certificate.
The signing of the register is a really valued part of the marriage service in churches right across the country. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that that will remain unchanged?
Yes, I reassure my hon. Friend that the registers will remain in the vestry for that all-important photo. Under the proposed new system, on which the Church has consulted, vicars will download a marriage certificate, which will be signed by the couple, as is currently the case, and the vicar will complete the form by filling in the parents’ names, which explicitly gives the possibility of mothers being on the certificate in the future.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comprehensive answer, which leaves me little more to add, other than to ask whether she and the Church of England will support my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, which is due for Second Reading on 2 February 2018 and includes those exact requirements. Will the Church of England also agree to back equal civil partnerships, through their extension to opposite-sex partnerships, as set out by the Bill?
The Church has no fixed view on equal civil partnerships but, in general, if they are for stable, committed and long-lasting relationships, they are likely to be beneficial, especially when children are involved. Personally I support that, and for that reason I have rolled my Bill beyond the date for the consideration of my hon. Friend’s Bill to give him an opportunity to make progress.
I have three daughters with children. They and many of my constituents want me to ask why this simple step forward for equality has taken so long.
I ask myself the very same question. There have been several attempts and undertakings, including by the previous Labour Government in 2002. I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to do everything they can to make sure that we achieve this change in the law and give fair wind to the Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill.
It is good to hear what the right hon. Lady has to say. Will she also talk to the Church about making it easier for people to get married in church and, indeed, to have their children baptised? That would be real equality.
When answering that question on previous occasions, I have given examples of how churches reach out to the surrounding community so that the thought of getting married is not intimidating. It does not need to be expensive, either—getting married in church is probably the least part of what it actually costs to put on a wedding. I can point the hon. Gentleman towards our materials to encourage people to get married in church.
Given that 25% of households are single-parent households, and that 90% of those are mother-led households, does the right hon. Lady agree that the marriage certificate must take into account that large section of people who are overlooked, yet in real life watch over everything in the home?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, which really came out in the Westminster Hall debate that I secured. A number of hon. Members who are themselves the children of a single parent—in most cases, the mother—were really disappointed to find out at the moment they got married that their mum, who had done everything possible to bring them up, was not, under existing law, able to sign the certificate as the parent. That is a very strong reason why the situation needs to change.
My right hon. Friend’s commitment on this issue is well known, and it is clear that both sides of the House are very supportive of what she, I and others have tried to achieve. Following her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), can she reaffirm that the Church, as it set out to me when I brought forward my private Member’s Bill, remains supportive of what we are trying to achieve?
I would like to clear up any possible misunderstanding that the Church is in any way against making this change: the reverse is true. The Church has consulted on changing the marriage registration process. It will save money through the practical reality of moving to an electronic register. The General Register Office is in favour of making the change, and there is cross-party and institutional support—let us just get it done.