HL Deb 02 May 1968 vol 291 cc1195-200

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, since polygamous marriages are recognised in certain parts of the Commonwealth, and since the progeny from such marriages can be very numerous, they will henceforth restrict the entry into this country of dependents to the progeny of one wife only.]


My Lords, if a marriage is one that would be recognised as valid under our law, any children of the marriage under 16 years of age have certain rights of admission under the Commonwealth Immigrants Acts 1962 and 1968 and could not be refused entry on the ground that the marriage was polygamous. But, as I explained in reply to the noble Lord's Question on April 23, there is no evidence that polygamous marriages account for the entry of any significant number of dependants.


My Lords, arising out of that reply, may I ask this question? Would it not be difficult to understand which marriages of an immigrant who is allowed to have several wives are lawful and which are not lawful? Secondly, how can it be that if an immigrant has several wives, and dependants of all of them, the inflow as a result of that could not increase the numbers of immigrants? Lastly, may I ask whether it would not be better in all cases to stop this inflow?


My Lords, as to whether a marriage is lawful or not lawful, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said in answer to another Question on April 4, such a marriage is normally recognised as valid under our law: that is, a marriage which has taken place overseas if (a) it was valid under the law of the territory where it was contracted, and (b) both parties had the capacity to contract it under the law of their domicile.

With regard to the question about several marriages, we know of no case where a Commonwealth citizen has arrived accompanied by more than one wife. We know of one or two cases where a second wife has followed later, but we know of no cases at all where an immigrant has more than two wives in this country. Indeed, an investigation at Bradford, where there is a very large immigrant community, revealed that there were only two or three polygamous households there. With regard to social security benefits, a man can secure them only for one wife; he can get income tax allowance for only one wife, but all his lawful children qualify for social security benefits in this country.


My Lords, I appreciate the Government's difficulty over duplicating wives but may I ask the noble Lord very seriously whether the Government will consider lowering the age for free entry of dependants from 16 to 14 so that all these children who come in will have at least some experience of English schooling before they commence work?


My Lords, I think that is another question and well outside the point which has been raised in the original Question. In any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is aware, we took action in the 1968 Act quite strictly to impose additional limitations on the entry of dependant children, and I think we should see how that works out before making any further reduction.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, agree that to discriminate against one part of a family rather than another is quite inhuman?


My Lords, I most certainly agree; and we do not discriminate. We are adhering strictly to the policy originated by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that we do not divide families.


My Lords, is not the noble Lord wrong in saying that we do not discriminate? We do, of course, by age. Children over 16 cannot come in, and therefore the question asked by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor applies. Would it not be wiser, as we already discriminate because of age—and in my view quite rightly—to consider lowering the age?


My Lords, I am well aware of the importance to the children, and to this country, of doing our best to ensure that children can speak the language and so on, and we are taking other steps with that object in view. But I do not see, and neither did the noble Lord put forward any evidence to suggest it, that it would be right at this stage to lower the maximum age of admission of dependant children from 16 to 14.


My Lords, as several noble Lords have risen to their feet, I wonder whether it might be a good idea to let somebody on this side of the House have a go.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are many white people who have been married seven times apart from the indigenous peoples of the Colonies? Furthermore, is he aware that in countries that have been under colonial rule for many years there are two kinds of wife, and that we have supported this situation for years—that is, the Common Law wife and the wife recognised by marriage? Why we should argue about discrimination on this issue now, after we have known of it for a hundred years, passes my comprehension.


My Lords, we do not discriminate with regard to those recognised under certain circumstances as Common Law wives of natives of this country, and in certain circumstances we recognise Common Law wives of immigrants. With regard to the fact that there are many people in this country who have had more than seven wives, I remember one King who had six; but so far as I know he had them more or less one at a time, although he went to a great deal of trouble to ensure that that was the case.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say which are the Commonwealth countries where polygamy is practised?


My Lords, the principal countries are India, Pakistan and Nigeria.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the incomes of the minor children of all the wives are deemed under the present Finance Bill to be the income of the father?


My Lords, does my noble friend recall that I raised the case, and asked that action be taken, of a man who had brought in a child wife—she was 13 at the time—as a result of a polygamous tribal marriage? I was told that we could not interfere with a marriage which was in accordance with the customs of the country. Can my noble friend tell me whether it is possible now for somebody who practises polygamy to arrange a marriage outside the country by letter or telephone and bring in a child wife in those circumstances?


My Lords, in reply to the last question, I would say that the Answer which my noble and learned friend gave to my noble friend on April 4 did not refer to marriages which are the custom of the country, but to certain marriages which were lawful in this country. With regard to the possibility of a marriage being arranged by telephone or correspondence and the spouse then being admitted, I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend an answer on that.


My Lords, if it is within the scope of the question, and if I correctly understood the noble Lord's answer, that there could be two wives in this country and one wife overseas, how can he explain that there is, according to his reply, … no evidence that polygamous marriages account for the entering of any significant number of dependants. The man may have a great number of children from all three marriages. Could the noble Lord not correct that statement?


No, my Lords; I would not correct it at all. I must make it clear that we know of no case where an immigrant has arrived in this country accompanied by more than one wife. We know of no cases where an immigrant now in this country has here more than two wives. We know of only a few cases of polygamous marriage—meaning one man with two wives. And there is a limit to the number of children that any man can have, even with two wives.


My Lords, knowing that there are many more applications for vouchers than there are vouchers available, would it not be sensible to allocate vouchers only to those persons who have marital habits corresponding more or less to those prevalent in this country?


My Lords, the vouchers are very strictly allocated according to capacities in relation to employment having regard to the qualifications of the immigrants and the employment needs of this country. It would be quite unwarrantable—and I think that if the position were reversed we should resent it—to interfere with the laws and individual rights of people in this country in the way the noble Earl suggests.


My Lords, arising out of the original Question, can the Minister say whether it would be possible for an immigrant who has a wife here to go back to his country for a holiday, marry another wife under the laws of his country and come back and demand that the second wife comes in?


Certainly, my Lords, that would be possible, always assuming that the immigrant in question had the right to come back here as a returning resident.


My Lords, in view of the fact that we are going to recognise the customs obtaining in countries of origin, will the Government recognise instant divorce here?


My Lords, we do not recognise "instant divorce", as my noble friend puts it. This is the same question in different language which she addressed to my noble and learned friend on April 4 and I can only give the same answer. The law of divorce is different from the law of marriage.


My Lords, does not the immigrant, when he seeks to come in, have to disclose the number of wives he has and the number of dependants? Is that information passed on to the Inland Revenue so that the provisions of the Finance Act will be applied?


My Lords, we do our utmost to ensure, although we do not insist, that intending immigrants should give on the entry certificate which facilitates their entry, if they are accepted, the information about wives, dependants and children that the noble Viscount suggests, and it is usually supplied. I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Viscount's question about informing the Inland Revenue, but I should think that the answer would be in the negative.


My Lords, does that cover a wife in every port?

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