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Service Personnel Overseas (Marriage By Proxy)

Volume 388: debated on Thursday 22 April 1943

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29.

asked the Home Secretary whether he has considered the further representations which have been made to him in favour of enabling men serving with the Armed Forces abroad to marry women in this country by proxy; and what action he proposes to take in the matter?

30.

asked the Home Secretary whether the Government have yet made a decision on the question of the legalisation of marriage by proxy for the men and women in the Services?

This matter has received the careful attention of the Government, who fully appreciate the motives which have prompted representations on this subject. The legal requirement that for the purpose of entering into a marriage contract both parties must be together in time and place is liable to give rise to cases of special hardship under war conditions; and the question whether war-time circumstances would justify altering the law so as to enable separate declarations to be made by each of the parties at separate times and places has received careful consideration. Such an alteration would involve large changes of principle, including abandonment of the principle that the man and woman shall exchange their marriage vows in the presence of each other. What would be the consequences on a long-term view of such changes in the marriage law is a question which would necessarily raise doubts and differences of opinion and there may well be apprehension as to the likelihood of abuse. The issues are important and far-reaching, and the conclusion which the Government have reached, after examining the problem, is that a desire to deal sympathetically with particular war-time cases of hardship would not justify them in proposing such large changes in the marriage law as a scheme for authorising proxy marriages would entail.

Is not the Minister aware that, in the special circumstances of the war, there ought not to be any more difficulty for this Government to make arrangements than for other Governments, and, in view of the vital consequences affecting this situation, ought not the Government to agree to reconsider the matter?

We have fully considered the aspects to which my hon. Friend has referred. I do not say it is impossible to deal with them, but the broad conclusion that the Government have come to is that it is undesirable to make the change proposed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's decision will brand a large number of innocent babies as illegitimate and will cause hardship and sorrow to thousands of decent British girls and create depression and lower the morale of many of our fighting men in the various theatres of war? Is he further aware that other countries have practised this not only in war-time but in peacetime? Surely the Law Officers of the Crown might have brought forward a scheme which would have made it practicable and avoided the abuses my right hon. Friend has outlined?

I fully appreciate the point to which my hon. Friend calls attention. We have personally discussed the matter, and she has given me great help in it. It is true, as she says, that there may be some tragic cases, but I think, and the Government think, that if we make marriage a little less serious than it is, we may have many more tragedies as a consequence of proxy marriages.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall take the earliest opportunity of raising the question on the Adjournment after the Easter Recess.