HC Deb 02 November 1976 vol 918 cc1219-26

4.18 p.m.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Marriage Act 1949; and for related purposes. Last July an extraordinary case was reported in the Press of a woman who married at least 50 times to 50 different bridegrooms. She was not a film star, she was not a latter-day Women's Lib Casanova, and she was not a raving beauty. She was merely earning her living in what was, I must admit, a novel way, even if a thoroughly dishonest one. She met her bridegrooms for the first time at the register office door and left them for ever immediately after the ceremony. She was, and probably still is, part of a criminal ring whose objective is to get would-be immigrants into Britain.

According to Scotland Yard, foreigners temporarily in Britain were, and still are, approached by front men who ask them whether they would like to stay here longer and give them certain advice about how this might be achieved. One method is to enrol as a student in an English language school, and the would-be immigrant will almost certainly be given permission to stay an extra six months at least. Apparently after that the marriage brokers move in and offer to arrange a marriage. This is certainly not cheap; the fee is reported by the police as £350, £100 of which goes to the bride. This is a fairly lucrative business because the police estimate that 30 illegal marriages take place in London alone every week.

I raised this matter last summer and was warned off by a threatening telephone call from the man who arranges these things, and who obviously makes a good deal out of them. It is perfectly legal for a woman to marry a foreigner and then to claim the right for him to live and work here. There is nothing whatever to show that the men are aware of the fraudulent nature of what is going on. Certainly they pay a large sum of money, and I think that these bridegrooms deserve the sympathy of the House because they are being conned.

The police were alerted to this busy bride after someone noticed a great similarity of handwriting in letters of application for these bridegrooms to remain here. This was looked into and handwriting experts found that the writing was, in fact, identical. The case was then proved but it was far too late. The woman in question has never been found.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady but she must not make an Adjournment sort of speech but indicate why the Bill must be introduced.

Mrs. Knight

I was attempting to indicate the case for action in this area, because there is no actual bar in law to what this woman was doing, provided that she and people like her are willing to lie. If people are willing to lie and sign a statement which is a lie, there is nothing to stop them from getting married at Marylebone and Chelsea in the morning and Brompton and Kensington in the afternoon.

We have many laws covering many aspects of weddings, but at present there is no instrument in law which hinders the "rent-a-bride" racket, and there should be. Clause 16 of the original Marriage Act 1949 states that a common marriage licence as distinct from a special licence shall not be granted unless one of the persons to be married swears before the person granting the licence that there is no impediment. Clause 28, which refers specifically to register office weddings, says that notice of marriage must be accompanied by a solemn declaration in writing that there is no impediment to the marriage. If a woman or a man cares to lie, there is no impediment to stop the marriage from taking place. Since the woman in question is known to have married Turks and Cypriots in North-East London, Indians in Southall and Hillingdon, and Egyptions in Kensington, one must recognise that there is a case for this Bill.

At present, all the information that is needed is already in the possession of the authorities. It is put on record when a person is born, when a person marries and if a person is divorced. However, all these records are held in different places. All that my Bill seeks is that all the information should be correlated and computerised and that a system should be introduced which will not only put all this information together but put a duty on the registrar to ensure that the record is scrutinised to see that a person is free to marry, before the registrar is prepared to go through the ceremony.

This would apply also to church weddings. It would cover not only cases of the kind I have outlined, on which all the information came from Scotland Yard and was all perfectly accurate. Again, I am extremely sorry for the people who are conned in this way. Not only would those people be covered, but the Bill would cover bigamists in general. I am sure that no one in the House would support bigamy, bearing in mind the misery that it causes to many innocent people.

I hope therefore that the House will give me leave to bring in the Bill.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) is very concerned about what I might call multiple marriages. I think I am the only Member of the House who can claim to have married hundreds of women—though I hasten to add that I have married them to hundreds of husbands, not to myself.

The title of the Bill that the hon. Lady seeks leave to introduce is quite attractive—the Marriage (Amendment) Bill. I can think of many ways in which marriage ought to be amended, and in which marriage law ought to be amended. However, the question is, what lies behind this apparently attractive, even innocuous, title?

The fact is that the whole thrust of the hon. Lady's argument is concerned with immigration. That is the main thrust of her argument. Indeed, the hon. Lady's statements about the Bill, which are on record in The House Magazine, which is sent to every Member, say that she welcomed the 1975 ruling about wives and fiancées. I was very pleased to hear that. However, the main thrust of her argument is that a racket is going on to use this particular change in the immigration rules so that immigrants can enter and stay in this country in an illegal fashion.

I presume that the hon. Lady is using the word "immigrant" merely as a euphemism, in the main, for coloured immigrants. Indeed, she is on record as saying that the bogus husband is anxious to claim permanent residence for himself and his dependants. I am not sure what dependants the hon. Lady is thinking of—children or other dependants. However, she should know perfectly well that it is extremely difficult to get other dependants into this country. Those hon. Members who have intervened in cases in which, for example, there is a desire to bring aged relatives into the country know how difficult it is to do that.

I can only conclude that, whatever the apparent merits of the hon. Lady's proposals, she is using this opportunity as a peg on which to hang certain anti-immigrant feelings. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must be allowed to develop his argument but in temperate language and without interruption from either side.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Luton, West)

It is a very good argument, too.

Mr. Clemitson

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Even if we leave aside the hon. Lady's motive for bringing in this proposal, we must ask ourselves whether her proposal would work. She talks about people lying. If people are prepared to lie, it seems to me that lies can be compounded, and however elaborate is the system of checks that is instituted, those checks can be avoided.

I would have more sympathy with the hon. Lady's proposals if they addressed themselves to some serious causes of difficulty. Perhaps I may briefly mention two cases concerning two of my constituents. The first is that of a woman who, in good faith, married a man at a register office, only to discover subsequently that he had spent well over 20 years in Broadmoor and was a convicted murderer. Indeed, only the intervention of a social worker prevented a probable second tragedy happening.

The second case is that of a constituent of mine from Pakistan who is a British citizen and who wanted his wife to be registered as a British citizen, only to be told by the Home Office that it is was not satisfied that the woman was his wife. He was advised to go to the register office and get married. He went to the register office to marry his wife—of all things—only to be told by the registrar that the registrar could not marry them because the man was married already.

In short, I find these proposals, at the least, very partial. They do not meet the real problems that a serious reform of marriage law would have to face. Most important, I believe that they are not put forward as a serious attempt to reform marriage law, which needs reforming, but as an opportunity to fuel prejudice against immigrants.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There must be no imputation of false or unavowed motives against any hon. Member.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 148.

Division No. 363.] AYES [4.28 p.m.
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hawkins, Paul Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Bain, Mrs Margaret Holland, Philip Rathbone, Tim
Baker, Kenneth Hooson, Emlyn Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Banks, Robert Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Ridsdale, Julian
Beith, A. J. Hunt, John (Bromley) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Bell, Ronald Hurd, Douglas Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Hutchison, Michael Clark Rodgers Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Benyon, W. James, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Berry, Hon Anthony Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Ross, William (Londonderry)
Biggs-Davison, John Jessel, Toby Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Body, Richard Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Scott-Hopkins, James
Boscawen, Hon Robert Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Shelton, William (Streatham)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Lamont, Norman Shepherd, Colin
Bradley, Tom Langford-Holt, Sir John Shersby, Michael
Brotherton, Michael Latham, Michael (Melton) Silvester, Fred
Budgen, Nick Lawrence, Ivan Sims, Roger
Burden, F. A. Le Marchant, Spencer Skeet, T.H.H.
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Speed, Keith
Carlisle, Mark Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Spence, John
Chalker, Mrs Lynda McCrindle, Robert Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Macfarlane, Neil Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Clegg, Waller MacGregor, John Sproat, lain
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Stanley, John
Corrie, John Mates, Michael Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Costain, A. P. Mawby, Ray Stradling Thomas, J.
Crawford, Douglas Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Crouch, David Moate, Roger Tebbit, Norman
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Molyneaux, James Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Montgomery, Fergus Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Drayson, Burnaby Morgan, Geraint Townsend, Cyril D.
Farr, John Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Vaughan, Dr Gerald
Fell, Anthony Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Viggers, Peter
Finsberg, Geoffrey Neave, Airey Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Nelson, Anthony Wakeham, John
Fookes, Miss Janet Neubert, Michael Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Freud, Clement Nott, John Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Onslow, Cranley Wall, Patrick
Glyn, Dr Alan Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Weatherill, Bernard
Goodhew, Victor Osborn, John Wiggin, Jerry
Gorst, John Page, John (Harrow West) Wigley, Dafydd
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Winterton, Nicholas
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Paisley, Rev Ian Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Pardoe, John Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Parkinson, Cecil
Hall, Sir John Pattie, Geoffrey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Penhaligon, David Mrs. Jill Knight and
Hannam, John Peyton, Rt Hon John Mr. Peter Rost.
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Ashton, Joe Cartwright, John Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Clemitson, Ivor Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Dempsey, James
Bates, Alf Cohen, Stanley Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Bean, R. E. Coleman, Donald Eadie, Alex
Blenkinsop, Arthur Concannon, J. D. Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Conlan, Bernard Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Corbett, Robin English, Michael
Buchan, Norman Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Ennals, David
Canavan, Dennis Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Cant, R. B. Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Evans, John (Newton)
Carmichael, Neil Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Faulds, Andrew
Carter-Jones, Lewis Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Forrester, John Litterick, Tom Roper, John
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) McCartney, Hugh Ryman, John
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Sandelson, Neville
Freud, Clement MacFarquhar, Roderick Sedgemore, Brian
Garrett, John (Norwich S) MacKenzie, Gregor Selby, Harry
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Gilbert, Or John Madden, Max Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Golding, John Magee, Bryan Skinner, Dennis
Graham, Ted Mallalieu, J. P. W. Spriggs, Leslie
Grant, John (Islington C) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stallard, A. W.
Hamilton, James (Bothwett) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Mendelson, John Stoddart, David
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Stott, Roger
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Strang, Gavin
Hatton, Frank Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Heffer, Eric S. Molloy, William Tomlinson, John
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Moonman, Eric Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Hunter, Adam Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Ward, Michael
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Newens, Stanley Watkins, David
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Oakes, Gordon Watkinson, John
John, Brynmor Ogden, Eric Weitzman, David
Johnson, James (Hull West) O'Halloran, Michael Whitehead, Phillip
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Orbach, Maurice Whitlock, William
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Ovenden, John Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Kelley, Richard Perry, Ernest Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Kerr, Russell Palmer, Arthur Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Park, George Woodall, Alec
Lambie, David Pavitt, Laurie Wrigglesworth, Ian
Lamborn, Harry Prescott, John Young, David (Bolton E)
Lamond, James Radice, Giles
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Richardson, Miss Jo TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Leadbitter, Ted Robinson, Geoffrey Mr. Christopher Price and
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Roderick, Caerwyn Ms. Maureen Colquoun.
Lipton, Marcus Rooker, J. W

Question accordingly negatived.