HL Deb 30 September 1941 vol 120 cc76-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the object of this Bill, which I have introduced on behalf of the Admiralty and to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to-day, is to remove some of the difficulties which face members of the Forces who desire to get married but who cannot get leave, or who may suddenly be moved from place to place or ordered abroad. At present members of the Forces are limited in the same way as civilians, and, once their marriage has been arranged for a particular place, there are as a rule considerable formalities to be gone through in arranging for it to take place elsewhere, or, alternatively, considerable expense has to be incurred.

To take what is perhaps the commonest case, marriage by banns in England, banns are called in the parish churches in the places where the two parties are resident, and they can then be married in either of those churches within three months. In the case of the intended marriage of a member of one of His Majesty's Forces, it is probably the custom for the bride's parish church to be selected, since the bridegroom, as a member of the Forces, is likely to be stationed away from his home, and indeed, if he is a sailor in a sea-going ship, he has no alternative, since his banns are called in that ship. If, therefore, the bridegroom finds himself unable to obtain leave, the couple are faced with a grave difficulty. It may, of course, be possible merely to defer the marriage for a few days in anticipation of leave being obtainable, but this course does not always commend itself to young persons in present circumstances, as they may well feel that under war conditions postponement is a risky thing and may lead in turn to further postponement. Again, it may be possible to arrange the ceremony in the parish church where the bridgegroom is stationed and where the banns have been called; but if he is suddenly transferred to another station this alternative is not practicable. The only practical alternative then is to arrange for the marriage to take place by licence—a course which is costly and troublesome for persons unacquainted with the procedure.

There are similar difficulties in respect of weddings arranged in other ways—for example, at a particular registry office. This Bill has been designed to minimise difficulties of this kind to the fullest extent practicable. The underlying principle is that, where a person in the Forces has arranged to get married, and owing to the exigencies of the Service cannot get to the place arranged, so far as possible every facility should be given him to be married elsewhere. For the purpose of the Bill the term "members of His Majesty's Forces" includes women employed in the categories specified in the First Schedule of the Bill, and it will be seen that to these categories others can be added by Orders in Council. It will be appreciated that in many cases both parties will be members of the Forces and both liable to sudden change of station or stoppage of leave—in short, the difficulties in such cases are doubled.

To turn to the Bill, Clause 1, subsection (1), provides that once the necessary formalities to enable the ceremony to be performed in a particular building in England—in a church or registry office—have been complied with, if a person in the Service provides a certificate by his or her Commanding Officer that he or she cannot go to that building, the ceremony can be performed elsewhere in England, or in Scotland. Subsection (2) similarly provides for a marriage to take place in England in cases where it was originally arranged to take place in Scotland. Clause 2 extends the validity of banns (in England), including the marriage licence, or registrar's licence (in England and Scotland), from three months to twelve months where a member of His Majesty's Forces is concerned. Banns in Scotland are a matter for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and this Bill does not deal with them. Clause 3 empowers the Registrar-General in England and Wales to authorize a superintendent registrar to issue a marriage licence immediately where at least one of the parties is a member of His Majesty's Forces. At present a superintendent registrar can only issue a marriage licence after a clear day's notice. This will be of particular value in cases where men are suddenly ordered abroad. It is already provided for by Section 2 of the Marriage (Scotland) Act, 1939, that a Sheriff may grant a licence for immediate marriage in unforeseen and exceptional circumstances. Clause 4 qualifies a woman employed with the Navy, Army or Air Force in the capacities specified in the First Schedule, to marry in a naval, military or Air Force chapel. Clause 5 is mainly explanatory and Clause 6 is the short title. There are two Schedules.

Clauses 1, 2 and 3 will have effect during the war period only, Clause 4 is permanent legislation. The difficulties in question only arose to any appreciable extent during the last war in regard to naval personnel, and the Naval Marriages Act, 1915, which was a temporary measure only and contained very similar provisions to those in Clause 1, 2 and 3 of the present Bill, provided for them accordingly. The wording of that Act, however, was found to be unsuitable, especially in regard to Scotland, and has therefore not been adopted in the present Bill. In this war, although the Navy is again the Service principally affected, members of the Army and Royal Air Force are, it is found, experiencing similar difficulties and the Bill therefore covers all His Majesty's Forces. I hope your Lordships will agree that this Bill is a useful and necessary measure under these conditions, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Templemore.)


My Lords, this is a Bill which obviously will assist in dissipating some of the difficulties at present confronting members of the Armed Forces and affecting their happiness and well-being. I am desired by noble Lords on these Benches to say that they cordially support it.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.