HC Deb 10 February 1939 vol 343 cc1247-55

Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Anstruther-Gray

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I think that the majority of Bills introduced to the House, even the most insignificant of them, have as their foundation an underlying principle. It may be the principle of freedom—freedom of speech or freedom of the Press, as was the case with the Law of Libel (Amendment) Bill, which we considered last Friday; or it may be the principle of the prevention of fraud, as in the Charitable Collections (Regulation) Bill, which we also considered last Friday; or it may be simply the broad underlying principle of fair play. The Bill to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading is also founded upon a principle, the great principle of the promotion of better feeling and closer relations between England and Scotland, a broad principle which will, I think, commend itself to hon. Members in all parts of the House. Moreover, I think there will be general agreement that there is no way in which closer union can be more effectively sealed than by intermarriage between the peoples of our two countries; for there can be no more certain guarantee that our peoples will always walk arm-in-arm to face the difficulties of this wicked world. I have confidence that the House will agree with the general principle of this little Bill.

I hope that the particular purpose of the Bill will find agreement, and in support of it I invite hon. Members to glance at the list of my hon. Friends who are backing the Bill, many of them, as will be seen, being friends by no means in the Parliamentary sense. But this is not in any way a party Measure, and, therefore, I think it deserves the approval of the whole House. Indeed, it has already received the approval of the present House of Commons, since it was granted an unopposed Second Reading a year ago, and it was largely because of the ill-health of my hon. Friend the Member for Fairfield (Sir E. Brocklebank), who introduced it on that occasion, that it made no further progress.

I come now to the details of the Bill, which are largely explained and made clear in the Explanatory Memorandum. The purpose is a simple one: it is to remove an anomaly to which attention was drawn particularly in the Report of the Departmental Committee presided over by Lord Morrison, which examined I the laws of marriage relating to Scotland and reported at the beginning of 1937. But the anomaly also extends to English law, and it would be impossible to amend in this respect the law either of Scotland or of England without at the same time amending the law of the other country. The anomaly is that an Englishman marrying a girl of Scotland or a Scotsman marrying a girl of England is to-day denied the full convenience and facilities preliminary to marriage that are available for Englishmen marrying English women or Scotsmen marrying Scots women. It seems to me that that is unreasonable, for I think it should be just as easy, from the point of view of machinery as from every other point of view, for a London man to marry a girl from Lanarkshire as a girl from Lancashire, or for a Fifer to marry a girl from Northumberland as a girl from Inverness. At present that is not so; because one of the two forms of announcing and publishing the proposed marriage is denied.

The present position in England is that if an Englishman wants to marry an English girl, he has two alternatives; either he can go to the local parish church and the banns of marriage will be duly proclaimed, or, if for some reason he does not want to go to the local church—if, for instance, it is not his own church—he may apply to the registrar in the parish in which he resides, and the registrar, after publication of the proposed marriage for seven clear days, will grant him a certificate whereby he is eligible to be married. The same procedure applies in Scotland. I think it is safe to say that this procedure has given general satisfaction and that the provision of this alternative in the shape of the publication of the proposed marriage by the registrar, which has been a part of the marriage law of both countries for many years, has met with general approval. It is only fair that the alternative should be made equally available in the case of marriages where one party resides in England and the other in Scotland. At present it is not so available. If a Scottish man wishes to come to England to marry an English girl, he must have his marriage banns proclaimed in the local parish kirk whether he belongs to it or not. He is denied the alternative of obtaining a registrar's certificate for marriage.

I must not overstate my case and pretend that there is nothing that such a Scotsman could do about it and pretend that the present law denies the alternative to the proclamation of marriage banns in the parish kirk. That is not so; there is an alternative; but the very fact that that alternative is readily available to rich persons, but available to working people only at great inconvenience, I think goes to strengthen my case. The alternative for the Scotsman who wants to marry an English girl in England is to travel down to England and there establish for himself a residential qualification; that is, to have 15 clear days of residence in England. After he has done that, he may apply to the local registrar for a certificate to get married. That facility cannot be granted until seven clear days have passed. Therefore, a total of at least 23 days must elapse during which the Scotsman must reside in England before he can get married to the English girl. Holidays of 23 days are not always easy to obtain, even to get married, by working people, and when they are obtained, I think I am talking sense when I say that most people would far rather spend the holiday in a honeymoon after the marriage than in qualifying for this certificate.

The case of an Englishman coming up to Scotland to marry a Scottish girl is similar, except—and this is a material exception—that in this case it is open to the Scottish minister—and my Bill refers only to regular marriages by a minister—to perform the marriage ceremony provided that he is satisfied there is no legal impediment. That is a good deal better than the case of the Scotsman going down to England, who is not at liberty to satisfy the English clergyman that there is no legal impediment. The case of the Englishman coming up to Scotland for the purpose is a good deal better. This makes me more than ever anxious to terminate a state of affairs in which it is at present easier for an Englishman to come up and walk off with a Scottish girl than for a Scotsman to go down to England and walk off with an English girl.

The only other point to which I wish to refer is really a Committee point, and, indeed, the whole Bill is largely a Committee point. Where a Scotsman is married in Scotland and the banns are proclaimed in the parish kirk, they can be signed either by the minister or the session clerk, but for some strange reason which I have not been able to fathom, where a marriage is to take place in England, the banns issued in the Scottish parish kirk are only valid if signed by the session clerk and not if signed by the minister himself. That seems unreasonable and it is proposed, therefore, in Clause 2 that the banns should be valid in England as in Scotland, whether signed by the session clerk or by the minister. I think the Bill commends itself to the Scottish Office and also to the Ministry of Health. There is no opposition to it as far as I know, and no Amendments have been placed on the Order Paper. I hope, therefore, the House will agree to give it a Second Reading, thereby providing for those enterprising people who have the courage to marry across the Border the full facilities which their praiseworthy adventure deserves.

11.17 a.m.

Mr. Hamilton Kerr

I beg to second the Motion.

What hon. Member would be so stony-hearted as to refuse the plea so eloquently advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanarkshire (Mr. Anstruther Gray)? The object of the Bill is nothing less than to facilitate marriage between the peoples of the ancient kingdoms of Scotland and England, and, as such, I claim it raises a question of the highest policy. I can reinforce my argument by reference to history. Before the Act of Union in 1707 Scotland was a country of wild glens inhabitated by savage clans who soaked their native heather in the blood of their kinsmen. Apart from this rather active form of life, it took all the valour of a Percy to stop even a single Scotsman from crossing the Tweed. What happened after the Act of Union? Scotland at once transferred its capital from Edinburgh to London, and captured every possible position in the country. Not content with obtaining all the sweets of office Scotsmen invaded the Seven Seas. What ship is there to-day plying anywhere between the Clyde and the Irrawaddy which has not a Scottish engineer? Now Scotland has invaded a third realm, the air, and it is only fitting that we should now have a Scotsman to defend us from the perils of air attack.

I claim, on the other hand, that the people of England have enjoyed substantial advantages since the Union. They have now, at last, a place to which they can go for their summer holidays, and many a charabanc wends its collective way along "the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond." Furthermore, the English people, having exhausted every quip connected with the weather can now exercise their wit upon the great and maligned people of Aberdeen. Therefore, I claim that this Measure is nothing short of a second Act of Union. It was said of ancient Austria that she conquered by marriage where others conquered by arms. Surely this Bill follows that admirable principle. Now that the thistle and the rose have been united politically, it seeks to add the unison of marriage, and when that has been done, the last echoes of Scottish nationalism will fade away into the mists of the Celtic twilight.

11.20 a.m.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

I wish to support this little Bill. It is not often that we are presented by private Members with Bills which are not controversial in character, but this would appear to be one of the exceptions. I desire to express, in parenthesis, a mild protest on behalf of Wales. In the terms of this Bill, as in many other Bills, reference is made to "England." It is true that for administrative purposes Wales is incorporated with England, but Wales does expect to be mentioned in an Act of Parliament, and I think the term "England and Wales" might easily have been used in this connection. After all, Wales is a nation even more than Scotland. We have in Wales our own language, whereas, as far as I know, of all the Members for Scottish constituencies in this House only one can speak Gaelic. The late Ian Macpherson was often referred to in this House as a Gaelic scholar, but he was an exception, whereas of my hon. Friends who represent Wales in this House, I believe more than half speak the Welsh language. Therefore, Wales can claim the title of nationality, and hon. Members who introduce Bills into this House ought to include in them, where necessary, the term "England and Wales." Having made that protest, parenthetically, on behalf of Wales, I support the Bill on two grounds. First, I think it wise to remove any impediments to marriage.

Mr. Thorne

Hear, hear.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend corroborate from his own experience my advocacy of this happy institution. In the second place, I believe we ought not to place any impediments in the way of marriage between Scottish and English people. I think that, eugenically, it is a very good combination. In these days when statisticians and experts tell us that we have, and are likely to have for some years to come, a dwindling population in this country, we ought to give every encouragement to marriage because we are all great believers in the British race. I trust, therefore, that no obstacle will be placed in the way of the quick passage of this Measure.

11.23 a.m.

Mr. Mathers

Perhaps it is not inappropriate that I as a Borderer, should have the opportunity on behalf of my hon. Friends in these Benches of welcoming this small Bill. From my earliest days I have recollections of inter-marriage between Scots and English. We are certainly very far from the days when Scotland was the wild country described by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Kerr), if, indeed, his description was ever true. But I would say to him, with regard to his reference to 1707, when Scotland had her independent Parliament taken away by those whom Robert Burns described as: A parcel of rogues in a nation. that Scotland had then a record of Parliamentary achievement unsurpassed by any country in the world. As I said, I have recollections of these inter-marriages from my earliest days. I remember in my childhood the late Duke of Buccleuch, then Earl of Dalkeith bringing home his bride from England and it has since been my lot to see his son, the present Duke of Buccleuch bring home to Scotland that gracious lady who is now Duchess of Buccleuch. To-day we have an example of inter-marriage on the Throne, and, if other notable examples are needed, we have the fact of Members of this House contracting such alliances. I will only refer to one. The noble Marquess the Member for East Renfrew (Marquess of Clydesdale), heir of the House of Douglas, quite recently brought home a Percy and so ended a very old conflict between those great houses. His brother has done the same thing in capturing the popular and picturesque Prunella who has been popularising the idea of physical fitness and beauty among her perspiring sisters.

The object of this Bill is summed up in the three lines of the penultimate paragraph of the explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, and I think it is all to the good that the facility that is provided here is made available not only for those, such as I have mentioned, who would be able to stand up to the expense and inconvenience and difficulty caused by the present law, but to those who are in a much humbler station of life and who will, I am sure, welcome the facility that is here provided. I think it is all to the good that there should be, as the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) has said, this union between Scotland and England in the way of intermarriage. I think it must be to the good that the stern reliability of the northern part of the Kingdom should be united with the softer and perhaps gentler attributes that belong to the English side of the Border. I am glad to think too that the Bill does not attempt to interfere with the institution of marriage itself in any way. It merely deals with the notification of the intention to marry, so that after the Bill passes it will still be necessary for those on the English side of the Border in getting married to have their marriage ceremony carried through before three o'clock in the afternoon, whereas it will still be possible in Scotland for the marriage to take place in the evening on the kitchen hearthrug, or in a hired hall, or in any other place, perhaps in the manse, that is so often resorted to by couples who are entering into the bonds of holy matrimony. Therefore, in that way there is no interference with the present law of marriage either in Scotland or in England. I am glad of that, and it shows that while we are recognising the Border and making facilities for bridging it in this way, we are not wiping out that Border.

I wish it were more realised that there is a border between Scotland and England and that Scotland and England are two separate countries. I wish the carelessness, which seems to display ignorance, that is sometimes evident by Members of this House in using the word "England" when they mean Great Britain was more clearly realised. We have that far too frequently. Members—and Englishmen particularly are prone to this—think that the word "England" is a word that carries in the mind of everyone the idea of Britain, whereas that, of course, is only an indication of their lack of appreciation of the actual facts so far as these islands are concerned. Unfortunately, this idea has spread abroad, and when one goes abroad one has to be subject to questions such as, "Are you English?" because you are speaking the English language, and when you say, "No, I am not; I am much better than that; I am Scots," it is obvious that the people to whom one is speaking are very much concerned, because the country that is sometimes described as the prominent partner in this Kingdom and sometimes as "the auld enemy" has created the impression abroad that the word "England" covers everything that is British.

I hope these things will be kept in mind and that this Bill, although making for unity, will be a continual reminder of the fact that there are two countries. These two countries we are bringing under one regulation to-day by means of this Bill. I am sure it will be a very useful Measure to give effect to, and I have great pleasure in welcoming it on behalf of those on this side of the House.

11.31 a.m.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)

My intervention in this Debate need not be long, because I think it is clear from the speeches in all parts of the House that there is general approval both of the specific objects and provisions of the Bill and of the general idea underlying it. The Bill, as has been truly said, particularly by the hon. Gentleman opposite, is one aspect of the growing tendency in both countries to seek closer union, not only political but social, and I am glad to think that that tendency has the approval of all parties in this House. So far as the provisions of the Bill are concerned, there have, I think, been no criticisms, and my hon. Friends the Members for North Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray) and Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) have so fully explained those provisions that it will be quite unnecessary for me to add anything. I think their exposition was entirely accurate. My hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) did put in a word for Wales, and I shall certainly see that that is conveyed to the proper quarters. My hon. Friend will understand that this is a matter with which the Ministry of Health is concerned, and I can say no more at this moment than that that matter will not escape the notice of my right hon. Friend.

There is just one other matter on which I think the House would desire a word, and that is the interrelation of this Bill with the Marriage (Scotland) Bill, which has been brought from another place and is now on the Order Paper of this House. There is no conflict of any sort between the two Bills. Indeed, the importance of this Bill will be increased and not diminished should the Marriage (Scotland) Bill become law, because this Bill will have a particular and direct application to the new method of marriage which the Marriage (Scotland) Bill is introducing, in place of certain methods of irregular marriage which up to date have been lawful and are still lawful in Scotland. This Bill affects only regular marriages, as was said by my hon. Friend in moving its Second Reading. Accordingly, I have to say that the Government are in entire sympathy with the objects of the Bill and commend the Bill to the House as a very useful Measure, which will remove an existing anomaly, and though it may not affect a very large number of cases, nevertheless it does affect those cases which are not provided for by the existing law in, sometimes, a very unfortunate manner. Therefore, I commend the Bill as removing an anomaly for which there never was any justification and which exists only because of the method in which certain older Acts have been drafted.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.