'Thatcher Wanted to Stop Second Wives From Entering UK'

Aditi Khanna/London
'Thatcher Wanted to Stop Second Wives From Entering UK'
outlookindia.com
1970-01-01T05:30:00+0530

Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was against allowing second wives of men based in the UK to enter the country to join them, according to UK government documents released today.

Muslim men mostly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi-origin tended to be in polygamous marriages, something Thatcher did not want her government to be seen to be condoning, according to Cabinet Office files between 1982 and 1986 released by the National Archives.

"The country would be with us on this. We would be crazy to discriminate in favour of the coloured Commonwealth against the UK," Thatcher told then attorney general Sir Michael Havers.

Havers was concerned about the legality of such a ban without a change in the law.

"I am very conscious of the fact that this is a highly explosive subject and that there is a need for early amendment of the law. I must, however, advise in the strongest terms against taking any action against second wives until there is a change in the law. Such unlawful action by the government cannot be contemplated," his note to the Prime Minister read.

The issue caused considerably worry to the government, with a Downing Street policy unit briefing note pointing out that "though the numbers are small, the problem is vexed and the Home Office are exposed to public pressure".

At one stage the home secretary of the day, Douglas Hurd, even contemplated breaking the law over the issue of polygamous wives.

In March 1986, he wrote arguing for a change in the law to make it possible to refuse such women entry.

Until the law changed, Hurd said he was prepared to "postpone compliance with his legal obligation" on the issue of second wives.

A note from one of Thatcher's advisers said she "strongly shares the Home Secretary's view that an early change in the law is required".

When Hurd suggested making future polygamous marriages invalid but recognising existing ones, she wrote in the margin: "We do not recognise polygamy at all."

The files also show that in October 1985 immigration facilities at Heathrow airport came close to being "overwhelmed" by an unexpected surge of young men from Bangladesh seeking entry to the UK.

Earlier in 1982, Thatcher had also strongly objected to UK Home Office plans to relax the rules on women immigrants bringing in husbands and fiances, insisting there were already enough ethnic minority men in the UK for them to choose a partner from.

"The outcome of admitting more husbands and male fiances would mean that there would be more new families, large numbers on the unemployment register, and in the long run a requirement for the creation of more jobs," Thatcher said.

"There were, furthermore, sufficient numbers in the ethnic minorities in this country now to provide an acceptable range of choice for young women without the need for further young men to come to this country," she said.

In the UK, it is illegal to marry more than one person.

Polygamous marriages, largely confined to Muslim families, are only recognised in Britain if they took place in countries where they are legal, such as Middle Eastern states, Pakistan and Zambia.

There are no official figures but it is estimated that there may be as many as 20,000 polygamous marriages in the British Muslim community.

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