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Procedure Of The House

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 3 June 1986

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My Lords, I beg to move that the Second Report from the Procedure Committee be agreed to.

This meeting of the Procedure Committee was solely devoted to considering the procedures in relation to marriage enabling Bills. I think it is universally agreed throughout the House that parliamentary procedures are not the best way of dealing with two people who want to get married but are prohibited by the law that governs the degrees of affinity. However, the fact is that there are hard cases, and also there is the personal Bills procedure. What I have endeavoured to do is to put before the Procedure Committee, and now the House, some proposals which I hope will improve at least the methods that we have used hitherto to deal with these Bills.

The object is to ensure that the Bills themselves are fully examined in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House. In the Committee the evidence will be taken on oath and in private. Therefore there should not recur some of those occasions that we have suffered in the past when a whole lot of personal details have been aired during Second Reading in the House.

The full, detailed procedure is set out in the report of the Procedure Committee. It is based on the hope that your Lordships will take the Second Reading formally, as indeed mostly is the case with Private Bills. This would not in any way commit the House to agreeing with the Bill, just as it does not do so in the case of Private Bills. It would merely be an agreement that that Bill should be examined in the appropriate committee. If any of your Lordships wish to speak on Second Reading, there is no reason why you should not do so just as with Private Bills. But I would hope that if you do, it would be on matters of general principle or directing the attention of the committee to a particular point rather than going into details of the case which I believe would be better examined in the committee.

If I may say a word about the committee, I am grateful to the Bishops. They have agreed that one of their number would take part in the committees which will mean that the committee will have the opportunity to hear their opinion before coming to their conclusions. Finally the House will have the last say when it comes to Third Reading on the Floor of the House.

Since the Procedure Committee met there has been one change because the Bill that was so ably promoted here by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Bill, has been passed by the House of Commons and is now an Act. When that comes into force it will remove a whole category of step relationships from the scope of any procedure with personal Bills; but even that will not be immediately so because under Clause 6(5) the Act only comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State makes a statutory instrument. So for the time being there will still be hard cases and we shall still need to deal with them. I hope therefore that this revised procedure will appeal to your Lordships, at least on an experimental basis. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—( Lord Aberdare.)

Following is the report referred to:



The Committee have considered the procedure for dealing with a Personal Bill promoted for the purpose of authorising a marriage between two persons whose relationship falls within the prohibited degrees of affinity laid down by the Marriage Act 1949 and subsequent enactments. Since the presentation of a Personal Bill of this kind in Session 1979–80, an increasing number of such Bills have come forward, and the trend seems likely to continue.

The Committee do not believe that Personal Bill procedure is the most suitable way of deciding whether two people should be able to marry. As the law stands at present, however, there is no alternative in a case where two persons who wish to be married to each other are within the prohibited degrees of affinity. Accordingly, the Committee consider that, by way of experiment, the procedure on such Bills should be adapted, so far as possible, to avoid discussion of personal details on the Floor of the House, while ensuring that the facts stated in the petition for each Bill are properly examined and reported on to the House. The Committee recommend that the procedure should be as follows:

  • (i) The Second Reading of a Marriage Enabling Bill should normally be taken formally, in the same way as the Second Reading of an ordinary Private Bill. The agreement of the House to Second Reading would not imply approval of the purpose of the Bill, but only that it should be sent to an appropriate Committee for examination. It would be open to any Lord to speak on Second Reading in order to offer general guidance to the Committee; but it should he the convention that personal matters ought not to be raised on the floor of the House.
  • (ii) If the purpose of a Bill were to authorise a marriage between persons who would be able to marry under the provisions of the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Bill [H.L.] passed by the House on 24th March 1986, the Bill would be committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee, which would normally consist of the Chairman of Committees alone.
  • (iii) In cases not within the provisions of the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Bill [H.L.], the Bill would be committed to a Select Committee, which would consist of the Chairman of Committees, a Bishop and two other Lords.
  • (iv) In either case the Committee would sit in private and take evidence on oath from the parties promoting the Bill, and, if necessary, from others. The Committee would seek to establish the facts and report to the House.
  • (v) The Third Reading of each Bill would give the House an opportunity to decide whether to pass the Bill or not, in the light of the Report from Committee. It would remain desirable that personal details involving those promoting the Bill should not be discussed on the Floor of the House.
  • The Committee do not see this procedure as a permanent one, but hope that it may prove rather more satisfactory than the existing procedure while the law remains unchanged.

    My Lords, having been somewhat connected with this whole procedure, and in view of the limited nature of Lord Meston's Bill, I feel that this is by far the best arrangement that could be made to deal with the residual cases which will not be covered by what is now that Act.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.