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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 17 September 2002

Marriage Bill:
Committee Stage
(NIA 18/01)

Members present:

Mr Molloy (Chairperson)
Mr Close
Mr Hussey
Mr R Hutchinson
Ms Lewsley
Mr Maskey
Mr Weir


Dr N Caven ) Registrar General for
) Northern Ireland
Mr M Foster ) Office of Law Reform

The Principal Committee Clerk: Dr Mawhinney should be here shortly. The Committee may want to read his submission and the advice on it.

Mr R Hutchinson: Mr Beggs asked about changing the officiant at the last moment. The letter from the Department does not clarify it at all.

Mr Weir: I agree with Mr Hutchinson on the point that Mr Beggs raised. It is one of the —

Mr R Hutchinson: It is very important.

Mr Weir: Without wanting to be pedantic, some of the concerns reflect a degree of misunderstanding or, alternatively, points that I do not agree with. There is a genuine concern about substitution at the last minute. I am not sure that that has been got right. I am not convinced that what I have heard from the Department has made the situation clear or that there is sufficient provision for it.

Mr R Hutchinson: Have you read that, Mr Weir?

Mr Weir: Yes.

Mr R Hutchinson: There is nothing in that at all.

The Chairperson: We have Rev Edmund Mawhinney next. He has raised issues, and there is a response from the Department. It seems to me that it wants more Regulations; the point about deputising is covered.

The Principal Committee Clerk: It is covered in the response of 16 September. The question that Mr Weir is raising is —

Mr R Hutchinson: It is not really answered.

The Principal Committee Clerk: Is it covered sufficiently?

Mr Weir: There is a difference. It has given us an answer, but I am not convinced that it would, in practice, cover all situations. This may be worth further consideration or even an amendment.

The Principal Committee Clerk: That is one of the points that the Committee can take up with the officials next week.

Mr R Hutchinson: They are sitting here now. Can they not —

The Chairperson: We are not taking evidence from them.

Mr R Hutchinson: Are we not waiting for someone else to come? Could they not —

The Chairperson: I have no problem listening to them. It would be better than all this toing and froing.

The Principal Committee Clerk: That is a matter for the officials.

Official 1: I have no objection to speaking briefly.

The Chairperson: Go ahead.

Mr Foster: In relation to the point about appointing a deputy, the Bill as it stands means that the officiant has to be named on the marriage schedule. In the same clause, at subsection 5, we have said that Regulations will make provision for any changes that need to be made to that. In other words, in 99·9% of cases you will have a marriage schedule that will give the name of the officiant and the place where the marriage is to take place. However, we also intend to provide in Regulations for the name of the officiant to be amended in exceptional circumstances. Effectively, a deputy would be appointed in such a situation that Mr Beggs described earlier. Also, in even more exceptional circumstances the place might have to be changed at the very last minute.

Mr R Hutchinson: Most weddings take place on a Saturday. If the officiant on the schedule falls ill, a registrar must be contacted to approve the choice of replacement. How does one do that on a Saturday?

Mr Foster: Dr Caven may be better placed to answer that. My understanding is that someone is on call.

Dr Caven: A registrar has to be on call in case of deaths. Each registrar in each area has a mobile phone, and the numbers are supplied. Also, my mobile phone is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so at least three contact numbers are always available. The general registrar’s office has an automated telephone system, which provides emergency numbers that people can ring at any time of the day.

Mr R Hutchinson: Nerves are already strained on wedding days. Emergency situations such as the minister not turning up are not adequately covered. Some kind of simplification is needed.

Mr Weir: How quickly does the process work after contact with the registrar? Such situations arise in only 0·1% of cases; nonetheless, problems do occur. For example, if an officiant was flying in to perform a ceremony at 2.00 pm, it might only be at the very last minute that the couple would know that his flight had been delayed. What would the turnaround speed be then?

Dr Caven: A new schedule should be issued, but if that is not practical, verbal approval will be given and the paperwork completed afterwards. No wedding will be stopped because of a piece of paper.

Mr Weir: I appreciate that, but it may not provide much comfort for couples who plan to get married. What about allowing a registered member of that religious body to act as a substitute?

Dr Caven: We intend to deal with that by way of Regulations.

Mr Weir: Would it do any damage to do it in the Bill?

Dr Caven: I suppose not. We thought that Regulations would make it easier to tune the system to meet the needs of those involved.

The Chairperson: A mechanism will be put in place to allow the wedding to go ahead. In some cases, people might wish that they could find some means of delaying it. Thank you very much for attending.

17 September 2002 (ii) / Menu / 17 September 2002 (iv)