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Marriage (Wales) Bill [HL]

Volume 715: debated on Friday 11 December 2009

Second Reading

Moved By

My Lords, I declare the following interests in relation to this Bill, which are contained in the Register of your Lordships’ House; namely, I am both an ex officio member of the Governing Body and chairman of the Representative Body of the Church in Wales.

The Bill before your Lordships will, in matters relating to marriages, restore the concurrence which existed between the Church of England and the Church in Wales, notwithstanding disestablishment, until 1 October 2008. It has the full support of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, whose official policy it therefore represents.

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 the parish. If they lived in different parishes, the banns had to be called in the parish church of each parish. The Church of England Marriage Measure added five additional cases in which banns could be called in a church in the Church of England. Each of these is an example of what the measure calls a “qualifying connection” with the parish. In summary, they are: first, one of the parties was baptised or confirmed in the parish; secondly, one of the parties has at any time had his or her usual place of residence in the parish for not less than six months; thirdly, one of the parties has at any time habitually attended public worship in the parish for not less than six months; fourthly, a parent of one of the parties has during the lifetime of that party fulfilled either of the two previous conditions; and, fifthly, a parent or grandparent of one of the parties has been married in the parish.

These additional grounds widen significantly the scope for entitlement to be married in a particular church and reflect the fact that the population is now very much more mobile than in former years. People establish connections with a place during a particular phase of their lives and then move on, but not infrequently develop an attachment to a place in one of those phases and feel drawn back to it on significant occasions.

The Church in Wales recognises the force of that argument and, because it has always seen itself as having a ministry to everyone who lives in a particular parish, whether or not they would consider themselves formally to be members of the Church in Wales, it wishes to be able to offer that ministry on a basis which reflects the realities of current mobility.

The difficulty in which the Church in Wales finds itself is that the marriage measure was passed under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919. It applies only to the Church of England and an extension of those powers to the Church in Wales requires an Act of Parliament. The Bill now before your Lordships follows the Church of England Marriage Measure closely, with only those amendments which are necessary for it to apply to the Church in Wales rather than the Church of England. I beg to move.

My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, for introducing this Bill which would make the provision that we enjoy in England exactly the same in Wales.

I speak only in order to make abundantly clear that the Church of England offers nothing but the strongest support for the Bill. That is partly because there are places along the border between England and Wales where the national boundary and the ecclesial boundaries of dioceses are not exactly coterminous. We could have the extraordinary situation that somebody who lives in the Church in Wales by diocese and boundary finds themselves in an English county and subject to one set of rules, and somebody who lives in the diocese of Hereford, which we would normally count as part of the Church of England, in spite of the fact that there is a Hereford East and a Hereford West, would, if they lived on the other side of the boundary, find themselves subject to an entirely different set of rules. We know how important it is to have that kind of parity.

Nothing in the Bill is the slightest bit contentious. Rather than read noble Lords a homily on the nature and goodness of marriage as an institution, which I hope we all support, I simply say that we should pass the Bill with the greatest expedition we can muster, because the longer we delay, the more confusion there is. One of the reasons that people often do not seek to marry in church is simply that they think that there are so many complicated rules and regulations that the Church will in the end say no to them. That is not the intention of the Church of England or, I believe, of the Church in Wales. We should do all we can to make the legislation exactly parallel. As my noble friend has said, there are, of course, one or two references to the Church of England’s way of doing things or to the Church in Wales’s statutory authorities which need to be different, but all the important regulations about who can be married where and when and under what conditions are exactly the same. Therefore, I hope that we can proceed with due expedition.

My Lords, I suppose I should declare an interest as I live in Gresford, which is in the Church in Wales but on the border. I have never found any particular difficulty in marriages there. It was in 1985 that Lord Gibson-Watt introduced a Marriage (Wales) Bill in order to ensure that the banns could be given in adjacent parishes. That was also to bring the Church in Wales in line with the Church of England. He commented at that time that there was no representative of the Liberal Benches present, which he thought unusual since it was, of course, Lloyd George who drove through the disestablishment of the church. Nor was there any bishop present, either. The matter was simply decided between the Front Benches of the party in power and the Loyal Opposition.

I am here today to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, on introducing the Bill. He said that it requires an Act of Parliament. Back in 1912, Lloyd George said:

“What happened to the Church which was independent in doctrine, in ritual, in discipline, and which was absolutely self-governed? It became a State Church. Its very prayers are settled by Act of Parliament. I believe that purgatory was abolished by the casting vote of the Speaker. You cannot discharge a transgressing clergyman without the authority of the Act of Parliament. The ritual, doctrine, rubrics, everything of that kind in the Church, are matters for the control of Parliament, and according to Professor Maitland that happened at the Reformation”.

Lloyd George was very concerned with where church property should go. I declare a further interest. It was Welsh Church Act funds that put me through my training to become a solicitor, so I have something to thank Lloyd George for in that respect. What he said about the transfer of property is worth repeating. He asked about what happened after the Reformation, Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. He said:

“Property which was used for the sick, for the lame, for the poor, and for education, where has it gone to? Part of it went to the Navy, and part of it to the privy purse of the Crown, but the bulk of it went to the founders of great families. It is one of the most disgraceful and discreditable records in the history of this country. I do not want to go into all these cases, but I am bound to take note of one, because I think it is specially offensive. The Duke of”—

I will not name the Duke in question—

“issues a circular applying for subscriptions to oppose this Bill, and he charges us with the robbery of God. Why, does he not know—of course he knows—that the very foundations of his fortune are laid deep in sacrilege, fortunes, built out of desecrated shrines and pillaged altars””.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/5/1912; col. 1323-25.]

We do not make speeches like that any more, unfortunately, except in certain parts of Wales, as I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, will confirm.

My Lords, I have no interests knowingly to declare. I am not sure that I have ever spoken on Welsh matters before, and I have certainly never spoken on a Marriage (Wales) Bill before; I did not speak on the 1985 Act pushed through by Lord Gibson-Watt. I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, on introducing the Bill, and on introducing it with such admirable brevity. I notice that it is the official policy of the Church in Wales. I have no intention of opposing it, and I do not believe that it is something that my party would want to oppose. We wish it good measure and God's speed and hope that it makes its way through the House.

I have only one question for the Minister—who looks as though he is in need of some questions to answer. He will remember that in the past, Welsh disestablishment has been somewhat controversial. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, quoted from Lloyd George's speech during the passage of the Bill in 1912. As I remember, the Church of Wales Act did not become law until 1914, and it was the first Act to be passed using the Parliament Acts, which gives an indication of the controversy of the measure. We are very grateful that this measure is not as controversial and is unlikely to need the Parliament Acts to get it through. Exactly why is it needed? If the Welsh Church was disestablished in 1914, I should have thought that it could deal with these matters itself and that it would not be necessary for it to seek legislative processes to achieve these very worthy ends. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to answer that question, because it is important—why this House, and possibly another place, should have to devote time to dealing with the measure. With that, I wish the Bill well and hope that the Minister can provide an appropriate answer. I am sure that advice will be winging its way to him. We hope that the Bill makes speedy progress through the House.

My Lords, on behalf of the Government, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord on securing this Second Reading debate. He will know—we have had words about this—that in accordance with normal practice for Private Member's Bills, the Government do not normally support or oppose them, and we make no exception in this case. I think that he will be able to tell from what I have to say which way the Government are minded on the Bill.

The Bill seeks to widen the opportunities for couples who wish to get married within a parish of the Church in Wales to have the ceremony held at a church with which they have a connection. Equivalent provisions have existed for couples wishing to get married within a parish of the Church of England since October 2008, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, reminded us. Our understanding is that these provisions have been successful in meeting a demand that already existed from people wishing to get married at a church or location which holds some special significance for them; for example, a place where they were brought up or regularly worshipped, or where their parents or grandparents were married. It does not seem unreasonable that the Church in Wales would wish to extend a similar welcome to people who wish to get married within one of its parishes but do not satisfy the current qualifying connection that demands that at least one of the couple is resident in the parish.

I have the answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. This change has to be made by a Private Member’s Bill because, unlike the Church of England, which can pass its own rules, the Church in Wales cannot make legislative changes relating to its own administration and organisation. It therefore needs an Act of Parliament if it is to make such changes.

Yes, my Lords, it is disestablished, but that in no way takes away from the fact that it has its own rules.

My Lords, I am not sure that I am going to be able to help definitively, but I think the reason is that the Marriage Act has always stood independently of any ecclesiastical disciplinary matters. Therefore, because it is the law of the land, even when the Church in Wales was disestablished, it could not control it. I hope that that answers the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Henley.

My Lords, the House does not know how grateful I am to the right reverend Prelate. There we have it. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, for introducing this Private Member's Bill.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury was completely right in his intervention to assist the Minister. It is just a quirk of history. The Church in Wales is disestablished, but it requires the Bill. I warmly thank the right reverend Prelate for his support and thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for reminding us of Lloyd George and the tempestuous birth pangs of this church and for referring to Lord Gibson-Watt. This time, we have a senior member of the Liberal Democrat Party and a bishop in the Chamber, so we have moved along a bit. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his support and for the indication that his party will support the Bill, which has to pass through another place once it has completed its passage here. I thank the Minister for his reply and for wishing the Bill bon voyage.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.