My Lords, quite by accident, I experienced last Tuesday one of the most emotional occasions of my life. We are a very small village, and a man of 57, who had always been at the centre of village life, died. It was his funeral on Tuesday. He had been born, brought up, and died within a stone’s throw of the parish church. The funeral was held in the church, attended by so many people that they were standing in the tower place, in the open doors of the vestry, behind the altar rail and in the rain outside. It was very moving. But he had been a regular attender at the nonconformist church in the next village, and the service was entirely taken by the minister of that church. It was an uplifting experience. There we all were—Anglicans, Catholics, nonconformists, those only just believers, or those not believing at all—to say thank you for somebody whom we will miss and whom I shall miss every day of my life.
I reflected then on how generous it was of the established Church to make it possible for any of these services to take place in the parish church. Any of these services—except marriage. A year ago—I declare an interest in this—my daughter got married and wanted to get married in the church in which her grandparents are buried. We are one of a very small number of families who help to keep the roof on, although we are Catholics; another family that keeps the roof on is also Catholic, but that is part of what we think we should do in the village. I discovered that she could not be married by a Catholic priest. She wanted to be married by her chaplain from school, somebody whom she loved and who had helped their marriage to start, not least in the difficulties of today, when very often husband and wife are not necessarily from the same denominational background. The excellent Anglican bishop explained to me that, first, the Church of England’s canon, which had been changed to cover these other services, did not cover marriage, and secondly, that in any case it could not be done because of the state’s law.
At this point I have to try to explain this. It is quite difficult to explain, because I have had to explain it so much to lawyers who have not understood the basis of all this. During the passage of the Marriage Act 1949 the then Government did not want to upset the Church of England and thought it would be much better if they had a simple way of excluding it from their tidying-up process. The Marriage Act works in two halves. The first half refers to parish churches of the Church of England and says that they are automatically licensed for marriage,
“according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England”.
If they had not put that bit in, there would be no problem. The second part explains that all other denominations have to get their churches licensed—they have to register—and then they can have marriages of any kind they like, including marriages according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England. This was, therefore, an easy way of stopping a great deal of bureaucracy. I have no objection to that; it seems perfectly reasonable. But there was a mistake. Some say—I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester is one—that the Church of England could do this if it wanted to without this change in the law. That is a disputed argument—I can vouch for that, because I know the people who dispute it. So that is the first bit.
The second reason is something that I am sure your Lordships understand but I raise it in case anyone has not thought about it recently. We in Britain are the most wonderful exponents of the fudge, and our marriage system is a fudge. Instead of the French system of going to the mayor and having a civil marriage and then going to the church and having a religious marriage, we give clergymen of all denominations the duty of being a registrar. Therefore, when you have what in my view is that awfully embarrassing bit in the service when somebody has to make sure that the organist has a long enough piece to play while mother, father, grandmother, great aunt, the woman you cannot leave out and all the rest of them go into the vestry to sign, or witness the signing of, the register, that is—although the music gives it a certain religious awe—a non-religious activity which does the state’s bit.
I emphasise that that is done by any denomination. You can be a strict Baptist—the local nonconformist church in my area—or a Catholic and you do precisely the same thing: you fill in and sign the form, and you can do it because you are a registered clergyman of a denomination which has a church in which you can hold marriages. You would have thought that anybody who was allowed to do so could do that bit. However—I have had an enjoyable time finding out about all this—when most legal authorities find out about that, they look it up and tell me that I am right: that the Church of England could not do that if it wanted to unless we changed the Marriage Act 1949.
The proposition in the Bill before your Lordships is extremely simple. It does not require the Church of England to make a change. In that sense, we have disestablished the Church of England. It has its own synod making its own decisions, so the Bill does not insist that the Church of England makes the change. However, it would remove any impediment that there may be so that the Church of England could make that change. It might not want to do so. I thought that there would be no difficulty with this, because it did not seem to me that in a world of ecumenism the Church of England would want to stop such things happening.
Perhaps I may sum that up. When I rang my Anglican bishop and told him what I wanted, he said, “Well, John, you can have the mass but you can’t have the nuptial bit”. There is nothing that divides the churches more than the mass, but if the bishop, the vicar and the parochial church council agree, the Church of England will, in its generosity, allow me to celebrate a birthday by having a mass in my parish church—which, after all, was built at a time when it would always have been the mass, although I shall leave that on one side. Those are the circumstances.
The Bill takes every precaution. It makes sure that it cannot be used for some other purpose. That is why the details come directly from the Church of England’s rules relating to allowing a Methodist minister to have a Methodist service in an Anglican church. Nothing in the Bill extends that. Anybody here who thinks that it might open the door to gay marriage or result in the solemnisation of Wicca can rest assured because it does not. It merely says that a parish, its vicar and the bishop can together allow a marriage to take place according to somebody else’s Christian denomination’s marriage service.
Perhaps I may explain the four reasons why I believe this to be really important. First, marriage is the one sacrament made between two people, not by the priest or clergyman. Many people, particularly those who want a church wedding, come to marriage with the help of the clergy upon whom they depend. There is no doubt that it is a moment when most people want to choose somebody with whom they have a real connection. Very often it is the person who has helped them to get over particular problems. A friend of mine who is a priest is helping another friend of mine who wants to marry someone who does not have any religious understanding at all, whereas she cares about religion deeply. He is helping those two to get together. He happens to be a Catholic priest and will not be able to marry her in the church in which the boy has at least some connection. Quite simply, I want that not to stop their proceeding in the way they wish.
Secondly, we live in an ecumenical world, and we have to come to terms with that in many villages and, I am sure, many parishes in towns. There is the question of how two Christian parents bring up their children in the faith, and that starts with the promises that they make in marriage. It is important for people to have a service that ties them into the family and into all the forces that might help them live their lives together. Very often it happens in their home parish, whereas they now live somewhere entirely different. It is very important for them to be able to do that and I want that choice to be open to all.
My third reason for wanting to bring about this change is to deal with the fudges that otherwise take place. Let us not kid ourselves—people get round it. There are two well-known ways of getting round it. In our chapel here, all noble Lords can have their children baptised and can have a service of any kind—every Wednesday, we Catholics go to mass; the United Reform Church has a special service; and the Church of Scotland has a special service. You can have all that. But no one, unless they are an Anglican, can get married there unless they are prepared to have an Anglican clergyman and the Anglican rites and ceremonies—even though that is peculiar. I will tell noble Lords what the two fudges are. One fudge is that the couple get married in the Catholic church round the corner and then come and have exactly the same service in the chapel downstairs, to which they invite their guests, and call it “a blessing”. They know which was the service at which they were actually married. Is the fudge to meet the requirements of the Church of England? I hope not. Rather, it is to meet the requirements of the law of the land. That is the distinction that I am trying to make
The other way is much less of a fudge. When an Anglican clergyman is decent enough to understand what this means to the couple, he and the Catholic priest, Methodist minister or Baptist minister will do the whole service together without anybody doing one bit or the other. The law can then decide which of them actually married the couple.
I do not like fudges. I hope the House knows that, in all my political life and certainly in all my life in this House, I have gone against fudges. I want truth. I do not see why we should be put in this position by the 1949 Act.
The last point is rather more challenging. I almost remember the beginning of the ecumenical movement at its great conference in the Netherlands in 1948, which my father attended as an Anglican clergyman. It depends for its continuation and extent upon generosity and learning to live together. In a small village community, births, marriages and deaths are what mark our timetable—we are much closer to that, happily; it keeps us sane, frankly, and is what matters to us. We want to celebrate those things together. Here, I want the Church of England to be challenged and to decide for itself whether it is prepared to make this step towards a more ecumenical society. In discussing this with those who oppose it, I have discovered one rather serious thing: many of them do not want the Act changed because then they would have to face the choice. They would have to ask: will we in the Church of England continue to stop it? The Church would no longer be able to excuse it, because the law would make that impossible.
This is where I have to say something which may hurt. It is funny looking back: I was on the General Synod and a very active member, but when I became a Catholic I found three fascinating things. The first and less helpful thing is that the hymns in the Catholic Church are ghastly. There is a woman called Estelle White, who I believe will have the longest period in purgatory of anyone because she knew neither how to rhyme nor how to do metre, nor could she choose tunes, and she is theologically largely inaccurate—otherwise, she is all right. The second thing I discovered is that, for the first time, I went to a church that was filled with people of every possible colour and social status, from the person who swept the roads to the local squire. I had not realised quite how middle class the Church of England had become. I just wish to say that that had a remarkable effect on me.
The third thing I discovered, less happily, is that there was a tendency always for the Church of England to insist upon its position. So in a village that is largely strict Baptist, you could almost see the Baptist minister being edged out. I can think of one village, where there was no Anglican church, but still the Anglican clergyman took the lead at the war memorial, as he thought was right. I also remember when, for the first time since the Reformation, the mayor of Aldeburgh—the first woman mayor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, came from Aldeburgh—who was a Catholic, appointed a Catholic priest as his chaplain. I remember going to the established church for the service. The chaplain was hidden as far as possible and the service went through as if there were no chaplain—but it was perfectly all right to have the Freemasons dressed up and sitting in two rows of the church.
I do not think that that is what the Church of England ought to be like, and I do not believe it really is like that. That is why I say this to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester: please, take the simple point that the Church of England may have the powers—I think he thinks it has—but let us make sure it does have the powers and then let it argue the case, if there is a case, to deny this hospitality and restrict ecumenism. But do not say that we do not need this, because that is constantly used as the excuse. Sometimes, we need a challenge. I challenge the right reverend Prelate to explain to me how, in the words of the prayers we have just heard, it can possibly be charitable to say to a young couple who live in a village, “You can come here and we will allow your priest to say mass, but he can’t marry you”. That seems to me not to be charitable. I would like the Church of England to show itself to be not only charitable but generous. Its established position depends on that. Without that, it is very difficult to argue that it should remain established in a country where there are many more Christians of other denominations—let alone anybody else—who would like to share in our common heritage.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for giving us the opportunity to speak about issues of such importance to this Bench as the celebration of marriage and our ecumenical relationships. I first acknowledge the personal and pastoral issues raised by the noble Lord and the way that he has so succinctly put those in his four concluding points about sacraments, the ecumenical world, the fudges and the ecumenical movement.
I am, therefore, rather embarrassed to start with something slightly more dry and technical. However, I begin by addressing what I believe to be the key issue here, which is constitutional in nature. There is a long-standing constitutional convention, with which noble Lords will be very familiar, that the Church of England makes its own legislation by synodical process. That legislation comes before Parliament for approval, having first been considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee. This Bill represents a departure from that convention.
As many will be aware, ecumenical relations are governed by Measure. The Church of England (Ecumenical Relations) Measure 1988 and the use of Church of England buildings by other Christian denominations is governed by Canon B43, what is known as the ecumenical canon. There are already structures which give expression to the valuable relationships that we have with our ecumenical partners. Indeed, members of the Church of England are convinced that Christian Churches should work, pray and witness together in a growing unity. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, underlined, our prayers this morning reminded us of that—that we might live together in true charitable love.
With regard to the participation by ministers of other denominations in Church of England weddings, Canon B43 already offers considerable flexibility, with the result that Church of England weddings regularly involve ministers of other denominations. There are even provisions for the sharing of church buildings in certain circumstances. However, these practical arrangements flow from the relationships between Churches of different denominations which, as I have said, involve dialogue on many levels, not least the doctrinal one.
The current arrangement is not a result of the unintentional effects of the wording of the Marriage Act 1949. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, will appreciate, practical arrangements flow from the progress made on ecumenical dialogue rather than the other way around, and it is no more appropriate for Parliament to prescribe to the Church of England or any Church how it carries out its ecumenical relationships than it would be to legislate on any other questions of doctrine.
The right reverend Prelate uses the word “prescribe”. This Bill prescribes nothing; it permits. Earlier he said that in this House we have a long tradition of leaving law to the Church of England. That is what this Bill does. It removes the power of this House to stop the Church of England doing something. It is the removal of an impediment; it is not a prescription. If one uses those two words, it would be a different Bill, and I have specifically avoided either of them.
The noble Lord makes his points clearly on these matters, but I hope that he will listen to what else I have to say and see if I have responded to the questions that he has raised.
In my understanding, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference, with which I am pleased to say we have very good ecumenical relationships, is not supportive of the Bill. I am also advised that the Church in Wales is likewise unsupportive.
I turn to the text of the Bill. Here I may have to go into a little detail and I may not quite say what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, thinks is my position. Clause 1 defines:
“Christian denominations other than the Church of England”,
“any denominations whose ministers and churches can be licensed for the solemnization of marriage under the Marriage Act 1949”.
This is in the first place erroneous in that it is the building and not the minister that is licensed. More importantly, that Act makes provision for places of worship of many faiths to be licensed. The result here is to leave undefined the question of what a Christian denomination is and affords potential legal rights to the use of churches to new religious movements with which the Church of England does not have existing formal ecumenical relationships. We are returned to addressing questions of doctrine, creed and ecumenical dialogue, all of which ought properly to sit with the Churches themselves. For the Church of England in particular there is not in the present legal framework provision for the exercise of discretion by an incumbent, PCC or diocesan bishop in individual cases over whether a marriage can take place or can take place in one place or another.
All other legal requirements being in place, if a couple live in the parish, they have the right to be married in the parish church. The Bill unhelpfully gives wide discretionary powers through the making of exceptions to a general rule. Setting aside the long-winded process that would be involved in gaining formal consent from an incumbent PCC and diocesan bishop, it is hard to see how in natural justice this discretion could be exercised with sufficient fairness and transparency to be acceptable. The more one imagines specific cases, the more there is to be said for a legal framework which does not contain the element of personal discretion.
It has been pointed out, and the noble Lord has himself made it clear, that there are some places in mainly rural areas where the Anglican church is the only church building convenient for weddings and that it would be better for marriages of other denominations to take place in them than for couples to have the choice between either a church or chapel of their own denomination in an inconvenient location or in a secular venue where religious content to the marriage service is not permitted. But it seems upside down to start addressing this issue with the matter of weddings when it relates to the mission and ministry of the Christian Church in the area. It is already possible for denominations to enter at the local level into a sharing agreement under the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969. Under the terms of such an agreement, each participating denomination can celebrate marriage services in accordance with its own rites and usages. The shared building can be a Church of England parish church or chapel, for example. There are many more problems of detail into which I do not propose to delve here, but would need to be unpacked at greater length were this Bill to reach Committee.
It would be a great mistake if I were to speak here of only church buildings and church ministers. The local church building, parish church or licensed chapel is significant as the focus of a worshipping Christian community. Marriages are solemnised in the building as an expression of the reality of that parish community, and in some cases of a community with a historical identity spanning centuries. The prayer, support and friendship of the local Christian community gives extra depth and meaning to the event of a marriage ceremony. In that, the church building is so much more than a wedding venue.
For all the progress that it might appear to embody, I must none the less urge the House to recognise that this Bill is not the way to encourage the ecumenical hospitality for which we continue to work and to which I am personally committed. I want to leave it, having heard the challenges put by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, right at the end of his remarks—those very direct challenges to the Church of England—which we must address.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the right reverend Prelate and to agree with him. I do so because, as a loyal and active member of the Church of England, I sometimes find that loyalty sorely tested, not least by some in the hierarchy in the Church of England who tend—how can I put this?—to be inclined to the listen less to the views of their congregations and more to the liberal, left-leaning and hand-wringing attitude towards affairs of state with which I find it difficult to agree. However, on this occasion I am delighted to agree with the right reverend Prelate.
This is about ecumenical marriage. My own marriage took place down the road in the Guards’ Chapel and involved both the chaplain of the chapel, who I suppose legally married us, my parents’ excellent priest who remains a great friend, and indeed a great friend of my wife, who is a monk at Ampleforth. It was an ecumenical marriage with Catholic input, and we were very grateful to him for it. I wish to say that I do not oppose anything ecumenical about marriage.
I am also the godfather to two Roman Catholic children. My noble friend Lord Deben expressed his wish that we should be more ecumenical. I should say that they are now both delightful young men, and I am glad to still be their godfather. At the christening of one in Nightingale Square, as I walked across to the church with my friend who is an Anglican but married to a Roman Catholic, he said, “The priest has insisted that all the godparents should be Catholic, so I told him that you were. Could you confirm that if he asks you”? I said, “Actually, no, I am afraid I will not. I will tell him the truth”. Luckily, he did not ask me. I have told this because it is important that we should all take a moderate and reasonable view of ecumenicalism.
I was moved to take part in this debate because I am instinctively uneasy about the measure for three reasons. The first has been much better expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, but it is important that the Church takes the lead and makes decisions in this matter. The Church of England, which is often criticised, is an extremely emollient beast. My noble friend Lord Deben referred to fudge, but it seems to me that the fudge over the christening that I was talking about was just as much fudge as the Church of England ever takes part in. I have always found the Church and bishops to be reasonable.
I am trying to follow my noble friend’s argument and looking at the text of the Bill. In Clause 1, subsections (1), (2) and (3), the word “may” appears, not “will”. It is a permissive Bill. Why is he suggesting that this is a direction to the Church?
My noble friend makes a good point, but I will come to why I am entirely against the measure in a second, if I may.
My point is that it must be for the Church to decide. If the Church brings forward such a measure, as the right reverend Prelate said, then Parliament may decide because of the nature of the established Church. It is of course the national Church—the established Church. One might say that it is a strange historical quirk, but it is not unreasonable to expect it to make decisions on these matters. Indeed, it would be quite wrong for us to try to influence the Church—let it lead on this matter and not us.
I would not presume to instruct the Roman Catholic Church on its doctrine on abortion, homosexuality or whatever it might be, much of which I profoundly disagree with. I do not always agree with everything that my own Church says, but it would not be for me or any other Anglican to dictate to the Roman Catholic Church how it runs its affairs. For instance, we might have a law proposed in this House that the holy water in the font at the entrance to each Catholic church should be tested for bacteria once every day or week or something—and some Anglican churches as well of course—but that would be going well beyond what any Parliament should do.
I should say to my noble friend Lord Deben that I find it somewhat strange that the measure should be proposed by somebody who has actually rejected the Church of England. That is why I am instinctively uneasy about it and would rather follow the lead of the Church of England than someone who does not actually like the Church of England.
I wonder if I might take the noble Lord back to his original point that he felt it important that the leadership of the Church of England should listen to the people in the pew, if I may put it like that, like himself. Does he have any evidence that the leadership of the Church of England—I should say that I am a practising Anglican in that I practise regularly but do not seem to get any better at it—has actually consulted him and me? Indeed, I cannot see in the Explanatory Memorandum that the synod has actually taken a view on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Is this something that, at this stage, the leadership of the Anglican Church has decided on its own? Has he been consulted?
I am delighted at last to have something on which I entirely agree with the noble Lord, in that I too practise but do not get any better at all, so we have common ground there. However, no, I have not been asked, but then I have not been asked about a great many matters of doctrine or governance of the Church. It may be something that should be brought forward in the synod, which would be a good way forward.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to lend support to the Ecumenical Marriage Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has laid before your Lordships’ House. I have two reasons for doing so. One concerns ecumenism and the other concerns marriage, and I will take them in that order.
First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, who has just resumed his seat, that this does not concern doctrine. I was concerned at the end of his remarks to hear him use the word “dictate”. The whole point about this Bill is that it does not dictate to anybody. I was pleased to hear his response to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which might represent a way forward. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said at the end of his remarks that he will reflect on the arguments laid before your Lordships’ House by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, earlier on, and the Church of England Synod would be a good place for this proposal to be taken to.
But the right reverend Prelate also based some of his argument on the constitutional question. I would simply refer him to the Library Note, which states:
“Under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, Parliament has a role scrutinising legislation which relates to the administration and organisation of the Church of England”.
Whether you look to the 1919 legislation or in this case the 1949 Marriage Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Deben, referred to in his remarks, Parliament has had a very clear role. Parliament itself has a right to have a view about these things and to consider measures of this kind. That this should now go to the synod before we reach Committee so that some of the points raised by the right reverend Prelate earlier on might be considered, is a perfectly proper point of view to put. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will have a chance to reflect on what I thought were some terrific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in his introductory remarks.
The central point about this Bill is that it lays no mandatory duty on the Church of England but is an empowering measure that simply removes an accidental statutory impediment to the enablement of clergy from other denominations to bring together couples in holy matrimony in a parish church. As the noble Lord reminded us, that does not force anyone to do this, but simply allows them to, and with the same restrictions about what is already permitted for funerals, baptisms and communion services.
My own parents married at the time of the passage of the 1949 legislation. That legislation did not require Anglican parish churches to register for marriages. They were deemed to be licensed; but the law states that marriage was to be, as the noble Lord mentioned earlier on,
“according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England”.
That was never intended as a restriction, but in an era when ecumenical relationships were much less common, it was simply a statement of fact. It was the reality. When in those unecumenical times marriages were made across the divide, they were often the source of bitterness, rejection and hostility. My own parents experienced that. They were Anglican and Catholic—a demobbed Eighth Army Desert Rat marrying an Irish-speaking girl from Mayo. My mother’s younger sister married a Northern Ireland Protestant and both marriages took place in a Catholic Church.
Sixty years later, echoing something that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said at the beginning of his remarks about funerals, my Anglican father was buried from that same Catholic Church where he had married after a funeral led by my late father-in-law, who was an Anglican priest of some 60 years standing. He spent some of his ministry in the right reverend Prelate’s diocese. I was delighted that, far from there being a restriction on my father-in-law conducting the service, the parish priest was hugely supportive and generous to a fault. It also represented a sea-change in attitudes. I might add to the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, that I am godfather to children from other denominations but, equally, my own children, who were baptised as Catholics, have godparents from other denominations. That was not an impediment. My uncle told me, after the funeral of my father, that he would have never believed the progress and change in relationships that had occurred in the intervening years. He said that he had felt a great healing.
Thirty years ago, I too married across the denominational divide and, for good measure, I married a vicar’s daughter with eight ordained Anglican clergy in the family—they still have not made me perfect either. But we would be foolish to forget how painful former times could be. In the 1950s, when as young people couples like my parents married, some bishops even refused to say the Lord’s Prayer together or to stand alongside one another at the war memorial. Sectarianism rather than ecumenism was the order of the day. In Liverpool, as late as 1958, the city’s Catholic Archbishop John Heenan, later Cardinal Heenan, was literally stoned by a sectarian mob while making a pastoral visit to a sick parishioner in the Scotland Road parish of St Anthony’s.
I went to Liverpool as a student and later had the honour to serve in that city for 18 years as a constituency MP. It was mired in sectarianism. I was shocked to witness at meetings of the city council, to which I had been elected, hostile opposition to minor improvements to Catholic primary schools on purely sectarian grounds. But that is not the end of the story. Thanks to Archbishop Derek Worlock, Bishop Sheppard—later Lord Sheppard —and successive moderators of the Merseyside free churches, I was privileged to see what is known as the “Mersey Miracle” and the coming together of Christians from different backgrounds, who took as their maxim “What we can do together, let us do it, and let us ensure that what separates us does not turn us into enemies”. The fruits of this practical ecumenism were vividly exemplified by the visit to Liverpool, in 1982, of Pope John Paul II, witnessed by 1 million people. Movingly, the Pope’s first steps were taken in that city at the Anglican cathedral, before travelling along the well-named Hope Street to the Catholic cathedral of Christ the King.
The Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has been written to reflect that spirit of enabling ecumenism to continue and to deepen. It will empower but not require the parochial church council, the incumbent and the diocesan bishop to allow other Christian marriages to be celebrated. Despite what the right reverend Prelate said about how this could become bureaucratic, in reality it would become based on good will and precedent. I believe that, once those precedents have been established, it would happen very easily and smoothly where people wanted it to happen. That would force them to face the question that the noble Lord put to the House about whether we really are serious about how far we want this ecumenical journey to go. It might also enable a sometimes sceptical secular world to echo the observations of the pagans of Rome, who said to their own bewilderment about the early Christians, “See how they love one another”.
That brings me to my second reason for supporting the noble Lord’s Bill. Probably the best £4 that two people who love one another can spend is on a marriage certificate. It is sometimes said that marriages are made in heaven but broken here on earth. According to the Office for National Statistics, around 42% of marriages end in divorce and around half of these divorces are expected to occur in the first 10 years of marriage. To Christians, a church wedding may not guarantee the durability of a marriage, but the solemnising of vows and the binding through the sacrament of holy matrimony does at least create a different narrative against which to live out and to attempt to lead your married life through all its ups and downs. We should do everything we can to encourage this sacrament to be taken seriously, not least because we know what the negative consequences are when a marriage ends. The Bill simply opens up the prospect of more church marriages and, in a modest way, for Parliament and the Church to say that this can contribute to stable families, stable communities and a stable society.
To conclude, the Church of England is already ecumenically generous—I so agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said about this—in allowing its churches to be used by other denominations. It is evident here at Westminster in the use of our parliamentary crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. The noble Lord’s Bill involves no compulsion; it merely removes an impediment for the principle to be extended. Some say the Bill is not necessary, as another denomination can have permission to use a church as long as the service is taken by an Anglican clergyman, but there is no such restriction on any other service, yet this is the service when it is most likely that the happy couple would like to be married by someone who matters to them spiritually.
The three key reasons for giving the Bill a Second Reading are: first, that it is necessary to remove a legal impediment; secondly, that it gives the Church of England the power to add marriage to existing provisions but no direction; and, thirdly, that it enshrines all the safeguards the Church of England has already included in its canon law to cover other services. Even if, at the conclusion of our debate, there is not a peal of bells welcoming the noble Lord’s Bill, I hope that we will give it a ringing endorsement and a Second Reading.
My Lords, I am taking part in this debate because it seems extraordinary that there is just one Measure, passed in 1949, that is causing this problem. The Bill would allow for the solemnisation of marriages in Church of England chapels according to the rites and ceremonies. We know that. It has been acknowledged that the Church of England is ecumenically generous in allowing its churches to be used by other denominations. But while the Bill would allow the Church of England to add marriage to the services it can permit it would still be up to it to make the decision. All the Bill would do is remove the unintended legal barrier. That is what it is: an unintended legal barrier.
As we have heard, the law on marriages is largely based on the authorisation of premises, which the Law Commission has referred to as a buildings-based system. The Marriage Act 1949 as amended requires that marriages must take place either in a register office, approved premises or in an officially registered place of religious worship. Section 5 of the Act specifies that Church of England marriages are solemnised,
“according to the rites of the Church of England”.
This Private Member’s Bill would change the area of the law that is currently governed by ecclesiastical law. Canon law states that a Church of England church can be used only for Church of England ceremonies, including ceremonies for the solemnisation of marriages.
Some exceptions to this can be made under canon law. The Church of England may grant permission for a minister of another Christian denomination, even in this situation, to assist in the solemnisation of a marriage. However, certain aspects of the ceremony must be performed by the Church of England. Guidance published by the Church of England outlines the roles that each minister would perform:
“The Church of England minister who solemnizes the marriage must establish the absence of impediment, direct the exchange of vows, declare the existence of the marriage, say the final blessing, and sign the registers. A minister invited to assist may say all or part of the opening address, lead the declarations of intent, supervise the exchange of rings, and join in the blessing of the marriage. He or she may also read a lesson and lead all … of the prayers”.
The Church of England has said:
“We see no need for Lord Deben’s Bill, and believe that the current arrangements give sufficient pastoral flexibility for weddings which are conducted in Anglican churches and chapels, involving people of different denominations”.
Over the last 100 years, Parliament has tended not to introduce legislation that affects the internal affairs of the Church of England unless that legislation is proposed by the Church of England itself. Ministers have referred to a constitutional convention whereby Parliament does not legislate on internal Church matters without the Church’s consent. For example, a recent Bill affecting the Church of England directly, the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill, was introduced during the 2014–15 Session following a request of the Church of England. There is a constitutional convention that Parliament does not legislate for the internal affairs of the Church of England without its consent. This will be blown out of the water. Under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, Parliament has a role scrutinising legislation that relates to the administration and organisation of the Church of England. However, this legislation originates from the General Synod rather than from Parliament.
My Lords, this short but interesting debate is a welcome diversion from the heavy diet of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which we have on Mondays and Wednesdays. This is something that touches people’s lives; we should therefore take very seriously what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has brought forward and so lucidly explained. He has sought to remove an impediment in a Bill which is not mandatory at all but entirely permissive.
I was disappointed by the reaction of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester; he was rather put on the spot but I think his response was out of tune with the way things have developed in recent years and I will seek to explain why. I think he rested too heavily on the constitutional convention, bearing in mind, of course, that conventions are conventions and no more than that. We should be very careful in using that language. He rested on the convention that this Parliament does not normally legislate for the Church of England without the Church’s consent or, indeed, the Church having originated the legislation. What the Bill aims to do is amend a piece of legislation of which that was precisely the case; namely, the Marriage Act 1949, which places certain restrictions on the Church of England—this Bill would remove them.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, set out clearly that this is, however, a permissive Bill: it forces nothing on the Church of England as a whole and forces nothing on any individual parish where the incumbent might have some doctrinal reason for feeling that a particular wedding should not take place. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, points out, it does not enter the area of same-sex marriage, on which the Church of England takes a particular position. Contrary to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, it makes no doctrinal change; it does not enter into the area of doctrine at all—we might take a different view if it did. I cannot understand why the Church of England should resist hosting Christian marriage, of all things. The Church of England now hosts all sorts of things. Parish churches are encouraged, in order to make their buildings viable, to open their doors to industrial sponsorship, to social organisations, to all kinds of activities. Here we have fellow Christians who want to conduct Christian marriages, underpinning the doctrines shared by Christians about the value of marriage, and the Church of England considers that it has to continue placing this difficulty in the way and does not want any legal obstacle to be removed.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, quoted from the Library guidance the existing rules in the Church of England about what a nonconformist minister or a Catholic priest can do. In case noble Lords missed it:
“The Church of England minister who solemnizes the marriage must establish the absence of impediment, direct the exchange of vows, declare the existence of the marriage, say the final blessing, and sign the registers. A minister invited to assist may say all or part of the opening address, lead the declarations of intent, supervise the exchange of rings, and join in the blessing of the marriage. He or she may also read a lesson and lead all or part of the prayers”.
It is a bit demeaning: there are certain things that you really have to be a clergyman in the Church of England to do; if you are a nonconformist minister there are some things we will let you do, but there is a limit. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, will reflect on that from his years of experience as a minister conducting weddings. It reminds me of a Methodist minister friend describing his participation in Brethren weddings hosted in the Methodist church: all he had to do was sit there throughout and sign the register at the end. The Methodist Church did not place any other restrictions on it, but he had to carry out the legal requirement. We can surely move on from there.
We are in a world where we have shared churches, as the right reverend Prelate said. There are many in my part of the world, where the Church of England shares with Methodists or the United Reformed Church—it is extremely widespread in rural areas. Some nonconformist denominations have moved from big, old chapels into smaller premises which suit their regular worship but are not entirely suitable for holding a wedding. The parish church which is at the heart of the village, particularly in rural areas, seems much the better venue for that purpose.
The Church of England is an established Church, a role which it seeks to continue. It is sometimes a controversial role and there are those who would like that to change, but as an established Church the Church of England is the custodian—in many ways the very worthy custodian—of a wonderful heritage of parish churches. A great deal of effort goes into maintaining them but they are a shared heritage. It has always been the Church of England’s own emphasis. I remember as a child the vicar saying, “This is the parish church of the whole village”. He was saying to us Methodists: you belong here as well. Sometimes that seemed a little imperialistic, but lying behind it was just the parish system of an established Church. While that is the case, we surely do not want to be back in the days when Lloyd George was fighting the refusal of the Church of England to allow nonconformists to be buried by their own ministers in the village churchyard. Things have moved on so far since then that they could surely move on this issue.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. When I saw on the speakers’ list that my name was figured there, with a B denoting Baroness, I thought that an instant act of transgendering had happened. I then thought that if that could happen at a stroke, perhaps whatever is preventing these marriages taking place can happen with similar prestidigitation. So I rise with the deepest voice that I can command in order to reassure Members of this House.
I am very grateful that the matter has been brought before us. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, explained that the 1949 Act was framed as it was by a Government, or a Parliament, who did not want to upset the established Church. As a Methodist minister I have never worried about upsetting the established Church and I reckon that I might do a little of that in my remarks now.
The noble Lord went on to talk about fudge. I remember reading Seven Types of Ambiguity, a great classical book that we Eng. Lit. students used to read. I think that we have had seven types of fudge, delineated very carefully and skilfully by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I shall not run away from it, and I shall certainly not indulge in fudge in the hand-wringing, liberal, stereotypical way that was referred to dismissively on the Benches opposite: someone married in the Guards’ Chapel might just feel that giving orders to Methodists is a good thing. I feel that fudge can be a very good, and in a theological sense, a very necessary thing: at the end of the day, however righteous, righteously established and brilliantly organised any Church body might be it cannot claim to have all the wisdom that can be possessed, all the experience that points to correct action. Humbly, under God, even Churches must recognise a higher power. That granted, fudge becomes an honourable thing. I have surfed on the waves of fudge through 50 years of Methodist ministry. Much of the fudge has been necessary, as I have had to discover ways of relating to the established Church.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, also talked about the way non-Anglicans can easily be edged out in ecumenical experiences. I have more experience of being edged out than most people—I have been hidden behind pillars; I have had arguments. I was a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral for 17 years. Organising a procession to go into a service at St Paul’s Cathedral—what the public do not see, in the Dean’s Aisle, behind the curtain—is an extraordinary thing. Precedence is what it is all about. Those of us who are honorary canons must understand our place, between the proper canons, the retired canons, the canons emeriti and those who thought they were canons but never were. It is a terrific thing to have to find your place in all of that when all you are is a Methodist minister.
I promise the noble Lord that before he goes home I will give him such a list.
I have been a Methodist minister for 50 years and I have had to work out a relationship with the Church of England over the whole of that time. My very first attendance at a Methodist Conference was in 1969, when the Methodist Church, in the days before the internet, voted on a proposal to bring the two churches together. It did it by the required majority—75% of those present and voting—and therefore voted itself out of existence. Then there was a gap as we waited for the Houses of the Convocation, in those days, to tell us whether they were minded so to do—and we discovered that by 68% or whatever it was, they had agreed, but not by 75%, so we had to reinvent ourselves, like David Bowie, and have another life.
One experience of fudge which perhaps noble Lords will be interested to hear part of— I must not disclose all the details: there are secrets involved in fudge—is to perform marriages for families of noble Lords down in the Chapel here. The intricate negotiations with Westminster Abbey could be put into a textbook relating the intricacies of the 4th-century theological search for a Christological doctrine that would suit everybody. But in the end the success was measured by the fact that the dear Anglican priest who came from the Abbey was quite content to be edged out and hidden behind a pillar. So we could do the wedding but he was there to record it and that was that. There are all kinds of imaginative things.
Perhaps as a matter of fact I should explain to the House the difference between a clergyman of the Church of England and those of us who are not. We do not have any authority to perform a marriage unless we have delegated authority from the Registrar-General. The Registrar-General interviews couples, goes through all the procedural aspects of things and, when he is satisfied, issues a certificate which is my authority, delegated by him, to perform the marriage in the building that has been authorised for the purpose. So we have never had the powers and that is the point at the heart of all of this: the Church of England is by law established and priests of the Church of England are also notaries public. They have the public status of officials of the state. They read the banns, they establish the mores, they take all the interviews and so on and they can give themselves authority in the other part of their capacity to perform these acts of marriage. That is where the difference lies.
Incidentally, on the prayer about being united and knitted together, and the part that was not quoted earlier in the debate, perhaps the knitting together is something that has to happen from heart, soul and mind. I hope that the Church of England will be generous enough to say to us Methodists, who have reinvented ourselves, “We were wrong 50 years ago. It is time, as an act of generosity, to take you back into our bosom”. It is our mother Church. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester is here and I am glad to take advantage of his supine position to make this point. I hope he will go away and argue with some conviction in the courts of the Church that it is really time that that horrible act of 1969 was reversed.
Since I am also a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee—perhaps I should have declared that interest at the outset—I feel that the modes of achieving these desirable objectives do exist. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, is absolutely right that this is a desirable objective. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester will have heard the concerns expressed and I hope that he will take the measure of that concern to the courts of the Church, using the facilities that already exist, to bring back to the Ecclesiastical Committee a measure which will endorse and undergird the generous proposal included in the measure being put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Deben.
My Lords, on what is very nearly my first wedding anniversary, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Deben on securing a Second Reading of his Bill. Like my noble friend, I have learned a huge amount in preparing for today’s debate. Marriage law is very complex. I note his acknowledgement of the Church of England’s ecumenical generosity in allowing its churches to be used by other denominations. In turn, I acknowledge the generosity of intention with which he has brought his proposal before the House today, which has been mentioned by many noble Lords.
Parliament lately has been debating various subjects that concern marriage. I was pleased to note the support last month from all sides of this House for the Registration of Marriage Bill, introduced by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. As he informed the House, the purpose of making provision to include mothers’ names on marriage certificates is,
“to correct a clear and historic injustice”.—[Official Report, 26/1/18; col. 1233.]
The Government are firmly committed to doing so. Also last month, in another place, Members debated marriage and support for family relationships more generally. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Kit Malthouse, responded by saying:
“The vital institution of marriage is a strong symbol of wider society’s desire to celebrate commitment between partners”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/18; col. 286WH.]
It is a pleasure to be able to repeat his words in this House today.
It is true, as my noble friend Lord Deben noted, that the Marriage Act 1949 does not routinely provide for other Christian denominations to solemnize marriages according to their own rites and ceremonies in Church of England churches and chapels. Noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to this as an accidental omission. But this is neither an injustice nor an accident. However, the law does provide for other denominations, both Christian and others, to solemnize marriages in their own places of worship and in their own ways. Such provision reflects a long-standing freedom that couples should be able to marry in their place of worship, regardless of denomination or faith. That is entirely right.
How Church of England marriages take place is a matter of law and practice that go back many centuries before the 1949 Act. There has long been a tight association between the Church’s rites and ceremonies, its churches and chapels, and the reading of banns to give public notice of a marriage. We have a richness of ways in which partners can celebrate their commitment to each other before family and friends. Whether they choose to enter into marriage through a religious or a civil route, there is an unbroken connection between the place of the marriage and the type of ceremony that may be used.
Because provision for Church of England marriages and provision for other religious marriages were not made at the same time, there are some differences in the requirements that must be followed. None the less, important principles of public policy have endured and run throughout. The law sets out the requirements for a legally valid marriage. It also includes safeguards against marriages that should not take place at all, for reasons of important public policy. Marriage is one of our greatest institutions. The Government have always a duty to consider with the most studious care any proposals for change.
The Church of England has legislated for nearly 100 years through Measures that are received by the joint Ecclesiastical Committee. Although it is possible, it is not conventional for Parliament to legislate directly on matters that properly belong to the Church. I have therefore paid great attention to the contributions that all noble Lords have made today. I recognise that my noble friend Lord Deben has introduced a proposal that requires the Church’s permission for marriages to take place. I listened carefully to what he said. I also listened carefully to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who set out the position of the Church of England. I am also struck by the right reverend Prelate’s understanding that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Church of Wales are not supportive of this Bill. Many noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Robathan and Lady O’Cathain, have noted that it must be for the Church of England to decide. Without the Church of England’s consent to changing the law that affects it, the Government are clear that they cannot support the Bill. This is the Government’s principal reservation.
I also note that the Government have not seen evidence of any demand from denominations or couples to use Church of England churches and chapels for their own marriages; nor have the Government heard of any dissatisfaction with the current arrangements, apart from those expressed by my noble friend Lord Deben—
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention; perhaps I should have prefaced my “evidence” with “sufficient”. We are certainly always open to receiving evidence because that is the best way to make law.
As a government Minister, I cannot of course comment on the ecumenical purpose of the Bill or on the practices of denominations. These are matters for others to determine, in their own way and their own time. I see that only this month, the General Synod of the Church of England has done just that in welcoming a joint report with the Methodist Church on how the two Churches can work more closely together, including in what they speak of as an interchange of ministries. The report is called Mission and Ministry in Covenant; I note that its authors acknowledge that they have built on the foundations of dialogue between the two Churches over many years, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. They also recognise that there is still much work to do. It is clear to me, then, that if Churches wish to take the initiative to work closely together, it is not a change that can be achieved overnight. Instead, it takes long consideration and, no doubt, prayerful reflection.
With all this in mind, and repeating that the Church’s position is sufficient reason for the Government not to support the Bill, I turn now to the detail of what my noble friend has proposed. Clause 1(2) makes it clear that the proposal would extend to peculiars, royal or otherwise. The Government would wish to approach very cautiously any proposal from outside the Church that affected royal peculiars in particular, since they come under the direct jurisdiction of Her Majesty the Queen.
Clause 1(3) requires that the proposed marriages are solemnized and registered only by a minister licensed to perform marriages in a church of another denomination. The existing law sets out that a marriage in another denomination’s registered building must take place in the presence of either a registrar or an authorised person. This authorised person will usually be a minister of religion, but not necessarily. The law does not require a minister to perform a marriage, only that the marriage should take place in the presence of the people required by statute. Furthermore, notice of such a marriage could not be given by the reading of banns, and the Marriage Act 1949 would require further amendment to provide for a superintendent registrar’s certificate to authorise marriages by other denominations in Church of England churches and chapels. The existing law provides for offences relating to the solemnization of marriages; the Government would also need to consider whether these offences ought to be extended.
Clause 1(4) presents a problem of definition. I am aware that there is potential for dispute about which groups constitute a Christian denomination. Whether this is justiciable would be a matter for the court. Lord Ramsey, as the then most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, understood this difficulty when he introduced his Private Member’s Bill nearly 50 years ago. Now known as the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969, it extended to the denominations which had taken part in the negotiations for the actual construction of the Bill. Furthermore, it provided a mechanism so that other denominations could apply to various Christian umbrella organisations to have the Act extended to them. Although not the prime intention of Lord Ramsey’s Bill, a consequence of a sharing agreement made locally with the Church of England under this Act is that other denominations may solemnize marriages in the Church of England building concerned. The requirements of the Act must be met, including that the other denomination has the building certified and registered in the usual manner.
I have endeavoured to be helpful to the House in setting out these points in detail. It remains the case that the fundamental issue for the Government is the Church of England’s position on its own affairs. Because the Church does not support the Bill, I must, as a matter of principle, express the Government’s reservations about the Bill.
I turn briefly to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He spoke very movingly of how differences in religion can affect families and communities, and the benefits of practical ecumenism. I accept his point that marriage is symbolic because it is a union—a coming together. None the less, families and communities have overcome their differences by themselves without changing the law. If one denomination is willing to involve another at an appropriate point in the marriage ceremony, that will surely be most welcomed by families and communities. That, however, remains a matter for the people involved, not for the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, commented on non-C of E participants in C of E weddings. He said that there are certain parts of the marriage in the Church of England that cannot be performed by ministers of other denominations. But in any marriage, whether religious or civil, there are certain requirements that must be met and the presence of certain people is required. My noble friend Lady O’Cathain helpfully noted these in her contribution.
I remain grateful to my noble friend Lord Deben for bringing this matter before the House today and encouraging such an interesting debate. I know that many of your Lordships have a close interest in these matters—in how different denominations work together in sharing their faith and witness. This has been a fruitful debate that has drawn on long reflection and wide experience from across the House. I should therefore like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part today.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate. I say to my noble friend who has just spoken that none of the things she raised could not be altered in amendments to the Bill. There is no difference between us and no reason at all why we cannot meet all those things. I just want to come back at her clearly: the Bill does not tell the Church of England to do anything. It is entirely fictitious to suggest that we are breaking the convention. What we are doing is removing a legal impediment for the Church of England to make up its own mind, which is clearly different.
The 1949 Act says that churches are licensed for marriage according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England. The Church of England would have to get Parliament to remove that if it wanted to change it. All I am doing is removing that impediment to start with and leaving the Church of England to make up its own mind. That is what this House has done on successive occasions, and why the Church of England now has so much power to make up its own mind. I say that as somebody who was a member of the General Synod of the Church of England for more than a decade, so I know how the system works. But I know also that every time one raised this question, and I have raised it for many years, I was told that it could not be done because of the previous law in this House. All I am doing is removing that. If I hear anybody repeat the argument that we are asking, forcing or doing anything else to the Church of England, I will just ask them to look at the Bill. It does not say that at all. The fact that that is the only argument that has been properly brought forward suggests to me that the Church of England does not want to be challenged by the ecumenical realities of where it stands.
I much admire my noble friend in answering for the Government but, frankly, the idea that she has never heard of anybody being worried or upset about this leaves me flabbergasted—that is the only word I can think of—because this is the issue for so many couples, as we now have an ecumenical society. They are amazed when they discover that the Anglican girl and the Catholic boy, or the other way round—or the Methodist girl and the Anglican boy—cannot make the arrangement that they expect and want to make. They want to be married by the person who has been closest to them in their courting and their coming to terms with what marriage is. They are surprised to be excluded from that and blame first the Church of England. I have been able to defend the Church of England again and again by saying “It’s not the Church’s fault; it is not allowed to do it because of the state’s law”. I want to remove that here.
I have one thing to say to the right reverend Prelate. I have been in politics for many years, and I often hear speeches which go like this: “I’m so much in favour of this reform, so keen on the other reform, and on all these past reforms. I am absolutely on that side, it’s just this new one that I am against”. The Church of England has a long history of that and of never being in advance. But it always finally blesses the marriage with the deceased wife’s sister—remember? That spent years getting through, because the Church of England could never bring itself to be just a bit ahead of what the public really wanted. There was the demeaning comment about a “marriage venue”; no one is talking about a marriage venue. We are talking about Christian people wanting to be married in the church which is their church, in their village, which they help to keep up, which they go to for ceremonies when they are there together. They do not want some hotel or some secondary place. They want to be where they see their faith continuous and with their neighbours. I say to the right reverend Prelate that that was the moment when he lost me. It was when he did not understand that ecumenism demands sacrifice and also demands getting round silly legalistic arguments. Of course we can insist that a registrar fills in the form, if that is what is needed. Of course we can get round all those things. This Bill says to the Church of England: “Here. All the impediments are taken away. You now have the chance to make a generous gift to the rest of society and a chance to show”—
The noble Lord makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I want to clarify what I said at the beginning. I recognise the pastoral and personal issues that have been raised, but I say to him that there are a number of clergy in my diocese, and many other clergy in many other dioceses, who know that they have to conduct 150 weddings this year. They know what it feels like for their buildings to be used for event after event after event. My comment was not about the particular concern the noble Lord may have about a wedding that he is very interested in wanting to use the parish church as a wedding venue. but about the whole package deal of the Church of England’s parish church—the local priest who knows the people concerned, reads the banns, prepares the people, uses the service that expresses the faith in which people are going to be married—that cannot be separated from the building. That is a very particular way of doing a marriage service.
I have no intention of saying to the noble Lord that he wants to change parish churches into wedding venues. I do not think that that was my concern. I just wanted to clarify that.
The right reverend Prelate is making my point for me. We are talking about Christians who want to get married and one or other of them has a connection with a particular parish church. If there are 150 weddings, there are still going to be 150 weddings, but in one of them instead of the actual words of marriage being forcefully made by a clergyman of one denomination, they can be made by a clergyman or priest of another denomination, due to the generosity of the Church of England, which recognises that its place as the national church is the evolution of a whole historic story and that it needs to defend that by showing that generosity.
I say to the right reverend Prelate that what concerns me is that I have been involved in ecumenical movements for a very long time. As an Anglican I closed, forcibly, the last Conservative club in Liverpool that excluded Catholics. When I became a Catholic, I was cut off by relatives who thought that that was unacceptable. Do not let us kid ourselves about the amount of sectarian bigotry that still exists. Our discussions about Brexit have brought it to the surface again. All I am saying to the right reverend Prelate—and I am addressing him very directly as I finish—is that this is the next step in ecumenism. It is not good enough to say, “I am so keen on the past and am entirely in favour of all that but I cannot manage this step”.
In the amendments, we can get around any of the legal problems. There is no difficulty. I have a host of different ways of doing that. They are not here because I wanted this to be absolutely clearly the words of the Church of England as far as I possibly could, but if the right reverend Prelate would like me to make a lot of changes, I am very happy to do so. It would have been nice had we had that conversation before, but my first discussion about this happened this morning. It is an interesting kind of way in which this has been handled. I just say please give the Bill its Second Reading because the time has come and there is no longer anything but mere political and bureaucratic reasons for trying to stop it.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.