Sunday Telegraph covers Bishop of St Albans’ marriage registration bill

On Sunday 22nd October, the Sunday Telegraph carried a report by Whitehall Editor Edward Malnick, on the Bishop of St. Albans’ Registration of Marriage Bill. The article is reproduced below:

Church of England bids to put mothers’ names on marriage certificates

A draft bill tabled by a senior bishop has been welcomed by the Home Office, following an impasse over plans to update the documents, which currently only include the names of couples’ fathers.

The development comes three years after David Cameron pledged to make the change, saying that the existing system, which dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria, “does not reflect modern Britain”.

Previous proposals had been dismissed on the basis they have included the costly replacement of tens of thousands of register books across the country, or that they failed to allow for same-sex marriages.
But a bill tabled by Dr Alan Smith, one of the 26 Lords Spiritual, sets out a mechanism for marriages to be recorded electronically, with couples simply signing a document that is submitted for inclusion in a digital register.
An electronic register could include space for the details of both parents of the couple – regardless of sex. Under the plans a formal certificate would be issued from that database.
Dr Smith told The Telegraph that the practice of only listing fathers names “stands out glaringly as something that needs amending” both to reflect how society has moved away from promoting patriarchy and to demonstrate “the value of mothers in families”.
“There’s been a clamour from many different groups pointing out that as the legislation currently stands it is very unfair. Many people want to see it changed.
“This bill would make the system much more appropriate for our current age.
“I’m optimistic that we are going to get there. All the signs are that we can make progress on this.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The current legislation which dictates the information that is required on a marriage certificate is outdated.
“We have been clear that we want to see the mothers’ details included on marriage certificates and we have been exploring different ways to reform marriage registration.
“This Bill has the potential to update the 84,000 hard copy marriage registers, deliver inefficiencies to the registration system and provide a solution to this problem. We will be following the Bill with interest.”

Dr Smith’s legislation, Registration of Marriage Bill, is based on a draft put forward last year by Edward Agar, a Conservative MP, but which was not debated because of the dissolution of Parliament for the General Election. It is understood that officials helped with the drafting.

The current system of marriage registration has remained virtually unchanged since 1837, with marriages recorded in around 84,000 registered books held in churches, other religious premises, and register offices.

Marriage certificates are an exact copy of a register entry, meaning that the register would need to be altered in order to produce a certificate for an existing marriage containing additional information.

Previous estimates had put the costs of replacing the existing books at some £13 million. The Home Office estimates that the set-up costs of the proposed digital system would be less than £1.3 million, with some £30 million of savings over 10 years as a result of the change.

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