Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

This report was not approved formally by the Committee prior to the suspension of the Assembly on 14 October 2002, but is published by order of the Speaker.

Committee for
Finance and Personnel

Tuesday 10 September 2002


Marriage Bill:
Committee Stage
(NIA 18/01)

Members present:

Mr Molloy (Chairperson)
Mr Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr B Bell
Mr Close
Mr Hussey
Mr R Hutchinson
Ms Lewsley
Mr Weir


Rev Canon Edgar Turner ) Church of Ireland
Mr T N Wilson )

The Chairperson: Gentlemen, you are very welcome to our Committee evidence session. I invite you to make your presentation.

Mr Wilson: Thank you. I am Neill Wilson, and my colleague is Rev Canon Edgar Turner. I am the diocesan secretary and a marriage licenser for the two largest dioceses in the Church of Ireland, namely Down and Dromore, and Connor, which geographically cover the counties of Antrim and Down.

We regret, owing to a vital and long-standing conference on ministry taking place in Dublin today, that neither the chairman of our advisory committee, the Bishop of Connor, nor either of our two legal advisers are able to be present this afternoon. However, my colleague, Rev Canon Edgar Turner is the diocesan registrar for the diocese of Connor — the cleric who deals with the internal legal matters for most of the Belfast and County Antrim area. Also, as a member of the advisory committee on law reform, Rev Canon Edgar Turner will present our verbal submission to the Committee. We have copies with us for the convenience of members.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: You will be aware that the proposed Bill, as the long list of repealed Acts at the back of it indicates, removes completely the system of the publication of banns — the system which the Church has used for a thousand years, since the time of Charlemagne. It also removes the system of ecclesiastical licence for special permissions, which the Church has used continuously for 500 years, both before and after the Reformation and disestablishment in Ireland.

We are, however, content to abandon all this in accordance with the Bill’s desire to apply equality treatment to the new process of schedules, which you suggest. We would point out, however, that there is a great difference in the nature and work of civil officiants and religious officiants or "celebrants", as we prefer to call them. A civil registrar is one of a limited number — I think there are probably about 26 in Northern Ireland — of paid officials who specialise in marriage matters. The clergy, on the other hand, regard marriage as part of their whole ministry of caring for their people and congregations.

There are about 450 clergy of the Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland, and they are committed, in a close relationship, to the pastoral care, marriage preparation and sacramental celebration of their people. We are not, therefore, merely registered officiants. As you are aware, the Church of Ireland has already made a third response. I hope that you have copies of it; it is a two-page document. The first response was made in May 2000, the second was made in November 2001, and the third one was made on 1 August 2002. We intend to concentrate our comments on that third response.

Of the specific comments that we make in that third response, our advisory committee on the draft Bill says that the most important are the ones that we have numbered I, IV, V and VII. The first of these relates to the need for satisfactory administration; the three later suggestions reflect the concern, expressed by our advisory committee from the very beginning of the consultation process, to protect the integrity of the Church; to avoid it being used as a convenience; and to protect its clergy from being subjected to undue pressure.

We will look first at the administration. It would be expected that all permitted religious officiants should be readily known to their parishioners and that there should be enough of them to deal with most marriages as they arise from a congregation. The arrangements provided for in clause 8 may not meet those objectives.

Under the new system, it seems that religious bodies will prepare a list of registered Northern Ireland officiants. Even if the list includes all the Church of Ireland’s clergy in Northern Ireland — approximately 450 — it will exclude those who serve in its dioceses and parishes in the Republic of Ireland. The Church of Ireland’s existing lists include all the clergy serving in the Republic of Ireland, clergy from the outlying islands and Scotland, Wales and England, and those in a variety of other Churches in communion with the Anglican communion — all of whom, under present circumstances, officiate at weddings in the Church of Ireland.

Many weddings involve at least one party from another part of Ireland or the UK and people who are related to, or friendly with, clergy from the Republic of Ireland or other parts of the UK. Under the new system, special arrangements would have to be made for circumstances that are dealt with quite easily now. Examples include arrangements to allow an officiant from a parish in the South to conduct the marriage of one of his female parishioners in the North and arrangements to allow an English vicar to travel to Ireland to officiate at the marriage of a male parishioner. Failure to make those special arrangements could result in the postponement, or even cancellation, of a wedding. The extra administration involved would impact on the Church. It would impact greatly on the local administration, and on the public, who would be most affected if that regulation were tightly controlled. Several other denominations in Northern Ireland might require an even greater number of officiants than the Church of Ireland. That is the problem.

The Church of Ireland would like to assist the authorities in the provision of a list of registered officiants in Northern Ireland. However, under proposed clause 8, that could only be done by a few authorised agents — in our case, the five or six Northern bishops — to whom the Church would have delegated its responsibilities. If such an arrangement cannot be accommodated in the Bill, it is difficult to imagine how the Church of Ireland could meet the responsibilities imposed.

There is also concern over clause 8(5), which addresses the procedure for adding new officiants. If strictly applied, that clause will cause administrative chaos for the Church. The Church must allow, in circumstances such as the illness or other inability of the named officiant, another celebrant to officiate at short notice, and we are afraid that clause 8(5) does not lend itself to that interpretation. Allowing each Northern bishop to make the application, which would follow the practice in Scotland, could best effect the temporary authorisation afforded by clause 12.

Our advisory committee suggested amendments to clause 5, which seek to protect the officiant. Under the clause, as currently drafted, registrars can issue a marriage schedule to the parties, providing for unacceptably short notice of the date of the marriage to the intended officiant. We spend a great deal of time dealing with marriage preparation and advice, and it does not help to receive a late marriage application. Under the legislation, the schedule could be issued without the officiant being aware of his proposed involvement. That is wholly unacceptable and could place undue pressure on the clergy. We support a three-month period of notice, which we understand is the practice in Scotland and we know is the practice in the Republic of Ireland.

Finally, our committee’s suggested amendment to clause 13 seeks to make an equivalent provision for Churches in religious marriages to that in clause 16 for local authorities in civil marriages in relation to the places where marriages can be solemnised. As the Bill stands, no such provision seems to be made. We are concerned that, through the legislation, we should be able to indicate places in which religious marriages would take place. Paragraph 8 of the explanatory and financial memorandum states that the Churches would have control of that aspect with regard to religious marriages. However, the legislation itself must give the power to do so. It is not only for the narrow interest of the clergy that we suggest those amendments, but to ease and simplify matters for applicants, who, after all, are your constituents.

The Chairperson: Thank you.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: That is the end of my presentation. I can, if you wish, address the third response, which deals, in short terms, with the specific matters that we would like to amend. Alternatively, members can ask questions on what we have already said.

The Chairperson: We will look at the third response and ask questions afterwards.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: We seek assurance that the phrase "religious body" in clause 9(4) can mean the Church of Ireland. We would be concerned that a maverick group could hide inside a pattern; therefore, we would like specific mention that one of the bodies concerned is the Church of Ireland.

We also seek assurance that, for the time being, the Church of Ireland may delegate the powers and responsibilities under clause 8 and elsewhere to each diocesan bishop in Northern Ireland. To clarify, Northern Ireland is divided into almost the same number of dioceses as you have districts, and if, for example, the Bishop of Connor, who has about 80 parishes in his diocese, were to be an agent of the body, he could then readily and easily provide the names of the 80 or 90 clergy whom we would suggest as being religious officiants in that area. It would be easy for him to add a new name if there were an ordination and to remove a name at departure or death. The same policy could be applied for the other four or five bishops, which would be a tidy administrative way to act under your general term of "the body".

Mr Beggs: What is the difference between that position and the Church administrating that and having its officials provide the recognised list direct to the registration body? Given that it is based, largely, on the Scottish system, which is in practice, how does the system currently deal with a Church of Ireland minister who wants to officiate at a marriage in Scotland?

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: First, we would regard it easier, administratively, to have a deputy, if you like, such as the Bishop of Connor, dealing with the 80 people in his area, and passing that to the Registrar General, with the other bishops doing the same thing. If you want them to pass all of that through a central office, Mr Wilson, in the office in Belfast that shares our two largest dioceses, could be the agent from whom that could come. From that point of view, he could be what the Bill calls "the body". However, we would like the sorting of names to be done in the local area by the local bishop.

The point that I have just been making answers your question about what happens in Scotland. Yesterday I asked the Bishop of Glasgow about his proceedings. In the Anglican communion all clergy after their first year are ordained priests and, therefore, canonically have the power to celebrate a marriage. In Scotland, within the three-month period, a Scottish bishop decides whether the Irish cleric is canonically correctly ordained et cetera, approves of him and tells the registrar accordingly. The Bishop of Glasgow stated that this has always been accepted by the registrar, and he is quite happy to take the name that comes up for a one-off wedding or a short holiday period as proposed by the religious body.

Mr Beggs: Would such a practice not also work here?

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: It would work; that is what I am suggesting through allowing each of our bishops to be the body’s agent. If a Scottish Anglican priest wanted to come, he is first authenticated by the Bishop of Connor, for example. The bishop would then pass that name to the Registrar General. Using the three-month period, the Registrar General has plenty of time to accept that person as a temporary officiant.

Mr Weir: Are you not concerned with receiving assurances about how the law will be administered in practice rather than with the wording of the legislation? As I understand it, it would be up to every religious body to sort out its own arrangements as to who acts as the registering agent. Each body would decide whether to deal with the register through a single agent or whether to have a list of agents. For example, you want to have it devolved down to the diocesan bishops for them to deal with it. However, your concern seems to be with how the legislation will be administered rather than with its wording.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: That is true. In this particular case, we are not suggesting any amendment to the legislation. However, we want to be quite clear that what you have just said would in fact be a practice that the Registrar General will work out in Regulations. We are not suggesting that there is a fault in the Bill; we are concerned that the Bill should be interpreted in precisely the way that you have outlined.

Mr Close: My question is the corollary to that. Suppose a couple desired a clergyman from Limerick to officiate at their wedding and neither the couple nor he went through the bishop for the cleric’s registration; instead, he registered himself. Is the Church of Ireland saying that because he did not follow the protocol that it wanted followed, it would not consider that to be valid?

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: The Bill is stating that. It says that the application for registration must come from "the body", and a stray cleric in Limerick would not be "the body". Within the three-month period, the cleric can make it known that he is willing and anxious to take the wedding in Northern Ireland in whichever district or diocese it happens to be. Then, his name can be added by the bishop. The cleric from Limerick is not "a body" who could make the application, according to our reading of the Bill.

The Chairperson: At this stage, I want to point out that, although we are taking evidence, we cannot give definitive responses. At the end of the day, the Department will do that. The evidence that we are taking will go to the Department, and it will respond to your questions.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: I am glad that some of your legal advisers are listening. It is to be hoped that they can make sure that the matters that I have just adverted to can be dealt with in Regulations. We have a few other, fairly minor, points to make.

At point II, in relation to clause 4(6)(d), we say that instead of stating that a person should consent to a marriage, we would prefer that the term "informed consent" be used. That, again, is a matter for your legal advisers. I understand that there is a technical difference between consenting and being sure that an individual is not persuaded by parents or anybody else and, therefore, is giving "informed consent" to a marriage. That would be a stronger statement.

In clause 4(6)(e), we have queried whether "gender" might be a better word to use than "sex", which is used in the proposed text, but it is mentioned merely to alert your legal advisers to that point.

Point IV is important. In clause 5(2), after the word "registrar", we suggest that the Bill should have the additional words "after specific confirmation by the officiant". The registrar issues the schedule, but the Bill is rather vague about the process involving the couple before it is issued. The registrar may tell them that if they want to get married in Portrush, for example, they must go to the registrar of that district, who will allow them to go to a church in Portrush, Portstewart or wherever. If the couple say that they have told the rector there that they want to get married and the registrar proceeds with the schedule, the rector may not get the document until quite a late stage. We want to be quite sure that the registrar does not issue the schedule until he is clear that the officiant has confirmed the couple’s application. To do that, we suggest that those words be added into the Bill.

On clause 5(2)(b), we seek assurance that the prescribed period will be stipulated as not less than three months, except in exceptional circumstances. I have already indicated the great advantage that it is to the clergy and to administration to have that period of time. One of the things that the clergy hate most is getting documents from a registrar or someone else telling them that they are under obligation to perform marriages at a week’s notice, details of which they may not have had confirmed. We are very keen to follow Scotland and the Republic in ensuring that the normal period between the issue of the schedule and the marriage should be three months, aside from exceptional circumstances.

Mr Weir: I appreciate that the time period will be defined in Regulations, as is indicated later, and also that it creates a certain moral pressure on the cleric to perform the marriage. My understanding of the legislation is that the officiant can refuse to conduct any marriage ceremony. For example, if a cleric was concerned that he or she was being given a particular time period in which to conduct a ceremony, they could, at least in theory, refuse to conduct the marriage ceremony because they were unwilling to perform it in such a short period of time.

I appreciate that it may well create a certain level of moral pressure and that clergy might feel pressurised to agree to conduct a ceremony in that time frame and that that may be the reason for the particular prescribed period of time. However, do you accept that the legislation is not actually forcing the clergy to conduct a ceremony within that period of time and that they can still refuse to conduct it?

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: I am not sure. There are a great variety of reasons why a cleric would decline to take a particular marriage, but a cleric would certainly not do so merely because a couple came to him at short notice, even though the legislation had allowed them to do it. Pastorally, we would be inclined to be sympathetic. We would not like it and would complain, but we would be sympathetic. There would be other reasons to enable a cleric to say that he wished to decline. I would still argue that to put a reference to three months into the Bill would be a considerable advantage. It would remove the tensions that could arise with the clergy and the registrars.

Mr Close: Surely the Church as "the body" can establish its own rules and guidelines. Could that not be interpreted as saying that the Church got the three-month guidelines, but it does not want to be accused of being unpastoral, so it passes the buck to the legislators? It would be much better for Churches, under the Bill, to be able to establish their guidelines in this respect. That is firmer, and respective of the guidance that the particular Church might wish to give to its flock.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: We do not see anything in the Bill that would encourage us to believe that the Church could set up its guidelines independent of what the Bill had said. If those operating the civil legislation in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are delighted with the three-month system, then I would still plead for it.

I am not persuaded that the Registrar General and the law would be happy that the Church was putting in its own restrictions. We could envisage the situation where a couple would come and say that they have been to the registrar, have done everything that is necessary, that there is nothing wrong in their relationship and that we are compelling them to fit our ecclesiastical rules — for example, on church attendance. The legislation does not allow for anything like that, and so I repeat that the inclusion of the three-month period would solve all those kinds of problems, and prevent the knock-on effect that could occur if one Church wants to exercise some of its discipline and does not have the authority under the Bill to do it.

The Chairperson: Is there a danger, if there were no such provision in the legislation, that one church could have a one-month period, and another could have three months, leading people to jump from one place to another?

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: That is why I would contend that three months should be in the Bill.

Mr Weir: There is almost a matter of religious freedom in that regard. If a particular church said that it wanted to give six months or shorter as the appropriate period, then, provided it complied with whatever administrative purposes were required, why should legislation stop it from conducting a ceremony within that period? I appreciate that your Church, and others, may feel that three months is an appropriate period and that you are not prepared to marry anyone in less than that period. However, I do not see why that should be imposed on other Churches, which may feel that a longer or shorter period is appropriate for them.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: As one who has conducted a large number of marriages in the earlier years of my ministry, I feel that three months is the right length of time in which to make the proper preparations. Three months also rides over holiday periods, when many people are not available for whatever their Church may want to do. I still think that to stipulate three months as the required period is preferable. If another Church wanted to say that inside its sacramental or canonical rules, it wanted six months, so be it. However, I would be concerned if anything less than three months were stipulated. It takes a surprisingly long time to properly and adequately prepare for marriage. I do not mean choosing the organist and the flowers. I mean seeing the couple, understanding what they are doing and dealing with the problems of relatives. Three months is a perfectly straightforward and reasonable pattern, which, pastorally, I have always found desirable.

Mr Wilson: Taking both sides of the argument and looking at the suggested addition, we are talking about not less than three months, which means that other Churches can take longer if they wish. However, there is also the exceptional circumstance rule, so everyone wins if there is a problem.

Mr R Hutchinson: Why should that be inserted for the Church of Ireland? Quite rightly, there are some Churches that marry couples in less than three months. I can understand your pastoral concerns, and there can be difficulties where a longer time is required, but, with all due respect, not everyone is like that. In some Churches, those couples will be part of the weekly congregation; their background and circumstances will be known, and, therefore, all the checks and balances will have been made through the normal pastoral care of looking after the flock and Church over the years.

Mr Wilson: Today the practice is that most marriages are planned well beyond the three-month period, and we are talking about an administrative block of time, which gives the civil and Church authorities time to co-ordinate their responsibilities. It seemed that a minimum of three months was a reasonable time, bearing in mind that the people applying probably set the date for their marriages two years ago. We are only talking about the administrative period — it is not a restriction on rights.

Mr Hussey: I do not mean to be disrespectful, but the date is often led by the social aspect of marriage, in that the hotel has to be booked well in advance. Quite often, whether it is right or wrong, people book the hotel before they book the church. That is a fact.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: That is true.

Mr Weir: The suggested amendment that you have produced states "not less than three months, except in exceptional circumstances". Can you provide your definition of "exceptional circumstances"? If we are persuaded of your view and those words are used, they could become utterly meaningless unless there is a definition of "exceptional circumstances". Any couple who wanted to get married in less than three months could say that they have exceptional circumstances because of X, Y and Z. I do not expect you to provide a definition off the top of your heads, but I would be grateful if you could submit it to the Committee in writing to help us with our deliberations.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: I can comment on it. Our present system contains special licences, and they apply in exceptional circumstances. If a wedding was planned for three or four months’ time and the groom is called abroad on military service, that would be an exceptional circumstance. We operate that through special licences, which come through bishops, who state whether it is an exceptional circumstance or special condition. We intend that the bishops of the Church or of "the body" would express the exceptional circumstances to the Registrar General, stating that they recommend that the exceptional circumstance provisions be applied, and thus avoiding the normal three-month period. In other words, the Church would make the opinion as to whether it was exceptional — not the couple — and the registrar would endorse the opinion.

Mr Weir: Ultimately, under that system, the registrar would make the final decision.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: Yes, that is correct.

Continuing on, in clause 12(1), after the word "may" add "on the application of a religious body". We are worried that, without that addition clause, 12(1) could enable a one-off individual or maverick — and unfortunately all denominations have one or two — to make the application. We want to be sure that it is made on the application of the religious body, and not by a maverick individual.

Our next important issue is in clause 13(2)(a). We would ask that the word "recognised" be changed to "authorised" in that paragraph, and that a paragraph (c) be added saying: "in a place authorised by the religious body concerned". Our point is that if it is an application for a civil ceremony, the civil registrar will have the list of places that the local district council has allowed for civil ceremonies. We want the Church — that is the body — to be able to stipulate the places in which the religious ceremony takes place. In our case, we would put it almost exclusively in churches. We do not want to find that the clergy are compelled, because of the lack of a phrase like this, to have a religious service conducted at the Giant’s Causeway or in a deep sea pool or whatever, simply because in the legislation the Church does not appear to have the authority to indicate the place in which it would exercise this. We think that is equality, which is what the whole Bill is about. The Church should get equality in stipulating the place, just as the state can stipulate its places.

Mr Close: I take the point being made. Returning to the earlier point, is this not again an area where the rules of the body can, as far as the body is concerned, take that precedence? In other words, the Church, as a body, can have its rules and regulations.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: I have said that unfortunately we all have mavericks. Also, a large group of people, such as a Church, may have some individuals who might be inclined to take their own decisions on that matter, rather than submit them to the authority of "the body". It is possible that a particular cleric could say to a couple "I’ll take your marriage at the Giant’s Causeway, and I will use the Church of Ireland prayer book" or whatever. To prevent that kind of distortion — if not abuse — we think that "the body" should be allowed to stipulate the place.

Mr R Hutchinson: I am an ordained minister, and I was only ever allowed to do marriages in registered buildings. Surely the Bill is taking that whole aspect away. You are saying that this Bill is fine, but you still want a bit of the old legislation, where people have to marry in places that you feel are a sanctuary — where you would think the presence of God would be. The whole point of this Bill is to remove that, so that people, if they want, can marry in the open air, under canvas, on the beach, or wherever.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: We do not have the slightest objection to people getting married on the beach, under canvas or whatever. Our liturgy specifically talks of putting the whole thing in the context of ongoing, continuing Christian worship. That is quite different from saying that we do not want them to be married on the beach. What we do not want to find is that the clergy are being forced to take the liturgy of the Church to wherever the couple want the wedding, as it would be in some cases.

Mr R Hutchinson: Therefore, this is more like a definition of worship.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: No. It is a definition of the difference between a civil ceremony and a religious ceremony, which your Bill clearly makes. Religion is your connection and association with God and with the people associated with Him. In that context, we are conducting, in most cases, a sacrament of a religious ordinance, and it is quite improper to put it into the setting of your favourite holiday beach. You put it in the setting of the place where your religion is expressed.

Mr Weir: Again, is it not then ultimately up to the individual Church to impose its views, it if it feels that particular locations are unsuitable and that churches are more appropriate?

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: That is precisely what we ask.

Mr Weir: The complication with an amendment is that different religious bodies will take different attitudes. Possibly many will take the view that it should take place only in their churches. However, with that amendment, for the system’s administration to work, not only is a list of all the recognised officiants necessary, but a list of recognised places for each religious body.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: Yes.

Mr Weir: That creates a second set of lists. For example, it may well be that some of the Churches that — rightly or wrongly — take a different view on the location would say that they are perfectly happy, as long as an officiant conducts the ceremony, to marry a couple in a religious ceremony wherever the couple wants. That could create administrative problems. Moreover, you expressed concern that constantly adding additional names to the list for a temporary licence would create problems. Surely, if there were prescribed places for religious ceremonies, there would be constant pressure on Churches? Couples would put pressure on the local cleric to add someone’s name temporarily to conduct the ceremony. There could be an additional administrative burden, and it could be difficult to put it into practice.

Mr Wilson: In present-day practice, the Church of Ireland’s attitude is that marriages are licensed only for a licensed building, the exceptions being a hospital ward, where perhaps there is a serious illness, or even someone’s home, where serious illness is concerned. We consider those to be exceptional circumstances, and we wish to reach out to the needs of the couple concerned. The suggested amendment not only gives religious bodies the option of determining where they are, or are not, prepared to conduct a service, but it gives every religious body the option to do its own thing. The religious body concerned can interpret that amendment as it chooses and still acknowledge the civil law.

The Principal Committee Clerk: I can perhaps clarify that. Our adviser or the official present can nod in agreement if my interpretation of the Bill is correct. My understanding is that, subject to approval, it is possible to have an approved place for civil marriages, for example, on the beach. It is a matter for each religious body to decide where it conducts marriages. If the Church of Ireland determines to do it in churches and nowhere else, that is entirely a matter for that body. The Bill does not require the body to do it somewhere else.

In the case of a maverick who might break that rule, the position on the Bill is that it is up to the Church of Ireland to register its officiants. If one of its officiants conducts marriages in a swimming pool, it is a matter for the Church of Ireland to deregister that officiant. There is nothing here that is an issue for you.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: I hope that it is as simple as that. Clergy are being pressured nowadays to come in clerical dress and take weddings in the most outlandish places. I am sorry to say that one or two are doing that because the legislation allows it. The legislation does not make provision for Church authorities to interfere in such matters, which is why we come back to this preferred pattern. As has already been indicated, if some Churches are happy to allow exotic sites, well and good; that is not prevented in the pattern here.

The religious body concerned should give approval. If it wants a church to be used, that is well and good. Where a religious body wants to use exotic sites, it is free to do so. We are suggesting that the legislation should take account of our fears about this matter and offer some protection, while at the same time allowing everybody else their liberty too.

Mr Hussey: I thought that the Church was a body of people gathered together in worship rather than bricks and mortar.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: Yes, but the Church is held together by structures of some kind. Clergy agree to work within a particular pattern, which, in this part of the world, is unfortunately known as a denomination. Therefore, a body is, to all intents and purposes, a denomination. Other groups, regardless of whether they call themselves Churches or not, will fit into that pattern. Thus the definition of "body" inherent in the document is that of a structured organisation of a particular denomination. We are happy with that definition.

Mr Beggs: Under clause 9(4), religious bodies advise the Registrar General of changes to the list of registered officiants. Would that provision not give you the power to deal with any mavericks within the Church of Ireland with whom the Church is not satisfied? Thus, those people would not be registered as officiants of the Church of Ireland.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: A religious body could suggest removing a person’s name from the register, which sounds similar to striking a doctor off the register. If, under the provisions in the Bill, a maverick cleric were able to perform marriages, the body would almost certainly make critical noises about him and possibly remove his name from the list. However, we do not want that situation to arise.

I have an important point to make about clause 23. In the original memorandum you said that marriages should be "publicly declared", and we were happy with that. However, in the Bill, clause 23 is entitled "Commencement of Marriage". We are extremely unhappy with the use of the word "commence" on a theological and practical level. Does a marriage commence when the couple are at a particular stage in their relationship or when they have applied for the schedule? Does it commence when they enter the church? We would much prefer the phrase "is publicly declared". In other words, a specific moment is pinpointed. Of course, lawyers know about the problems that arise if an accident occurs before a marriage has been completed. Therefore, we would prefer the original phrase to be used, rather than that slack word "commences". That concludes our representations.

Mr Close: Do you see any merit in including the definition of marriage in the Bill as opposed to just the memorandum?

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: The Bill should reflect what is said in the memorandum. As the Bill is about marriage, it must make clear when a marriage is and when it is not. A marriage occurs when certain promises are made publicly and are recognised and sealed. The publicly witnessed and recorded agreed comments of two people create a marriage. We feel that the term "is publicly declared" should be in the Bill, because that is what marriage is.

The Chairperson: Thank you. We are simply taking evidence. The Bill is being processed by the Department of Finance and Personnel, and we understand that a statement will be made in the Assembly on 24 September in response to the consultation.

The Principal Committee Clerk: Representatives from the Department will be present at a public meeting of the Committee on 24 September to give the Department’s response to the various pieces of evidence. Of course, witnesses present today can attend and sit in the Public Gallery if they wish.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: Will we be consulted when the legislators reach the stage of suggesting how the Regulations would be implemented?

The Principal Committee Clerk: All we can do is ask the Department. It would depend on whether the Statutory Rules are subject to affirmative or negative resolution. We will check with the Department whether they will require consultation.

Mr Weir: We are producing a general report, as well as looking at specific amendments. I suspect that not just the Church of Ireland but others would have concerns about the way in which the Regulations — perhaps more so than the Bill — are drafted. One potential route is to make a recommendation that full consultation should take place before the Regulations, pursuant to the Bill, are produced. That may be a way around the problem.

Rev Canon Edgar Turner: We would be happy if that could be done. We do not want to attack the Bill, but we do want to be party to decisions on the Regulations.

The Chairperson: I thank you all for attending today.

25 June 2002 / Menu / 10 September 2002 (ii)