Gunn cites incest fears in call for banns to be posted in local towns

Cll.. Kenneth Gun n at the Selkirk Registry office
Cll.. Kenneth Gun n at the Selkirk Registry office

A RITUAL handed down since the Dark Ages that has protected local communities from inadvertently committing incest, was how the public displaying of marriage banns in the Borders was decribed at last week’s full monthly meeting of the local authority.

Earlier this month, TheSouthern reported claims from Councillor Kenneth Gunn (Selkirkshire SNP) that he and his colleagues were misled last year when a savings-driven revamp of the region’s registry service in the region was approved.

Mr Gunn was one of only two councillors who voted last February against the closure of registry offices in his home town of Selkirk as well as in Jedburgh, Lauder and Newcastleton.

With training on how to handle local birth registrations for contact centre staff in Selkirk and Jedburgh having just started, births from families in these towns must currently be registered in Galashiels and Hawick. Death and marriage registrations are continuing to be carried out by the professionally-qualified registrar based in Galashiels.

But Mr Gunn claimed an assurance had been given that the registration of births as well as other duties would be done, if not by highly respected and qualified registrars, then by office staff in the contact centre in every burgh and major community.

“This apparent promise has been broken,” he told TheSouthern at the time.

And at last week’s January meeting of the local authority, Mr Gunn moved a motion decrying the lack of what he called a “proper” registrars service across the Borders and called for the reintroduction of such services in all locations – including noticeboards for the displaying of marriage banns – until properly trained staff were in place in all the region’s contact services.

“At a time when the Home Office of the UK Government has no idea how many legal or illegal immigrants are in this country from Europe and beyond, surely this is not the time to be cutting back so severely on a service which has been around since medieval times,” Mr Gunn told fellow councillors.

“There are times when the interpretation of various acts or bills is so important to the people we are supposed to serve that it is incumbent on this council to seek proof that what they are doing is not only in the spirit of these acts, but also does not harm the integrity of this country.

“The Proclamation of Banns is not merely a ritual handed down from the Dark Ages, but a necessary and vital part of the census services.”

This proclamation was originally brought in to ensure that marriages were right and proper and that no union took place, for instance, between first cousins.

“In these days of broken marriages and extended families, surely it is even more important. I am aware in my own ward of brothers sitting beside sisters they do not know in primary school.

“These youngsters will move on to secondary school, maybe still ignorant of their own relations, and it isn’t going to be too long before we have a union which could produce offspring if we do not play by the well-founded rules.”

Giving examples, Mr Gunn went on to say it was no use posting banns in Peebles for a couple marrying in Selkirk, or posting them in Hawick for a couple from Coldstream.

“Who would know them or even care whether they married legally or not?” he continued. “No, this is something which must not be allowed to continue. We must keep these services local.

“We have been misled in the training programme which was supposed to ensure that the registration of births would be kept in all Border burghs and we must not let the proper registration of weddings and deaths to be centralised either.

“This is wrong and must be overturned.”

Mr Gunn’s motion was seconded by Councillor Jim Brown (Jedburgh & District SNP), but was rejected by 18-5 votes in favour of an amendment, put forward by Councillor Alec Nicol (Kelso & District, LD).

Mr Nicol, who is also SBC’s depute leader for human resources, said it had always been the local authority’s intention that deaths and marriages would continue to be carried out by professionally-qualified registrars.

“And no local banns have been read or displayed since 2006,” he said, moving his amendment urging that no action be taken to change the measures already adopted by the council.

z The lists of intended marriages or civil partnerships – banns – are only displayed in Hawick, Galashiels and Peebles, but members of the public can request to see a copy of the list in any registrar’s office.