Caroline Spelman: It’s time to right this historic wrong and let mothers’ names be recorded in the register of marriages
There is pressure on the legislative timetable. But surely, in this centennial year of women’s suffrage, we can find time to change the law governing marriage registration, writes Dame Caroline Spelman
Having served in Parliament for over 20 years, I’m greatly enjoying celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage and the opportunity it’s affording me to share my experiences as a female politician. It’s encouraging that 100 years on from the ‘Representation of the People Act’ the number of women in parliament has reached 32%.
While women are winning the argument about equality there are still battles to fight. People are astonished to learn that mothers’ names cannot be recorded in the register of marriages. Sadly, many only discover this during the ceremony, just as the registers are being signed. Members of the clergy also find it embarrassing to have to explain the roots of this law. Dating back to 1837, the rules surrounding marriage certificates were defined during Queen Victoria’s reign with the introduction of a formal national register for births, marriages and deaths.
Following discussions between the Home Office and Church of England officials regarding marriage registration, it was agreed that the Bishop of St Albans would introduce a bill in the Lords and that I would introduce an identical bill in the Commons. The Bishop safely steered his bill through its Second Reading on 26th January. His bill has broad support and is now awaiting Committee Stage.
There have been a total of five attempts in the last 20 years to reform this area. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and, most recently, Theresa May have all publicly backed reform.
In recent years, several parliamentarians have passionately campaigned for mothers’ names to appear in the register of marriages. Christina Rees, MP for Neath, has submitted her own Private Members’ Bill (PMB) and multiple Early Day Motions. Furthermore, in 2014 over 70,000 members of the public signed a change.org petition calling for reform. The battle still goes on.
This coming Friday, 23rd February, my PMB will have its second reading. The Marriage Registration (No.2) Bill, has strong cross-party support and is the same bill that I tried to take through the House in 2015, subsequently this was also introduced by Edward Agar, MP for Charnwood.
In December 2015, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on marriage registration in which many members spoke very movingly about the sense of grievance and heartache the current law causes. Consider the position of a single mum who has devoted herself to raising her child, but whose name cannot appear on the marriage certificate. Whereas the father, however assiduous his parenting, can be recorded simply because of his gender.
The law governing marriage registration needs to change but, in my experience, the PMB route has proved a poor vehicle to bring about such reform. Far too often good bills are simply talked out or are not completed within the parliamentary session. As such, this short bill, which was initially drafted by the Home Office, will require Government time to safeguard its passage.
Most recently, on 2nd February, the Minister for Women agreed that the Registration of Marriage (No.2) Bill should be incorporated, by amendment, into the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill being brought forward by Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham. This bill covers a range of areas, including the extension of civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
As this bill moves forward to the Committee Stage I wish my colleague every success. However, it may be a long time before it progresses through to completion, and due to its broad scope, it may face an uncertain passage in the Lords. It is important to keep all avenues open for making this long overdue change to the law, and so the Bishop of St Albans and I will continue to progress our own bills in parallel.
Understandably, there is pressure on the legislative timetable but surely, in this centennial year of women’s suffrage, we can find a way to right this historic wrong.
Dame Caroline Spelman is Conservative MP for Meriden. The second reading of the Registration of Marriage (No.2) Bill is on 23 February