The Church is deeply committed to marriage and will always be there to support every family and household. It is for that reason that both archbishops have launched a commission on families and households to look at what more the Church can do to provide the very best marriage preparation and enrichment and to strengthen family relationships.
My right hon. Friend asks a typically astute question, and, like any national institution, the Church has examples of outstanding practice, which are not as widely shared as they should be. Although there is excellent work in every diocese, I have been particularly impressed by the pre-marriage course, which is also for couples who are not engaged and want to explore marriage, and the marriage course run by the Reverend Nicky Lee and his wife, Sila. These have been run in 127 countries for more than 1.5 million couples and get tremendous feedback.
I hope that my hon. Friend can give me a one-word answer to my question. Will he confirm what I understand was said by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is that the Church of England has no objection in principle to suitably qualified humanist celebrants conducting marriages for those couples who so wish to make their vows to each other in that way?
I think I can make my hon. Friend at least partially happy
by telling him that the Church of England has no principled objection to humanist marriage. However, I know he will be aware that any move from a premises-based system of marriage registration to a celebrant-based one in England and Wales would not be a minor reform and would affect everyone involved in registering marriages. I recognise that Humanists UK have made alternative suggestions recently; while I can understand his frustration about progress, he will know that it is for the Government, not the Church, to make the ultimate judgment on whether and how the current system should be changed.
As a former parliamentary churchwarden at St Margaret’s and a lay canon at Wakefield, I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a vibrant and lively Christians in Parliament group where some of the specific issues he has mentioned this morning could be better discussed. Could he get more involved in that and help us to get more hon. Members involved?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am a former chair of Christians in Parliament, which is ably run by our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter), and I participate in its meetings. I am glad the hon. Gentleman has given it wider publicity in these questions.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. I am a great believer in marriage, as you are, Mr Speaker. I have 34 years of married life—my wife has stuck me for 34 years, so well done to her. I know the hon. Gentleman is equally committed to helping people stay married and stay in happy relationships. What is the Church doing to ensure that, where there are breakdowns and grievances, it can step in to help to resolve those issues and make the marriage last?
I thank the hon. Gentleman; sadly, some marriages cannot be saved, but he is right that many marriages, with the appropriate help and support, can be saved. All marriages go through difficult times, and he is right to say that that is an important role for the Church of England.