HL Deb 18 July 1946 vol 142 cc636-40

6.14 p.m.

LORD CALVERLEY had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government, when it proposes to allow the marriages of British soldiers stationed in Austria with Austrian nationals, if such proposed marriages have been approved by the Army chaplains and commanding officers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War the question which is on the Order Paper, and very briefly I will amplify it. We have a problem in Austria of British soldiers who have been there for a considerable time, and some of them, being young and meeting attractive Austrian girls, have done what has been done from time immemorial—they have fallen in love. That is about what it amounts to. When I was in Austria in May and the beginning of June owing to the fact that I had some connexion with His Majesty's Forces in Army Welfare, I was asked by soldiers individually for advice, and also some of them told me that they were deferring their release because they wished to contract marriages with Austrian young ladies. I had the advantage of speaking to commanding officers, and I also had the advantage of speaking to one officer commanding one of the provinces in Austria. He told me that, so far as he knew, there were some 2,000 applications from British soldiers to contract marriages with Austrian girls. He told me that these 2,000 cases had been examined not only by his own officers but also by the padres, and they could not find any moral objections to these young fellows getting married to the Austrian young ladies. That is how the matter stands to-day.

There is a complication in many cases, because many of the young soldiers are Protestants and Austria is largely a Catholic country, but that is an objection which is not insuperable. Here we have responsible British officers examining cases of proposed marriages coming to the conclusion that the alliances, so far as they know, would be satisfactory (I know that marriages are made in heaven and also that marriage in any case is a lottery) and that the marriages should take place. When I was there, as I say, only a few weeks ago, I spoke to one young chap—he was an ardent young Catholic as it happened—who had deferred his release because he was deeply in love with an Austrian young lady. He was very frank about it. Nobody could throw a stone as to either his morals or anybody else's in connexion with this courtship. I told the young fellow that I should make my own inquiries into this question, and I would try to pierce the heart of the Under-Secretary of State for War with that little arrow which comes from Eros (which we hope to see soon in Piccadilly Circus) so that he would feel that certain amount of romanticism which I cannot get away from even in my mature years. I told this young fellow I would even wager that he would be able to put up his own banns of marriage in August. I told him I hoped his marriage would be very happy, and that he would live happily ever after, as most married people do.

I am trespassing upon your Lordships' time, but this is a very human problem. These soldiers of ours, many of whom I visited privately, are doing a fine job of work in representing this nation in Austria. They are as good as any Ambassador at £5,000, £10,000 a year or whatever an Ambassador gets. I want the Under-Secretary of State to announce that His Majesty's Government are prepared, if not to give the bride away, at any rate to give their consent to these marriages which have been vetted, examined, and approved locally. I hope he will now give his benediction to the proposal.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to add one or two remarks, because this is a matter on which I have been in correspondence with the War Office ever since my own return from Austria rather more than four months ago. There I found that the troops had two principal complaints, and I made it my business to find out as much about them as I could. One complaint referred to the difference in leave conditions between members of the C.M.F. and members of the B.A.O.R., and I am glad to say that has been satisfactorily settled. The other complaint concerned this question of marriages with local girls. To all my letters since my return from Austria I have received the reply that the matter is under—I think the technical term is "active consideration." When I was in Austria I had the very string feeling that this was an immediate problem. It does not concern only the young men. I think if a rule had been made that young men, such as, for instance, young men newly-called-up and not yet of age, should not marry, at any rate without some delay, it would be defensible. But these were not young men that I saw; these were men who had been through the campaigns in Africa and Italy and who were fully of an age to know their own minds.

There is, I know, some doubt among legal personalities as to the legality of this particular ban. I am told, in fact, that although the ban is legal, so would be any marriage contracted by any member of our Forces in Austria or Germany. That is clearly a curious position, but I suggest there is a rather more serious question involved. This ban upon matrimony seems to me to be a definite infringement of the civil liberty of the subject, and I suggest that any such infringement is a matter on which Parlament should be extremely jealous. I know it is said that this ban has been imposed for reasons of security. That is an argument which is perfectly valid in the case of orders against fraternisation, but the moment you revoke the anti-fraternisation order the security basis for the ban disappears. After all, we never heard that the famous blonde spy made the bonds of matrimony any part of her business. The female of the species is no more dangerous within the marriage bonds than outside them; indeed, I suggest she is probably very much less dangerous.

The argument from the security point of view is, I suggest, entirely fallacious. I am perfectly prepared to believe that there may be danger in the association of the men in the Forces with women in enemy territories, but to ban marriage on the ground of security is quite clearly a completely fallacious theory and I hope it is not one which His Majesty's Government will put forward in their reply to-day. On the basis of civil liberty, on the basis of our moral standing in Europe, on the basis of the human happiness of the men and women involved and finally, on the ground of common justice, I hope we shall have a favourable reply to-day.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, this question of the marriage of British soldiers to girls of the countries overseas in which they may be stationed is one which has long occupied the attention of the authorities. There has been a gradual relaxation in the rules originally prevailing and I think I am correct when I say that the ban on marriages with young women in the occupied areas only now applies in the case of ex-enemy nationals. There are, of course, certain restraints and restrictions as regards others, but the ban only applies to those who are of ex-enemy nationality. It has been suggested to your Lordships with perfect truth that this is a human problem. It is not, however, only a human problem; it is also a legal and a constitutional problem.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? He is talking about "ex-enemy nationals." What does "ex-enemy" mean in that context? Are they not enemy nationals still? It makes a difference if it is being put on legal grounds.


I am perfectly prepared to accept the correction of the noble Marquess, which, indeed, reinforces the argument which I am advancing. I think it has become almost common parlance to speak of them as "ex-enemies" but from the legal point of view, pending a Peace Treaty, the noble Marquess is undoubtedly correct. I am grateful to the noble Marquess for reinforcing me so strongly; it adds point to the argument which I was presenting to the noble Lord on the legal and constitutional questions which arise and also on the question of security. It is not a question of whether a woman on becoming married becomes more or less dangerous from the point of view of security. The point is that being married she becomes a British subject. Therefore, her whole status is altered, and any precautions which might be taken or any remedies which might be enforced by the British Government alter in their nature.


Does the noble Lord mean she has the right to come here?


The position of the British Government would be altered, because however objectionable an enemy wife might be from the point of view of security, once a woman is married to a British subject it would not be open to the British Government to exclude her from entering into this country.


I apologize for interrupting the noble Lord, but he must be aware that the Home Secretary has stated that any man on demobilisation who wishes to bring an enemy woman to this country has merely to sign a form that he will marry her within a fortnight of her arrival here, and her journey is thereupon facilitated.


I think the noble Lord is mistaken. It may be that his information is more recent than mine, but as far as my information goes that applies to those who are not of enemy nationality. I should be profoundly surprised to hear that an extension had been made as indicated by the noble Lord. Let me say at once that this matter of marriages to women of enemy nationality is one which is not wholly simple, but which gives rise to a number of questions which must be considered in all their gravity and implications by His Majesty's Government. They are under examination and when that examination is concluded I shall hope to be in a position to make a statement to the House.