HC Deb 21 October 1941 vol 374 cc1649-52

Considered in Committee.

[Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 5.—(Interpretation, etc.)

Mr. Hannah (Bilston)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 10, at the end, to insert: ( ) Nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorising a marriage that is not entirely bona fide." I have not the smallest objection to this Bill; indeed, I think it is an admirable Measure in every way, but the point I want to bring up was very well put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) on the Second Reading. I associate myself with everything he said and do not want to add much to it, but a number of clergy in my own division have pointed out that a good many perhaps rather ill-considered marriages are-taking place at the present time. Possibly the United States—I was living there during the last war—showed a certain amount of wisdom in not recognising for purposes of military allowances any marriage entered into after the relevant Act had been introduced into Congress. Of course, we cannot do anything of that kind. We are committed, and I think rightly committed, to these allowances, but at the same time the nation is undoubtedly rather suspicious and worried by the recognition of women, not married, for these allowances. I think that was unfortunate, and I do not think it would have gone through on a free vote of the House. However. I do not want to press my Amendment. I wish to support the Bill wholeheartedly, but I hope the Government will make it abundantly clear to the nation that in bringing forward this Bill they have no intention whatever of making marriage easier than it ought to be. We ought to insist that every marriage entered into under this Bill shall be a bona fide, permanent marriage, without any idea whatever of merely taking advantage of military allowances for the time being. So I hope the Government will give the strongest undertaking to the country that they have no intention of lowering the ancient standard of English home life.

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

With the spirit of the Amendment I am in entire agreement, but I regret very much that the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) passed some aspersions on those undertaking marriage. As I understood his speech, he said there were many entering into marriage at the present time for the sole purpose, or at any rate the primary purpose, of getting Government allowances. When one considers that the Army and the other Forces have already acknowledged the status of unmarried wives, surely we should do everything in our power to encourage people to get married. So far as I know, there is only one form of marriage in this country, and that is a legal marriage. If we can do anything to encourage young people to get married legally, then I am all for it, and if they do happen to enjoy the benefit of Government allowances while in the young state of bliss, they are entitled to it. Although I can see the purpose of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, I sincerely hope that he will withdraw it, and with it the aspersion which he seems to have made about the alleged mercenary motives of people entering into marriage.

Mr. Hannah

May I say that I never intended such an aspersion? I want to apologise humbly to the House for having used language that was capable of such interpretation.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Sir Victor Warrender)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) made it clear in moving his Amendment that he had no desire to press it. I am grateful for that, because it is not an Amendment which the Government could accept. Indeed, it is not necessary to include the Amendment in the Bill, because the point which my hon. Friend has so much at heart is already provided for in the opening words of Clause I of the Bill, which say that, where the parties to an intended marriage have duly fulfilled all the conditions required by law, then the marriage may be solemnised in a different building from that in which it was intended it should take place. There is nothing in the Bill which makes it in any degree easier for a soldier, sailor or airman to get married. Indeed, if it does anything, as I said on the Second Reading, it adds to rather than detracts from, the formalities which have to be gone through before a marriage can be legally performed. We in the Services are just as anxious to prevent irregular marriages as any hon. Member of this House.

Mr. Hannah

May I thank the Minister and bee; to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

First Schedule agreed to.

SECOND SCHEDULE.—(Appropriate authority for purposes of Act.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Second Schedule to the Bill."

Mr. Bellenger

I would like to raise a point in connection with this Schedule. The Parliamentary Secretary will notice that with regard to appropriate authorities the rank is specified in the case of the Army and Air Force. In the case of a man borne on the books of one of His Majesty's ships, however, the appropriate authority is given as the officer commanding the ship, but no rank is given. As some of my hon. Friends may know, not necessarily is a ship's commander always an officer. I have reason to believe that in some cases—on some of the smaller ships —the commander may even be a warrant officer or a chief petty officer. Why has the rank not been specified in this case as in the other cases?

Sir V. Warrender

The reason why no rank is specified in this; case is that the ranks of officers commanding His Majesty's ships may vary along a very wide scale. The officer commanding a ship may be a captain, a commander, a lieutenant-commander, or an officer of more junior rank. I think it is necessary to include the reference to "the officer commanding the ship" for this reason. The whole point of the Measure is to enable a marriage to take place at short notice where there are good grounds for doing so and in certain circumstances the sailor who wished to get married quickly might be placed at some disadvantage as compared with the soldier or the airman. Speaking without having received notice of this point, I do not think my hon. Friend is accurate in saying that the commanding officer in some cases might be a warrant officer. I do not think it likely that a warrant officer would be in command of any of the ships of the Navy certainly such a case would be very rare indeed. I think it may be taken that the commanding officer of a ship would, generally, be of the rank of lieutenant-commander or higher.

Mr. Bellenger

I do not wish to place any obstacle in the way of permission in these cases being granted as quickly as possible, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to look into this point and to see whether there is not some substance in it. If the Government have thought it necessary to specify the rank of major for this purpose in the case of the Army, it seems to me that they ought to take some corresponding step in the case of the Navy.

Sir V. Warrender

If a case did arise in which an officer of junior rank was the commanding officer of a ship, it would probably be a ship in a flotilla and under the instructions which we should have to issue, we could ensure that in such a case the matter could be referred to an officer of higher rank.

Question, "That this be the Second Schedule to the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.