In the last 13years the progress that we have made in terms of devolution, as well as many other areas, has been wonderful. But devolution came much earlier to the Church in Wales, in 1920 in fact but for a very odd reason it is still imperfect. That is why my latest challenge has been to take the Marriage (Wales) Bill through the particularly fragile procedures of a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons. Let me explain.
The Church of England is still an established Church. It is the official Church, with the Queen at its Head and Bishops sitting in the House of Lords. However it is not the official, or established Church, of Wales or of Scotland.
As an established Church, the Church of England has the power to pass what are called “Church Measures” that relate solely to the Church of England and have the same force of law as Acts of Parliament. The Church in Wales was disestablished in 1914 (though due to the outbreak of world War One most of the provisions did not come in to force until 1920). The Church in Wales, because it is not an established Church, can not pass its own laws.
In Wales when two people wish to get married in a Church it is usually required that one of the couple must live in the parish where they wish to be married. In 2008 the Church in England passed a Church Measure changing the rules so that couples could use residency of parents or grandparents or regular attendance in the specific Church as a qualifying connection.
So in Wales we have been left behind – and to equalise the laws between England and Wales takes an Act of Parliament. And because the Government doesn’t get involved in Church matters, it requires a Private Members Bill. The first and second readings of the bill have now passed without a hitch, and I hope we will complete the process of law-making by the end of March. The Bill will produce a small but important change. People in Wales who wish to declare their love for each other will be able to do it in the church where they grew up if they so wish, regardless of whether they still use that Church, as they already can do in England.